Saturday, May 11, 2013

The 20th Century: conflict, attitude and changing religions, by Frank E. Smitha.

The 20th Century: conflict, attitude and changing religions, by Frank E. Smitha. 
Copyright © 1998, 1999 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved. 

Chapter 30


.Take some shouting, stomping, rolling on the floor religion, mix it with Jim's Jones belief in socialism and fears of persecution and what you get is a disaster named Jonestown. Some old-fashioned Christians would see another ingredient in the mix: Satan. And Pentecostalists would have a special reason for being offended.

Jim Jones grew up in Indiana during the Great Depression, his parents struggling to find work and to make a living. Jones was a boy with curiosity. On his own he wandered into a Pentecostalist congregation, the Gospel Tabernacle, on the edge of the town of Lynn, Indiana. The congregation was largely of people from Kentucky and Tennessee, who had come to work in Indiana during World War II, people derisively called hillbillies, "holly rollers" and "tongues people" by the town's more respectable residents.

In early adolescence Jones was not interested in sports and or play with other boys. He was interested in the theatrics, emotionality and the religious ecstasies that he found at the Gospel Tabernacle. There Jones was introduced to spiritual healing, and there he learned to preach, and he won praise.

At the age of sixteen (in 1947), Jim Jones was preaching on street corners, believing that he had wisdom and knowledge that others needed, and a few people would stop to listen, and reward him with coins tossed onto a blanket next to him. Jones believed in brotherhood. Unlike the respectable townspeople he had not looked down upon the "hillbillies." Jones dressed as neatly as he could for his preaching. But he sympathized with the poor, and he preached also in black neighborhoods. What he did look down upon was the frivolity and sinfulness of other boys his age.

Jones fancied that he was a leader among boys, and he feared rejection. When his closest friend left to return home in defiance of his orders, Jones grabbed his father's pistol and shot at his friend, missing as his friend ran down the street.

In high school, Jones was a diligent student, and in his assigned readings he took special interest in two men who had experienced great power: Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin. In his later highschool years, Jones worked part-time in a hospital, and there he met a student nurse, Marceline, who was impressed by the way that Jones got along with patients, and she was impressed by his helpfulness and his concern over social issues and world events. Jones described himself to Marceline as a person of principle, but he told her that he was the star on the highschool basketball team and had quit because his coach had slurred black opponents.

After Jim Jones graduated from highschool -- with honors -- he started college, and he and Marceline married. In college he continued his bible reading, and, in discussions with Christians more liberal than he, he created annoyance by always defending his views with biblical quotations rather than trying to reason through a point. And they found him stubbornly inconsistent.

These were stormy times for Jones. His marriage was not going as well as he wished. Marceline had hoped for partnership but Jones was insecure, domineering and jealous of any attention she gave to others. She found his emotional explosions unendurable and his tirades difficult. But she had been taught that marriage was a lifetime proposition, and she feared the stigma of divorce. She decided to stay with her marriage. This assuaged Jones' greatest fear, people he was close to withdrawing from him.

Jones was going through a period of doubt concerning his faith. He threatened to kill himself if Marceline persisted in praying. He claimed that his experiences working in the hospital and his seeing the poor on city streets had led him to conclude that a merciful God would not allow such suffering. There was no God, he proclaimed. And he denounced churches as hypocritical for screening people according to the color of their skin.

Then Jones became impressed by the stands taken by his wife's church -- the Methodists. This was 1952, and the Methodists were already espousing rights for minorities and putting an end to poverty. Jones was impressed too by their opposition to unemployment, their espousal of collective bargaining for working people and security for the aged. In 1952, while still pursuing his undergraduate studies, Jones accepted a position as a student pastor at the Somerset Methodist Church, a church in a less than affluent, predominately white neighborhood in southern Indianapolis.

During his days as a student pastor, Jones secretly visited various African -American churches around Indianapolis, and he made friends with some of the people he found there, inviting them to his services and into his home. Jones took with him on his outings to African-American churches Marceline's twelve year-old cousin, a boy who had been living with Jim and Marceline since they had rescued him from a foster home. Jones tried to adopt the boy. The boy was not comfortable with Jones and resisted. Jones lied to the boy, telling him that returning to his real mother was hopeless, that she did not love him and was not a person who was worthy. The boy visited his mother and concluded otherwise. Combating abandonment by the boy, Jones went into one of his emotional fits of authoritarianism. The boy left the home of the Jones' and returned to his mother, and disliking Jones, he would run whenever Jones came to visit.

