Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Counting Down to Hallowe'en: Jonestown - Altruism, Violence, Fear

Testimony on Jonestown? (Look at her right hand.) BCW-944-BS Photo of Jim Jones Cult People's Temple Jonestown Guyana. Image Source © Tribune Photos Archive / Baltimore Sun Photo Archive / Wire Photo.

Caption for the above photograph: "This WIREPHOTO is straight from the newspaper's historical photo archive. Wirephotos are different than traditional photographic prints!  This print is the result of what used to be breakthrough technology (now completely obsolete) that allowed a photographic image to be scanned, transmitted over 'the wire' (telegraph, phone, satellite networks) and then printed at the receiving location.  They are often on thinner, slick paper (very similar to old thermal roll fax paper) and often fade or become sepia toned quicker than traditional silver halide prints.  Long removed from commercial use, these artifacts represent an important era in the history of news media."

Before 9/11, the largest loss of civilian American lives due to a deliberate act was the Jonestown Massacre of 18 November 1978. This pacifist American cult committed mass suicide under psychological duress exerted by their psychopathic priest, Reverend Jim Jones. The cult, the Peoples Temple, had been developing under Jones's leadership for some twenty years prior to their migration to Guyana, where they died after drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The act passed into public consciousness and generated an American expression describing how someone fully and foolishly accepts ideas which are fatally wrong: "He drank the Kool-Aid."

Before their mass suicide, the cult's guard squad hunted down and murdered an American Congressman and NBC news team who visited them on behalf of cultists' family members. An account of the grisly events is here.

"Several of ... [Jones's] loyalists trailed the delegation back to the Port Kaituma airstrip, where the Congressman's plane was waiting, and opened fire. Congressman Ryan and four other members of the group were killed. Eleven people were injured." Image: Time via Tim Reiterman / San Francisco Examiner / AP.

Tubs of cyanide Kool Aid: "As the shooting unfolded at the airport, Jones gathered his followers and spoke to them of the need to commit 'revolutionary suicide.' According to one defector, the possibility of mass suicide had been discussed at Temple indoctrination sessions and had even been rehearsed at least two times. During the drill, Temple members, including children, lined up and took small glasses of red liquid to drink. They were told that the liquid contained poison and that they would die within 45 minutes."Image Source: Time via David Hume Kennerly / Getty.

"Many of the Temple members left notes and letters behind. Some Temple members wrote of their desire to leave all their assets to the Soviet Union. One unsigned letter read, 'We did not want it this way. When we heard (that Congressman Ryan was killed) we had no choice. We would be taken. We have to go as one, we want to live as Peoples Temple or end it. We have chosen. It is finished.'" Image Source: Time via AP.

You can see original NBC footage of Jonestown before, during and after the massacre here; some of it was filmed by slain NBC cameraman Bob Brown.

Journalist Tim Reiterman, who was wounded on the airstrip as the Congressman's party attempted to flee the cultists, wrote the definitive book chronicling Jim Jones's past life and his final destiny in a book, Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People (1982). The book collected all the reports about Jones which Reiterman had written in the San Francisco Examiner.

Image Source: Barnes and Noble.

Caption for the above softcover: "For the first time in paperback, Tim Reiterman’s Raven provides the definitive history of the Rev. Jim Jones, the Peoples Temple, and the murderous ordeal at Jonestown three decades ago. This PEN Award–winning work explores the ideals-gone-wrong, the intrigue, and the grim realities behind the Peoples Temple and its implosion in the jungle of South America. Reiterman’s reportage clarifies enduring misperceptions of the character and motives of Jim Jones, the reasons why people followed him, and the important truth that many of those who perished at Jonestown were victims of mass murder rather than suicide."

Time asked Reiterman if Jones's followers were alienated social misfits. He replied:
"The short answer is no. The people who were attracted to the Temple did, for the most part, have one common trait. They were altruistic. They wanted to be part of something larger than themselves. So in that sense they were seekers, but in the main they were hard-working, functioning individuals who had lives that were ordinary in most senses. They had a need to join an organization where they were doing something meaningful. Keep in mind that this was in the post-civil rights and post-Vietnam eras, and a lot of young people, in particular, and older ones, too, were looking for some outlet for their desire to do things for their fellow man."
This case shows how a collective effort based on misguided idealism and altruism can go horribly wrong and end in bloodshed under psychopathic leadership. Reflecting on the aftermath, Reiterman said:
"I think about it every day. I think about the people, the 900 people I saw who were young and old and vibrant and talented and performing on that first evening when I met them. I think about those images of their bodies in piles and final graves that have been used again and again and again. I think about what happened on the airstrip, too. I don't replay those events every day in full, but they cross my mind. When you're part of something like the events in Jonestown, they become part of you."
Jonestown's bizarre combination of altruism and violence, and the personality of Jim Jones, evidently inspired Marv Wolfman's and George Perez's creation of three horror characters at DC Comics: Raven (1980), Trigon (1981), Brother Blood (1982), along with the cosmic pacifist commune of Azarath whose priests, in seeking to eradicate the evil, unwittingly unleash horror on the world. My posts on Raven are here and here.

Azarath in New Teen Titans #4 (Feb. 1981) © DC Comics.

See all my posts on Ghosts.
See all my posts on Horror Themes.
See all my Countdowns.

Check out other blogs observing the Countdown to Hallowe'en!
 Image: Spirit Halloween (2011) © Julia Cosmos / Angel-Thanatos at deviantART.


  1. When PBS aired a documentary on the few survivors of Jonestown I couldn't help but think that it was the decade itself that killed so many of those people. For a relative few in the 1960's, that decade reinforced the American ideal of individual rights trumping institutional authority. Resistance to segregation and conscription (military impressment) was mostly successful. However, when these concepts extended beyond the self-motivated and empathetic few to the general public, those who were externally-motivated and selfish conflated these ideals with anti-social behavior as a way of life. Jim Jones exploited anybody who couldn't deal with that and felt helpless to fight it. He may have been the catalyst or the means of their self-exile, but it was more likely the prospect of having each other that gave them the strength to leave everything else behind and start over again in another country, not just their own lives but, in their minds, civilization. The Khmer Rouge proposed a Year Zero, but their diametric opposites in Jonestown, if not for their deranged leader, were better prospects for it.

  2. Wow, pblfsda, what a comment, thank you. I think your point about "those who were externally-motivated and selfish conflated these ideals with anti-social behavior as a way of life" is brilliant, because it persisted and persists even now. As for the Jonestown group taking the antithesis of those values as their starting point, I wonder how and why cults in the 20th century and 21st century - and one could include the Khmer Rouge and similar movements as political cults - became so fixated on erasing everything and starting fresh. Is it just because egotism and materialism became dominant in mainstream global culture in the name of prosperity and of some of the USA's original political ideals? I can't help feeling that the idea of reacting against the corrupted mainstream is just an excuse, and people in several countries became obsessed with erasing everything, at any cost, no matter how savage or brutal they might become to do so. To me, this desire to eradicate the evil society to build something better actually looks like revolutionary nihilism, sanctimoniously masquerading as various flavours of fake messianism. The real mystery is not why the mainstream went so wrong, but why so many people in different cultures became fixated on erasing reality. At the end of the day, whatever ideals cultists claimed to be uphold are beside the point. The bottom line is that crazy, religious and political nihilism spread right between the industrial and technological revolutions - and it's still spreading.

  3. Jim Jones work continue through former members