This is the end…..of our elaborate plans, the end
Of everything that stands, the end
No safety or surprise, the end……
Jim Morrison’s haunting lyrics from that Doors song crept out of my computer speakers as I sat down to write this late evening.
….the end of laughter and soft lies
The end of nights we tried to die
This is the end
It’s a morbid but appropriate soundtrack for painful reflections on the saga of a madman and his doomed cult. The narrative of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple stretches too far back for the masses of unread in today’s generation, beyond them maybe knowing the “Drink The Kool-Aid” cliché.
My raging sentiment over the clearly avoidable Jonestown Massacre erupted ten years ago on this anniversary month with the very first post of my fire-and-brimstone “Jonestown Apologists Alert” blog. My indignation started percolating in May 2005, with the debut of Leigh Fondakowski’s stage play “The People’s Temple.” A year later, Stanley Nelson’s so-called historical documentary Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple had me hopping mad.
Both productions were little more than twisted apologist drivel cleverly glossing over the worst excesses of one of the most destructive cults in history. It riled me up enough to create my blog, the first entry loaded with brass knuckled-pull no punches prose:
…..a big part of the lesson of this utterly preventable Jonestown Massacre (not a mass suicide, but largely a mass murder) remain clouded. Critical components continue to be buried away from the public. If you think you’ll find them in director Stanley Nelson’s crafty little new film “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple,” forget about it. He’s done some real handiwork, this “pronounced liberal activist.” Not only has he condoned the army of shameless public figures that helped create the Jim Jones Frankenstein, but Nelson actually does a brilliantly executed positive spin on all this. Apparently, he was deeply enamored by “Jim’s” (as Nelson has referred to him) great dedication to social activism. Thus, a reprehensible cast of “Jonestown Apologists” continue promoting denial about the full reality of Jim Jones’s nightmarish cult.
Along with director Nelson’s disgraceful fraud of a “documentary” film, two of his cronies, Rebecca Moore and Fielding “Mac” McGehee, run the “Jonestown Institute.” Becky (whose two sisters that perished at Jonestown were top conspirators with Jones) and the Mac are amazing. Their Ministry of Cult Apologist Propaganda website is impressive, with an inclusion of useful, historical archives, woven around endless breath-taking arguments that People’s Temple was, well, really not actuuually cult, but just a bit of an unconventional church…..and Jonestown was, yeeees, metamorphosing into Shangri-La. (Problem was just that the racist, tyrannical outside world wouldn’t “leave them in peace”–yes, Jones did say that, but he was–gulp–not alone in this view.)
Like editors of National Enquirer, Moore and McGehee have cooked up a spectacularly corrupt blend of fantasy and reality.
Yikes. I could only imagine Mac and Becky’s reaction. I don’t know how many other critics they had, but I doubt anyone else was as sulfuric acid strident. Anger boiled over that they would run an institute offering up a “sympathetic” take on this cult – which Becky didn’t (and still doesn’t) even want to admit was one; rather, it was a “New Religious Movement” (NRM), a sanitized generic label she applies to any and all the cults she promotes.
There was also the terrible frustration of watching their Jonestown Institute and Becky’s books disseminate all this sympathetic material to a mainstream media that ate it right up.
In 2010, however, author Daniel Flynn was not so easily swayed and wrote this in a review on her new book Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple:
She calls the relatives of Jonestown members who exposed oppression within the Temple “apostates” and “defectors,” faulting them for failing to “consider the effect these actions might have upon residents of Jonestown.” The slain Congressman Ryan didn’t provide adequate notice for his trip and embarrassed the Temple by bringing an entourage of journalists, Moore claims. “Violence erupted because Jonestown residents believed that Ryan jeopardized their ultimate concern, which was to be in solidarity with all oppressed peoples, but especially with African Americans. He represented the power of the state and its ability to destroy the community.” This is the kind of tripe that one would have expected to hear over a Jonestown loudspeaker. Here it is in a book by a department chair at a respected university.
Jones’s seductive rhetoric attacking racism, capitalism, and homophobia, which helped delude his supporters, has deluded Moore as well. In the Jonestown aftermath, the Left quickly distanced itself from Peoples Temple to save face; 30 years later, Moore highlights the Temple’s role within the American Left to revive the Temple’s reputation.
All my years of blog postings hammered away at this insidious revisionism. My father, journalist Les Kinsolving, tried so hard to stop Jones, but only four out of his eight exposés were published by The San Francisco Examiner, thanks to editors who succumbed to cowardice.