Jones became a hit at Pentecostal gatherings at other churches, outshining other healers with his miracles, and he built for himself a reputation in Indiana Pentecostal circles. He left Somerset Methodist Church and started his own church in a run-down building that he rented. In 1956 he transferred his church to a better building, and he began calling his efforts a "movement," and his church he called the "People's Temple."

Jim Jones was a rarity in Indiana in the mid-fifties: an emotional-style white preacher who preached integration and equality. Without financial backing by a wealthy denomination, Jones had to struggle to build a congregation. He established a soup kitchen, said to amount to 2,800 meals a month. He advocated giving shelter to the needy and adopting children, and he and his wife adopted a black child and a Korean orphan, in addition to his wife giving birth to a boy.

The Cold War was intense in the mid-fifties, and Jim Jones spoke of fighting Communism with communalism. He supported communalism by referring to a biblical passage about people selling their possessions. Jones good works in Indianapolis and his belief in civil rights won for him an appointment as head of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission -- those involved in making the appointment unaware of Jones' healings. In this position, Jones helped integrate a theater and some eating places in downtown Indianapolis, and he became the target of the wrath of some downtown businessmen who complained that they wanted the right to choose their clientele. By 1961, Jones was the target of conservative discontent. He told a local newspaper of hate letters and of telephone threats that he had been receiving. He feared being murdered for his views on race. Someone who had seen his wife on the street with her children had spat at her feet and had called her a nigger lover.

Jones and his assistants at the People's Temple also feared nuclear war. Jones claimed to have had a vision of a nuclear attack. The Midwest, they believed, was too dangerous. Jones and his staff hoped to move their church elsewhere. Jones journeyed to Hawaii, then to Brazil where he stayed two years, supporting himself by teaching English, while his assistants, including some subordinate preachers, were maintaining his church in Indiana.

He returned to Indiana in December 1963, and in 1965 he and about 140 of his followers migrated to California, near the town of Ukiah in Mendicino County, a rural area not far from Eureka, California, which had been declared by Esquire magazine as the safest area should there be a nuclear attack.Note Unlike the Midwest, it was upwind from all the likely targets of missiles with nuclear warheads.

The hippie movement and the migration from San Francisco to Mendicino had not yet begun, which made Jones' settling there easier. With a degree in education he was able to find a part-time job teaching, and Marceline took a job as a social worker at Mendicino State hospital.

By the time Jim Jones was in California, he was having sexual intercourse with women other than his wife, Marceline. He was enjoying the power about which Jim Bakker was to speak. Marceline wanted out of their marriage, and their son, Stephan, was losing respect for his father. He could see that his father was breaking his own rules and making rules for others just to suit his whims. Jones was using chemicals, more than caffeine for stimulation and cigarettes to calm him down. He was also using painkillers, and occasionally when Jones had an attack of some sort Marceline was shoot him up with what was described as Vitamin B12 and this would immediately tranquilize him. Among the pills Jones was taking were Quaaludes, and his son overdosed on Quaaludes trying to kill himself.

In 1968 Jones had sixty-eight members in his new People's Temple. He had endeared himself to the conservative community and leadership in Ukiah, including the local leader of the John Birch Society, whom he had befriended. He was granted affiliation with the Disciples' of Christ, a denomination reputed to number 1.5 million, and Jones took advantage of the Disciples' failure to maintain an eye on his church and refrained from adhering strictly to the Disciple's requirement for holy communion and baptism. Jones was espousing socialism to his followers, and he was baptizing new members in his temple's swimming pool "in the holy name of Socialism."

