Saturday, April 13, 2013

November 16, 2003, The Star Online, The ghosts of Jonestown,

November 16, 2003, The Star [Malaysia] Sounds of suicide,
November 16, 2003, The Star [Malaysia] Cultured for death, by Martin Vengadesan,
November 16, 2003, The Star Online, The ghosts of Jonestown,

– STEPHAN Gandhi Jones is – in the eyes of the world – the son of a mass murderer. Fortunately for him, few people recognise him. But mention .

Tuesday marks the 25th anniversary of the Joenstown tragedy where almost 1,000 people, including 200 children, belonging to the People's Temple perished by the self-administered poison because their leader thought the end was nigh and ordered them to do so. MARTIN VENGADESAN, who has long been fascinated by the incident and the power of cults, interviews Jonestown survivors and next-of-kin to offer a chilling insight into how a community can self-destruct when its members lose their ability to think or act independently.

STEPHAN Gandhi Jones is – in the eyes of the world – the son of a mass murderer. Fortunately for him, few people recognise him. But mention “Jim Jones” and “Jonestown” and many people would make the connection.

Jones, 44, is the only biological son of Jim Jones and his wife Marceline Baldwin who founded the cult behind Jonestown. Its official name was the “People's Temple of the Disciples of Christ”.

Jim Jones was a visionary, charismatic leader preaching a seductive brand of multi-racialism, that was extremely appealing in the restive 1960s, and building a utopian-like egalitarian society.

Deborah Layton

But he apparently descended into madness and led his brainwashed followers to their deaths in a farming community in Guyana.

On Nov 18, 1978, the largest recorded mass suicide in history took place when 913 members of the People's Temple poisoned themselves and their children by drinking cyanide-laced grape juice served from a large vat. Jim Jones apparently shot himself in the head.

Stephan Jones, who was then 19, escaped death because he was out of Jonestown representing the community in a basketball tournament.

In an e-mailed interview, Jones speaks frankly of how he struggled to understand and survive the horror of his father's actions.

As a teenager, Stephan struggled under the shadow of his father, especially when he was exposed to the sexual affairs Jim Jones was conducting with certain members of the People's Temple. He even attempted suicide on a number of occasions in the early 1970s.

He, like other members who survived the cult, have spent years searching for answers to what actually happened and to understand how so many people apparently agreed to die together on the orders of their leader. He is currently working on a book concerning his experiences as the son of Jim Jones.

“There is rich ore in the tragedy of the People's Temple ... and it's grey and in that grey is every colour of the rainbow except the black and white that so many people want to paint with,” he says.

Jones is dismissive of the notion that Jonestown was a paradise. “Jonestown after Dad came to live there was far closer to a concentration camp than paradise, although I wouldn't call it either. An analogy that comes to mind is a prison run by the inmates. My understanding of concentration camps involves enemies, adversaries, a dominant, controlling group subjugating and abusing (even torturing and killing) another.

“There was certainly subjugation and abuse, and eventually killing in Jonestown, but it was an inside job, not done by an outside, separate adversary. Jonestown was populated by a wide range of personalities – from kind, selfless, and courageous to cruel, narcissistic and paranoid – but there was a pervasive sickness that none of us escaped fully. And the sickest of us rose to the top, and from there ran the show, which is what it all was mostly – a show.”

If it was a show, it fooled almost everyone


It was years before Deborah Layton (top, left) realised that she had been brainwashed by the charismatic and seductive Jim Jones.

Rebecca Moore is a professor at the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University and oversees the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown website ( She is the author of the book Sympathetic Considerations of Jonestown. Moore lost both her sisters and her nephew Kimo Prokes (believed to have been fathered by Jones) in the tragedy.

Moore says in an e-mail that her sisters tried to recruit their parents and her into the Temple because they “believed in the projects they were involved in, and felt that they were changing the world.”

She visited the facilities in northern California, which were very impressive but stayed away because “I was not much of a joiner” and “did not care for Jim Jones.”

“My parents, John and Barbara Moore, visited Jonestown in May 1978. They did not find a prison camp, but rather a very hopeful and up-beat community. They were impressed with the extent of agricultural development that had occurred there, as well as with the multi-generational community that existed. There certainly was no barbed wire, or prison-like conditions.

