(John Collins’ other article in this edition of the jonestown report is Mind Control and Jonestown. His previous articles for this website are The Intersection of William Branham and Jim Jones and The Message Connection of Jim Jones and William Branham. More information about Rev. Branham prepared by John Collins may be found at the informational website, https://william-branham.org, and in the book Stone Mountain to Dallas available on Amazon.com.)
In February 2016, audiences across the nation were captivated by a historical romantic thriller that brought life to the fading memories of a cult commune in South America. Colonia, also known as The Colony, is based on a true story of a young German couple who migrated to Chile along with several others in 1973 to a cult commune named Colonia Dignidad, or “Dignity Colony.” Emma Watson and Daniel Brühl play the characters of Daniel and Lena, who find themselves under the dangerous control of cult leader Paul Schäfer in his commune in South America.
Those who watch the film are quick to notice the similarities between Jim Jones’ commune in Guyana and Paul Schäfer’s commune in Colonia Dignidad, Chile. Both groups were escaping political unrest, fleeing to South America seeking utopia, and both were led by very charismatic religious ministers. Most of those trapped inside both cults were prisoners of their own captivity until the fear of outside intervention intensified, and the few who escaped met with severe consequences.
But few people are aware that the groups were related through the period of history that began during Jim Jones’ early faith-healing ministry. Both groups are not-so-distant cousins through the intersection of Jim Jones and William Branham.[i] Though Schäfer’s political and ideological views formed in West Germany, they were seeded with bias towards a political and religious belief system that originated from Indiana during the Post World War II Healing Revival of the 1940’s and 1950’s through the world-wide evangelistic ministry of William Branham – the same evangelist who kick-started Jim Jones’ ministry in Indianapolis, Indiana.[ii]
In the years leading up to the Healing Revival, Indiana was a state torn by the political unrest created by the Ku Klux Klan, a terroristic organization that had been revived on Stone Mountain in Georgia in 1915. Indiana’s capital of Indianapolis, where Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple originated, was once the site of the national Ku Klux Klan Office.[iii] Klan meetings with high-ranking Klan members attending were held at the Cadle Tabernacle[iv] where Jim Jones and William Branham also held one of their joint “healing meetings,”[v] and Branham himself was initiated into the Pentecostal faith by official Klan spokesman and later Imperial Grand Dragon Roy E. Davis.[vi] Though Jones himself never openly supported the Klan’s views on white supremacy and likely never knew of Branham’s ties to the Klan,[vii] it can be argued that the Klan’s influence in the State of Indiana and the men with whom Jones associated were contributing factors in the tragedy to come. In fact, some research suggests a significant correlation between the racism of Indiana and motivation to join the People’s Temple.[viii] Interestingly Schäfer, who was the leader of a Branham-inspired religious sect until his death, received the same influences through the recorded sermons and transcripts of William Branham that were produced from 1947 to 1965 and redistributed from a distribution center in Jeffersonville, Indiana.[ix] Since his death in 1965, his many of his 1,205 recordings have been translated into 70 languages[x] and sent to countries around the world while children are currently being indoctrinated with his teachings.[xi] [xii]
The Healing Revival itself coincided with the Second Red Scare of 1947 to 1957, and some revivalists of that era claimed to have prophetic insight into what they considered to be the impending destruction of the United States. The State of Indiana, heavily impacted by the propaganda of the Ku Klux Klan and its anti-communist speeches and literature, held crowds of people eager to hear any extraordinary insight into the turmoil ahead. Two years prior to the Jones-Branham revival at the Cadle Tabernacle, William Branham began proclaiming the first of several of his “doomsday” predictions, claiming that 1954 was the year of destruction.[xiii] Only two months prior to their revival, Branham updated his prediction to 1956 as the final year for America to accept his version of the “Gospel.”[xiv] This “prediction” came with emphasis on his claim of a prophetic “vision” describing Communist Russia’s bombing northern Kentucky and southern Indiana. His doomsday predictions appear to have finally made an influence on Jim Jones by 1961. Jones himself began claiming prophetic vision of the same bombing. In November of 1961, Branham claimed that “great men” around the world were predicting that the first bomb from Russia would drop in Louisville, Kentucky (a mile from the Indiana border).[xv] Around the same time in the fall of 1961, Jim Jones began claiming to have had a prophetic vision of Indianapolis being consumed in a nuclear holocaust.[xvi]
Branham’s prediction of nuclear Armageddon that directly shaped Jim Jones’ religious and political ideology also influenced Paul Schäfer through the worldwide spreading of Branham’s religious cult following called the “Message.” Although Schäfer would not be largely affected by the bombing of Indiana, Branham’s doomsday predictions also included the destruction of Germany.[xvii] The impact of the predictions upon Jones and Schäfer were virtually simultaneous. In 1961, the same year of the Branham-Jones revival at the Cadle Tabernacle in Indianapolis, Branham travelled to Karlsruhe, Germany[xviii] and held a similar campaign of meetings in the fading Healing Revival. By the end of that year, Jim Jones had fled America mysteriously for Guyana, South America; and ministers Schäfer and Baar had departed Germany with 70 members of his sect of Branham’s “Message” cult to Chile, South America to found Colonia Dignidad. Schäfer’s commune would continue to grow through the hard labor and devotion of its victims. By 2003, Colonia Dignidad was labeled as one of the world’s richest communes.[xix]
Like Jonestown, “Message” cult members in Colonia Dignidad left their home country seeking a better life of religious freedom free from political turmoil. Much like Jones, Schäfer was a very charismatic leader who was loved and respected by those who traveled with him to a new life. Both communes were founded primarily on fear, and that same fear was the mortar that held the groups together so tightly. In fact, it was that framework that enabled both Schäfer and Jones to rise to a dangerous level of control over the minds of their victims. Once empowered as central figures to their belief system, these men were quickly immortalized before the people — living as gods not dissimilar to the ancient Pharaohs of Egypt. Once that level of fear and respect was achieved, the leaders placed themselves at the top of a stature pyramid that defines the architecture of every destructive cult. From the central figure, leaders and sub-leaders to rank-and-file members, the hierarchy was established in South America that empowered these destructive leaders to control their victims.