Membership in the Disciples' gave Jones tax exemption and more prestige, and soon his membership increased to around 300. To advance his church Jones was pushing himself day and night. He maintained contacts with local politicians and church leaders, making sure everyone knew of his church's good works. He was sending as many as 36,000 copies of a newsletter to various locations across the nation where he had contacts. In 1971 he began radio broadcasting that could be heard across North America. By 1973 membership in his movement was at 2,570. His church spread to San Francisco and Los Angeles, and he began preaching in these cities. Jones was pleased. He was not one to be satisfied as a minister of a mere small-town church. Jones was suffering from one of Hitler's afflictions: grandiosity.

Jones was worried about persecution and he wanted an escape. He won from the government of Guyana permission to begin building a commune in a rural area near the Venezuelan border. Jones had stopped by Guyana during his return from Brazil in the early sixties, and he was impressed by the socialist credentials of the less than democratic government there, headed by Lynden Forbes Burnham. And the government looked with approval upon the rural development that Jones promised. Burnham's regime believed that a large commune of people from the United States would help fend off claims to the area by Venezuela.

Jones had sent some staff members to his commune site, and he visited and tried to publicize himself by giving a sermon in Guyana's capital city, Georgetown. Members of Jones' staff looked for a place for Jones to preach, and in town was a Catholic Church. Jones' staff was aware of the enthusiastic ecumenism of Father Andrew Morrison, and they asked Morrison if they could use his Sacred Heart Church to give a service, without being candid about the nature of Jones' preaching. Father Morrison and his perish council agreed. Jones' appearance at the church was well advertised. Father Morrison was present at the service and was appalled. In the days that followed he apologized publicly about what he called blatant hoax and fraud having taken place in his church. Some people in Georgetown saw Jones as having imported cheap tricks, and Jones was disappointed that techniques that worked in Indiana and California had not worked in Georgetown, Guyana. And Jones wondered whether he was losing his touch.

Back in the United States, Jones continued his healing services. He had a staff of women who sifted through the garbage of temple members for information that Jones could use for appearing clairvoyant when calling out to people during his sermons. His staff believed that Jones' charade was beneficial in building his movement. Like mystics of antiquity, including the oracles at Delphi, they saw little wrong with Jones' creating whatever he wished truth to be.

A few of the more intellectual of his recruits were interested in metaphysics and astrology. These few were more likely to become a part of Jones' staff. Jones' lawyer, Tim Stoen, was one such intellectual. Stoen had been living in Berkeley and was from a family of Presbyterians. Stoen was a graduate of Wheaton College and Stanford Law School, and during his college days he had been a devout member of the Campus Crusade for Christ. And now he was giving his all for Jones' movement. Jones was providing a church for those who were mystical, politically anti-establishment and in favor of racial equality.

Potential members or visitors to the People's Temple were invited to cozy meetings, at which his staff spotted for exclusion anyone who appeared as though they might develop doubts about Jim Jones or might be too politically conservative. Most welcomed were African-Americans who were anti-establishment and religious in the Pentecostal tradition. The majority of Jones' recruits were African-Americans from Los Angeles and San Francisco. And black ministers were disturbed by the People's Temple taking membership from them -- what was known as "stealing sheep."

Jones appealed more to the poor and uneducated, of whom there were more than there were intellectuals. These were people more inclined toward plebeian clichés (such as "mind over matter") and to copy others with little question -- what the sociologist David Riesman called other-directed.

In appealing to the poor, Jones spoke of his never demanding a dime from anyone. He attacked the Baptists as mercenary and described himself as a friend of the poor. He was, he said, "the people's minister." And his People's Temple banned fur coats and stoles.

Jones' call for sharing and Christian communalism was also an appeal to the poor -- and a call for mutual poverty. Temple members pooled their incomes with the Temple and turned their property over to the temple for sale at Peoples' Temple stores and at weekend flea markets. Temple members adopted a more ascetic lifestyle: two dollars a week allowance money in addition to room and board.

Jones told his congregations that only socialism brought perfect freedom, justice and equality, perfect love in all its beauty and holiness. Believing that God was manifest in all people, that God was goodness, and seeing himself as the one to deliver humanity to this utopia, he described himself as coming to them as "God Socialist." His congregation spoke their approval as was the tradition in some African-American churches. "See socialism as God in me," said Jones, and his congregation spoke their approval again. In his passionate delivery he reminded his congregation of his Christ-like feats, of his feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and of his healing when doctors had said that a person could not be healed. And to his congregation he shouted: "You're free! You're free!"