“It was clear that people cared about the community: the walkways were lined with flowers, and people had planted fruit trees among the houses,” Moore says.

But behind that idyllic façade, darker things were going on.

Laurie Efrein Kahalas, 59, joined the People's Temple in 1970. In 1973 she became part of the group's inner circle (known as the Planning Commission). When the majority of the group moved to Jonestown, she stayed in San Francisco. When the tragedy occurred, she was forced to listen helplessly to radio reports of the killings, including the last report sent from Jonestown.

In the aftermath of the suicides, Kahalas was among the People's Temple members who voted to dissolve the church. However, she saved many documents and eventually wrote a book about her experiences (Snake Dance: Unravelling the Mysteries of Jonestown). To this day, she is responsible for maintaining the controversial which supports the view that the Jonestown tragedy was the by-product of a CIA plot.

"I was never in Jonestown personally,” explains Kahalas. “We had to leave a very small crew back in the States to continue to send supplies, keep a semblance of church services going and handle various aspects of public relations in the absence of not only the leader, but most of the group."

While a member of the Planning Commission, Kahalas was subjected to a humiliating ordeal when Jim Jones ordered her to strip naked in front of the rest of the group's inner circle. The experience scarred her to the extent that she was pleased to see Jones leave for Jonestown.

“I was offered the chance to go to Jonestown late in the fall of 1977. Jim Jones had all but driven me to a nervous breakdown, and I was given the chance to go, but I couldn't do it. Not because I did not believe the community was a beautiful, highly unique social experiment which was a godsend for so many but on instinct, I knew I had to remain in the United States.”

Jim Jones is widely believed to have staged incidents in which he dramatically healed members of his church. Unlike most other survivors, however, Kahalas is still convinced that Jones did have healing powers.

She was never particularly convinced though, by the leader's bizarre use of sex. Jones who allegedly fathered a number of children with People's Temple members, would “endure” sexual marathons with members to help “cleanse” them.

“I hated this aspect of People's Temple. I tried to fight it but Jim was furious and would accept nothing of it,” says Kahalas.

Jones' sexual activities were particularly surprising given that his wife Marceline was a cornerstone of the People's Temple. “Marceline was an extraordinary person. But Jim, I believe, marginalised her by design. She was all chopped up over his sexual involvements. Two of Jim's own kids had been included in the Planning Commission, but stopped attending the meetings as they were too painful for them. Jim damaged everyone in his own nuclear family in the rush to be egalitarian.”

But Jones' hold on his followers was such that, as Kahalas, says, they were “caught in a power beyond us and asked at every turn to just trust Jim Jones' integrity entirely.”

Indeed Jones' influence was such that no one thought it strange that the community's Guyana project be named after him.

“The community was named Jonestown on one of the early trips there. I don't recall who suggested it, but it just caught on. Everyone, at the time at least, loved Jim Jones and was thrilled to have it called Jonestown,” recalls Kahalas.

But for Stephan Jones, his father was a deluded fraud.

“Dad, from the day he could walk, never really had a genuine moment that involved other people. He was always playing a part on some level. I don't buy the good man gone bad theory. I believe Dad was increasingly sick from toddlerhood till death,” he says scathingly.

Yet he also believes his father was not all bad.

“I know he had real goodness about and in him. Dad had a sweetness, even a purity that he could tap into when he wanted to, but in my experience he almost always did so to get something from someone ... most especially approval at least, adulation at best. And, boy, he had charisma. God bless his broken heart.”

Jones is also not one of those who believed in Jim Jones' supernatural healing powers.

“He was no miracle worker. I think he had some success early on with healing and clairvoyance, but he knew it was the faith of the people looking on and participating that got it done. So it didn't take him long to start orchestrating and manipulating faith. Healings and discernment were faked to build enough faith for real 'miracles' to take place.

"This is all speculation on my part, but I suspect it all quickly went from substance and show to a show of substance, which is where I believe Dad's favourite credo was born: 'The ends justifies the means' (which is) a very dangerous, duplicitous, arrogant, cancerous approach to getting your way ... which of course is always the right and only way to whoever has chosen it."

