Monday, November 12, 2018

Forty years later, history repeats itself

Forty years ago next Monday, James Warren Jones died of a self- inflicted gunshot wound in the jungles of Guyana, shortly after 918 of his followers (including 304 children) died after drinking Flavor Aid that had been laced with cyanide. In addition, Congressman Leo Ryan and some of his team were murdered by followers of Jones when they attempted to board their return flight to San Francisco.

Jones started the Peoples Temple in Indiana during the 1950s. He was officially ordained in 1956 by the Independent Assemblies of God and in 1964 by the Disciples of Christ. He moved the Temple to California in 1965 and gained notoriety with its activities in San Francisco in the early 1970's. He then relocated to Guyana. In 1978, media reports surfaced that human rights abuses were taking place in the Peoples Temple in Jonestown.

Early in his career as a preacher, Jones was active in the civil rights movement, and was appointed the director of the Human Rights Commission by Indianapolis mayor Charles Boswell in 1960. Jones and his wife even went so far as to adopt several children who were partly non-Caucasian in order to create a “rainbow family”.

In 1962, Jones and his family moved to Brazil because he had read it would be a safe place in the event of a nuclear war. On the way to Brazil, he briefly stopped in Guyana, which was then still a British colony.

Jones became plagued by guilt for leaving behind the Indiana civil rights struggle and possibly losing what he had tried to build there . When Jones' associate preachers in Indiana told him that the Temple was about to collapse without him, he returned from Brazil in December 1963. He told his Indiana congregation that the world would be engulfed by nuclear war on July 15, 1967, and that would then create a new socialist Eden on Earth. As a result, the Temple had to move to Northern California for safety. Accordingly, the Temple began moving to Redwood Valley, California, near the city of Ukiah. 

By the early 1970s, Jones began deriding traditional Christianity as "fly away religion", rejecting the Bible as being a tool to oppress women and non-whites, and denouncing a "Sky God" who was no God at all. Jones wrote a booklet titled "The Letter Killeth", criticizing the King James Bible. Jones also began preaching that he was the reincarnation of Gandhi, Father Divine, Jesus, Gautama Buddha, and Vladimir Lenin. Former Temple member Hue Fortson, Jr. quoted Jones as saying, "What you need to believe in is what you can see ... If you see me as your friend, I'll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I'll be your father, for those of you that don't have a father ... If you see me as your savior, I'll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I'll be your God."

Within five years of moving to California, the Temple experienced a period of exponential growth and opened branches in cities including San Fernando, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. By the early 1970's, Jones began shifting his focus to major cities because of limited expansion opportunities in Ukiah. He eventually moved the Temple's headquarters to San Francisco, which was a major center for radical protest movements at the time. 

The move led Jones and the Temple to become politically influential in San Francisco politics, culminating in the Temple's instrumental role in the mayoral election victory of George Moscone in 1975. Moscone subsequently appointed Jones as the chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.

Unlike most cult leaders, Jones was able to gain public support and contact with prominent politicians at the local and national level. For example, Jones and Moscone met privately with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale on his campaign plane days before the 1976 election, leading Mondale to publicly praise the Temple. [First Lady Rosalynn Carter also personally met with Jones on multiple occasions, corresponded with him about Cuba, and spoke with him at the grand opening of the San Francisco headquarters, where he received louder applause than Mrs. Carter.

While Jones forged alliances with key columnists and others at the San Francisco Chronicle and other press outlets, the move to San Francisco also brought increasing media scrutiny. After Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff encountered resistance to publishing an exposé, he brought his story to New West magazine. In the summer of 1977, Jones and several hundred Temple members abruptly decided to move to the Temple's compound in Guyana after they learned of the contents of an article by Kilduff about to be published, which included allegations by former Temple members that they were physically, emotionally, and sexually abused. Jones named the settlement "Jonestown" after himself.

Religious scholar Mary McCormick Maaga argues that Jones' authority decreased after he moved to the isolated commune, because he was not needed for recruitment and he could not hide his drug addiction from rank and file members. In spite of the allegations prior to Jones' departure, the leader was still respected by some for setting up a racially mixed church which helped the disadvantaged ⁠ ⁠68 percent of Jonestown's residents were black. Jonestown was where Jones started propagating his belief in what he called "Translation", where he and his followers would all die together and move to another planet and live blissfully.

In the autumn of 1977, Tim Stoen and other Temple defectors with relatives in Jonestown formed a "Concerned Relatives" group. Stoen traveled to Washington, D.C. in January 1978 to visit with State Department officials and members of Congress, and wrote a white paper detailing his grievances against Jones and the Temple. Stoen's efforts aroused the curiosity of California Congressman Leo Ryan, who wrote a letter on Stoen's behalf to Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham. The Concerned Relatives also began a legal battle with the Temple over the custody of Stoen's son John.