Physical punishment for failure to obey commune rules further separated rank-and-file members from the very authoritative Jones and Schäfer. Escapees from Colonia Dignidad were well aware that no physical restraints held them in the compound, but feared punishment if they were caught attempting to leave. Even after brutal punishment, most of the victims remained in the compounds. Parents of children who managed to escape Colonia Dignidad describe their long road to recovery after realizing that they failed to protect their children from violent abuse and suffering.[xx] Each day was another step past the breaking point for those trapped inside. Facing sleep deprivation, social degradation, brutal beatings, and stripped of all personal freedoms, the victims of Colonia Dignidad faced a psychological massacre similar to that of Jonestown.
The psychological breakdown of victims in both communes was worsened by the physical labor. Both groups were forced to toil long hours under the blistering hot sun to survive. All day, every day, the members of the two cult groups worked endlessly while their leaders took advantage of their suffering mental state. Over time, they became virtual slaves under the iron fists of Jones and Schäfer.[xxi] Using techniques from corporal punishment and the harsh working conditions of the communes to the constant breaking of their self-confidence, the two eventually broke the willpower of their victims. It did not take long for either group to realize that the Utopia they found was far from “heaven on earth.” Eventually, armed guards were added to the communes,[xxii] [xxiii] and in the case of Colonia Dignidad, electric shock torture and tranquilizers were used to punish those who broke the rules.[xxiv]
Control of the victims was not limited to their enforced lifestyle. Both men took complete control of the family units, separating many children from their parents[xxv] and completely controlling the sex lives of the adults. Both Jones and Schäfer banned marital sex,[xxvi] [xxvii] and once the ban was enacted, began sexually abusing their prey. Schäfer was sued decades after the tragic raping and torturing of young boys of Colonia Dignidad, while Jones sexually molested men, women, and daughters of Jonestown. Children were severely beaten and tortured, while being used as emotional lures to keep the parents in the church. With the willpower of their victims broken, the two leaders of the South American communes had the power to exploit children by subjecting them to physical and psychological abuse and torture without a single able-bodied man to rise against their reigns of terror.
Victims of both communes were subjected to constant reminders of their imperfections, which in turn reminded them of the supreme authority of their leader. Public shaming in Colonia Dignidad consisted of reading the names of “sinners” through a microphone, requiring that the “sinner” stand up before the group to confess – and any denial of wrongdoing was a great offense. Some “sinless” became adept at inventing sins when put on the spot.[xxviii] Similarly, Jones instituted public shaming through the “board of education,” a large wooden paddle used to inflict corporal punishment to adults and children. In the case of Colonia Dignidad, abuse and torture was not limited to residents of the colony – it eventually became the site of an experimental torture center where political prisoners of the Pinochet regime were interrogated and tortured. The bodies of those who died were disposed of secretly.[xxix]
It is difficult to imagine that men and women would willfully subject themselves to these harsh and extreme conditions. Nor does it seem possible for two single men to create a world of terror that revolved around their own destructive tendencies. Mind control seems like a mystical process suited for science fiction novels and movies, yet Colonia Dignidad and Jonestown stand as historical evidence that this fiction is reality. Mortal men were empowered with god-like abilities to influence how their victims thought, felt, and acted. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer successfully replaced the authentic identities and primary focus of self-preservation of their victims with cult identities. And these new identities were crippled without the ability to critically think about their situation or environment.
Using Steven Hassan’s “BITE Model”[xxx] to examine the fundamental elements of the cults of Colonia Dignidad and Jonestown, it is easy to identify the techniques used by Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer to achieve ultimate power over their victims. Behavior control was apparent from the early days of the formation of both communities, and worsened gradually as time went on. Eventually, rigid rules and regulations were enforced without any objection from the members of the communes. Information control limited critical thinking. Most escapees learned of the dark secrets of their leaders and their movements long after breaking free, and many of the darkest secrets are only now being uncovered by researchers. Thought control was achieved through constant indoctrination of the leader’s altered realities and ideologies, and victims were gradually programmed to accept very different lines between good and evil. Public shaming and indoctrination of fear gave each leader full control over the emotions of their victims, and many natural human emotions were blocked or manipulated to produce further control. Eventually, men and women who eagerly joined with their leader to seek a utopian society were transformed into thin shadows of their own personalities.
