Legitimately harassed, Jones began making connections between events, part real, part delusion. In 1976, Unita Blackwell Wright, the black woman mayor of Meyersville, Mississippi, spoke at the San Francisco temple. Two men were seen holding a satchel outside the temple. When approached, they got in a car and sped away. The license plate was traced to a Sacramento rental agency, and the names to a Mississippi air force base. Jones concluded that Mississippi Senator John Stennis, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, was spying on him. The story was released to a newspaper. The fact that no one would print it seemed to confirm the awesome power of the senator.
"All our troubles," one of Jones' aides tried to convince me, "stemmed from taking on Stennis. After that, the attacks on us seemed more coordinated." The temple was being bugged. A couple of reporters started nosing around for information for a smear campaign. One of the reporters was named George Klineman, and, according to Jones, he came from a big-time German "Nazi" family.
(George Klineman is a freelance reporter, a former student activist whose parents were born in America. He got wind of the story through the man who was to become his father-in-law, David Conn. Conn was an elder in the Disciples of Christ, a loose confederation of churches that included the Peoples Temple. In the early Seventies, Conn heard strange rumors about Jones: guns at the Redwood Valley temple, beatings, fear in those who left the Peoples Temple. Klineman interviewed temple defectors and took the information to one of his sources in the Treasury Department, which encompasses the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Klineman had simply asked his source if he knew anything about a northern California religious organization that was arming itself.)
The Nazis hated the temple. They sent notes, on their letterhead, with ugly messages, such as: "What we did to the Jews is nothing compared with what we'll do to you niggers and nigger lovers." Now, somehow, Stennis had turned the Nazis loose on the temple.
The connections were made: Stennis, Nazi reporters, the Treasury Department. Now, an even more sinister force was against Jones. A group of temple defectors were telling "lies," speaking to the "Nazi" reporters, and for publication.
Klineman provided research material for another "Nazi" reporter, Marshall Kilduff, who, along with Phil Tracy, wrote a blistering exposeé of the temple in the August 1st, 1977, issue of New West magazine. Various defectors told stories of false healings, humiliations, beatings and financial improprieties. The article contained a sidebar arguing that the temple should be investigated. Jones used all the political clout at his disposal in a vain effort to kill the story. He fled to Guyana shortly before it was published.
FThe phenomenon of folie a deux was noted in medical literature as early as 1877. It is a "psychosis of association," most often paranoid in nature, occurring frequently among people who live together intimately and in isolation. Folie imposée is a kind of folie à deux in which the delusions of a dominant individual infect one or more submissive and suggestible individuals who are dependent on and have a close emotional attachment to the infector.
In the isolation of the jungle, in the intimacy of the pavilion, Jim Jones raged against the defectors. They were organized now, and the traitors called themselves the Concerned Relatives. They were plotting against him, smearing him in the media, and in league with the shadow forces arrayed against him.
One of the defectors, Grace Stoen, had a six-year-old son, John Victor, living in Jonestown. Jones claimed he had sired the boy and that he would never give him up. Stoen hired a lawyer to start custody proceedings. For Jones, it was just another measure of how far they would go. Traitors were playing with children's lives, using a six-year-old as a pawn in their plan to bring down the temple. They would take a boy away from his Father.
He was Father to all of them. He had taken the junkies and prostitutes off the street. He took in lonely old folks and fed the hungry. The young idealists had been floundering, unsure of how to make a better world. And he showed them. Without him there was nothing. Without him they would be back on the streets or lying on a slab in the morgue. The community was totally dependent on him. Without him they were nothing and he told them so. It frightened them to realize he was ill.
Jones told the community he had cancer, a kidney disorder, diabetes, hypertension and hypoglycemia. He was God, "God manifested a hundredfold," the only God they'd ever known. The God of the Bible had been used to oppress people for centuries. He was building a socialist utopia, providing economic and social equality to the oppressed and scorned. And now traitors were killing him with their plots. One top aide saw him "crying hysterically, as if his whole life was a failure."
His hate and fear were contagious. Elderly women united to kill the defectors. He held his hands up for the people to see, and they were running with blood. "I'm bleeding for the people," he said. ("Ground glass," a surviving Jonestown nurse told me later.)
Sometime during Peoples Forum, when members spoke of being homesick or wanting to leave, Jones would have a "heart attack." The community could see what it was doing to Father, and they'd turn on the speaker in a fury. It wasn't just people leaving. That might be acceptable. But no one ever left and remained neutral. They sold out. They told lies. They joined the traitors. Perhaps those who spoke of leaving were infiltrators. Everyone could see what their words did to Father. He had to protect himself. "No one leaves Jonestown unless they're dead," Jones said.
In May, Deborah Blakey, one of Jones' top aides, left the Georgetown temple headquarters, obtained a temporary passport from the American embassy and fled to the United States. The date was May 13th, Jones' birthday. When Father heard of the betrayal, he called a "white night," a crisis alert, and the community sat stunned in the pavilion as he raged. They were betrayed. Wasn't it better to die? He challenged anyone in the community to speak for life. When they did, he battered them with arguments. He said he was "the alpha and the omega," the beginning and the end. He said it over and over again. The white night lasted twenty-eight hours. No one was allowed to go to the bathroom without an armed guard. Anyone who tried to run, he said, would be shot. Meals were brought into the pavilion. Finally, everyone in Jonestown voted to die.
Harold Cordell told me most of the details of this meeting. I asked him if he too had voted to die. He nodded glumly and said, "I figured if we just quit arguing with him, we could get some sleep."
The temple hired Mark Lane, a lawyer and conspiracy theorist, in the hope that he could help unravel the mystifying web of harassment. But by early November, it seemed as if it was already too late. The shadow forces were squeezing the lifeblood out of Jonestown.
The National Enquirer was preparing an article. It would be another smear, like the one in New West, full of lies. Jones became more isolated and his dependence on drugs increased.
On November 1st, Leo Ryan wired Jones and informed him he would be visiting Jonestown on a fact-finding mission. Ryan had been talking to traitors all summer.
Shortly after the wire arrived, Terri Buford, Jones' most trusted aide, left the temple. She had been working in San Francisco and told Jones, by shortwave radio, that she "had some conflicts." Jones had often said that Terri was "the smartest person in the organization, besides me." It was three days before he could bring himself to talk about it and then all he said was, "Someone left." All the survivors I talked to, from those in leadership positions to the dissenters, agreed that Buford's defection had a devastating effect on Jim Jones.
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
CULTURE 14 Gonzo Masterpieces
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus