Jonestown 35 Years Later

The Jonestown/JFK connection


To read the whole strip, which is brilliant, follow the link at the end of this post.
Peter Bagge

Thirty-five years ago today, agents of the Peoples Temple, a tighly knit and deeply paranoid church that had relocated from San Francisco to Guyana, assassinated the visiting congressman Leo Ryan and embarked on a mass murder/suicide that claimed more than 900 lives. The congregation's commune was nicknamed Jonestown, after church leader Jim Jones; the chief means of death was a powdered drink doused with cyanide. (The drink was probably Flavor-Aid, but it has gone down in popular memory as Kool-Aid. I'll bet they're still tearing their hair out about that at Kraft Foods.)

Later this week, we'll be observing the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's death. The two anniversaries are linked by more than just the time of year: Mark Lane, one of the first and most influential of the Kennedy conspiracy writers, was in Jonestown when the massacre began, along with fellow JFK theorist Donald Freed. (In addition to their work on the nonfiction shelves, Lane and Freed had a hand in writing Executive Action, one of the lamer conspiracy thrillers of the '70s.) As Jim Jones told his flock that the world was plotting against them, he incorporated Lane and Freed's ideas into his spiel. Later, Lane himself would be a featured player in some of the conspiracy theories that inevitably appeared after the massacre. As I wrote in The United States of Paranoia, Mae Brussell believed that Jonestown existed

To read the whole strip, which is brilliant, follow the link at the end of this post.
Peter Bagge

so the secret government could "experiment on black people; mind control; electrodes; sexual deprivation; fear; mass suicides." [Larry] Layton, "a robot in the hands of Jim Jones," had assassinated Ryan to keep the truth from coming out, and the mass slaughter that followed had been a part of the cover-up.

Not every conspiracist shared Brussell's interest in brainwashing. In 1975, the JFK assassination theorist Mark Lane allegedly told her that he'd "never appear with you publicly. People know you're crazy. There's no evidence of mind control in the United States." But Lane had a Jonestown connection of his own: He had been one of the Temple's attorneys, and he had argued shortly before the massacre that "American intelligence organizations" were making "a deliberate effort" to "destroy the Peoples Temple, to destroy Jim Jones, and to destroy Jonestown." Brussell could now quote Lane's words of praise for the Guyana settlement ("It makes me almost weep to see such an incredible experience with such vast potential for the human spirit and soul of this country to be cruelly assaulted by our intelligence agents") as she painted her old rival as a part of the grand machine. "I'm very proud to say that I've hated his guts and tried to expose him for years," she told her audience.

Next week we get to do this anniversary.
San Francisco Chronicle

It shouldn't be surprising to see such speculations after COINTELPRO, CHAOS, and other measures fanned the Left's fears of the government. But that wasn't the only factor at work. Every subculture accumulates demons, and by the late 1970s the New Left and the counterculture had plenty of demons to contend with. If it is possible to discuss "the sixties" in reference to events that took place in 1978–and culturally speaking, I think it is–then the deaths at Jonestown, a colony that until its destruction had presented itself to the world as a multiracial socialist utopia, marked the end of the sixties, a moment even more deflating than the Charles Manson murders or the Rolling Stones' lethal concert at Altamont. The massacre also came within a month of the assassinations of San Francisco's liberal mayor George Moscone and the city's first openly gay city supervisor, Harvey Milk. If there were ever a time when a spirit of doom hung over the California counterculture, this was it.

Brussell's grand conspiracy narrative found a way to link Jonestown to the San Francisco shootings, and it managed to work in the Symbionese Liberation Army, the Manson murders, the Zodiac killer, and the sixties assassinations too. As history, it was a jerry-rigged assemblage of facts, half facts, rumors, and guesses. But as a mythic translation of a jarring historical moment, it had a powerful pull. Brussell transformed a collection of free-floating anxieties into an external enemy with a name.

