November 18, 1978 is a date I am now familiar with and one that brings horrid imagery to my mind. But it wasn’t until I received the script of the next episode for my program that I learned of the infamous Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. With that script, though, I had an opportunity to re-tell one of the most horrific events in human history and attempt to present the heinous soul that was Jim Jones.
An email arrives from one of our writers one late afternoon and I notice that it’s the script for my next episode titled, “Jonestown.” It certainly grabbed my attention not because I was familiar with the event, but I thought the title was as clever as it was intriguing.
As a producer of true crime shows, I am not surprised to read stories about a murderous psychopath, arsonist, serial killer, murderer, etc. However, this was the first time I had done an episode about a notorious cult leader. The man was a manipulator, a liar, and a fiend. A master of messianic rhetoric, Jim Jones led many people astray with false promises of a communal paradise joined together by religious harmony. It seems like he was motivated by power and the pleasures of control over people’s vulnerabilities. At times he even made people believe that he was God himself due to his display of “paranormal” healings held during service. There was many times where I couldn’t believe what I was reading and I couldn’t believe all this was true.
There was so much work to be done. I spent hours upon hours researching and getting my hands on a wealth of archives and documentation of any kind related to the Jim story. All of these pieces enabled me to identify a man who understood the powers of persuasion, and – sadly enough – people actually believed he was capable of changing their lives. His popularity spread like a virus people were swayed by his Pentecostal beliefs and powerful sermons that even made some non-believers into believers. But Jim Jones was not God, he was only a man. He was a cult leader who used religion as a tool to rise to power and have absolute control. He fooled people with his charismatic integrity, and support from political powerhouses, and he sold the illusion of being completely legitimate. It is astonishing to me that hundreds of people would suddenly drop everything and relocate to the jungles of a faraway land.
“Deadly Religion,” the story of Jim Jones, I must say, has been my strongest and most compelling episode of my crime series titled, Corrupt Crimes. Trailing along the route of discovery about the evils of Jim Jones, has also served as a sort of warning to the dangers of cult followings of this nature. Though it is part of the human experience to nurture the feeling of belonging and acceptance, we should take heed and question the motives and methods by which an organization drives its platform onto its followers. With this in mind, we can only hope to avoid another “Jonestown massacre.”
(Juan Garcia may be reached at Juan@bellument.com.)