Yesterday was really a wild day for news and probably it will be the same today. I think — or at least I profoundly hope — that the biggest group of crazies has blown their cover and won’t be able to build the kind of resources they need to be as destructive as they would like. Garry is much more worried than I am. I’m sure that has to do with all those years in the news business. He has seen and experienced a lot of things I haven’t and I’ve always been glad I wasn’t there. He seems to be of the opinion that there are is a virtually unlimited number of violent nut jobs in the U.S. I am not arguing that, but I think their communications have been disrupted and there are a lot of cops and FBI on their tails.
This is an argument he doesn’t want to win, so we have left it with hoping I’m right and he isn’t.
Television reporters are looking happy right now. It’s not that times are great. It’s that finally, no one is pointing at them and telling them they are “making up the news.” They were never making it up. They were always telling the truth. That many people preferred a delusional universe based on their own ideas what what the facts “ought” to be. Such belief does not make them right. It’s like faith. Just because a lot of people believe something is true does not make it true. Engaging even more people to believe the same falsehoods doesn’t change anything. The volume of delusional people doesn’t change the delusion.
No one seems to remember “Jonestown” anymore. They should. Because that’s where this kind of thing goes and January 6th was exactly what everyone had reason to expect — except they didn’t. Because they don’t believe that history has anything to offer us.
So here’s yet one more rerun of Jonestown, because death is what lies at the end of living in a delusional universe.
It’s more than 42 years since Jonestown. We still have not learned the lesson that slavishly following lying leaders can be lethal. We forget too quickly and have to relearn the same lessons repeatedly. Please, let’s NOT learn this one again. Once was sufficient.
I run this every year. People forget. We should not forget where blindly following a leader can take you. Some people — maybe many people — are currently following an insane leader who — while not handing out the Kool-Aid — is doing his absolute best to destroy us and our environment. We are living in madness. We should remember where that can take us because I think we are already there.
Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid
The popular expression “(don’t) 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. 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 the 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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. Kool-Aid and Flavor Aid were both used 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 (did) it sell Kool-Aid?
MORE THAN EVER, THIS MATTERS
I’ve written about Jonestown before. I rewrite this story annually, but fewer and fewer people remember it. Over the course of history, fanatics and those who blindly follow them have caused millions of deaths. Untold misery. Incalculable harm. When you follow your “leader” into the darkness, there is no “good” side. Nothing positive will come from it. In the realm of evil, there are no good people on the dark side.
This was a horror story I thought no one could forget. We forgot. When you follow blindly, darkness is waiting.