Where are they now? Lane went on to serve as attorney for the far-right Liberty Lobby. Freed co-scripted the Robert Altman film Secret Honor. And the massacre itself intensified a moral panic that cast every small, strange, and young religion as a potential death cult.

Bonus links:

• Tim Cavanaugh revisits San Francisco in the age of Jonestown.

• Alan Moore and Peter Bagge interview Kool-Aid Man.

• The Jonestown Express, the colony's in-house funk band, covers Joe Tex's "Ain't Gonna Bump No More." The music starts at :56.

NEXT: Holder To Appeal Ruling Allowing House To Continue With Contempt Case

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  1. “Oh yeah!”

  2. You know who else drank the kool aid?

    1. Johnny Bench?

    2. Captain Crunch?

    3. Progressives who thought that if they like their insurance, they could keep it?

  3. The progressives just can’t wait to get them some of that koolaid, they just want theirs watered down enough that there will be lots of suffering before the end.

  4. Funny how Jones went from progressive darling to “religious” leader. If you didn’t know the truth, you would think Jones was some rightwing evangelical Christian leader rather than what he was.

    1. His transformation came seconds after reports of the massacre reached the media. This guy was deeply embedded in the San Francisco progressive scene. But almost instantly he was some weird right wing religious wacko.

  5. Any coincidence that Gatorade started taking off after the Jonestown Massacre? Anybody looked through the books of the University of Florida/Quaker Oates/Pepsico to follow up on this?

  6. OT
    I suppose this already made the links, but:
    “A Tennessee woman on vacation with her five children led cops on a wild pursuit that ended shortly after an officer fired upon her minivan.”…..95729.html

    1. “I have of course reviewed the video and do have concerns relating to the conduct of the officer who discharged his firearm,” Kassetas said in a press release.

      “I’m not going to sugarcoat it, firing three bullets into a van full of kids may not have been a great idea.”

    2. Hey, the kid attacked the cop. Never mind that the attack was well over and there was no threat to any of the cops extant. In the shooter’s warped cop-thug mind that little piece of history amounted to a “Shoot a Nigger Free Card”. Those opportunities don’t come around every day and pig’s don’t pass them up.

    3. The mother of five was arrested on suspicion of intentional child abuse

      “Suspicion”?! She had them with her *during a gun battle*!

    4. They had her ID, they should have just let her go, no they had to stop her at all costs.

      1. She didn’t do what she was told. Cops kill people for that.

    5. That kid has balls. Props.

  7. Powers Boothe was pretty good in “Guyana Tragedy”.

    1. Damn good.

  8. From Cavanaugh’s piece:

    “Feinstein, Milk, Moscone, and future mayor Willie Brown all supported Jones even after he and his followers fled to the jungles of Guyana.”

    I’m not sure Jerry Brown continued to support Jim Jones after he fled to Guyana, but, otherwise, he might have included Jerry Brown as a supporter of Jim Jones.

    When we talk about the kind of cultish behavior we see from the progressives, we should keep in mind where people like Dianne Feinstein, Willie Brown (who became Speaker in the California state Assembly for 15 years), and Jerry Brown came from. This wasn’t just the land of/time of management gurus; these people had a lot of experience dealing with a real cult.

    Using the word “cultish” to describe what they do isn’t just descriptive. They saw how political organizing by way of a cult could give them an iron grip–and they still haven’t let go.…..francisco/

    1. The fine print in the picture was another tragedy to befall us all, after the tragedy of the assassination: “Feinstein Becomes the Mayor”.

  9. In all seriousness, the most chilling aspect of the Jonestown Massacre are the stories of the mothers willfully giving their infants cyanide and dying within 5 minutes. It’s grotesque because Jones implored his followers to “Die with a degree of dignity. Lay down your life with dignity; don’t lay down with tears and agony.” I can’t believe 900 people were so brainwashed as to pour poison into the mouths of babies instead of the mouth of Jones himself.