Jim Jones and his 'rainbow family' projected a benevolent and loving image of an egalitarian community which turned out to be a lie.

Deborah Layton, 50, escaped death because she fled Jonestown a few months before the teagedy occurred.

Layton, who had doubts about the safety of the community, started to plan her escape when she fell ill. Put in charge of communications while she recovered, she gave the impression to Jim Jones that there were problems in Georgetown affecting the community.

“I attribute my escape to connivance and luck. Jim decided to send me to the capital on a mission. That is the only reason that I got out of Jonestown, unlike many more deserving people entrapped there,” she says via e-mail.

She joined the People's Temple as a teenager, following her brother Larry into the group. Within a short amount of time, she became a trusted lieutenant of Jones and was actually functioning as the People's Temple financial secretary at the time of her departure from Jonestown in June 1978.

It was she who filed an affidavit maintaining that Jim Jones was training his followers to commit mass suicide. Layton currently works in public relations and is a part-time lecturer (on cult membership) at Stanford University. She is the author of Seductive Poison, the story of her time with the People's Temple.

“There are many things I am not proud of. The way I treated my father who always told me to question Jim Jones. The way in which I viewed my mother Lisa when she joined ... as a threat to my ascension. There was a rubber hose beating I participated in. I was so willing to believe that every outsider was bad and that it was okay to lie, cheat, and steal from even my father.”

For outsiders, it remains mind-boggling how so many people could be duped by one man, no matter how smooth-talking and persuasive, for so long and to the extent of dying for him.

Even for former followers like Layton, it took a long time for them to understand how the “brainwashing” took place.

“While escaping from Jonestown, I struggled with the belief that I was weak and couldn’t live up to the ideals of People's Temple. Once back in the US, I feared for the well-being of all of my friends and my mother and went public with my allegations. Over the next few weeks, I spoke to many sceptical reporters and then, five months later, to a disbelieving State Department in Washington D.C. My shame grew as I saw myself through their eyes ... a daft, odd young woman with a preposterous story of how a thousand people’s wills were being thwarted.

"It wasn't until I worked on the trading floor of an investment-banking firm in San Francisco that the seven years of indoctrination slowly began to crumble. As these 'evil capitalists', whom I had been taught to distrust and revile took me under their wing, I gradually began to realise just how deeply Jim’s thoughts had been ingrained in my thinking.

"Even now I struggle, after so many years of seeing everything in black and white, to accept the many varying shades of grey that truly exist.

"How helpless are people in the grips of a cult? It is not a question of helplessness, it is more an internal moral struggle ... how could I be right and all of my comrades be so wrong? I believe that whether it a group of five, 100, or 1,000 that there is always dissent, an inner voice that wonders, 'Can this be right?' What these groups do is to convince us that to question is selfish."

This AP photo of the aftermath of a mass suicide in 1978 by almost 1,000 members of the People's Temple cult who drank poisoned grape juice from this vat, shocked the world and remains just as powerful 25 years later.

Jm Jones also did not brook dissent and he was a master at playing on dissenters' fears and insecurities.

Says Layton: “I knew that I wanted out. However, I also knew that people who did speak out were taken into the medical unit and kept on coma-inducing drugs to keep them silent. No mother wants her child to die and almost all these people, if given a safe chance to run away, would have done so.

“So many people, including myself, wanted to get out of Jonestown, but were afraid that they had committed such illegal acts that to escape would only mean life imprisonment for them. The cult leaders do exactly that ... force people into participating in or witnessing crimes or heinous acts (such as I did in the rubber hose incident) and then tell them that to flee means the loss of those few things that you would escape for ... family, freedom, respect in the community.”

Layton points out a brainwashed person would never recognise herself to be such.

“People don’t believe that they are being brainwashed. It is a very fine line between loyalty and absolute devotion. It was not until I had been working on the trading floor with a very mercurial CEO, who paid me incredibly well, that I realised that you can be entrapped even in a corporation.

“All of us have experienced not standing up for something when we thought it might affect our career. We saw it in Nazi Germany with 'Hitler’s willing executioners'. When you believe that your principles could endanger your family, we become silent accomplices.”