It was something of a compensation to have a global internet, nonexistent in 1972, that wasn’t at the mercy of craven mainstream media bosses. I was able to finally publicize the proverbial rest of the story that my father couldn’t.
Of course, Mac and Becky also continued on. They worked diligently with other apologist Temple member relatives to have a memorial dedicated in 2011 at Evergreen Cemetery with all the names of the dead inscribed. The most appalling and unforgivable, of course, was their decision to include the names of Jim Jones and his executioners who perpetrated the mass murder in that Guyana gulag.
The stated excuse? Oh, “Well, they were ALL victims.”
Deluded. Perverse. Outrageous. But they pulled it off.
And that was when I decided I’d done all I could do. Four years ago, my final blog entry was posted: “34th Anniversary Day: People’s Temple New Cult Of The Faithful Celebrates A Macabre Memorial For Mass Murderers.”
It had the same ferocity, but with some obvious resignation, I wrote:
Yesterday, on another grim anniversary of the one of the worst mass murders in American history, they paid homage to the monster behind it. This crazed sociopath, now memorialized in stone by the newly reconstituted People’s Temple, who paid their respects to the dead in their own “informal gathering” yesterday afternoon in Oakland’s Evergreen Cemetery. James Warren Jones, killer of children, honored.
Murderous Jim is not the only killer mixed in with the names of his victims, as I discovered in my visit to this perverse new shrine earlier this year. Indeed, there are some very notable culprits whose names will be familiar to anyone versed in the usually obscured facts of this unspeakable crime.
I went on to mention, and publish photos of their names, along with James Warren Jones, inscribed in stone: Becky’s sisters Annie Moore and Carolyn Layton, Larry Schacht, Jim McElvane, and Sharon Amos. But I wasn’t quite finished. A few fond departing brass knuckle swipes were unleashed:
There are, of course, some other names here that have no business being memorialized, such as the guards that forced the cyanide into hundreds of people or shot them to death. Becky and Big Mac know who they are but, hey, these homicidal gulag goons earned the requisite murder points to be featured as well.
Becky Moore is one of the more prominent cult apologists in circulation, publishing tripe about how “positive” the People’s Temple cult really was and that, really, “cult” is dirty word that insults all the wonderful things that came from this group of brainwashed slaves. “Big Mac” McGehee is her very prolific propaganda hubby, who puts out the annual “Jonestown Report.” To his credit, he includes some of the unsavory aspects of the forced labor camp called Jonestown in his publication. The only problem is its resemblance with the formula used by supermarket tabloids, but on a much more serious scale. Nothing quite so effective as a potent mix of fact and fiction grossly distorting perspective on the actual big picture. Just gloss over, obfuscate or outright deny the reality of cult psychosocial dynamics so lethal to free will and, in some cases, life itself.
And Becky-Mac wants it that way, cause this enterprising fun couple crave that credibility enabling them to keep the New People’s Temple cult followers happy and positive there really were some mighty good things that flowed from all the brainwashing, fraud, slave labor, torture, child abuse, and murder that were the hallmarks of the cult that died.
“Becky-Mac … enterprising fun couple”? Yeah, I was pretty invective crazy, start-to-finish in that 2006-2012 blog maelstrom.
But you know, as much as I’ll continue vehemently opposing their views, throughout the entire six-year battle Mac and Becky always remained cordial and restrained, no matter how much vitriol was blasted in their direction. As much as I disagree with them, these are two exceedingly congenial, well-intentioned people. Even if they are seriously in error, kudos to their kind dispositions.
In 2007, about six months into roiling reign of “Jonestown Apologists Alert,” I published an anonymous comment:
The academic work of Rebecca Moore is a result of a woman trying to make sense of what happened to her sisters. Of course she wants to sympathize with them. She’s human. I think your account here is unfair… I shouldn’t try to speak for the Moores but this family has been trashed and hurt and devastated for so long, that it seems like insult to injury for you to sling more mud at them here. Consider the fact that you’re talking about people, please, who honestly aren’t all that different from you.
A short time later, another commenter asked me “why I hated them.” I replied it wasn’t Mac or Becky – only their actions I loathed.
Sure, it’d be hard to know that, watching all the years of volcanic verbiage. But they demonstrated a great measure of decency when they published my father’s eight articles on their website. The last four aren’t published anyplace else other than in my own blog archive, but they are here. Both he and I appreciated that.