ECLECTIC RANT: Fortieth Anniversary of Jonestown Tragedy

Ralph E. Stone
Saturday December 01, 2018 - 10:40:00 AM

November 2018 marks the fortieth anniversary of the mass murder and suicide of 918 in Jonestown, Guyana, by religious cult leader Jim Jones. About two-thirds of the victims were African-Americans.  

Jones was the founder and leader of the Peoples Temple, which In 1971, established a permanent facility in an old San Francisco building that used to be the Albert Pike Memorial Scottish Rite temple on 1859 Geary Boulevard[ in San Francisco. 

Jones had first started building Jonestown, formally known as the "Peoples Temple Agricultural Project", several years before an expose of human rights violations by the Peoples Temple appeared in the New West Magazine. As his power waned, Jones began moving his followers to Jonestown where the mass deaths by cyanide-laced Flavor Aide occurred. 

There isn't anything extraordinary about Jones’ power. It was pure politics. Jones could deliver what politicians want, which is power. And how do you get power? By votes. And he could deliver the votes with time and resources. Jones also forged alliances with the media to extol the Peoples Temple’s virtues. The people who warned about Jones were ignored, intimidated, or marginalized.  

In November 2008, on the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown tragedy, former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown, a one-time Jones supporter, wrote in his Willie's World column in the San Francisco Chronicle: "What happened in Guyana was just horrible for us. We were obviously embarrassed at our lapse of judgment, our lapse of objectivity, our lapse of due diligence. We had no explanation for how stupid we were. We couldn't even be responsive to all these relatives whose folks had died." 

Forty years after Jonestown, we should ask yet again — why do people put their lives in the hands of a charismatic and mentally unbalanced person? As Jonestown shows, cult of personality can be a dangerous game.