Kahalas, however, feels one should be take responsibility for one's actions.

“It was to my salvation, not to my detriment, when within weeks of the tragedy, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, 'The press is treating us all as robots or psychopaths, and I will not be treated that way.' If we do not retain our human sensitivities then what are we? We can say 'It was all Jim Jones' fault,' but at the end of the day, we are still sovereign human beings accountable to ourselves and others.”

It's been 25 years, yet all the people interviewed still feel they cannot completely let go of what happened at Jonestown. There is also a sense that they owe it to those who died not to forget.

Moore says different families of the victims responded Jonestown in different ways: shame, guilt, becoming active in anti-cult groups or in recovery groups, joining other religions.

“My response was to try to humanise the people who died in Jonestown: to give them names and faces so that the media and society could not dismiss them simply as religious fanatics and leave it at that,” she says.

Kahalas, on her part, concurs and is doing it for the sake of history too.

“Those who died were by and large very decent, committed and productive people. My work is based in conscience. All I can do is to leave history the record as I knew it first-hand,” she adds.

Looking back, Layton says she regrets rejecting angrily offers of help after the tragedy.

“I was adamant that I was not going to be anyone’s guinea pig. I was approached by many psychiatrists and was angrily defiant ... I didn’t need anyone’s help. Looking back on it now, had I known of anyone I could trust or knew that they were not 'practising' on me I would have, perhaps sought their help. This might have prevented me from suffering from the survivor’s guilt that I have because we know the best of us did not return.”
November 16, 2003, The Star, [Malaysia] Descent into destruction,

JAMES Warren Jones a.k.a. Jim Jones was born into a poor family in Indiana in 1931 and in his early teens developed a strong interest in preaching the gospel. The influence of the popular black preacher Father Divine and the working class struggles he observed led him to develop an interest in leftist ideology.

With his wife Marceline (a former nurse), Jones adopted children of many races and set up a halfway house for the underprivileged. Initially he worked within the Disciples of Christ, into which he had been ordained. But soon his charismatic preaching and growing reputation as a healer and a seer, drew more followers and he was able to set up the People's Temple of the Disciples of Christ in 1955.

In the mid 60s he uprooted the People's Temple to Ukiah, California. In the politically charged climate of the Vietnam War, the church flourished, attracting a curious mix of orthodox religious African-Americans, idealistic hippies, reformed drug addicts and left-wing activists.

Many were attracted by the People's Temple's multi-racial message and Jones' emphasis on building an egalitarian society. With its impressive record of social work and a tremendous success rate among the underprivileged, the People's Temple expanded rapidly and Jones moved its headquarters to San Francisco, where the church became politically influential.

By the early 70s, Jones ranked among the most prominent clergymen in the USbut a few years later, cracks appeared in the People's Temple. High-powered defections were accompanied by accusations of sexual impropriety and physical abuse, as well as allegations that Jones had faked healings and visions.

Jones, however, still had the support of many dedicated followers who believed that the church was the victim of CIA and FBI infiltrators (certainly not unlikely given Jones' pro-Soviet political stance).

By June 1977 an increasing ill, paranoid and drug-dependant Jones moved with nearly 1,000 People's Temple members to an agricultural project that the group had set up in 1973. Jonestown was a thriving albeit isolated, multi-racial community that had its own schools, medical system, and special care for the elderly and the young.

By the middle of 1978, a number of People's Temple defectors had set up a group called Concerned Relatives. They lobbied US Congressman Leo Ryan (Democratic rep for San Mateo, California), who was gaining notoriety in the US at the time for proposing legislation to limit the power of CIA and force it to be accountable to Congress. Ryan's attempt to take on the CIA would be fodder for much speculation and conspiracy theories about what actually happened at Jonestown.