In November 1978, Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission to Jonestown to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. His delegation included relatives of Temple members, an NBC camera crew, and reporters for various newspapers. The group arrived in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown on November 15. Two days later, they traveled by airplane to Port Kaituma, and then were transported to the Jonestown encampment in a limousine. Jones hosted a reception for the Ryan delegation that evening at the central pavilion in Jonestown.
The delegation left hurriedly the afternoon of November 18 after Temple member Don Sly attacked Ryan with a knife. The attack was thwarted, bringing the visit to an abrupt end. Ryan and his delegation managed to take along fifteen Temple members who had expressed a wish to leave. At that time, Jones made no attempt to prevent their departure.
As members of the delegation boarded two planes at the airstrip, Jones' armed guards, called the "Red Brigade," arrived on a tractor and trailer and began shooting at them. The gunmen killed Ryan and four others near a Guyana Airways Twin Otter aircraft.
The five killed at the airstrip were Ryan, NBC reporter Don Harris, NBC cameraman Bob Brown, San Francisco Examiner photographer Greg Robinson, and Temple member Patricia Parks. Surviving the attack were future Congresswoman Jackie Speier, then a staff member for Ryan, Richard Dwyer, the Deputy Chief of Mission from the U.S. Embassy at Georgetown, Bob Flick, a producer for NBC, Steve Sung, an NBC sound engineer, Tim Reiterman, a San Francisco Examiner reporter, Ron Javers, a San Francisco Chronicle reporter, Charles Krause, a Washington Post reporter, and several defecting Temple members .
Later that same day, 909 inhabitants of Jonestown. 304 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, mostly in and around the settlement's main pavilion. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until the September 11 attacks. The FBI later recovered a 45-minute audio recording of the suicide in progress. 
Although the tragedy of Jonestown lies in the distant past, there is a cult leader in America today who is far more dangerous than Jim Jones. He is pictured below:

Early in his presidency, Trump sent 59 missiles into Syria on a whim, and he also authorized the use of “the mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan – and then it got worse. Almost exactly a year after the first missile strike in April of 2017, he sent 118 more into the country. Each Tomahawk missile costs $1.4 million. If you do a little quick math, you'll discover that the cost of the two missile strikes was $250 million, slightly more than the $220 million that our country is spending to stop a non-existent threat from a caravan of asylum seekers heading north from dangerous Central American countries. 

Golf trips to Trump properties have cost $72 million since his inauguration.

The massive "tax scam" that was passed in the spring will cause the budget deficit this year to hit $1 trillion. 

If you can pronounce "emolument", you probably suspect that foreign governments have spent a LOT of money at Trump properties since his inauguration, but it will take someone smarter than me to find out the exact amount. (Are you listening, Mr. Mueller?)

If that doesn't make you shake your head, this will:

In the summer of 2017, a foreign policy expert on the international level went to advise Donald Trump, and three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons. "Three times [Trump] asked, if we had them, why can’t we use them.”
 Despite the fact that every major newspaper in America (including some that had never before endorsed a Democratic candidate) felt that Donald Trump was not fit for the office of the president, he still received more than 62 million votes. The people that voted for Trump either (1) felt that he was going to stop abortion or (2) felt fearful of the number of immigrants entering our country or (3) felt anxious about the good paying blue collar jobs they had lost, that weren’t coming back or (4) they believed the nonsense about Hillary Clinton’s emails. Most disturbing of all, though, is the fact that millions of people believe that Trump was chosen by God to “save America” , which is why he received 80% of the evangelical vote.

Trump supporters either don’t know, or don’t care, that the vast majority of the red hats that read “Make America Great Again” are actually made in Chine. They are also oblivious of the fact that the tariffs that Trump recently made against China will cause their favorite hat to double in price:

Due to the fact that Trump managed a razor thin majority of the votes in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania (largely due to voter suppression tactics by the GOP), he earned enough electoral votes to win the presidency – even though he had lost the popular vote by more than 3 million votes.

The day after the election, my wife as so upset that she was unable to eat, and there were MANY other people who experienced the same symptoms.

On a recent trip to the library, I picked up a copy of “The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”, by noted Clinical Professor Bandy Lee. The book is actually a compilation of thoughts by 27 well educated psychiatrists and behavioral experts. Due to the Goldwater rule of 1964, psychiatrists are not allowed to publish opinions of pubic figures they have not interviewed personally. However, the Yale Conference of 2017 allowed mental health professionals to voice their opinion if a subject was a danger to himself or others. As a result, every single author in the book had come to the conclusion that Donald Trump was dangerously mentally ill.

Fortunately, the Democratic Party recently regained control of the House of Representatives, which will provide a much needed restraint on Trumps’ worst excesses. Although it IS possible that impeachment proceedings could start after January 20, I am of the opinion that the Democrats will use other methods to control Trump.

Last week, protesters around the country protested the appointment of Matthew Whitaker due to his obvious conflict of interests vis a vis the Mueller investigation. If you are still in the mood for protesting, I would recommend buying the t-shirt posted below:

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