In People's Temple schools, kids were learning that the most evil people in the world were capitalists. Jones had begun presenting himself as a social-revolutionary and using socialist and revolutionist rhetoric. But his organization was not very socialist. The most famous of social revolutionary parties, Lenin's Bolshevik party, had been organized around committees that voted, with Lenin being merely the first among equals. Jones' organization, on the other hand, had no collective leadership. His staff -- almost all white -- did not put forth ideas that conflicted with Jones' ideas -- as the argumentative Bolsheviks did with Lenin. Like the National Socialists, Jones' movement had one fountainhead of authority -- his followers calling him Father rather than Führer.

In tune with the 1960s, Jones had become an advocate of sexual liberation, and he talked too of the liberation of women. He advocated marriage, especially between races, but he attacked marriage without sexual freedom as counter-revolutionary. He attacked being jealous over a partner having sex with someone else. Also he advocated celibacy. As leader, he had to take a holier-than-thou approach, and so he attacked the sexuality of individual members. As a sort of confession, he had temple members list their sexual practices and urgings. He had wives stand up and complain about their husband's lovemaking. He declared himself the only true heterosexual, and in private he sodomized a male follower to prove that person's homosexuality to him.

In December 1973, on one of his trips to Los Angeles, Jones was arrested at MacArthur Park, reputed to be a meeting place for homosexuals. On December 13 he was booked for lewd conduct and held on $500 bail. He was bailed out promptly by his Temple lawyer, Tim Stoen, who tried without success to have the arrest expunged from police records. The case went to court on December 20. The charges against Jones were dismissed, but Jones had to sign a "stipulation as to probable cause," a document admitting that the officer had had reason to arrest him. Jim Jones was now more vulnerable to attack by his enemies.

Seeing the need for discipline within his church and being old-fashioned regarding punishment, Jones had instituted corporeal punishments. Boxing matches were also used as punishment. One member who was ordered into the boxing ring was Bob Houston. Houston was a hard worker for the Temple, apparently finding comfort in belonging. He was one of the earlier members of the church, and he liked to read. He had taken seriously Jones' invitation to ask questions, and he asked questions that sometimes embarrassed Jones. Houston was charged with being an 'insensitive intellectual" and a prig. In the ring he was pummeled, and some Temple members hoped that this would knock some of the elitism out of him.

Paddling before a group of Temple members was common, one of the paddles labeled "the board of education." Rather than report to the police that a member of the Temple commune had molested a boy, the Temple applied its own disciplinary procedures: it had the offender's penis whipped with a hose. One forty-year-old woman was punished for having accused Jones of turning them all into robots. She was pummeled by about a dozen other members. The animal rage involved in the attack inspired Tim Stoen's wife, Grace, to quit the Temple. Other churches accepted that people came and went, but Jones' had a great fear of defections. He was outraged, asking how Grace Stoen could do such a thing after all he had done for her. Tim Stoen appeared to side with Jones and not with his wife. A custody battle for her son soon followed, with Jones falsely claiming to be the father of the child.

Jones and his staff saw talk from defectors as something that Temple enemies could use, and Jones was still offended by abandonment. He denounced defectors and he lied about them. Some African-American defectors -- whom Jones had denounced as Coca-Cola revolutionaries among other things -- surprised Jones at the home of a congregation member. They were armed and caught Jones without his bodyguards, and they complained about Jones' lies. Jones was afraid. He made excuses, saying that lying and denunciations were one of the needs of "the dictatorship of the proletariat," and he spoke of the end justifying the means.

Pursing his belief in himself as a revolutionary and not wanting to be outperformed by others, when the Symbionese Liberation Army created a sensation by kidnapping Patricia Hearst, Jones told his congregation that the terrorism of the Symbionese Liberation Army was understandable, and he expressed admiration for the Symbionese Liberation Army. Among Temple members Jones distributed the declaration of the SLA's General Field Marshall, Cinque. Outside the Temple he had a different message. He said he deplored the terrorist violence of the SLA. Then he involved the Temple in the food distribution program that the SLA made as a condition for the release of Patricia Hearst.

