THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE – Marilyn Armstrong

Jonestown_entrance_welcome

Koolaid anyone?

I run this every year because people forget. We should not forget where blindly following a leader can take you. This happened. I remember it. Everyone who was alive and able to read or watch TV remembers.


On this day, the 41st anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre grew a saying everyone uses. “Drink the Kool-Aid” or “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid.” I feel sort of like those people these days, though no one is trying to poison me. Yet. I wonder how many people who say it so casually, referring to products, buying into a corporate culture, or political philosophy, or 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 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.

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 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.

MORE THAN EVER, THIS MATTERS

I’ve written about Jonestown before, but it bears repeating. I write it on the same day each year. Fewer and fewer people even know about it, but everyone should know.

It’s a cautionary tale for our times, reminding us where fanaticism and hatred can lead. 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, and nothing positive will ever come of it.


This is where blind obedience leads. This is the result. This was the biggest horror story, but it has not been the only one. When you follow blindly, beware of cliffs.

THE GREATEST BROADWAY MUSICAL — Marilyn Armstrong

Back in my bright college days, I was a music major. I hung out on the quad with other wannabe musicians on warm sunny days where we planned projects which would make us famous. Symphonies. Great achievements as conductors and composers though my class never produced anyone huge. Medium is as good as we got.

The Concept

My great project was going to be a full-length musical comedy based on the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan.

In the Grecian version, Zeus, having taken the form of a great white swan, rapes — Leda. I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing being rape by a swan. I mean — swans don’t have hands. But of course, he was (is?) a god, so who knows?


Zeus or not, swans are slow and clumsy on land, unlikely to successfully attack anyone or anything. Being heavy-bodied, they have trouble getting airborne and watching one try to cross a road from side of the pond to the other, I can personally say they are not in any way agile. All their grace is on water.

Without hands or arms, rape seems unmanageable but I never encountered a non-human creature in my wild youth. As far as I know, my lovers were supposedly human. It could be difficult to be sure at times.

Leda becomes pregnant and it’s no ordinary pregnancy. How could it be?

She bears Helen (of Troy, the great beauty) and Polydeuces. These are the children of Zeus. Simultaneously (and I’d like to know how she managed this), she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra — the offspring of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

Dirty water swan

Leda is able to convince her parents and husband that her extraneous pregnancy is not the result of a lover or (horrors) promiscuity. “No! Honest to Athena! Mom, Dad, it was Zeus. Himself! Not just any old guy. And he was a swan! A really big swan (NOTE: Swans are big,) Really.” Good performance, even for a god. And since it was Zeus, the big guy himself, Dad and husband aren’t likely to try to fight him, right?

Right.

The first and perhaps my favorite scene would have to be the first act closer. In this highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending soprano rich with passion and despair, yet filled with love for her four children, including those born from eggs. In it, she explains that it really truly was Zeus.

I could imagine another show-stopping moment.

Eggs. Her Zeus children are eggs. Who sat on the eggs? Did they build a nest on her throne? Did she get her ladies-in-waiting to sit on them while she did her Queen business?

Dialog Tidbit

Leda: “The swan didn’t fool me. I knew it was Zeus. You all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird? Mommy, Daddy, you know I wouldn’t lie to you.”

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: “I want to believe you, darling girl, but I’m having a few small issues.”

Leda: “Trust me. It was Zeus. As a swan. We all know how tricky he can be.” She spits out a white feather. Now that was convincing!

The All-Important Dream Ballet

In a brilliantly choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. Some of the technical aspects of the experience make interesting stagecraft.

How, exactly, did he DO it? It will make a heck of a scene! Without any hands?

Curtain Calls

By the final closer, the audience will be on its collective feet! I can hear the roar of the crowd, standing ovation, blown away by swanny sex. Not to mention the eggs. I see the royalties rolling in.

Two swans

I’ve been away from music for too long now to give this kind of orchestration a try, but I freely offer this incredible concept to anyone who has the musical energy to make it work. I will happily help with dialogue.  It might launch multiple careers.

I may even know just the right singers for it! At least ONE of them is deeply in love with swans!

CHRISTMAS CACTUS IS BACK — Marilyn Armstrong

The Cactus is Back!

I had been noticing how exceptionally healthy both my cactuses looked, but I hadn’t noticed any buds. Until I looked more carefully and realized they were full of buds. Tiny buds at the end of almost every strand.

Now, some of them are big, plump buds and just about ready to open. Here’s how they looked yesterday:

An overlook of the big cactus

Closeup one

A little broader look

Softly framed

A MOST UNUSUAL HOBBY – Marilyn Armstrong

I got an email notification informing me that Amazon had delivered a package at 2:05 pm this afternoon.


This was confusing because I had received a previous message from Amazon that this particular delivery had been canceled because it was damaged. It was supposed to contain 2 rolls of contact paper (the stuff in our cabinets is the same age as the house, so you can imagine the condition it’s in) and a bottle of shower cleaning spray. I had also received a note telling me they had refunded me for the order, though I had yet to see the refund in my account.

Also, there was no package. When I went to look at the details of the order, it said it had been canceled and the money was refunded. I couldn’t find the refund in my account. I couldn’t even find a charge for the order in the first place.

I called Amazon. I said I’d gotten a notice of delivery of a package that was supposedly canceled and for which I’d gotten a refund except I couldn’t find any refund and also, there was no package.


I gave the guy the order number and he said it had been refunded. I said that as far as I knew, I hadn’t gotten a refund either, but hey, what’s a little money between pals, right? So he starts a 3-way telephone conversation with UPS who says the don’t have to tell me anything because they have a contract with Amazon which says they don’t have to deal with Amazon’s customers.

“All I want to know is whether or not you actually delivered a package to my house,” I said.  He was very firm that it had been delivered.

I agreed it had been delivered, but where? He got a little hazy at that point and asked me to wait while he asked someone. He came back and told me that although I got the email, they had actually delivered the damaged package to Amazon. It was entirely accidental that they notified me about its delivery.  When I checked my bank account, it appeared that Amazon had both charged me for the items and refunded my money today, except they charged me after refunding me.

The whole thing was listed as having come from the department of “Hobbies and Entertainment.” Two rolls of contact paper and a spray bottle of shower cleaner. Some hobby, eh?

UPS hangs up. “Amazon,” I ask, “Are you still there?”

“Yes,” he says. “I don’t think the fellow from UPS understood anything at all.”

“Me neither,” I said.

“You have a good evening,” he said.

“You too,” I responded.

I’m still a bit puzzled but as long as I didn’t pay for something I never got, I’m okay. I’m pretty sure my hobby of putting new contact paper in my cupboards while cleaning my shower has been sidetracked.