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Friday, December 1, 2006

Stanley Nelson's "Jonestown:" Cult Apologists' Propaganda Paradise

Just past a hill on the distant side of a cemetery in Oakland, California, they gathered recently around a humble gray tombstone that stands over a mass grave of more than 400 people, most of them children.

Like last year, and so many consecutive years before that, the grieving relatives returned for another November 18th remembrance of their loved ones that perished in the 1978 Jonestown Massacre. It appears our Big Media couldn't be bothered with this memorial, so you didn't hear a word. To be crowned officially newsworthy, we must have the requisite number pop up - 30th anniversary - and then maybe Jynona Norwood, who lost 27 of her family, can share a new vision (or by then perhaps unveiled it): The Guyana Memorial Wall.

Image source

More than a shame, the memorial service mass media blackout. And another thing: this very same somnambulant media--most in California--still can't, and won't, manage to wake up to accept ugly, incriminating realities about this tragedy. Their own role in cowering before master manipulator Jim Jones, foolishly allowing this fanged faith healer to pillage and plunder at will until that fateful, climactic date.

Yet, amazingly, reporters, especially those that worked during the People's Temple years, continue churning like buttermilk their own wildly successful myth about "no one having anything on the People's Temple," until, SUDDENLY, 1977--an expose in New West Magazine.

Wrong. Appallingly wrong.

San Francisco Examiner columnist Les Kinsolving--my father--and Indianapolis Star reporter Carolyn Pickering had the goods on Jones years before that. If publishers and editors had just had the backbone in 1972, or even 1975, there most surely wouldn't have been a Jonestown massacre. But none of the "media pundits" want to admit it, any more than the atrocious new cult apologist "documentary," Stanley Nelson's "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple."

You might even feel the cringe meter fly into the red when you discover the real "untold story" that our Jonestown cast of characters prefers remain untold. Reporters Tim Reiterman and Marshall Kilduff, the two most dashing People's Temple rescuers, lead the "too-little, too-late" pack of California newshounds. Gosh almighty, how they love the Official Story.

Don't get me wrong, now; credit to them for their solid work in 77. But when Kilduff writes preposterous lies now about having pursued Jones "early and often," it's beyond inexcusable. It's delusional. The man needs to 'fess up.  Listening to him today, or Reiterman, or any other shameless wonder that snoozed on the Jones Express Hell Ride only until the cliff drop is like hearing a rewrite of "The Emperor's New Clothes."

Details?  All there in the "Madman In Our Midst" link, with the complete chronology.

    Moreover, legions of public officials faithfully guarded the gates of the People's Temple while the demon Jones was busy inside enjoying his kingdom of hell. The California media have given them the velvet glove treatment, for precisely the same reason as the rest of the disgraceful local journalist community, as lazy and derelict as Reiterman and Kilduff, have contrived their Official Story.

"I have been deeply impressed with what I have seen there [in Jonestown] - the closest thing on earth like paradise I have ever seen," was a one-time endorsement by prominent ex-Temple lawyer Mark Lane, who was scheduled as a featured speaker at this month's memorial service. Photo Source

Another Jones PR man, Methodist Rev. John Moore, who lost two of his three daughters--who were in the cult "inner circle"--at Jonestown and is a regular at annual memorial services, gave this plug in May, 1978 for the Temple's Guyana gulag that, along with other horrors, locked away "misbehaving" children in small plywood boxes for weeks at a time:

"We came away from the People's Temple Agricultural Project with a feeling for its energy and enthusiasm, its creative, wholesome ways." This man of a clearly degenerate cloth failed to show an inkling of Norwood's fortitude. Where she managed to rescue her son from Jones's clutches, Rev. Moore was a People's Temple collaborator who is suspected of turning over copies of a reporter's--my father's - investigation notes to Jim Jones in 1975.

1975. Once again, years before New West, an opportunity to stop the cult nightmare was lost, thanks to unscrupulous characters and cowardly newspapers.

