Horror of Jonestown Tainted Thanksgiving 35 Years Ago

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 28, 2013 | Go to article overview

Horror of Jonestown Tainted Thanksgiving 35 Years Ago


Byline: Christopher Johnson, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

On a day when many Americans thank God for their blessings, I often recall how I spent Thanksgiving after Jim Jones, the leader of the Peoples Temple, perverted the word of God, leaving more than 900 people dead.

As a reporter for Newsweek, I was one of only a few journalists who walked through the rows of bodies in Jonestown, Guyana. I spent Thanksgiving Day trying to write about what I had seen. (See bit.ly/XijDlT). It wasnAAEt easy.

Flying into Jonestown in a Cessna aircraft still stained with a victimAAEs blood, I saw a ragged carpet of many colors. I slowly realized, from the different clothing each of the dead had worn - spread across several acres of the compound - that corpses of men, women and children were strewn about, often elbow to elbow, in family groups. The sight simply overwhelmed me.

I found JonesAAE thronelike chair from which he spoke to his followers, above it was Spanish philosopher George SantayanaAAEs warning: Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I saw JonesAAE body nearby, with a gunshot wound to the head. It remains unclear whether he shot himself or was killed by someone else.

As a tribute to those who died 35 years ago, I would like to repeat what I wrote back then. Unfortunately, little of what I reported remains in our collective memory. Some pertinent facts: Jonestown was not a mass suicide; Kool-Aid was not used.

Point No. 1: In a time of growing Christian evangelicalism, Jones provided a ministry of religious socialism. He drew widespread support from politicians - mostly liberals and leftists from then-Mayor George Moscone of San Francisco to radical Angela Davis. He met privately with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale and appeared at a San Francisco fundraiser with first lady Rosalynn Carter. Jones was appointed chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. …

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