WASHINGTON: Tyrants never seem to arise during times of plenty. The deprivations of war or economic collapse provide fertile fields for the propagation of community organizers; creatures born in the wake of a society or nation’s loss of creative and confident individualism. Creatures anxious to play off the fears of the mob, who seek direction off a sinking ship and their spot amid the lifeboat’s shivering souls.
The gospel according to community organizers
But as Eric Hoffer notes in his book “The True Believer”:
“All mass movements deprecate the present by depicting it as a mean preliminary to a glorious future; a mere doormat on the threshold of the millennium. To a religious movement the present is a place of exile, a vale of tears leading to the heavenly kingdom; to a social revolution it is a mean way station on the road to Utopia.”
For the Reverend Jim Jones, leader of San Francisco’s Peoples Temple, America was that “veil of tears leading to the heavenly kingdom.” And that kingdom lay in the steaming jungles of South America’s Guyana, just 137 miles northwest of its capital city Georgetown.
It has to be Utopia, you see because it is named for its community organizer: Jonestown.
The future that was
Forty years ago, on Nov. 18, 1978, Guyanese troops cautiously approached the jungle encampment anticipating armed resistance. After all, a US Congressman (Leo Ryan of California’s 11th Congressional District) and four others lay dead on the nearby airstrip at Port Kaituma. Victims of Jonestown’s faithful.
But as the morning fog lifted, Guyanese soldiers found lifeless bodies, victims of suicide and murder, littering the compound grounds in all directions. Some of the troops, unfamiliar with the horrors of war, fled the grizzly scene into the jungle, screaming.
At the compound’s community center, above the elevated chair upon which Jim Jones perched to preached the social gospel of Marxism, hung a sign:
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Redoubling efforts to repeat the past
Spanish philosopher George Santayana’s famous quote is from a work titled “Reason in Common Sense,” in which he notes the community organizer’s profound weakness:
“Fanaticism consists in redoubling your efforts when you have forgotten your aim.”
Jones’s social gospel, to his secular admirers and followers, was indistinguishable from those of the New Testament. But his gospel was decidedly different. As Jones told his followers after they arrived in Guyana:
‘“Love is the only weapon.’ Shit! Bullshit! Martin Luther King died with love! Kennedy died talking about something he couldn’t even understand. Some kind of generalized love. And he never even backed it up. He was shot down. Bullshit! … I’ve got a hell of a lot of weapons to fight! I’ve got my claws. I’ve got cutlasses. I’ve got guns. I’ve got dynamite. I’ve got a hell of a lot to fight! I’ll fight! I’ll fight!”
Jones, of course, did not fight. He took the coward’s way out. But unlike Adolf Hitler, who only dreamed his countrymen would emulate his final, desperate hours and join him in oblivion, community organizer Jones convinced most of his community – men, women, and children – to join him in ultimate darkness.
Nearly 1,000 souls perished.
Another socialist failure
It was later found that the inhabitants of Jonestown were required to work 10 to 12-hour days, with people crowded into 12 x 20 feet rooms. And meat was served only when outside visitors were in attendance. To break the personal bonds that posed a threat to Jones’s power, husbands were separated from their wives and encouraged to begin adulterous affairs. But as Jones finally realized to his horror, Marxism is a failure wherever it is tried.
In his will, the Marxist community organizer left his estate, valued at around $13 million (no doubt contributed by his trusting followers), to his wife and children. In the event of their deaths, the fortune was to be given to the Communist Party USA.
The masses, it seemed, would have to wait their turn at the trough. Family before strangers, after all.
Too true for fake news
As newspapers and television news networks commemorate the Jonestown massacre, they are not likely to include how it was that Jones managed to move his community of followers to another country so far from home.
Before leaving the Bay Area for Guyana, Jones was an important figure in left-leaning political circles. California and San Francisco Democrats craved his appearance at political functions and to sit next to him on a podium. Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and California Gov. Jerry Brown (who is never too far from the governor’s mansion) were two such courters.
But when Georgia’s Gov. Jimmy Carter was running for president against Republican incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, when Jones’s is invited to a Bay Area campaign event by Rosalyn Carter. Jones sat next to the future First Lady and even delivered a few remarks. Mrs. Carter later sent Jones a note of thanks.
This brief association proved of great use to Jones as recounted by author Jeff Guinn in his book “The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple”:
“For Jones, the short meeting and shorter note constituted a relationship that he bragged about to Guyanese officials on his next visit – surely, they would want to cooperate fully with a personal friend and valued advisor of America’s president and first lady. ‘We couldn’t help but feel impressed,’ Kit Nascimento [Guyanese Minister of Information] recalls.”
And as the party of democratic socialism moves closer to the values of Jim Jones’s social gospel, who knows what horrors will result from the dangerous associations formed among the Democratic Party’s angry and incongruent constituencies.
Perhaps the answer lays rotting somewhere in the steaming jungles of Guyana.
Top Images: Entrance to Jonestown. Photo: Wikipedia. Jim Jones inset (top right),
photo: Wikipedia, Nancy Wong. Inset (lower left) Jonestown dead, NBC News screen capture.