The Official Story
A Time to Die
The Man they Called 'Father'
The Official Story
The first reports out of Guyana on November 18, 1978 were that Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four other members of his party were shot and killed as they attempted to board a plane at Port Kaituma airstrip. Within hours, came the shocking announcement that 408 American citizens had committed suicide at a communal village they had built in the jungle in Northwest Guyana. The community had come to be known as "Jonestown." The dead were all members of a group known as "The People's Temple" which was led by the Reverend Jim Jones. It would soon be learned that 913 of the 1100 people believed to have been at "Jonestown" at the time had died in a mass suicide.
According to the official report submitted to the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15, 1979, the chain of events leading to Leo Ryan's death in Guyana began a year earlier, after he read an article in the San Francisco Examiner on 13 November 1977. The article entitled "Scared Too Long" related the death of Sam Houston's son, Bob, in October 1976. Houston had decided to speak out about his son's death because he believed that the reason Bob had died, beneath the wheels of a train, was because he had announced his decision to leave the People's Temple the day before. Houston was also concerned that his two granddaughters, sent to New York for a vacation, had ended up in "Jonestown," Guyana and never returned.
Over the ensuing six to eight months, Ryan would hear more about the People's Temple through newspaper articles and from direct requests for assistance from concerned families whose relatives had disappeared into the Guyana jungle to join the "Jonestown" community. There were claims of social security irregularities, human rights violations and that people were being held against their will at "Jonestown." In June 1978, Ryan read excerpts from the sworn affidavit of Debbie Blakey, a defector from "Jonestown," which included claims that the community at "Jonestown" had, on a number of occasions, rehearsed for a mass suicide. After meeting with a number of concerned relatives, Ryan's interest in the People's Temple became widely known and the reports about the group, both favourable and unfavourable, began to pour in. He hired an attorney to interview former People's Temple members and the relatives of members to determine whether there had been any violations of Federal and California state laws by the group.
In September 1978, Ryan met with Viron P. Vaky and other State Department officials to discuss the possibility of Ryan making a trip to "Jonestown" in Guyana. This request was made official on 4 October. Permission was granted and the trip was planned for the week of November 12-18. Ryan's intention to visit "Jonestown" soon became widely known and the numbers wishing to accompany him had grown substantially. By the time of his departure there were nine extra media people and 18 representatives from a delegation of Concerned Relatives who would go with him, at their own expense. The official party, or Codel, consisted of Ryan, James Schollaert and Jackie Speier, Ryan's personal assistant.
In the days of preparation for the trip to "Jonestown," Ryan contacted Jim Jones by telegraph to inform him of his intention to visit the settlement. Through the U.S. Embassy in Guyana, Ryan learned that agreement for the visit was conditional. Ryan would have to ensure that the Codel was not biased, there would be no media coverage of the visit and Mark Lane, the People's Temple legal counsel, would have to be present. On 6 November, Lane wrote to Ryan and informed him that he would not be able to attend at the time they wanted, and claimed that the Codel was nothing more than a "witchhunt" against the People's Temple. Ryan responded with a declaration of his intentions to visit the settlement anyway and that he would be leaving on 14 November.
Problems began for the group as soon as they arrived in Guyana at midnight. Ron Javers from the San Francisco Chronicle was detained overnight at the airport, as he did not have an entry visa. The group of Concerned Relatives, despite having confirmed reservations, had to spend the night in the lobby of the Pegasus Hotel in Georgetown, because there were no rooms available for them. Over the next two and a half days, Ryan met with Embassy personnel and organised a meeting with Ambassador Burke and the Concerned Relatives. He and the family members attempted to speak with a representative of the People's Temple at their headquarters in Georgetown, but could not gain entry. In addition, Ryan was unable to negotiate successfully with Lane or Garry, another legal representative of the People's Temple, resulting in the postponement of the scheduled flight to the mission until Friday 17 November.
The negotiations still had made no headway on Friday morning, so Ryan informed Lane and Garry that he and his party would be leaving for "Jonestown" at 2:30 pm. There were two seats on the plane if Lane and Garry wished to leave with them. The plane left as scheduled at 2:30 pm that day. On board were Ryan, Speier, Deputy Chief of Mission, Richard Dwyer, Lane and Garry, all nine media representatives, four representatives of the Concerned Relatives group, and Neville Annibourne, a representative of the Guyanese Government.
At the Port Kaituma airstrip, Corporal Rudder, the Guyanese Regional Officer of the Northwest district, met the plane. His instructions from "Jonestown" were that only Lane and Garry were to be allowed to leave the plane. Negotiations as to who would be allowed entry into "Jonestown" then ensued between Ryan and "Jonestown" representatives who were at the airport. Eventually it was agreed that all but one media representative could go. Gordon Lindsay, consulting for NBC on the story, was denied entry because of an article he had written in the past that had criticised the People's Temple.
