THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE, 40th ANNIVERSARY – Marilyn Armstrong

The 40th Anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre


“He who sups with the devil should have a long spoon.” –
Old English proverb, 14th century.

There has been an upsurge of interest in Jonestown over the past few years. This post went by with little attention when I wrote it in 2012. Since then, it has developed a life of its own. Not surprising as Jim Jones and Donald Trump share many traits. More importantly, so do their followers.

This is a cautionary tale, an urgent warning for everyone. Talk is not harmless. Lies matter. Corruption kills. To all of you who blindly follow, I hope you’ve got that long spoon handy. I have a feeling you will need it. 


From Nothing, Something Terrible Comes – Remembering November 18, 1978


Jonestown_entrance_welcome

The story of the Jonestown Massacre is true. From it grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, realize to what they are referring?

I’ve written this before, but this is a major revision and it bears repeating. It’s true. It happened. We need to make sure it never happens again.

DRINK (OR DON’T DRINK) THE KOOL-AID

The popular expression “drink the Kool-Aid” has become a common verbal shorthand in American business and politics. Roughly translated, it means “to blindly follow or accept a set of beliefs.” At work, it means you endorse what your bosses tell you. In politics, it means you fully buy into the platform.

It carries a negative connotation, but not as negative as it ought.

Kool-Aid was the drink for children on summer afternoons in the 1950s. The saying is now just bland rhetoric, stripped of its context and thus the horror it ought to evoke.

THE PEOPLES TEMPLE

Jim Jones, cult leader, and mass murderer was a complex madman. A communist, occasional Methodist minister, he founded his own pseudo-church in the late 1950s. He called it the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church,” known in short as the “Peoples Temple.”

The lack of a possessive apostrophe was intentional. The name supposedly refers to “the people of the world.” Jones called it a church, but it was a twisted version of a Marxist commune. At first, it combined with miscellaneous Christian references Jones used in his diatribes, er, sermons.

jim_jones

It was not a church. The Peoples Temple was a straight-up cult requiring total personal commitment, financial support, and absolute obedience. The characteristics which define a cult.

Jones was the leader. A homicidal maniac, but he had positive qualities. Jones and his wife, Marceline, favored racial integration. They adopted kids from varying racial backgrounds and were the first white family in Indiana to adopt an African-American boy. They also adopted 3 Korean children, a Native American child, and a handful of white kids. They had one child of their own.

Jones called his adopted kids the “Rainbow Family.” He made a name for himself desegregating institutions in Indiana. Before you get all dewy-eyed, note that this climaxed in murdering these children.

The Peoples Temple expanded through the 1960s. Jones gradually abandoned Marxism. His preaching increasingly focused on an impending nuclear apocalypse. He specified a date — July 15, 1967 — and suggested after the apocalypse, a socialist paradise would exist on Earth. Where would the new Eden be?

Jones decided on Redwood Valley, California. Before the expected Big Bang, he moved the Temple and its peoples there.

When the end-of-the-world deadline came and went, Jones abandoned his pretense of Christianity and he revealed himself as a madman using religion to lend legitimacy to his views. He announced, “Those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion must be brought to enlightenment — socialism.” Prophetic words in view of the fact that Jones was a drug addict.

As media attention increased, Jones worried the Peoples Temple’s tax-exempt religious status was in danger. He was paranoid about the U.S. intelligence community — with good reason.

Jonestown aerial view

In 1977, Jones moved the Temple and its people again. This was a major relocation. He took them out of the United States and resettled everyone in Guyana, a poor South American nation. He modestly named it “Jonestown.”

It was a bleak, inhospitable place. On 4000 acres of poor soil with limited access to fresh water, it was too small for the number of people it had to support. Jones optimistically figured “his” people could farm the new utopia. He had put together several million dollars before getting to Jonestown, but didn’t share it with his followers. He barely used any of the money at all, and lived in a small, bare-bones shack.

ALL HELL BREAKS LOOSE

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown in November of 1978. Rumors of peculiar goings-on were leaking out of Jonestown. Ryan decided to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses in Jonestown.

Jonestown headline Milwaukee

Ryan didn’t go alone. He took a contingent of media representatives including NBC News correspondent Don Harris and other reporters, plus relatives of Jonestown residents. During his visit, Congressman Ryan talked to more than a dozen Temple members, all of whom said they wanted to leave. Several of them passed a note saying: “Please help us get out of Jonestown” to news anchor Harris.

If the number of defectors seems low (there were more than 900 people in Jonestown), but the congressional party was unable to talk to most of the “fellowship.” It’s impossible to know how many might have wanted to leave.

Ryan began processing paperwork to repatriate Temple members to go back to the States. In the middle of this, Ryan was attacked by Don Sly, a knife-wielding Temple member. This would-be assassin was stopped before injuring Ryan. Eventually, the entire Ryan party plus the group of Jonestown defectors drove to a nearby airstrip and boarded planes, intending to leave.

