Jonestown Revisited

By Tyrrell, R. Emmett, Jr. | The American Spectator, April 1999 | Go to article overview

Jonestown Revisited


Tyrrell, R. Emmett, Jr., The American Spectator


It is interesting that the twentieth anniversary of the Rev. Jim Jones's Jonestown holocaust has come and gone, unremarked by such liberal thought leaders as Professor Alan Dershowitz and the Hon. Barney Frank. Located in the steamy jungles of Guyana, Jonestown was the site of the People's Temple, "an interracial sharing community" that originated in San Francisco. Over goo of the Rev. Jones's followers died there late in 1978. At his orders they drank poison or had it imposed on them.

The Rev. Jones had risen from being director of the Indianapolis Housing Authority in 1963 to being chairman of San Francisco's Housing Authority a few years later. Conjuring with race relations was a trendy con game in those days. From his positions in various race relations bureaucracies, the Rev. Jones boasted of his knack for solving civil rights problems, adopting left-wing radical programs for the very poor, and bringing the destitute of all races together. The Rev. Jones was white and he brought them all together in an open grave.

Race and i96o's radicals became his snake oils. When the corpses were discovered in Guyana the Rev. Jones was palmed off as just another religious zealot, but there was very little religion in his song and dance, at least not religion as conventionally understood. Christ and his colleagues were wholly missing from his galaxy of heroes. He had come to disdain the Bible and to extol only a very restricted collection of luminaries: Lenin, Field Marshal Idi Amin Dada, Fidel Castro, even Adolf Hitler. He particularly admired the Soviet Union-not Mao's China, but for some reason Papa Brezhnev's Soviet Union. This is one of the perils of being an autodidact; orderly thought is sacrificed. At the time of the poisoning the Rev. Jones was longing to take his followers to Moscow's workers' paradise.

Letters found in the vast killing field that had been the People's Temple, "dedicated against the evils of racism, hunger, and injustice," maundered on about his followers' dread of "the capitalist U.S." and their affection for "the beauty of Communism." None of the thousands of letters found among their paltry possessions betrayed any interest in Christianity or any other organized religion but in "Communism." Yet when their corpses were found I cannot recall any major news report calling them "Communists." As I say, the notion spread that they were some sort of Christian believers run amok.

Actually, the Rev. Jones abounded with 196o's moonshine right down to the reason he took his flock from San Francisco to Guyana. …

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