Upon their arrival at "Jonestown," the delegation was served dinner and entertained by a musical presentation by People's Temple members. As the evening progressed, reporters interviewed Jim Jones while Ryan and Speier talked to People's Temple members whose names had been provided by relatives in the U.S. During the course of the evening, a "Jonestown" member passed a note to NBC reporter Don Harris indicating that he and his family wished to leave. Another member made a similar verbal request to Dwyer. Both requests were reported to Ryan.
At 11:00 pm, the media and family representatives were returned to Port Kaituma as Jim Jones refused to allow them to spend the night on the compound. Ryan, Speier, Dwyer, Annibourne, Lane and Garry were the only ones who spent the night of Friday, 17 November at "Jonestown."
Back at Port Kaituma, local Guyanese, including one police official who told stories of alleged beatings at "Jonestown", approached media representatives. They complained that Guyanese officials were denied entry to the compound and had no authority there. They also described a "torture hole" in the compound.
The media and relatives were not returned to "Jonestown" until 11:00 am the next day, several hours later than planned. Ryan had continued interviewing members since early in the morning, during which time more individuals told of their desire to leave. By 3:00 pm there were a total of 15 People's Temple members climbing into the trucks with the delegation to drive to Port Kaituma airport. Ryan had intended to stay but was attacked by a People's Temple member, Don Sly, with a knife. He was not hurt but Dwyer insisted that Ryan leave with them. Dwyer planned to return to "Jonestown" later to resolve a dispute with a family who was split on the question of leaving Jonestown.
The party arrived at Port Kaituma airport at about 4:30 pm but the two planes did not arrive until about 5:10 pm. The delay had been caused by the unexpected request to the US Embassy for a second plane to carry the extra fifteen passengers. Soon after its arrival, a six-passenger Cessna was loaded and ready to leave. As it began to taxi to the far end of the airstrip, one of the "Jonestown" defectors on board, Larry Layton, opened fire on the other passengers.
At the same time, as Ryan's party were boarding the other plane, a twin-engine Otter, occupants of a tractor and trailer owned by the People's Temple, opened fire. Ryan, three members of the media and one of the defectors were killed. Speier and five others were seriously wounded. The shooting lasted between 4-5 minutes and the larger plane was disabled. The Cessna was able to take off and reported news of the attack to controllers at the Georgetown tower. They in turn notified the Guyanese officials. The attackers left the airport soon after, while survivors of the attack sought cover and protection for the night.
According to the official report, the mass suicide began at about 5:00 pm as the shooting was beginning at the airport. At about 6:00 pm, Ambassador Burke was informed of the shooting. He, in turn, informed the US State Department at 8:30 pm by cable. At approximately 7:40 pm, Guyanese police told Sherwin Harris, a member of the Concerned Relatives Group, that his ex-wife Sharon Amos and three of her children were found dead at the People's Temple headquarters in Georgetown.
Word of the deaths at "Jonestown" reached Port Kaituma at about 2:00 am on Sunday morning when survivors Stanley Clayton and Odell Rhodes arrived there.
Congressman Leo J. Ryan
At dawn, Sunday, 19 November, the first contingent of Guyanese Army rescue forces arrived in Port Kaituma. More soldiers arrived within the hour. Their arrival later in the morning at "Jonestown" confirmed earlier reports of the mass suicide. The first Guyanese rescue aircraft landed at Port Kaituma, without medical supplies or personnel, at about 10:00 am. All of the wounded and most of the survivors were airlifted from Port Kaituma before nightfall and transferred to US Air Force medical evacuation aircraft in Georgetown.
A Time to Die
As Ryan's delegation was preparing to board their aircraft, Jim Jones called the "Jonestown" community together. He explained to them, as if it were a premonition rather than foreknowledge, that someone on the plane was going to kill Ryan. The consequences of this action would be that those political forces that had been trying to destroy the People's Temple for years would attack the people at "Jonestown". The "enemy" would descend upon them and kill them mercilessly. This was not a new threat to the community at "Jonestown," they had lived in fear of an unnamed enemy and destroyer for many years, nor was Jones's solution new to them. He had been preparing them for what he termed "revolutionary suicide" for some time. They had even had a number of practice runs to prepare them for just such an event.
The scene of the massacre at Jonestown
A tape-recording of the mass-suicide reveals that there was little dissent about the decision to die. One or two women who felt that the children should be able to live protested, but they were soon reassured by reminders of the alternative undignified death at the hand of the enemy and the shouted support of the group. The poison-laced drink was brought to the hall and dispensed. The babies and small children, over two hundred of them, were first, with the poison poured into their mouths with syringes. As parents watched their children die, they too swallowed the fatal potion. The moments before the final decision to die brought resistance from a few, but armed guards who surrounded the room shot many of them. Of the estimated 1100 people believed to have been present at "Jonestown" at the time, 913 died, including Jim Jones; the rest somehow escaped into the jungle. It is not certain whether Jones shot himself or was shot by an unknown person.
