A Response to Katherine Hill

I don’t know much about Jim Jones, but I accidentally know a lot about psychopaths, so I don’t need to know more about Jim than that he was one, because they are all the same. There is a Psychopaths’ Manual somewhere, with a special interest section in it on how to be a psychopathic cult leader.

Psychopaths really are one-dimensional, because they lack all the conflicted, caring attributes which make people human and interesting. They usually only want one thing – your money – and they will go to any lengths to get it. If they are raking in the money, they are happy. If they have to spend their “own” (i.e stolen) money, they get vicious and possibly homicidal. If they get caught out, they run.

From Jim’s point of view, Peoples Temple was simply a money-making machine. He made a lot of money out of it by conning a lot of people. He got caught out and fled to Jonestown. He realized that he was sitting on a net outflow of funds situation, so he had to do a disappearing act, and the murders were his puff of smoke. The twist in the tale was that just as he was mid-disappearing, an opportunist came along, saw all this money lying around, shot Jim and walked off with it. And no, it wasn’t Marceline; she didn’t walk off.

Katherine Hill, whatever her reasons, wants there to be more, maybe because she cannot believe 1,000 people died in Jonestown for nothing. Sorry, but that is exactly what happened. They were mainly very nice, trusting people and got conned. This can happen to even very smart people, so I’m not saying they were stupid, just very, very unlucky.

What achievements did Jim have? None. What gifts and skills did he have, beyond the psychopath’s heightened ability to con people while abusing them? None. What intellectual ground did he break? None. His “theology-philosophy” was a heap of garbage-in, garbage-out.

There was a meaning to Peoples Temple, but that was in the heads of his genuine followers. They probably are/were very interesting people and were seeking a way toward a better life. I’m not referring to his psycho-lieutenants; they were just a bunch of standard-issue psycho-lieutenants. Tim Stoen is interesting because the guy who manipulates the arch-manipulator must have something to him.

As for the names on the marble plaque commemorating the victims of Jonestown, it is obviously sick to include the names of Jones and his psycho-lieutenants, but if you remove the names of any able-bodied adult who ever did anything wrong during their time at Peoples Temple, you will only need a pebble to write the names of the adults down on. Tragically, victims also tend to be collaborators and they are also condoners of all the appalling behavior they have witnessed unless they are actively confronting it and fighting it. Marceline was probably not evil in her own right, but she sure legitimized Jim.

These were the angles Kathleen was coming from and I am sure she is absolutely right. Jim Jones could have been bigger – he could have killed more people – or he could have been smaller and just been a domestic tyrant. What he could never have been, given that he was born a psychopath, is anything other than one-dimensional. No sane person in their right mind would want to spend more than half an hour with any psychopath. If you meet one, recognize him/her for what s/he is and run like the hounds of hell are after you, for they surely will be if you hang around.

(The writer is the husband of Jungle Rot author Kathleen McKenna Hewston.)