In November Ryan visited Jonestown with a number of concerned relatives. He was happy with what he saw, although he invited anyone who wished to leave Jonestown to join him. A small group did so. At the Port Kaituma airstrip, situated a few kilometres from Jonestown, Ryan's party were boarding their plane when one of the defectors began shooting. This was apparently the cue for a death squad who arrived on the scene to kill Ryan and four others, including NBC cameraman Bob Brown who died while filming the event. (Brown’s footage can be viewed at
When word of the Port Kaituma killings reached the Jonestown community, Jones warned his followers that the outside world would destroy them, and he urged his followers to commit suicide. More than 900 people (including more than 200 children) drank cyanide-laced grape juice. A handful of members including Jones were shot. – by Martin Vengadesan

November 16, 2003, The Star [Malaysia] Sounds of suicide,

AN audio taping of Jim Jones' last speech was made before the suicides began, and ran on until after the last suicide. The tapes survived but have been released into the public domain in edited form. Over the sounds of music (Jonestown has its own pianist and organist) and later over the sounds of both crying and rejoicing, Jim Jones exhorted his followers to commit suicide.

These are some excerpts.

Jim Jones: Twelve hundred people's lives in my hands, and I certainly don't want your life in my hands. I'm going to tell you, Christine, without me, life has no meaning.

Christine Miller: I said I'm not ready to die...I look about at the babies and I think they deserve to live, you know?

Jones: I...I agree. But they...But don't they also...they deserve much more, they deserve peace.

The plaque bearing one of Jim Jones' favourite quotes has a grimly ironic message.
Miller: When you...when you...when we destroy ourselves, we're defeated. We let them, the enemies, defeat us.

Jim McElvane: Just hold on, sister, just hold on. We have made that day. We made a beautiful day, and let's make it a beautiful day. That's what I say. Christine, you're only standing here because he was here in the first place. So I don't know what you're talking about, having an individual life. Your life has been extended to the day that you're standing there, because of him.

(Tape edited)

Woman 1: (Unintelligible) You've saved so many people.

Jones: I've saved them. I saved them, but I made my example. The best testimony we can make is to leave this goddamn world.


(Tape edited)

Woman 1: You must prepare to die.

Man 2: (Weepy) We're all ready to go. If you tell us we have to give our lives now, we're ready – at least the rest of the sisters and brothers are with me.

Woman 10: I've been here year and nine months. And I never felt better in my life. Not in San Francisco, but until I came to Jonestown. I had a very good life. I had a beautiful life. And I don't see nothing that I could be sorry about. We should be happy. At least I am. That's all I'm gonna say.

Applause, music

Jones: (Pleading) Please. For God's sake, let's get on with it. We've lived...we've lived as no other people have lived and loved. We've had as much of this world as you're gonna get. Let's just be done with it. Let's be done with the agony of it.


(Tape edited)

Children crying

Jones: (Possibly to his protesting wife Marceline) Mother, Mother, Mother, please. Mother, please, please, please. Don't, don't do this. Don't do this. Lay down your life with your child. But don't do this.

Woman 14: We're doing all this for you.

Jones: Free at last. Peace. Keep your emotions down. Keep your emotions down. Children, it will not hurt. If you'll be... if you'll be quiet. If you'll be quiet.

Music and crying

(Tape edited)

Man 5: All I would like to say is that my, so-called parents are filled with so much hate....

Jones: (Clapping in reprimand) Stop this, stop this, stop this (unintelligible word). Stop this crying, all of you.

Man 5:...hate and treachery. I think people out here should think about how your relatives were and be glad about; that the children are being laid to rest. And all I'd like to say is that I thank Dad for making me strong to stand with it all and make me ready for it. Thank you.

Jones: All they're doing is...all they do is taking a drink. They take it to go to sleep. That's what death is, sleep. (Tape edited)...of it. I'm tired of it all.

Woman 16: Right. Yes. Dad...Dad's love and nursing, goodness and kindness, and he bring us to this land of freedom. His love...his mother was the advance...the advance guard for socialism. And his love and his principles (unintelligible) will go on forever unto the fields of...

Jones: Where's the vat, the vat, the vat? Where's the vat with the Green C on it? Bring the vat with the Green C in. Please? Bring it here so the adults can begin.

Woman 16: Go on unto the Zion, and thank you, Dad.