The most puzzling question, which has arisen out of the tragedy at "Jonestown", is how one man could achieve such control over a large group of people to the point that they would willingly die at his command. It would be easy to assume that "Jonestown" was a unique situation that could only have occurred because of Jim Jones's dynamic and charismatic personality, combined with the weakness and vulnerability of his victims. Such an analysis may bring some peace that such a thing could never happen again, but it falls a long way short of providing true understanding of the situation, thereby leaving us all vulnerable to the danger of further tragedies such as "Jonestown" occurring.
To properly understand "Jonestown," it is necessary to explore the social and psychological processes that were employed which ensured that such extremes of social conformity and obedience were achieved. They are processes that are common in all social groups, but in instances such as the People's Temple, they were used to the extreme, with corresponding extreme results.
Members of the People's Temple had been trained for many years in readiness for the mass suicide that had finally occurred in November 1978. Jim Jones had shared with his followers his paranoid belief that the American government was plotting to destroy anyone who was involved in the People's Temple. Jones's followers were accustomed to looking to Jones for salvation. Over the years, Jones had introduced many outside "threats" to the safety of his followers but he had always removed the danger for them. Time and time again he had rescued them, they had learned to trust this man known to them as "Father."
Jones and his followers had moved to "Jonestown" with the vision to create a completely self-sufficient community based on the ideals of socialism and communalism. Each person would work for the common good, providing food, shelter, clothing, health care and education for themselves. In this community everyone would be equal and could live in peace. It was a noble ideal. One, as Jones would constantly remind them, which was worth dying for.
By November 1978, the people of "Jonestown" were ready to die. After many years of input, which had held such action as something to be aspired to, with no input negating such a belief, the members of the People's Temple would have easily seen their own deaths as an act of nobility and dignity.
Over the twenty years preceding the events at "Jonestown," the Reverend Jim Jones's number of followers throughout America had grown considerably, as he drew to himself the outcasts of society, along with those who desired to help the downtrodden and serve those in need. During the early 1960's, Jones preached the need for racial brotherhood and integration, an unpopular doctrine at that time which brought him much criticism from the church hierarchy. To avoid such criticism, Jones founded the People's Temple in 1963, where both black and white worshipped side by side. The poor and society's misfits were welcomed with open arms. Jones's congregation worked to feed the poor, find employment for the jobless and help ex-criminals and drug addicts to put their lives back together.
As Jones's congregation grew, so too did the demands he made upon his flock. Greater sacrifices and dedication were required of the People's Temple membership. As criticism of the church's practices increased, Jones relocated to northern California in 1965, along with 100 of his most dedicated and faithful followers. Once in California, the People's Temple grew considerably until there were several congregations, with its headquarters based in San Francisco.
To attract new members to his "church," Jones widely publicized his services, promising miraculous healings where cancers would be removed and the blind made to see. Upon arrival, potential recruits would witness a community of brotherhood and fellowship where everyone, no matter their social standing or colour, was treated as equals. Each new potential member was greeted with personal warmth rarely encountered in the more traditional churches. People's Temple members would stand before the crowd and recount stories of illnesses that Jim Jones had cured for them. To further convince his audience of his great powers he would make predictions of events that would always come to pass, and receive "revelations" about members or visitors, things that only they could have known. Before their eyes, Jones would heal cancer patients and a mass of putrid tissue would be torn from the patient's body.
The passing of a severe initiation was required by new members that had the effect of making entry that much more desirable. Something that has to be earned is naturally valued more highly than that which is obtained freely. It also had the effect of creating a much higher level of commitment from members. Each new level of commitment asked of the member was immediately justified by the fact that much had already been sacrificed. To reject the new situation would mean admitting that the previous acts of commitment had been wrong. It is a natural phenomenon that people will tend to prolong a previously made commitment, even when painful, rather than admit that they had been mistaken.
The demands made upon a new member were only small and the level of choice was high. The commitment of further time and energy into the organization was gradual; the desire to do so was increased by the promise of the achievement of a higher ideal. All members were taught that the achievement of this ideal required self-sacrifice. The more that was sacrificed, the more that would be achieved. The new members would gradually come to see the long meetings and hours of work done for the church as being worthwhile and fulfilling. Jones increased his demands on the member only in small increments. At each new level of commitment, any reservations the person may have had could be easily rationalized and justified. By the time Jones's demands had become oppressive, the individual members were so heavily committed that to not fulfill any new demands would require a complete denial of the correctness of all past decisions and behaviour.
