Six Pivotal Points in the Jim Jones Controversy
The controversy surrounding Jim Jones's religious movement can be best summarized by the actions and reactions surrounding six points in Jim Jones's life.
The first of these points is when Jones moved to Indianapolis
. Not only was this a larger audience to find followers, but also this is where Jim Jones began to preach in a more organizational environment. Preaching racial integration
, especially by a white man, in a time as turbulent as the 1950s is certainly a way to spread word about yourself. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.
What followed next was Jones's invitation to the Pentecostal Laurel Street Tabernacle
and the subsequent forming of the People's Temple
. The fervor he created by inviting blacks to a white church was soon quelled by Jones's apparent healing touch and gilded tongue. As a result, many people left the Laurel Street Tabernacle
to follow Jim Jones. This eventually led to the formation of the People's Temple
The collective migration to California
is also another important part that ultimately led to the mass suicide/murder in Guyana
years later. After a two-year respite in South America, Jones returned to Indianapolis to move the Temple to California, a relative land of tolerance compared to the conservative Midwest.
threat of tax evasion charges, spurred along by Temple defectors and family members of Jones's followers led to the exodus
from the United States
to the poor South American country of Guyana
. While the exodus to Guyana had been a plan for some time, the threat of audit reaffirmed and justified Jones's fear and resentment of the American government.
As sort of an extreme to combat an extreme, the formation of the Concerned Relatives seems to be a major catalyst
in the People's Temple controversy. While the Relatives did not have a leader as charismatic as Jones, they, like the People's Temple, manipulated the government
to suit their own needs. The Concerned Relatives were also no less fanatical in their views, as shown by the attempted kidnapping1
of a Temple member by her father.
The final pivotal point in the history of the People's Temple was November 18, 1978, the tragic conclusion to Jim Jones and the People's Temple. As sort of a personal note, I am unsure if the murders of Senator Ryan and the NBC news crew were orchestrated before their visit to Jonestown or after Jones witnessed his followers beginning to slip from his grasp, leaving like rats on a sinking ship. Possibly, the threat of negative publicity after Senator Ryan
was attacked in the Guyanan
capital of Georgetown may have been the deciding factor. Perhaps Jones was acting as a parent, lashing out at those who were taking his "children" away.
There are several points throughout the life of Jim Jones
that fueled the fire and eventually led the people of Jonestown to commit murder/suicide2
and murder their accusers. To this day, it is still unclear whether this atrocity would have happened if the media and the American government had not harassed the People's Temple.
The kidnapping and subsequent "deprogramming" is particularly extreme because of the complete disregard for basic liberties of adult individuals and because of the physical and emotional abuse employed by deprogrammers. There is a logical comparison of deprogrammers to Spanish Inquisitors
I am not saying that Jim Jones is completely blame free; he was clearly insane as indicated in the recordings of his ramblings. However, I believe brainwashing
can be ruled out as a cause because of the large numbers of Jonestown victims who were shot or forcibly injected with cyanide. However, the continued persecution by the government and the Concerned Relatives through legal and illegal
means only reinforced Jones's fear and distrust of the rest of the United States.