Jim Jones was becoming well known in San Francisco, while the Hearst newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner remained suspicious of him. Jones was welcomed on the Left as a fighter for the common good and progressive causes. As one of a few speakers at San Francisco's Cow Palace, Jones made a dramatic show by speaking of threats to his life and the terrorism of U.S. government agencies at home and abroad. With emotion he announced that "if they come for one of us" they had "damned well better come for all of us." And for forty-five seconds the audience applauded with enthusiasm.

Temple members worked in political campaigns in San Francisco, which helped Jones win respect. He tried cultivating relations with the local chapter of the Black Muslims, without success. But with people who believed in integration he was successful. He befriended the Marxist philosopher and Communist Party devotee, Dr. Angela Davis, a member of the faculty at UCLA, who was critical of Jones but also supportive, believing as she did in coalition politics. The People's Temple participated in rallies that she supported. And, by associating with Dr. Davis, Jones believed he was strengthening his radical credentials.

Jones became acquainted with a variety of influential people, none of whom knew him very well. Jones had befriended Dr. Carlton Goodlet, a wealthy black man who owned a local newspaper. Jones befriended the Reverend Cecil Williams, of San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church, and he became acquainted with Assemblyman Willie Brown. In 1975 Jones helped George Moscone win his election as mayor of San Francisco, and Moscone put Jones in charge of the city's housing authority. And during Jimmy Carter's campaign for the presidency in 1976 Jones' relished the fifteen-minute interview that he had with Rosalynn Carter.

By now Jones had accumulated a considerable amount of money that he could donate to causes and charities -- which helped establish him in local politics. He donated $19,500 to Dennis Banks and the American Indian Movement. He gave $6,000 to save the senior citizen's escort program and $1,000 to a Marin County drug treatment program.

Jones had befriended Huey Newton, and he was to visit Newton in Cuba, talking to Newton about his parents and a cousin, who had attended Temple services. He discussed Newton's desire to return to the United States, and later Jones criticized Newton, saying that Newton missed his luxurious apartment and his favorite bars in Oakland.

1976 was a good year for Jim Jones; 1977 was not. Tim Stoen had been working in Jonestown, first in a sawmill fourteen hours a day then at paper work. He defected in March, and the news sent Jones into a rage and collapse. A custody battle began over the Stoen's son John Victor, Jones continuing to falsely claim that he had fathered the boy. And journalists were beginning to come around asking questions. Jones' hired Huey Newton's former attorney, Charles Garry, and all inquiries about the People's Temple were directed to Garry's office. And Garry began to portray the Temple as a victim of a political conspiracy.

Word was out that a journal, the New West, was putting together an article on the People's Temple, an article built upon the stories of defectors. Jones decided to take up residence at his commune at Jonestown. He called Cecil Williams and spoke of the news media seeking to destroy him with false accusations. Williams admonished him, saying that running would appear to some as an admission of guilt. Jones gave what to Williams seemed a curious response, Jones saying the he, Jim Jones, "would show them."

It was in the summer of 1977 that Jones went to Guyana, and he took with him numerous commune members, the population of Jonestown rising to over 1,100. The New West article on the People's Temple was published and described life inside the Temple as Spartan regimentation, with fear and self-imposed humiliation. The article called for an investigation of Jim Jones and spoke of Temple involvement in a dangerous operation of care homes and of some mysterious deaths. The article concluded with the comment that the story of the People's Temple had only begun to be told.

Charles Garry was making inquiries of his own in his effort to defend Jones' interests, and he was becoming disillusioned. The lack of independent thinking among Temple members and Jones' authoritarian style offended Garry. Garry had always hoped for honesty from his clients, and he doubted Jones' honesty. But Garry kept his misgivings as a matter between himself and his client, Jim Jones.

Meanwhile, Jones responded to the verbal attacks on the Temple with one of Huey Newton's phrases -- revolutionary suicide. This was the title of a book that Newton had recently written, Newton referring to being killed by the enemy while fighting for the revolution. Jones had twisted the phrase to mean killing oneself in the face of an assault by the enemy. It was a peculiar addition to Jones' body of revolutionist ideology. Jones was describing his movement as the only truly socialist movement in the world, and he wanted it to go out with grandiosity.