Just as the demands on a member's time increased gradually over time, so did the level of financial commitment. In the early days of membership, giving money was completely voluntary, although the amounts given were recorded openly. By recording the amounts given, an unspoken expectation was conveyed. The new member could choose to give nothing or very little, but knew that his level of commitment was being measured. Over a period of time, the level of contribution was increased to 25% of each person's income and was no longer voluntary.
The highest level of commitment that could be demonstrated was when an individual or family lived at the People's Temple facilities, handing over all personal property, savings, and social security cheques to the Temple. The ideal of communal living was a large aspect of Jones's teaching as being the only truly spiritual ideal. The outside world of capitalism and individualism was seen as evil and destructive. Forces of that evil system would see the ideals and achievements of the People's Temple as a threat to its own stability and thereby want to destroy it. Through such teachings, Jones was able to create the illusion that the only place of safety and comfort was the People's Temple. The member saw any criticism of the church from the outside as being untrustworthy and proof of what Jones had taught.
From the earliest stages of their indoctrination each member was taught that the achievement of a higher spirituality would require a struggle against their own weaknesses. Any areas of resistance an individual harboured against the church were quickly suppressed as being an indication of that person's lack of faith. Jones would regularly bring critics before the assembly and chastise them for their 'unbelief.' He would then require other members of the group to mete out the necessary punishment. Parents would publicly beat their children for transgressions while husbands and wives would be required to punish each other. In this way, each person was made personally responsible for the action and had to find a way to justify and rationalize it. In this way, Jones was able to become more and more brutal in his punishments as each member had learned to internalize the belief that such punishments were necessary and just.
The desire to relinquish more and more control of their lives over to Jones was further encouraged by the new-found harmony and peace that committed members found in their lives. Disputes within families gradually diminished. There was no longer any cause for disagreement since the rules were clearly laid down by Jones. The everyday stress, and sometimes even turmoil, they had known in the past from the constant need to make decisions and choices was now gone. Life was easier with fewer choices.
Any idea about leaving the People's Temple was quickly dismissed by the individual for a number of reasons. Their total commitment to the church usually meant that they had isolated themselves from their family and friends, whether from lack of association or open enmity. To leave the fold of the church would mean either admitting their mistakes to family and friends or being alone without any support group. Church reaction to, and retaliation against, other defectors who were hated as traitors and enemies would also make leaving difficult. To deliberately put themselves into a situation of being despised by their friends was extremely daunting; especially when for so long the People's Temple had come to be seen as the only safe haven from an evil world. The final barrier to emancipation was economic. Each individual had surrendered all of his or her possessions and income to the People's Temple. To leave would mean to abandon all the possessions they had, leaving them penniless and homeless. Staying could easily be justified, and the consequences seem more appealing than what could be faced outside.
The individual's isolation from any outside forces meant that even when they disagreed with the teachings or actions of the group, that disagreement was nowhere confirmed. With no support or agreement from another source, the individual would soon repress his own reservations. This process was made doubly effective, as each person was required to report any expressions of disagreement or dissatisfaction to Jones. Children would report their parents, husbands their wives, and parents their own children. It was not safe to trust anyone with your negative feelings, to do so would risk the public humiliation and severe punishments meted out for such "offences."
At "Jonestown" this isolation was even more extreme. The community was situated in the middle of a jungle with armed guards along the few roads that led to civilization. Even if one succeeded in leaving the complex, he had no passport, papers or money to help him to escape. When Ryan and his delegation arrived at "Jonestown," anyone who wanted to leave had the option of doing so openly without the normal threats to their safety, yet only fifteen chose to do so. This is a strong indication of the effectiveness of Jones's indoctrination.
The Man They Called 'Father'
Jim Jones was born in Lyn, Indiana in 1931 during the Great Depression. As his parents struggled to eke out an existence, Jones was free to explore the world around him. At an early age he happened upon a Pentecostal congregation known as the Gospel Tabernacle, made up mainly of people who had moved to the area from Kentucky and Tennessee. The church and its members dwelt on the fringes of the community and were known as "holy-rollers" and "tongues people" by the more conservative community of Lyn.
Peoples Temple leader Reverend Jim Jones
By his early teens, Jones was no longer interested in the normal activities of the other boys. He was much more interested in the emotional and religious fervour he found at the Gospel Tabernacle. Here he learned about spiritual healing and was soon receiving praise for his preaching. In 1947 at the age of sixteen, Jones was preaching on street corners in both black and white neighbourhoods, sharing the wisdom and knowledge that he believed he possessed and was obliged to share with others. He believed in the brotherhood of man, regardless of social standing or race. His sympathies lay with the poor and the downtrodden.