    1. “One of Jones’ sources of inspiration was the controversial International Peace Mission movement leader Father Divine.[101] Jones had borrowed the term “revolutionary suicide”[102] from Black Panther leader and Peoples Temple supporter Huey Newton who had argued “the slow suicide of life in the ghetto” ought to be replaced by revolutionary struggle that would end only in victory (socialism and self-determination) or revolutionary suicide (death).”…..her_issues

      Once you get people to stop caring about themselves as individuals and only as a member of a group, I guess it’s easier to make people do things like that.

      I was thinking that the end of the siege at Masada might be an interesting parallel, but a better one is probably the Japanese people who threw their children over the cliffs into the ocean during and after the Battle of Okinawa.

      Once you get people to stop caring about themselves as individuals, I guess you can get a lot of them to do almost anything.

      1. You brain wash yourself into thinking leaving the cult is a fate worse than death. Masada is different in that it wasn’t brainwashing. The Romans really were going to inflict gruesome deaths or slavery on everyone. So they really were making the rational decision to die easy at their own hands. The people at Jonestown thought they were doing the same thing. What made it so horrible was that they were making that decision based on a fantasy.

        1. I think one of the reasons so many people on the left are so hostile to protestant Christianity is because it teaches people that the creator of the universe came to die for you–second person singular.

          It’s hard to get people to make sacrifices of themselves or their rights when they think they’re important, and it’s hard to convince people that they aren’t important when they believe that the creator of the universe sacrificed himself for them.

          I think that’s why Jim Jones went after people’s Christianity, and I think that’s why a lot of progressives don’t like protestant Christianity, too. …since, you know, progressivism is practically defined as using the government to force individuals to make sacrifices for the “common good”.

          1. Progressives worship government as god. Add to that the false premise that government “of the people” means they are government, by implication they worship themselves as gods.

          2. Progressives don’t like Christianity because Christians will never accept the idea that aborting a developing human life is okay, and organize politically against it.

            1. Progressives also don’t like Christianity because they think of Christianity as being homophobic.

              …but at it’s core, the very essence of progressivism is about making sacrifices for what they see as the common good.

              Individual rights and the freedom of the individual–those are the progressives’ most essential enemies. They don’t want you to think you have individual rights or that you are so important that your rights can’t be violated in the name of the common good.

              That’s why they call people selfish.

              That’s why Tony would rather say that Jews didn’t have a right to their lives during the holocaust–because the government didn’t say they had that right.

              That’s why Tony would rather say that Rosa Parks didn’t have a right to sit in the front of a public bus–because the government at that time didn’t recognize her right.

              Tony would rather lump himself together with antisemites and segregationists than admit that individuals have rights apart from what the government gives them. …because the idea that we possess rights that we can’t be forced to sacrifice in the name of the common good is contrary to the very essence of progressivism. And as dumb as Tony is, even he understands that.

  10. One of the other things that often gets left out of the narratives…Jim Jones was not a Christian who ran off the rails.

    Jim Jones was an atheist and a communist.

    His idea was to use the trappings of Christianity and church to preach atheism and to organize people as communists.

    1. I am 30 years old, and I just learned this today. Hmmm, I wonder why it’s never mentioned…

      1. It’s obviously a conspiracy.

        1. I mean, I learned about Jonestown in school, but it’s about two paragraphs with a mention of Jim Jones. nothing really about him basically founding a communist church.

          1. [cough]Unitarians[cough]

      2. You were never, in 30 years, curious about where the phrase “?they drank the kool aid?” came from?

        1. See above. I didn’t know Jones’ motivation.

    2. “You can go down in history, saying you chose your own way to go, and it is your commitment to refuse capitalism and in support of socialism.” – Jim Jones

    3. Jim Jones was not a Christian who ran off the rails.

      How convenient.