Jones had begun preparing his followers in Jonestown for an assault by Temple enemies. In September 1977, Guyanian authorities issued a Bench Warrant regarding Jones' defiance concerning custody of John Victor Stoen. Jones was now subject to arrest. Jones portrayed this to his followers as an attack against the People's Temple and their revolutionary movement. From Jonestown he threatened mass suicide, announcing over the Temple's two-way radio frequency "we're gonna die if anyone comes to arrest anyone." That, he said is the "vote of the people." Jones' friends in California were alarmed and via the Temple's radio Angela Davis spoke to Jim Jones and all her "sisters and brothers" at Jonestown, saying she knew about the conspiracy against them but that she wanted them to know that people across the United States were supporting them. We will do all can, she said, "to ensure your safety." At Jonestown, Davis' words were transmitted on speakers, and commune members, at a mass meeting, cheered Davis' statement. In California, Huey Newton joined Angela Davis and announced that the Guyanese government should know that Jones "wasn't to be messed with."

Jones' wife, Marceline, and two staff members raced to contact Guyana's Deputy Prime Minister, Ptolemy Reid, then visiting the United States. Reid's wife was found, and she assured Marceline that the Guyanese government would make no assault on Jonestown. Marceline radioed Jones, and Jones called off the alert. The crisis appeared to be over, and Marceline journeyed to Jonestown and join her husband and Temple endeavors there.

Jones still felt insecure, and he began looking for other places to establish his commune. He considered the Soviet Union and Albania, but nothing could be arranged. Then, in November 1978, a party from the United States announced that it was going to Jonestown to investigate matters there. The party included a California congressman, Leo Ryan, who was concerned about constituent complaints, about the custody of John Victor Stoen and whether some others belonging to the families of his constituents were being held against their will.

No one else in the U.S. government was much interested in Ryan's trip or in Jim Jones. The State Department was concerned about offending the government of Guyana and tried to discourage Ryan from making the trip. Mark Lane, the lawyer and author of Rush to Judgment, had been defending the Temple and speaking of a conspiracy against the Temple, and he chose to go along with the Ryan party to Guyana. Charles Gerry, annoyed that Mark Lane had butted into his client's business, chose also to accompany Ryan. And so too did some journalists.

Ryan presented his visit to Jonestown as friendly. Temple members had been led to believe that those coming to visit were enemies of the Temple and out to destroy Jonestown. But Jones received the Ryan party with a show of cooperation. Ryan's party was without weapons. All the arms were with Jones and his followers.

Ryan announced that anyone wishing to return to the United States should join him. A few did, and other Temple members viewed them as traitors. As the Ryan party was leaving the commune by truck, heading for the nearby airstrip, one Temple member attacked Ryan with a knife, but he failed to do much damage. When Ryan and others were preparing to board a small plane to Georgetown, Temple members appeared at the airstrip and fired rifles, killing Ryan, killing some newsmen, one defector and wounding others.

Jones and his movement were now, indeed, facing an outside challenge. And Jones responded to the challenge with his suicide option. Jones called a meeting of his followers, and a Temple tape recorder picked up Jones' speechmaking and the supportive clapping and shouts. Jones mentioned betrayal by the defectors. He predicted that men would be parachuted "in here on us." He announced that it was time for what he called revolutionary suicide. Jones said "If we can't live in peace let's die in peace," and there was applause. A lone African-American woman, Christine Miller, spoke against the suicide, saying that she felt that "if there's life there's hope." Someday everybody dies," replied Jones. "That's right, that's right," said others, agreeing with Jones. "The babies should live," said Christine Miller. Jones followed by saying that "the greatest testimony we can give is to leave this goddam world." And from his followers came applause. Jones' followers then started forcing their children to drink grape juice laced with cyanide. They drank the juice themselves, and some shots were fired, one of which, fired not by Jones, killed Jones.

Of the more than 1,100 people at Jonestown 911 died, among them Marceline Jones and John Victor Stoen. A few others, including Mark Lane and Charles Gerry, had escaped through the jungle.

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 Copyright © 1998 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

Note:See Esquire magazine, January 1962. RETURN

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