Jones considered himself a leader among his peers and looked down upon the behaviour of other boys his age that he considered frivolous and sinful. Yet, he strongly feared rejection and would retaliate angrily at any adverse criticism or disagreement that he saw as betrayal. An example of this was when his best friend chose to go home rather than comply with Jones's demands. As his friend walked away, Jones grabbed his father's gun and shot at the boy's fast retreating figure.
During his high school years, Jones first became interested in the lives of powerful and influential men, taking a special interest in Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. By the time he met his future wife, Marceline, in his late teens, he had already developed a keen knowledge and concern for social issues and world events. Marceline was a student nurse at the hospital where Jones worked part-time. They married after Jones graduated from high school with honours and began college. The first years of their marriage were very stormy. Jones was insecure and domineering. His greatest fear, that of being abandoned by the ones he cared about, caused him to be jealous of any attention Marceline gave to anyone else. Jones's constant emotional explosions and tirades were extremely difficult for Marceline, but her belief that marriage was a lifetime commitment caused her to endure.
Throughout this period, Jones began to question his faith, finding it difficult to reconcile his belief in a loving and merciful God with the reality of suffering and poverty he saw around him. He now proclaimed that there was no God. He expected Marceline to share his new wisdom and threatened to commit suicide if she continued to pray. He softened his view in 1952 when the Methodists, the denomination of the church that Marceline attended, displayed a social conscience in line with his own beliefs. The church espoused the rights of minorities and worked toward putting an end to poverty. The Methodists' opposition to unemployment and support for collective bargaining for workers and security for the aged particularly impressed Jones.
In the same year, while continuing his college studies, Jones accepted a position as student pastor at the Somerset Methodist Church in a less affluent, mostly white neighbourhood in southern Indianapolis. Secretly, Jones visited a number of African-American churches in the area and invited those he met there to his own services and into his home. During this time Jones attempted to adopt Marceline's cousin, who had been living with them since they rescued him from a foster home. The twelve-year-old boy was not happy about this decision and resisted. Jones told him that any thought of returning to his mother was hopeless as she was unfit and didn't love him. After visiting his mother, the boy believed differently. In an emotional rage, Jones attempted to impose his will upon the boy, but he would not be swayed. He returned to live with his mother and refused to see Jones when he came to visit.
Within a couple of years, Jones was successfully preaching at Pentecostal meetings at other churches, drawing large crowds with his healings and miracles. This success led him to leave The Somerset Methodist Church and begin his own church. By 1956, he moved his congregation to larger premises and began calling his activities a "movement" and his church the "People's Temple." His emotional style and preaching of integration and equality were unusual qualities in a white preacher in the mid-fifties and Jones's congregation did not provide the strong financial backing needed to increase his influence. Despite its lack of numbers, Jones's church established a soup kitchen and advocated giving shelter to the needy and the adoption of children. At this time, Jones and Marceline adopted a black child and a Korean orphan as well as giving birth to a son.
The intensity of the Cold War in the mid-fifties influenced Jones considerably and he believed that Communism could best be fought with communalism. He was able to Christianize his burgeoning political beliefs by referring to biblical passages about people selling their possessions. Jones's good works and belief in civil rights was soon rewarded by his appointment as head of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. His radical beliefs and actions at this time brought many complaints and criticisms from the conservative sectors of the community. Jones began to relate to local newspapers stories of harassment and threats to his life, although none of his claims could be substantiated by police inquiries.
Coincidentally, it was as criticism of his politics was heightening that Jones had a "vision" of nuclear attack. Believing that the Midwest was the most likely target of such an attack, Jones began looking for a "safer" place to move his congregation. Leaving his congregation in the hands of his assistants, Jones went in search of the ideal location. He travelled to Hawaii and then Brazil where he stayed for two years, teaching English to support himself. It was during his return trip from Brazil that Jones first visited Guayana where he was impressed by the socialist doctrines of the government.
In 1965, two years after his return to Indianapolis, Jones moved with 140 of his followers to Ukiah in Mendocino County, California, because he had read in Esquire magazine that the area would be safe in the event of a nuclear attack. Once they were settled, Jones found part-time work as a teacher and Marceline worked as a social worker at Mendocino State hospital.
They had not been there long before Marceline decided she wanted to end their marriage. Jones's extra-marital sexual encounters had become more frequent since the move to California and his lust for power and control had increased dramatically. Their son Stephan had little respect for his father because of his hypocrisy. He made rules to satisfy his own whims, yet lived up to none of them himself. Jones was using a variety of drugs to control his emotional ups and downs including Quaaludes, which Stephan used to try to kill himself.
In 1968, with his family falling apart and his congregation only numbering 68, Jones applied for, and was granted, affiliation with the Disciples of Christ, a denomination that boasted 1.5 million members. With very little supervision from the church administration, Jones was able to ignore its requirement for Holy Communion and baptism; instead he preached socialism and baptized new members "in the holy name of socialism."