    4. Would it be more accurate to say that Jones himself was an atheist, but his followers were themselves theists, seeing how they viewed him as a prophet?

      1. “While Jones always spoke of the social gospel’s virtues, before the late 1960s Jones chose to conceal that his gospel was actually communism.[16] By the late 1960s, Jones began at least partially openly revealing the details of his “Apostolic Socialism” concept in Temple sermons.[16] Jones also taught that, “those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion had to be brought to enlightenment ? socialism.”[39] Jones often mixed these ideas, such as preaching that, “If you’re born in capitalist America, racist America, fascist America, then you’re born in sin. But if you’re born in socialism, you’re not born in sin.”[40]

        By the early 1970s, Jones began deriding traditional Christianity as “fly away religion,” rejecting the Bible as being a tool to oppress women and non-whites, and denouncing a “Sky God” who was no God at all.[16]”…..ornia_Eden

        It think it would have been clear to the people who moved to Jonestown in the mid 1970s that Jim Jones was an atheist.

        1. Should have gone ahead and closed those italics.

        2. Yes, but by using charismatic persuasion techniques (hello, Postrel!), he became almost a Muhammad-like prophet for an ostensibly atheistic religion (sorta like Buddhism). However, if you’re that charismatic that your followers would commit suicide at your command, the followers themselves would have to be theists, wouldn’t they?

          1. Are you trying to get me to say that they were all atheists long before they’d ever heard of the Peoples’ Temple?

            Yes, he brought a lot of them into the fold by using the trappings of a Christian church. That was the idea!

            “I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church. So I consciously made a decision to look into that prospect.”


            Jim Jones was an atheist. I suspect the common knowledge narrative goes that he was a Christian minister who, like Jimmy Swaggart, lost his way.

            After losing his way, he went bonkers, and…

            That ain’t what happened. He was never a Christian to begin with. He was an atheist, and his mission was to destroy people’s faith and to replace it with communism.

          2. I think it’s over simple to say Jones was an atheist cynically using a church to advance an atheist-communist agenda.

            He really seemed to believe that he was a messiah and that socialism was the true message of the prophets of old. I think he saw the “traditional Bible” as being irreligious, and himself as the true source of salvation, etc.

            1. I think it’s over simple to say Jones was an atheist cynically using a church to advance an atheist-communist agenda.

              It’s no over simplification at all:

              “Marceline Jones [Jim Jones’ wife] admitted in a 1977 New York Times interview that Jones was trying to promote Marxism in the United States by mobilizing people through religion, citing Mao Zedong as his inspiration.[38] She stated that, “Jim used religion to try to get some people out of the opiate of religion,” and had slammed the Bible on the table yelling “I’ve got to destroy this paper idol!”[38] In one sermon, Jones said that, “You’re gonna help yourself, or you’ll get no help! There’s only one hope of glory; that’s within you! Nobody’s gonna come out of the sky! There’s no heaven up there! We’ll have to make heaven down here!”[11]


              Sometimes it is what it is.

              1. He sounds a lot like William Blake (cf “Nobodaddy”). The Jesuits at the University of San Francisco admire no political or economic thinker the way they do Karl Marx.

                With Jones, you’re on a whole different level of crazy. I think he breaks the pattern of the usual con-man or political zealot. When he calls the Bible a paper idol, I really do think he means that he himself has greater spiritual authority than the Bible, not that he was an anti-spiritual materialist.

                That’s why I think people like Jerry Brown liked him so much at first – he was the real deal as far as a spiritual believer (and yes, he called himself an atheist, but he clearly was referring to his lack of belief in the “sky-daddy”) who was a committed socialist and integrationist.

                The fact that he was also a megalomaniacal sociopath was something I think he kept pretty well concealed for a long time.

                1. What he really believed in was atheism and communism.

                  The reason Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, and Dianne Feinstein liked him so much was because he could mobilize his followers to do the hard work on the ground that got Democrats elected.

