40A Vane Attempt

"Don't Need a Weatherman To Tell Which Way the Wind Blows" 

A Series of Innocuous Blogs for Vainglorious Edification.

Peoples Temple - Terror of Religious Cults
August 28, 2008

Nearly thirty years ago on November 18th 1978, nine hundred and nine men, women and children were urged to drink a concoction of grape Kool Aid, potassium cyanide and tranquilizers.  They all died within hours.  In the pile of bodies were 287 children, later determined to have been forced to die.  They were all members of the infamous “People’s Temple,” a religious cult based on Marxist principles located at a place called “Jonestown” in the  South American nation of Guyana.  The mass suicide was prefaced by the violent ambush of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan by a team of assassins ordered by cult leader Jim Jones to prevent Ryan and 15 refugees from leaving Jonestown.  The Congressman had arrived in Guyana from California, former home to the cult, to determine if people were being held against their will.  Ryan and three members of the media were shot to death on the airstrip before their plane could lift off.  Now known as the Jonestown massacre, it is considered the third largest mass suicide in human history, (Masada and Saipan claiming more.)

The horror of the People’s Temple is the horror of cultist control over human lives.  Thirty years later this tragedy must be remembered as the sickening result of cult psychology attacking the minds of innocent men.  What had begun as a religious sect casting itself away from traditional Christianity, turned to closed-minded totalitarianism run with the fear and discipline of a Soviet gulag.   Jeanne Mills who spent six years as a high ranking People’s Temple member wrote:

"There was an unwritten but perfectly understood law in the church that was very important: No one is to criticize Father, (Jim Jones) wife, or his children " (Mills, 1979).

Deborah Blakey, another long-time member who managed to escape, testified:

Any disagreement with (Jim Jones's) dictates came to be regarded as "treason." ....Although I felt terrible about what was happening, I was afraid to say anything because I knew that anyone with a differing opinion gained the wrath of Jones and other members. [Blakey, June 15, 1978.]

Cults and the mind control techniques that empower them work on the basis of fear.  By the early 1970s members of the People’s Temple lived in constant fear of beatings, public humiliation, and severe punishment for resistance to Jones’ authority.  His demand for absolute devotion was guarded by methods to eliminate criticism of any kind.  We know from the famous Milgram’s experiments that people can be coerced into torturing subjects by invoking “consensus” from a group.  Cult psychology utilizes the power of group ridicule to overwhelm critical thought and deeply instilled moral values.  In the presence of group ridicule, the individual is shamed into conformity - even when that conformity demands unlawful or immoral behavior.  This same behavior manipulation is used to varying degrees by all kinds of social groups including academia, mental health institutions, labor unions, private clubs and the military.

Jones preached racial unity and socialized culture that focused attention on his leadership as “Father.”  He declared the family unit to be an enemy against the “Cause” and separated children from parents and eventually parents from each other.  This prevented the opportunity for criticism from couples supporting each other and their children.  The result was that if you dared to question authority, your own children and spouse would be your loudest critics.  Members who tried to leave were brow beaten, physically and psychologically.  Of those who did manage to escape, they were threatened and harassed once outside.  Jones despised escapees the most.  He preached his most vitriolic attacks against members who left the Temple.  They were blamed for anything that may have gone wrong.  A Temple member recalled what happened after eight teenagers left the cult:

"We hated those eight with such a passion because we knew any day they were going to try bombing us. I mean Jim Jones had us totally convinced of this." (Winfrey, 1979)

The reports from Jonestown written by Washington Post reporters Charles Krauser and Leonard Downey Jr. just after the massacre are terrifying.  The wanna-be utopia Jonestown and the Peoples Temple had been turned into an armed camp.  It’s members were kept in the compound by armed Security guards patrolling day and night.  Renegades and rebels were punished in a solitary confinement “punishment box,” at the center of the compound.  Others were sent to an “extra care medical center” where troublemakers were injected with sedatives, thorazine and anticonvulsive drugs.  Critics were forced to work 18 hour days on chain gangs in the tropical heat. 

It is apparent from Krauser’s descriptions that the Peoples Temple had become a camp of horrors long before the final massacre.  In the  last days Jones demanded temple members sit through nightly harangues that became increasingly incoherent.  They trained in mass suicide exercises.  And the mystery of why first reports describe only  400 bodies at the suicide site and later 500 more bodies turn up is deeply troubling.  The suspicion is that once the suicides began, half the community ran for the woods.  According to some reports those hiding in the woods were hunted down and shot with guns and “crossbow slugs” and later dragged back to the temple pavilion.

In a further bizarre twist to the story, there are accusations of government involvement in the Jonestown disaster.  Congressman Ryan was the sponsor of legislation that demanded greater accountability from government agencies.  Release of official documents through FIA disclosure tend to substantiate this.