Being a member of a recognised church gave Jones tax exemptions and higher esteem. His congregation quickly grew to 300. Jones and his followers spent much of their time promoting the church and its good works, not only in the community but also across the country. Over 30,000 copies of a newsletter were sent nationwide every month and Jones began radio broadcasting, ensuring that his good works would be known by all. By 1973, his congregation had grown to two and a half thousand and had spread to San Francisco and Los Angeles where he began to preach as well.
In 1974, Jones obtained permission from the government of Guyana to begin building a commune on a 300-acre allotment, 140 miles from Georgetown. The lease was signed and Jones named the commune "Jonestown". With some of his followers already living at the commune site, Jones decided to visit Georgetown and publicise himself there. Members of his staff approached Father Andrew Morrison to gain permission for Jones to give a service at the Catholic Sacred Church. Ill-informed of the nature of Jones's preaching, Father Morrison and others who attended were horrified by the obviously fake healings and miracles that occurred.
Disappointed, Jones returned to California where the reception for his staged antics was much more favourable. Staff members, usually intellectuals with a strong mystical bent, would pilfer the garbage of temple members to glean information Jones could use to fake clairvoyance in his meetings. Potential Temple members were invited to small meetings where they were carefully screened. Anyone who appeared to be too politically conservative was excluded from further involvement, while those with anti-establishment attitudes and sympathy with Pentecostal type services were welcomed. These criteria meant that the majority of recruits were African-American, the uneducated and the poor.
In response to Jones's teaching of Christian communalism, Temple members pooled their incomes and turned their property over to the People's Temple to be sold, in return they received room, board and a two-dollar a week allowance. Jones preached that only through socialism could anyone achieve perfect freedom, justice and equality. According to Jones, socialism was the manifestation of God. His miracles, healing of the sick and care for the poor were all proof that he was Christ incarnate.
Jones saw himself as a social revolutionary despite the fact that his own organisation was anything but socialistic. There was no collective leadership and his staff, nearly all white, was not able to question his ideas. There was one source of authority only - Jim Jones.
Jones's dualism and hypocrisy were reflected in his teachings on sexual relationships. He believed in sexual liberation yet advocated marriage. He attacked marriage without sexual freedom as being counter-revolutionary; any spouse who reacted jealously over their partner's sexual infidelity was attacked openly. At the same time he preached the virtues of celibacy and the sexuality of all members were under attack. Each person was required to confess their sexual practices and fantasies, while women were required to publicly complain about their husbands' lovemaking. Jones told his congregation that he was the only true heterosexual, yet in private he sodomised a man, justifying his actions as being the only way to prove to that man that he was really homosexual. In December 1973, Jones was arrested in MacArthur Park, a known meeting place for homosexuals, and booked for lewd conduct. Although the charges were dismissed, Jones was required to sign a document admitting that there was good reason for the arrest.
Jones was able to keep his arrest a secret and continued to gain acceptance in the San Francisco area. Left-wing groups welcomed him for his support of progressive causes and anti-establishment teachings. Temple members worked in political campaigns in San Francisco and Jones cultivated relationships with a variety of powerful political figures, using his large congregation and large accumulation of People's Temple funds to cement his influence.
While his outside influence was growing and his control over his congregation was almost unbroken, Jones was not able to prevent all negative criticism directed at the People's Temple, although he did attempt to do so. He had members of his congregation take jobs in some of the leading newspapers in the area to warn him of any plans to print negative material about him. Before the papers could take the story to print, Jones would begin threatening them with legal action. Any of his opponents who persisted in discrediting him would soon receive threatening mail and be awoken in the middle of the night with threatening phone calls. Defectors from the Temple were too terrified to tell of their negative experiences with Jones, as they were constantly threatened with grave punishments.
Having been well experienced in Jones's punishments and his uncontrollable anger towards anyone who dared to leave him, defectors believed that he would make good his threats if they pushed him. Grace Stoen, the wife of Tim Stoen who was the Temple's Lawyer, experienced first hand Jones's wrath when she dared to leave the community because of the brutal beating of a member who had criticised Jones. Jones was outraged at her betrayal in light of "all that he had done for her." With Tim's support, Jones began a fierce custody battle for the Stoens's son, whom Jones falsely claimed was his own.
It was this custody battle, along with a growing number of complaints from ex-members and relatives of members, which caused a great deal of public attention to become focused on the People's Temple. With the mounting negative publicity, Jones's paranoia became even more exaggerated and he began to prepare his congregation for the final move to Guyana.
Once in Guyana, Jones was able to maintain control over his community of followers without the conflicting input of outside agencies. Confined to the 300-acre property with no money or passports, Jones was guaranteed that no more of his followers could abandon him. He could now be in complete control of his people. When that control was again threatened by the departure of fifteen more people with Leo Ryan's party, Jones's vengeful act of murder at the airport was typical of Jones throughout his life. The order for the mass-suicide was his means to gain ultimate control, if he could not have control of his people in life, he would have it in death!