Jim Jones had other plans. He sent armed Temple members — his “Red Brigade,” after the Congressional party  These creepy “soldiers of the Temple” opened fire, killing Ryan, a Temple defector, 3 members of the media, and wounding 11 others. The survivors fled into the jungle.

jonestown massacre anniversary

When the murderers returned to Jonestown and reported their actions, Jones promptly started what he called a “White Night” meeting. He “invited” all Temple members. This wasn’t the first White Night. Jones had hosted previous White Night meetings in which he suggested U.S. intelligence agencies would soon attack Jonestown. He had even staged fake attacks to add a realism, though it’s hard to believe anyone was fooled by the play-acting.

Faced with this hypothetical invasion scenario, Jones told Temple members they could stay and fight imaginary invaders, or they could take off for the USSR. Another tempting alternative would be to run off into the Guyana jungles. Finally, they could commit mass suicide as an act of political protest.

On previous occasions, Temple members had opted for suicide. Not satisfied, Jones had tested their commitment and gave them cups of liquid they were told contained poison. They were asked to drink it. Which they did. After a while, Jones told them the liquid wasn’t poison — but one day it would be.

Jonestown Koolaid

Indeed Jim Jones had been stockpiling cyanide and other drugs for years. On this final White Night, Jones was no longer testing his followers. It was time to kill them all.

(DON’T) DRINK THE KOOL-AID

After the airstrip murders outside Jonestown, Jim Jones ordered Temple members to create a fruity mix containing a cocktail of chemicals that included cyanide, diazepam (Valium), promethazine (Phenergan — a sedative), chloral hydrate (a sedative/hypnotic sometimes called “knockout drops”), and Flavor Aid — a grape-flavored powdered drink mix similar to Kool-Aid.

jonestown_massacre

Jones urged his followers to commit suicide to make a political point. What that point was supposed to be is a matter of considerable conjecture.  After some discussion, Temple member Christine Miller suggested flying Temple members to the USSR.

Jones was never interested in escape. There was only one answer he would accept. Death. Lots of it. He repeatedly pointed out Congressman Ryan was dead (and whose fault was that?) which would surely bring down the weight of American retribution. An audiotape of this meeting exists. It is as creepy as you’d expect.

30-years-jonestown

Then it was time for the detailed instructions which the followers followed. I will never understand why. Probably it means I’m not insane.

Jones insisted mothers squirt poison into the mouths of their children using syringes. As their children died, the mothers were dosed too, though they were allowed to drink from cups. Temple members wandered outside where eventually more than 900 lay dead, including more than 300 children. Only a handful survived — primarily residents who happened to be away on errands when the mass suicide/massacre took place.

Jones, his wife, and various other members of the Temple left wills stating that their assets should go to the Communist Party of the USSR.

Jones did not drink poison. He died from a bullet to the head. It’s not clear if it was self-inflicted. Jones likely died last or nearly so. He may have preferred a gun to cyanide, having seen the horrendous effects of death by cyanide.

WHY KOOL-AID?

In the wake of the tragedy at Jonestown, the phrase “drink the Kool-Aid” became a popular term for blind (or not-so-blind) obedience. Temple members had apparently accepted their cups of poison without argument or objection. Various accounts say the beverage used at Jonestown was mostly Flavor Aid, sometimes “Flav-R-Aid”). It doesn’t matter, does it?

Kool-Aid was better known than Flavor Aid. It was introduced in 1927 in powdered form, so when Americans thought of a powdered fruity drink mix (other than “Tang”), “Kool-Aid” sprang to mind.

Jonestown-Tomb-Flower

Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were at Jonestown, but the phrase “(don’t) drink the Kool-Aid” is popular lingo. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not. Does it help sell Kool-Aid?

I never touch the stuff.

AS LONG AS IT KEEPS THE COFFEE WARM … – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP- Sunday: MUG


There was a time in my life when every gave me a mug. Usually a mug with some kind of saying on it. Like ” Aren’t you glad you’re 50?” and “Eat dessert first” or some cryptic saying about tea or coffee.

I appreciated they make modestly priced gifts, but it reached the breaking point when one day, I couldn’t close the cabinet door. I donated ALL our standard mugs to the Senior Center. Time has passed and the mugs are back. Gifts, of course, and every time I buy dishes, it comes with a full set of mugs I will never use. The old teacup and saucer have gone the way of all things, it would seem. Just as well since they were even more difficult to store.

Morning coffee is ready

Personally, we’ve switched to Contigo insulated covered metal cups. They will keep your coffee at drinkable temperature all day. Literally an entire day. They never tip over and cover your computer keyboard with coffee, either.