                  Sometimes things are simple.

                  1. If simple is our standard, I actually think that the prospect of Jones being an extremely charismatic figure with not entirely self-consistent views of the world is less complex than imagining Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, Dianne Feinstein and Jim Jones all cooperating in full awareness of each others worldviews in an atheist scheme to coopt Christianity to organize Democratic voters.

                    I think that would have been hard to do, but I may be misunderstanding what you’re saying.

                  2. His followers really believed in the spiritual message.

                    The nominal leaders of the Crusades might have been atheists in their hearts, too. That doesn’t change the fact that they were religious events.

                    Those people killed themselves because they had swallowed Jones’ eschatology and believed he was a prophet.

                    If a secret tape surfaces proving that David Koresh was consciously full of shit and running a con, you know what? That wouldn’t surprise me in the least, but it also wouldn’t change the fact that his followers were suicidal religious nuts.

                    (Suicidal religious nuts who deserved to be left alone, but religious nuts nonetheless.)

                    Warren Jeffs may be an atheist who used religion to get to fuck young girls. But you know what? That still means religion in somebody’s heart was what let him fuck young girls.

                    1. So, if Warren Jeffs did terrible things, that means Jim Jones wasn’t an atheist or a communist?

                      This is like something I’d expect to hear from Shrike.

                      I point out that Jim Jones was an atheist, and suddenly it becomes important to mention that religious people have done terrible things, too–why?

  11. Suck it, Feinstein. Kill yourself so you can suck Jones’ cock again.

    1. Can I second that?

      I enthusiastically second that.

  12. deeply paranoid church


  13. Socialist utopias usually do end with a pile of corpses. This one was no different.

    1. If the end is paradise, what means isn’t justified?

    2. Amazing how the pattern repeats itself.

      1. That’s just a coincidence.

        This time it’ll be different.

    3. Just before the election in 2012 I was trying to talk to an obamabot about this very thing. I built up to my point by mentioning Jim Jones and his connection to the california pols who are now at the heart of the progressive movement. When I pointed out that Jones was not a right wing xian fanatic but a socialist I saw the light go out of their eyes. They just sat there, completely cut off from the sound of my voice shaking their head ‘no’. It was a true ‘la la la I cant hear you’ moment.

      That is when I realized the obamabots really are cult members no different from the Jones followers.

      You cant reason with a fanatic.

      1. That is when I realized the obamabots really are cult members no different from the Jones followers.

        That’s pretty much true of any partisan/tribalist.

  14. This would be a much better thread to have posted the “12 reason Obama is the best president ever” link.…..80675.html

    I am sure there are thousands of relevant articles out there, but that is the first one that popped into my mind.

    1. What is it about humanity that it needs to create and be led by a messianic figure? It’s usually a short hop to smiting thine enemies, once you assemble the faithful.

      1. It helps them hold back the crushing realization of their own insignificance.

      2. A lingering unsatisfied need for parental approval. Same thing that causes the need for Kings, Presidents, Pop Stars, etc.

      3. I don’t know whether it’s always been this way, but I do know that children in the US are currently taught about US politics in terms of presidential personalities. I worked in the (rather large) book section of an “educational” toy store for several years and grew so tired of how 99% of civics books for kids consisted of cute presidential stories and FDR paper dolls. Basically kids are taught not to worry about learning government systems and processes or to compare and contrast ideological principles, but instead to rate the presidents according to their likability.

    2. I am sickened that anyone would write that.

    3. I can only think of one reason Obama is the best president ever:

      Because he finally showed people that government is incompetent and corrupt and should be kept as powerless as possible.

      1. Thank God he has another three years to carry out this near impossible task because I don’t think most people have digested the lesson yet.

  15. On the SF Chronicle front-page you posted, the headline for the worst of the bad news that day was at the very bottom of the page, predictably below the fold and in smaller type than those for the other stories. Yet it haunts us to this day.

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