Do You Remember Jonestown? The Danger of Cults

Jim Jones

This morning I was going through selections at the Netflix website, adding movies to “my list” to watch later. When I saw the movie on Jonestown I decided to watch it right then. I immediately flashed on the evening I had driven to Houston when the massacre happened. I had a gig there at one of the hotels and I stopped to visit a longtime friend. I had just gone into their livingroom and sat down on the couch. I still had my coat on. A news program came on the TV. It was the first news of what happened at Jonestown and they were showing footage of the area. It was unbelievable what happened. Hundreds people died where they were standing. Bodies piled upon bodies.

ca. November 18, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana --- Pile of Syringes and Paper Cups --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS
ca. November 18, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana — Pile of Syringes and Paper Cups — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

When Jim Jones led his followers from San Francisco to Guyana in South America the land they were on was 250 from the nearest city. They built everything from scratch. Those that could worked the fields. The people were mal nourished and existed on rice three times a day. They didn’t realize they were building a prison camp.

Jim Jones, Johnestown massacre
Source credit: polygrafi.com

The name of the movie I watched, if you want to find it on Netflix is, “Jonestown – Paradise Lost”. It is part re-enactment and part actually footage. It hurts the heart to watch it. They filled syringes of the concocted poisons mixed with Kool-Aid and first forced it down the children’s throats. They were the first to die. It was fast acting, and as the children saw what was happening they fought it. The adults who wouldn’t swallow it voluntarily, had the poison injected into them with a needle. One 79 year old woman survived because she hid under her bed.

Jim Jones, Jonestown massacre
Source credit: imggrid.com

This shows you what can happen when people have their minds twisted and they believe in something so thoroughly they are willingly kill themselves because their leader told them to. Some people are more susceptible than others of believing things that aren’t true. People believed Jim Jones had miracle healing powers and could heal a leg that was “broken” the day before. He staged the healings, of course.

There have been many preachers over time who claimed to have these powers and would gather crowds of people in tents and “heal” select people. When people are desperately sick, or have children who are sick, they will do anything they can to make them well, even if logically it makes no sense. Jim Jones was completely insane as well as being a drug addict. People around him knew he was insane but felt powerless to stop him. He also had guards with guns. These guns were not pointed out of the compound to keep them safe, they were were pointed inward to make sure no one escaped. People who did try to escape were severely punished. They were put in a 4x6ft box that was buried underground. If kids didn’t behave they were hung upside down over a well. If someone did manage to get out they had no idea where they were or where to go.

The compound everyone helped to build was incredible. There was medical staff and a school for the kids. There was an opportunity to learn many different crafts. For the most part people were fairly happy, except for the many times Jim Jones would make everyone come to the pavilion in the middle of the night. He called them – White Nights. He made them stand for hours as he ranted about how horrid society was in America. He grew more and more paranoid. He was a heavy drug user and popped pills continually.

The family of some of the people who lived in Jownstown grew concerned. Many of the people who lived there had signed over their bank accounts, turned over their homes and even signed custody of their kids over to Jim Jones. If they left they would have to leave their kids behind. They were trapped. Some were very afraid and many were suckered into believing that he had special powers and followed him willing. Those who were afraid couldn’t talk to each other out of fear of being turned in.

Remembering the day of the Jim Jones mass murder/suicide must be horrible for the family still alive. There are probably many of you who weren’t alive in 1978 or were too young to remember. It was devastating to watch 912 people (300 of them were children) be forced to end their life, outright murder them, or drink the Kool-Aid voluntarily.

That is where the phrase originates which all of you have heard at some point when referring to some one who did something stupid for stupid reasons, “He must have drunk the Kool-Aid.” But I wonder, so many other happenings are remembered – the people are remembered, but even though it was close to a thousand people, I never hear anything about these people being remembered or honoring these 300 children who were murdered.

There was a man, Congressman Ryan, who had been contacted by family who were concerned about their loved ones. He put together a group of these people along with media from NBC and other journalists and made plans to get inside the compound. It took a year of dealing with Jim Jones’s. attorney, and a lot of determination to finally get inside. He was very cordial. He did his best to talk positively, but Jim Jones grew more and more paranoid. Fifteen wanted to leave. When the truck left the compound to go to the plane, they were met with trucks with armed men who open fired and killed everyone, including Congressman Ryan and all news media. But there were survivors, with gunshot wounds. One man tells some of the story in the movie. This is only part of what was filmed. You will have to look for the movie to see the rest.

The Moonies mass wedding. Partners were chosen by Rev. Moon
The Moonies mass wedding. Partners were chosen by Rev. Moon

There are other cults in the world where people get brainwashed and lose a grip on reality. The people involved are searching for something to fill a void in their lives. They believe wholeheartedly in something that has no base in reality. They have a leader who usually claims he is a prophet. People get sucked into the togetherness of people who seem to be high on life and love. The leaders are looked upon as a father figure or as a husband and takes turns have sex with the women and fathering children.

Hari Krishnas

Most Cults are based on a religion – twisted religion – but they attract weak people who need to believe. We see cults that originally start from a biblical point of view, and then there are ones like the Hari-Krishnas which is a twisted form of Buddhism. I also remember in Los Angeles during the 70’s and 80’s, when you went to the airport you would always see the Moonies walking around in long robes, selling flowers. They would also be on the streets in West Hollywood. They turned all money over to their house. There was another group of women I’d see at the airport (lots of people to hit up there) who were dressed in a religious outfit who would want to give you religious pamphlets and ask for donations for it. There are zealots on city streets who scream about the end of the world coming. Also, on the the streets of downtown Hollywood there is a Christian Scientist building. Their believers would stop you on the street to get you to come inside and take a personality test.

My boyfriend at the time and I decided to take that test for kicks. They call you a week later to come in and get the results. They take you into a room by yourself to discuss your shortcomings. They tell ll you need to do to be happy is to take their classes – which are very expensive. The convince people to pay these rates even if they have to give them their paychecks. You sign contracts. If you are not a happy person, or don’t have someone at home to talk you out of it, they gotcha. I think I have those tests somewhere. I remember they told my boyfriend he was in big trouble because he basically hated people. He needed a lot of classes so he could become happy. Honestly, he really didn’t like people very much and was very mentally abusive to me. He was a devoted Ayne Rand follower. His bible was Atlas Shrugged, and did his best to turn me into his Dagney Taggert, down to every detail so I was constantly instructed on how to think, act and behave. By the time I realized the damage he was doing to me it was hard to break away. After two years, though, I managed to get on a plane with my kids and escape.

When someone is being mindscrewed, at first it is subtle. You excuse their behavior because you want to believe they are the best thing for you. It is the same thing with cults and it is the same reason why women, or men, stay in abusive relationships. You don’t want to believe it is bad. When I look back now on what happened 35 years ago I can see so clearly what he was doing to me, but I couldn’t see it then. People who get sucked into religions that either clearly want to hurt you, that could not be true or make you believe something that could not be true, all they have to do is tell you over and over that it IS true, sooner or later you will believe it.

Always question what you believe in and search for outside proof that it is true, If the people who believed in Jim Jones had done this they might still be alive today.

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3 thoughts on “Do You Remember Jonestown? The Danger of Cults

  1. Jonestown is a bit before my time, but I know the story, and the movie you’re referencing. I prefer documentaries, though. The lesson of Jonestown in my opinion is that the story is a stark reminder of what can happen the moment you turn your mind off and stop thinking for yourself.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. So true. I found it by accident today. So many people turn their life to some other person to control — in the name of some kind of religion.. I’m looking for a case where religion was not the reason for the cult.

      Like

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