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In the Valley of the Shadow of Death: Guyana After the Jonestown Massacre

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A guard tower stood above the cottages. Strangely, it wasn't near the roads in and out of Jonestown, but was directly over the area where most of the people lived. Someone had painted several bright seascapes on the tower, so that it appeared to be a contradiction of itself, like a .357 Magnum disguised as a candy cane.

As we stood on the rise waiting for the helicopter and looking down on the cottages, a rainbow began to form in the distance. It grew more brilliant. A second bow formed above the first, and together they stretched across the sky, encompassing the whole of Jonestown.

A soldier said the Guyanese might continue the communal agricultural experiment Jones began. We wondered who could work there, what kind of men and women would be required to spend their nights in those awful, empty cottages. Someone else said that the Guyanese had considered making Jonestown a tourist attraction. A tourist attraction? What would they call it? Club Dead?

Later, back in Georgetown, I asked dissident survivor Harold Cordell about the guard tower with those painted yellow fish swimming all over it. He told me they had placed a wind-driven generator on top, but it had never worked. Finally, they had installed children's slides on the lower level. The guard tower was called the playground.

The whole process – this denial of the tower's function – reminded me of George Orwell's 1984, in which the Party re-forms language in such a way as to make "heretical thought" impossible. The language is called Newspeak and makes abundant use of euphemisms. In Newspeak, a forced labor camp is called a "joycamp." The guard tower at Jonestown was the architectural equivalent of Newspeak.

Jonestown itself had become a joycamp in its last year. There was no barbed wire around the perimeter. It wasn't needed. Escape was a dream. The jungle stretched from horizon to horizon, thick, swampy and deadly. Armed security guards patrolled the few trails, and it was their business to know where an escapee would look for food and water. Rumor had it that captured escapees had had their arms broken. Toward the end, most of them were simply placed in the euphemistically named Extra Care Unit, where they were drugged senseless for a week at a time. Patients emerged from ECU unable to carry on a conversation, and their faces were blank, as if they had been temporarily lobotomized.

They were told that even if they could survive the jungle, elude the guards and somehow make it almost 150 miles to Georgetown, they'd be stuck there. The temple held their passports as well as any money they might have had when they arrived.

[The Party] systematically undermines the solidarity of the family, and it calls its leader by a name which is a direct appeal to the sentiment of family loyalty. – '1984'

It happened that way with Dale Parks, one of the men who tried to leave with Congressman Ryan. He had quit the church for some months, but Jones' wife, Marceline, had convinced him to come back and give Jonestown a try. He was given a round-trip ticket, which he was required to turn over, along with his passport, "for safekeeping." Almost immediately he was "forced" to write letters to his family about how wonderful it all was. "I saw the guns around," he told me, "and I didn't want it to come to that."

Parks' family believed the letters and followed him to Jonestown. Soon after arriving, his father, Gerry, who had a stomach condition, mentioned that the food didn't agree with him. During that night's Peoples Forum meeting, in which "problems" were discussed, Gerry Parks was called up "on the floor." Jones humiliated him in front of the community, gathered in the pavilion. "How can you complain about the food," Jones raged. "You, with a full belly, when two out of three babies in the world go hungry." Dale then watched his father being beaten.

When Jones called people on the floor, Dale Parks said, relatives were expected to confront them first. Defending a father, mother or child could result in a beating. The family itself was expected to dispense the most vitriolic criticism. When the Parkses found themselves together (as when they were forced to write glowing letters home), they would whisper furtively: "You know I have to do it. If I'm on the floor, you do it too. I still love you."

Every citizen... could be kept... under the eyes of the police... – '1984'

There were informers everywhere. They got time off, extra food, extra privileges, sometimes even a pat on the back from Father. Children informed on their parents, parents on children. Senior citizens were prized as informers. In rare moments of privacy, one resident might express "negative" opinions to another. It was unwise to reply with anything but criticism of such ideas. The person might be an informer, and any agreement would put you on the floor and result in a beating.

The aftermath of a beating used to be called "discipline," but the name was changed to the more euphemistic "public service." People in public service were transferred to a dorm patrolled by armed guards. They did double work duty, and food might be withheld if they didn't give their all. Security people would stop by the dorm to administer a beating. Often people in public service were allowed to sleep for an hour or two, then were roughly wakened and made to do some tedious chore, such as washing walls.

The only way to get out of public service was to express regret for your previous attitude, to pretend to like the work, to display a "good attitude." It did something to a man's mind, public service.

Sexual intercourse was to be looked on as a slightly disgusting operation, like having an enema... It was not merely that the sex instinct created a world of its own which was outside the Party's control... sexual privation induced hysteria, which was desirable because it could be transformed into war fever and leader worship. – '1984'

It had been pretty rough for Stanley Clayton in Oakland. He started stealing at the age of eight, and the only presents in the house on Christmas were the ones he stole. Clayton was originally attracted to the temple because the women he met there were warm and "foxy." Later, he came to share a vision of economic and social equality. On the boat from Georgetown to Jonestown, he met a young, female temple member. They talked about how they were home for the first time: home in a socialist country with black leaders. They were finally free.

The woman expressed her freedom by sleeping with one of the sailors. The boat's captain told Jones about it, and the second night Stanley was in Jonestown, the woman was called on the floor. The question was put to her: "Why did you do it?" She answered, "Well, because Stanley said I'm free." The community turned on him, shouting invectives. He was knocked to the ground, where security guards, trained in martial arts, shoved him and shouted at him and threw punches.

According to Stanley, Jones frequently railed against sex in marathon meetings. He said it was unhealthy and shortened the life span. When a married man was discovered having an affair, the two were called on the floor and made to strip to their underwear and pretend to make love – there on the floor in front of the man's wife. Jones used the opportunity to denigrate sex altogether. "Look at them," he said. "They're like animals."

When Stanley had sex with an older woman, both were called on the floor. "They beat the shit out of us," Stanley said.

At Jonestown, you didn't have a lover, you had a companion. One day Stanley's longtime companion told him it was over. "The way she told me," he said, "I knew it was put upon her." At one meeting, Jones' wife told Stanley's companion to sit by the doctor. "At that time," Stanley said, "Jim Jones tried to humiliate me, calling me all kinds of names. 'See what sex can do for you,' he said. 'Your companion is off somewhere else.' He even tried to humiliate her by saying all she wanted was a dick. He said, measuring a small space with his hands, 'Stanley's dick ain't no bigger than that."'

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