Reflections on Jim Jones – 2019

I find Jim Jones to be the most fascinating and intriguing individual I’ve ever come across. He’s definitely the greatest public speaker I’ve ever heard. He had a unique ability to command one’s attention and fire up that part in all of us that wants to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. His hypnotic use of voice and words could tug at the heartstrings one moment and make the crowd laugh in the next. But most of all, he makes you want to tune in for more.

As Mike Prokes said, he had an unusual sensitivity to the needs of others. I enjoy seeing and hearing his positive interactions with others, particularly children, animals, and the all-too-often-forgotten elderly. I greatly admire all the time and effort he sacrificed to help the downtrodden and oppressed.

This unique vastness of empathy in Jim is noticeably juxtaposed with a sadistic and downright cruel side. That’s what’s so seemingly strange about Jim Jones. Many label him as a narcissist, but it’s hard to imagine a narcissist who has such a keen sense of the needs and well-being of others. It seems to me that Jim showed signs of obsessive compulsiveness with his hoarding of animals and – eventually – people. He seemed to be consistently seeking adulation and sympathy. I sympathize with him because of the lack of emotional fulfillment his neglectful childhood left him with. As a child/teen, he was precocious, intelligent, and mature beyond his years. This was another factor in making him somewhat of an outcast.

It’s hard to believe he was willing to throw away everything that he and his congregation built up through so much hard work over the many years. It’s sickening that people who worked so hard in the hopes of building a model society were forced to give up their lives and take the lives of their children. More than anything else, it’s a lesson to not let mental health issues go unchecked, no matter how much you feel you owe to the one in need of help.

It would be interesting to see what Jim Jones would have become if that once-precocious child and natural-born leader had been given the parental love and nurturing he craved. He may have gone down in history as something far greater. The mayor of San Francisco compared him to MLK and Gandhi. The love so many of his followers had for him is readily apparent, and there’s no doubt he had a unique gift, that there was a lot of good in him. It’s just a shame the mental and emotional instability combined with drug use took over in the worst way possible. Maybe someday there’ll be another, more prosperous Jonestown withouttragedy and mass paranoia.

Rest in peace to everyone who lost their lives in the Jonestown tragedy. Peace be with the survivors and family and friends of the victims. You are in my thoughts every day.

(Amy Brown is a student of Peoples Temple history who was born several years after the tragedy and has no personal connections to the group, but hopes that “Jonestown” will one day be a staple in our vernacular in the same vein as “Titanic” or “9/11.”)