Although the official explanation of the events at "Jonestown" has been widely accepted by the American people, there are many that question its truth. From the moment the first reports of the massacre were released, various theories of the real events leading to the tragedy began to circulate. The most prevalent of these was that the CIA was somehow involved.
The Reverend Jim Jones and San Francisco Mayor Moscone, who was murdered after the 'Jonestown' massacre.
According to one of these theories, "Jonestown" was a continuation of a CIA mind-control program that infiltrated cults, such as The People's Temple, to carry out their experiments. CIA theorists claim that Jim Jones had many questionable associations with the CIA throughout the years he was establishing The People's Temple. The most significant association is Jones's supposed friendship with Dan Mitrione that dated back to their childhood years. Dan Mitrione was the local police chief in the early days of Jones's "ministry" in Indianapolis. Mitrione later entered the International Police Academy, supposedly a CIA front for training in counterinsurgency and torture techniques.
Coincidentally, when Jones left with his wife to live in Brazil, despite his apparent lack of financial resources, Mitrione was already living there. Jones is purported to have made several visits to Belo Horizonte where the CIA's Brazilian headquarters was situated and Mitrione resided. CIA theorists report that Jones's neighbours in Brazil state that Jones had told them that he was employed by the US Office of Naval Intelligence who supplied him with transport, living expenses and a large home in which he "lived like a rich man."
Soon after his return to America, with $10,000, Jones moved the People's Temple to California. Here he began building the People's Temple communal facilities and, without any trained medical personnel or the usual licensing, was able to run a nursing home. During this time Jones allegedly adopted 150 foster children, most of whom were sent to the People's Temple by court order. The Temple had a strong association with the World Vision organisation that many conspiracy theorists believe to be another CIA front, and had as a consultant, a mercenary from the rebel army UNITA, supposedly backed by the CIA.
Other supposed CIA connections with "Jonestown" include the allegations that:
- Richard Dwyer's name had appeared in the publication Who's Who In The CIA
- US Ambassador John Burke and another embassy official, Richard McCoy, had strong links with the CIA
- The Georgetown CIA station was situated in the US Embassy building
- Dan Webber, sent to Guyana immediately after the massacre, was with the CIA and
- Joseph Blatchford, the officially appointed attorney for the "Jonestown" survivors, was involved in a scandal involving CIA infiltration of the Peace Corps.
The involvement of Larry Layton in the ambush of Ryan and his party also provokes great interest from the CIA theorists because of his family background. Layton's father was Dr. Laurence Laird Layton who had been the chief of the army's Chemical Warfare Division during the 1950's. It had also been Larry Layton's brother-in-law, the UNITA link, who had negotiated with the Guayana government, on behalf of Jones, for the establishment of "Jonestown."
Another point, which CIA theorists use to support their beliefs, is the fact that, despite the growing controversy surrounding the People's Temple, Jones's move to "Jonestown" was given full support from the American Embassy in Guyana.
Leo Ryan's murder is seen by many as being much more sinister than the hysterical behaviour of a madman. Leo Ryan had been a strong critic of the CIA and was the author of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, which, if passed, would have required that the CIA report to Congress on all of its covert operations before they commenced. Soon after Ryan's death, the Hughes-Ryan Amendment was quashed in Congress. The question conspiracy theorists ask is whether Ryan was killed in order to reach this objective and the massacre at "Jonestown" merely a smoke screen to distract attention away from Ryan's murder?
Witnesses at the airport, where Ryan and four others were murdered, described the gunmen as being "glassy eyed", "mechanically-walking zombies" who were "devoid of emotion." The question CIA theorists would like answered is who were these people? The official report stated that there were approximately 1100 people at "Jonestown" at the time of the massacre but other reports claim that there were closer to 1200. Of this number there were 913 dead bodies found and 167 survivors. Twenty people, if the 1100 figure is correct, are left unaccounted for. If they were the assassins, where are they now? Also unaccounted for, and never referred to in news reports, are the armed guards who were present in "Jonestown" but were free to come and go from the compound. A congressional aide may have been referring to these men in an Associated Press quote "There are 120 white, brainwashed assassins out from Jonestown, awaiting the trigger word to pick up their hit."
Such a possibility seems to be confirmed for the theorists by a number of unusual deaths that have occurred since the "Jonestown" massacre. The first of these occurred in Georgetown at the People's Temple headquarters at the same time as the "Jonestown" massacre. Charles Beikman, an early Jim Jones follower who had become an "adopted son" was found to be responsible. Apparently, Beikman was also a Green Beret, of which there were over 300 in Guyana at the time on a "training exercise."