The downside is that instead of drinking some coffee in the morning, we can (and do), nurse it all day. I suppose we are entitled to at least one bad habit … and this is assuming that coffee is a bad habit. With which opinion I do not agree!

MIXED BLESSINGS

The Blue Ripple, by Rich Paschall

My mother used to refer to many things as mixed blessings. In part that was because she could always see the down side of anything good. Her mother was the same way so I guess it sort of runs in the family.

Visits from her aunt Harriet would probably fall into that category. (That named is changed although I am not sure any living relative would be offended).  The joyous greetings and fun visits would sooner or later degenerate into negative conversations regarding the hard life we all live.  This may have been fueled by too many adult beverages.

We might hear about the “good old days” but that was usually followed with stories of living through the Great Depressions.  Of course we could understand that the family struggled greatly after the market crash of 1929.  It seemed unfortunate to me that 50 years later so many conversations were brought down by this memory.

Visits to grandma were mixed blessings even though I liked her a lot.  There were always hard candies, marzipan and cookies from the German bakery. We were not allowed too many, but we were always given something.  The joy of our arrival seemed to be followed by the annoyance of our presence.  As children, we were always to be corrected so we tried to sit quietly and do nothing.  You can see how well that works on little ones.

Illness or accidents could be a mixed blessing in my mother’s mind or a “blessing in disguise.” Although the situation was bad, it was meant to teach you a good lesson.  Be careful.  Take care of yourself.  Avoid accidents.

When she was elderly, took a bad fall and was taken to the hospital, she noted that it was a good reminder of our blessings.  “Did you see that woman who was in the other bed?  Tomorrow she will have her leg amputated.  Someone else’s situation can be worse than yours.”  I guess I saw all of that as two negatives, so “mixed blessing” is sometimes in the eye of the beholder.

We have all had jobs that were mixed blessings.  I had one that paid well but was unpleasant to work at. Another did not pay well but was rather enjoyable most of the time I was there.  In our working lives, many of the things we encounter contain mixed emotions, mixed benefits, mixed results.  In some, the negative outweighed the good by so much, I had to walk away.

When I was young and needed a car, some people I knew made me an offer on an automobile that was rarely used. I could not refuse. It was a mixed blessing. I felt I had to spend more time with the people who sold me the car and I always felt indebted to my father who loaned me the money. I was grateful and in their debt.

If I thought long and hard I guess I could think of many examples of mixed blessings of people, places, and events.  We could often see local, national and international events in this way.  In Chicago, we could look at the tenure of certain politicians as mixed blessings.  While there was too much patronage and even corruption, they managed to achieve great results for us.  This is why we referred to Chicago as “The City That Works” for many decades.

Very recently, many have hailed the great success of what they called the “Blue Wave.”  Of course, it was not that at all.  It was more of a ripple as many political analysts have noted.  While the current political situation energized many people to vote, equally as many stayed home.  NPR reported an estimated 47 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.  That means democracy was the loser again as the majority of voters elected to have no voice in the elections.

Voter turnout

For Democrats, the results were a mixed blessing.  If they were energized to work harder, so were the followers of 45.  Dems took back the House and declared their “Blue Wave” was a success, but Republicans strengthened their hold on the Senate which gives POTUS more power in some areas.  While energizing more “blue” voters, Dems may also have alerted “red” voters of the importance of getting to the polls.

Photo Garry Armstrong

The House Dems will gain control of committees and have increased oversight of government next year, but Senate Republicans will have an easier time pushing through 45’s appointments to government posts and federal judgeships.  That could push the courts more to the right, helping protect POTUS and friends.  Many Dems will be praying for the good health of 85-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

When you wish to energize voters to get more people to the polls, you may end up with a mixed blessing. Your opponents might be energized too and get some extra victories.

There will never be a strong Blue Wave, Red Wave or any wave until there is a strong wave of voters.  That would be a great blessing.

STILL AUTUMN IN MY MIND – Marilyn Armstrong

FOTD – November 18, 2018


It’s cold out and there’s snow in the driveway. We haven’t found a plow guy yet, but we live in hope. As long as he or she (we’ve never found a she who drives a plow, but why not?) gets here before we need an oil delivery, we’re good.

Martha Kennedy suggested YakTrax so we can walk up our frozen driveway and not fall on our collective heads and the dogs like snow a lot better than they like rain. They hate rain.

Well, to be fair, Gibbs feels that the sofa is the right place for him pretty much all the time, but the Duke loves everything. Bonnie only goes out when it’s 72 degrees with a light breeze.

Never you mind. We will survive winter. I just wish it hadn’t decided to begin before Thanksgiving.

The last time we had a big snow in early November, we got 120 inches for the season which was an all-time record. Even if you really like snow, that is a great deal of snow and a lot of money for plowing.

Meanwhile, I’m still living in my dreams of the autumn we almost had. Don’t ruin my dreams. I need them.