Almost everyone has heard of the charismatic cult leader Jim Jones, and the 1978 mass suicide to which he led his followers in the South American nation of Guyana. Far less well known is that Jones was an early proponent of the anti-white, racial diversity thinking that is now so widespread.
Jim Jones was born in Indiana in 1931. He began preaching in his 20s, even though he had no formal religious training, and mixed religion and politics while still a young man. His views were radically politically correct, even by today’s standards, let alone those of the 1950s. His religious style was charismatic, and included faith healing.
Jones’s belief in “equality and justice” led him to start his own racially integrated church in Indianapolis, which he first named Community Unity and later The Peoples Temple. In 1958, Jones started what he called his Rainbow Family by adopting three Korean children and a black boy. His one biological child was named Stephen Gandhi Jones.
Jones impressed the authorities in Indianapolis with his multi-racial efforts. In 1960, the mayor named him president of the Indianapolis Commission on Human Rights, with a salary of $7,000 a year, but he decided to move his church to California.
Again, Jones won favor with the authorities. He was elected president of the Grand Jury of Mendocino County, and after moving to San Francisco, the church grew to over 7,500 members. In 1975 he mobilized 800 members to work full-time for the successful mayoral campaign of George Moscone.
In 1976, he bused in hundreds of followers to a campaign meeting with Rosalynn Carter, wife of the future president. His photo appeared with Mrs. Carter in the papers the next day, and the President-elect invited him to Washington for the inauguration. Then-California State Assemblyman Willie Brown said, “San Francisco needs 10 more Jim Jones,” and helped to have him appointed by Mayor Moscone to the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.
Despite these honors, there was an investigation of the church for tax evasion, and Jones moved the church again, this time to a commune in Guyana. Jonestown, founded in the summer of 1976 along with about 1,000 followers, did not last long. In November 1978, a congressman named Leo Ryan flew to Guyana, and spent three days investigating complaints in Jonestown. Fourteen of Jones’s followers, unhappy with life in Jonestown, asked to fly back to the United States with Ryan. At the airstrip, just as the congressman’s party was about to leave, a truckload of Jonestown security guards arrived and started shooting, killing Congressman Ryan and four others.
Jones then decided on mass “revolutionary suicide,” a phrase he borrowed from Black Panther leader Huey Newton. On Jones’s instructions, all members of the cult were to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid (a Kool-Aid knock-off). Children were poisoned first, then adults. Some were shot trying to leave. In all 914 died, including 276 children.
Jones eventually became a kind of communist in his politics, but much of what he and his followers stood for is very close to the politically correct mainstream. The goal of Jonestown was to build an agricultural paradise free of sexism and racism. As part of this program, Jones promoted mixed-race marriage and adoption of bi-racial children. He also taught that all inequality was caused by white male oppression.
In Jones’s view, white men were the enemy. He believed the world might be destroyed either by nuclear war or by genocide against people of color. Church members went through radical loyalty tests called “white nights,” so named because of Jones’s belief that white men were trying to ruin his project. One church member wrote a final testament praising Jonestown because there were “no more racist tears from whites and others who thought they were better.” Jones even claimed that the final suicide decision was necessary because some of his white followers had defected and wanted to escape with Congressman Ryan. About 80 percent of his followers were black, but Jones made intelligent but gullible white women his chief assistants and main sex partners.
A Temple member named Edith Roller wrote in her diary about a boxing match between a young man accused of sexism, and a young woman. The woman knocked out the man, to the delight of the crowd.
Jones was dictator of Jonestown. He insisted that some couples divorce and remarry partners of his own choosing, and he had the right to have sex with anyone he liked. Armed guards patrolled the perimeter, and there were public beatings of disobedient children. Members who failed to meet work targets or who criticized Jones’s management could have their heads shaved, or be forced to wear a yellow hat or a special badge of dishonor. His followers did not address him by some fancy title; they called him “Dad.”
Although Jones was a preacher, and claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, Akhenaten, Buddha, Lenin, and Father Divine, it is not clear how religious he really was. He once said, “If there were no rich, no poor, if everyone were equal, religion would soon disappear.” One Jonestown survivor, asked if Jones was mainly interested in socialism or Christianity, answered, “Jim was a socialist first and an atheist second.”
In a larger sense, there are two main conclusions to be drawn from the Jim Jones story. The first is that politically correct liberals ought to be embarrassed by Jonestown but are not. A pioneer of racial diversity and feminism led a large movement to a grisly end of murder and mass suicide. If a conservative or nationalist had done this we would never be allowed to forget it.
The other is that many political moderns feel divorced from the world as it is constituted, and Jones took this feeling to a radical conclusion. Not only did he try to reconstitute society as a utopian commune, he drove his followers to suicide as a final act of renunciation.
“We were too good for this world” said Jim Jones as his followers prepared to die. One devotee left behind a note addressed to Jim Jones, in which he wrote, “Dad, I can see no way out, I agree with your decision . . . I am more than tired of this wretched, merciless planet and the hell it holds for so many masses of beautiful people.”
“It is living which is treacherous” was one of Jones’s last pronouncements before he, too, committed what he called “revolutionary suicide” by putting a bullet through his head.
Mr. Richardson is a secondary school teacher from Melbourne, Australia, and publishes the Oz Conservative (ozconservative.blogspot.com).