Nine days after "Jonestown," San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were killed. Both men had received financial support from Jones while he was in San Francisco and were involved in an ongoing investigation into their involvement in the disappearance of People's Temple funds. Dan White, described as being in a "zombie state" at the time of the killings, murdered them. White's lawyers attempted to defend their client by stating that White had been temporarily insane due to the effects of eating too much sugar, a defence which was mockingly known as the "Twinkie defence."
Some time later, Michael Prokes, a former member of the People's Temple, informed a press conference, held in his motel room, that the CIA and FBI were secretly holding an audiotape of the "Jonestown" massacre and that he was an FBI informant. Immediately following his announcement, Prokes went into the bathroom where he supposedly committed suicide.
Jeanne and Alan Mills, People's Temple members who had defected before the move to Guyana, were found bound and killed in their home almost a year after the "Jonestown" massacre. They had written a book about the People's Temple and had expressed their belief that they would eventually be murdered. Official reports state that the Mills probably knew their murderers, as there were no signs of forced entry or struggle. Their son was at home at the time of the murders but somehow escaped death. The case continues to remain unsolved.
The final area of concern in the "Jonestown" massacre regards the official US decision not to conduct autopsies on the victims of the massacre; the reason given was that the cause of death was readily apparent. The results of pathology examinations conducted by Guyanese coroner Leslie Mootoo however, revealed his belief that as many as 700 of the victims were murders, not suicides. Mootoo claims that in a 32-hour period he, and his assistants, examined the bodies of 137 victims. They had all been injected with cyanide in areas of their bodies, which could not have been reached by their own hand, such as between the shoulder blades; many other victims had been shot. Charles Huff, one of the seven Green Berets who were the first American troops on the scene following the massacre, claimed that "We saw many bullet wounds as well as wounds from crossbow bolts." Those who were shot appeared to have been running toward the jungle, away from the compound, at the time they were shot.
The discrepancy in the numbers of dead in the first reports, and the final figure had led many to speculate that approximately five hundred people had escaped the first spate of killings and escaped into the jungle, but were then hunted down and murdered. The descriptions of witnesses to the layout of the bodies, and the fact that there were obvious signs that many of the bodies had been dragged to their final resting place, tends to contradict the 'official' explanation that at the first counting five hundred bodies had been concealed by the other 408 bodies.
Twenty-one years have passed since the tragedy of "Jonestown" occurred and still many wonder at how it came about. For many, the possibility that one man could manipulate so many people to such a great extent is incomprehensible. They look to a variety of sources to explain the apparently unexplainable, in a vain attempt to satisfy the need for understanding. Unfortunately, the processes that had been at work in the People's Temple for many years, ultimately leading to the mass suicide and murders of 913 of its members, are not unique to this particular group. We are social creatures who need to feel that we belong to something greater than ourselves and rely heavily upon the approval of others to measure our worth. Such a situation leaves us vulnerable to others, quickly changing our viewpoints to fit in with those around us, denying our own instinctive values and beliefs when faced with the conflicting views of others. People such as Jim Jones, driven by their own insatiable need to be accepted and loved, have an instinctive knowledge of the weaknesses of others and how to manipulate them to their own advantage.
Whether "Jonestown" was the result of some heinous experiment in mind control or not, cannot be fully determined one way or the other without stronger evidence, but the cloud of mystery will continue to hang over the incident until all of the documentation collected during the investigations have been revealed. At the time that it released its report, the US State Department chose to withhold over 8000 documents pertaining to "Jonestown" for a number of years. After many legal battles, it was determined that these documents should be released. Perhaps, as the information in these documents becomes available some of the mystery will be solved.
The following articles and documents were used as reference materials in the writing of this story:
Articles from the following Internet sites:
"A Beautiful Dream Turned Into a Deadly Nightmare"
by Jynona Norwood
"The Jonestown Massacre"
"Jonestown Suicides Shocked World"
By The Associated Press
Thursday, March 27, 1997; 1:00 p.m. EST
"Making Sense of the Nonsensical: An Analysis of Jonestown"
By Neal Osherow
"Jonestown massacre + 20: Questions linger"
November 18, 1998
Web posted at: 12:56 p.m. EST (1756 GMT)
"Newly Released Documents Shed Light on Unsolved Murders"
by Thomas G. Whittle and Jan Thorpe
"The Assassination Of Representative Leo J. Ryan and The Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy"
Report of a Staff Investigative Group to The Committee on Foreign Affairs U.S. House of Representatives
May 15, 1979
Affidavit of Deborah Layton Blakey re the Threat and Possibility of Mass Suicide
by Members of the People's Temple.
Testimony of Clare Bouquet Before The International Operations Subcommittee,
Committee On Foreign Affairs
February 20, 1980