Sadly, members of the Jonestown commune found early escape through mass suicide that claimed over 900 lives in Guyana. Victims of Colonia Dignidad continued to be subjected to torture and abuse until 1996 when a student at the sect’s boarding school was successful in smuggling out a letter to his mother describing Schäfer ‘s sexual molestation.[xxxi] These tragedies now stand as beacons in our history, reminding us of the dangers lurking beneath circumstances enabling men to claim leadership roles that disable the critical thinking of their victims.
But have we learned from our mistakes? When we see the signs pointing towards the destruction of a secluded society, do we take the appropriate actions? In the case of Colonia Dignidad, it was envisioned as another “Jonestown” by The Washington Post in February of 1980.[xxxii] Even then, one diplomat in a Santiago embassy – just 200 miles north of the compound – admitted that when he studied Jonestown, he immediately thought of Colonia Dignidad. Since that time, other similar cult communes have displayed very similar attributes only to be ignored until their climactic event. Some of these bear striking similarities to the religious ideologies that created Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer.[xxxiii] [xxxiv] Though authorities were aware of the separation of children from their parents in the Colonia Dignidad, and regularly received letters from relatives of those living in the colony claiming that their family members were being held against their will, the commune continued sexually molesting and torturing children for years to come. Even after the climax, some members chose to join a similar “Message” cult sect[xxxv] with no intervention by the authorities.
Too often, we become victims of our own denial of critical thought. Even though most of us are not under the influence of a destructive leader, we discard disturbing facts and suppress instincts based on the external appearance of a suspicious sect. Because we see no physical boundaries or armed guards to enforce the captivity of the victims of these sects, or because we are impressed with their attractive marketing materials, we falsely assume that captives can leave on their own free will. Many of us fail to see the mental boundaries created through common techniques, and even fewer study the psychology that allows dangerous men to be empowered. Will Colonia Dignidad be the last destructive commune?
Sadly, without learning from our past mistakes, these examples will not be the last. If we examine the disturbing facts surrounding the numerous cults practicing mind control on their unsuspecting victims, the question quickly changes to: which of these cults are already in the last stages of their destruction?
[i] Brown, Ellrodt. 2012, May 9. “Insight: German sect victims seek escape from Chilean nightmare past.”
[ii] Reiterman, Tim and John Jacobs, Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People, Dutton (1982), ISBN 0-525-24136-1.
[iv] See, for example, “Klan Meeting Planned – Hiram W. Evans to Speak ON World Court, Orbison Says,” The Indianapolis News (1926, Apr 15).
[v] The Open Door (Jim Jones and William Branham advertisement at the Cadle Tabernacle), April 1956.
[vii] Collins, John. Stone Mountain to Dallas: The Untold Story of Roy E. Davis. Dark Mystery Publications (2016).
[xiii] Branham, William. 1954, May 13. The Mark of the Beast.
[xiv] Branham, William. 1956, February 12. Fellowship.
[xv] Branham, William. 1961, November 12. A True Sign That’s Overlooked.
[xvi] Chidester, David. 2003. Salvation and Suicide: Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple and Jonestown. University of Indiana Press.
[xvii] E.g.: Branham. 1955, May 1. The Faith That Was Once Delivered to The Saints.
[xviii] Branham, William. 1956, February. Contending for the Faith.
[xxi] Robinson, Julia. 2016, May 2. “Victims of pedophile sect led by one-eyed German Nazi who oversaw daily torture and abuse of child slaves over three decades in Chile hope to finally see justice with legal bid.”
[xxii] Bonnefoy, Pascale. 2015, November 5. “Chilean Community, Once a Site of Torture, Reinvents Itself for Tourists.”
[xxiv] Brown, Emma. 2010, April 27. “Paul Schaefer, 89, ex-Nazi preacher jailed for abuse, dies.”
[xxv] Barrionuevo, Alexei. 2010, April 24. “Paul Schäfer, German Guilty of Chile Child Abuse, Dies at 89.”
[xxx] Hassan, Steven. 2015. Combatting Cult Mind Control. Freedom of Mind Press.
[xxxi] Rohter, Larry, “Fugitive Leader of Chilean Sect Is Captured in Argentina”, New York Times (2005, March 12).
[xxxii] “Ex-Nazi’s Colonia Dignidad Envisioned as A Jonestown,” Washington Post (1980, February 13). Re-published in The Indianapolis Star.
[xxxiii] E.g.: People v. Loker, Supreme Court of California (2008, July 28). Court transcripts describe the sexual molestation, physical abuse, sexual control, emotional control, and implied mind control of a “Message” cult commune in Prescott, Arizona under the authority of charismatic sect pastor Leo Mercier.
[xxxiv] E.G.: Santamaria, Luis, “Nicaragua: Hundreds of People Camped Waiting for the “Rapture” of God” (2015, May 10). Article describes “Message” sect migration to Nicaragua, alleged human trafficking, following charismatic leader Francisco Rivas.