Jones: We used to think this world was – this world was not our home – well, it sure isn't? We were saying, it sure wasn't. (Pause) He doesn't want to tell me. All he's doing – if they will tell 'em – assure these kids. Can't some people assure these children of the relaxation of stepping over to the next plane? They set an example for others. We said – one thousand people who said – we don't like the way the world is. (Tape edited) Take some. (Tape edited) Take our life from us. We laid it down. We got tired. (Tape edited) We didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.

Music, crying and eventually a long period of silence followed by a gunshot.

November 16, 2003, The Star [Malaysia] Cultured for death, by Martin Vengadesan,

IN the years since Jonestown, mass deaths linked to religious cults have occurred all over the world. This, by the way, is hardly a new phenomenon.
The word “assassin” in fact stems from one of the earliest known cultists al-Hasan ibn-al-Sabbah, a Persian who lived from 1090 to 1124. At his mountain fortress in Alamut, he would ply his followers with hashish and then incite them to murder his political rivals! The cult actually lasted until 1256 before being smashed by invading Mongols.
In Malaysia, over the last 10 years, cults such as Al-Arqam (who were accused of building up a secret army) and Al-Ma’unah (whose members actually took over a military base) have emerged to threaten public safety.
Since the Jonestown tragedy, the following cult-related deaths have occurred:
Sept 19, 1985 – 60 members of the Ata tribe on Mindanao in the Philippines were found dead. They had taken poison on the orders of their leader Datu Mangayanon who told them that they would be able to see God.
Nov 1, 1986 – The charred corpses of seven women were found on a beach at Wakayama, in western Japan. They were members of the Church of the Friends of Truth who decided to commit suicide after the death of their leader Kiyoharu Miyamoto.
August 1987 – 32 disciples of the priestess Park Soon-Ja were found dead at Yongin, South Korea. Most of them had had their throats cut after absorbing a non-fatal dose of poison.
Dec 13, 1990 – 12 people died in a religious ritual in Tijuana, Mexico, after drinking from a poisoned vat of fruit punch.
December 1991 – 30 Mexicans, including minister Ramon Morales Almazan suffocated after he told them to keep praying and ignore toxic fumes filling their church.
April 19, 1993 – 81 Branch Davidian cult members and four US government officials died after a fire and a shootout with police and federal agents ended a 51-day siege of the groups compound near Waco, Texas. Sect leader, David Koresh died of a gunshot wound to the head sometime during the blaze.
October 1993 – 53 Vietnamese hill tribe villagers committed mass suicide with primitive weapons in the belief that they would go straight to heaven. They are believed to have been victims of a scam by a man who received cash donations by promising a route to heaven
Oct 5, 1994 – 53 members and former members of the Order of the Solar Temple (Ordre du Temple Solaire, OTS) including its leaders Luc Jouret and Jospeh di Mambro were discovered dead in Quebec, Canada, and three separate locations in Switzerland. Some were murdered and some committed suicide. Solar Temple, an international sect, preached that ritualised suicide led to rebirth on a planet called Sirius.
March 20, 1995 – Members of Aum Shinrikyo, founded by Shoko Asahara, released sarin gas on Tokyo subway trains injuring over 5,000 people and killing 12. Aum members previously had committed a variety of murders, and attempted to commit more murders after the Tokyo subway attack.
December 1995 – 16 more Solar Temple members were found dead in a burned house outside Grenoble, in the French Alps.
March 22, 1997 – When the Hale-Bopp comet was closest to the earth, five more members of the Solar Temple committed suicide in Quebec.
March 26, 1997 – Also based on the trajectory of the Hale-Bopp comet, 39 members of the Heaven's Gate group led by Marshall Applewhite began their group suicide near San Diego, California. Authorities were shocked to discover that most of the male members have been voluntarily castrated.
May 6, 1997 – two more Heaven's Gate believers attempted to commit suicide, and one succeeded.
March 18, 2000 – More than 400 members of the Ugandan cult, Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, were burned to death in their church after controversy arose from the failure of the world to end on Dec 31, 1999. Investigators uncovered five mass graves which indicated that more than 1,000 people were murdered on the orders of cult leaders Joseph Kibwetere, Dominic Kataribabo and Gredonia Mwerinda.

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