These two notorious Jones propagandists, Lane and Moore, will be featured in their own hall of shame segment later in this series in the Jonestown Apologists Alert. They'll be among lots of friends, so they won't be lonely.

Now, some really dire news. But first, a message from our sponsors at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema:


Fancy that. It seems that only two short days after the grieving relatives had paid their respects at that mass grave in California, some 1800 miles away in Texas, Drafthouse Cinema owners Tim and Karrie League apparently thought this little Kool-Aid pitch would be a fun way to get customers into their very special film showing on Nov. 20-22.

Yes indeed, a "special" film it surely is: Director Stanley Nelson's "Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple." In fact, MacArthur "genius" fellow Stan has created an undoubtedly ingenious bit of work. It's something, however, that you really ought to see only after a requisite review on cult social psychology.

Photo Source
Then again, you can follow Tim and Karrie's advice. Just do the now-popular toast-of-the-town, "drink the Kool-Aid" and climb aboard Lord Nelson's cult apologist love boat. Then you'll find out, through a gamut of expert editing, how "Dad" Jones' "promises" of A BETTER COMMUNITY were, contrary to popular wisdom, actually honored by "Father" Jones. Well, essentially honored, that is, until there was the problem of Jones's abusive proclivities, paranoia, and all the rest that ultimately led to the slaughter in Guyana.

The New York Times, like just about all the other media, is doing double somersaults of approval over Nelson's crafty little sideshow, which sounds eerily like the same song they sang while doing absolutely nothing--along with 99 percent of the rest of the media--to investigate left-wing activist Jones in the early 1970's, when he could have been stopped, and lives would have been spared.

"In exchange for their life savings, church members happy to work 20 hours a day for the cause were provided comfortable accommodations and given allowances," wrote the Times. "The documentary has clips of euphoric Peoples Temple celebrations in all three locations. [Redwood Valley, San Francisco, and Guyana]"

Church members "happy" to work 20 hours a day? Provided "comfortable" accommodations? Given "allowances"?

Really amazing, the power of film. Nelson has really pulled off a coup and the critics, almost universally, have given him a free ride as he's presented this utterly astounding cinematic mirage!...Yeah, there were isolated deviant aspects to the People's Temple, true. but it really was on the whole a fulfilling, integrated, communal joy, ya know. yeah, got spoiled by Jimmy's "bad side" but things only really got BAD at the very end, at Jonestown!

Mister Kilduff, step aside. Emperor Nelson has a sparkling new set of clothes to show off.

Conservatives have complained often and loudly about liberal bias in the mainstream media. After seeing the Times review, one of the more restrained, I start to wonder. Have ANY major media critics done their homework and confirmed that this film fails the smell test like bad Limburger cheese?

It appears at least one does have his suspicions; Entertainment Weekly's Owen Gleiberman, who dismissed "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple" as a "slipshod doc" that offers "not much insight" and "leaves you with more questions than you went in with."

An understatement, if there ever was one, Owen. But a refreshing departure from the chorus of media knuckleheads taken in by masterful, manipulative editing that could have been done by Rev. Jones himself. And now the "buzz line" out of Hollywood has this thing on the "short list" for nomination contenders for Documentary Academy Awards next year. Suggested inscription on Master Illusionist Nelson's statue, should the L.A. Narcissists Society give him this tribute: Most Grotesque Cult Apologist Film In Recent History.

"In docu-ganda films, balance is not the objective," an expose of this phenomena by writer Daniel Wood, the author measures what looks a lot like the Nelson Cinematic Yardstick.

"The new, one-point-of-view documentary made its first commercially successful debut in 1989, when Michael Moore's, Roger & Me‚ explored the effects of General Motors Corp. on Flint, Mich," wrote Wood, "Since then, Mr. Moore has been turning out personal-viewpoint books and films that continue to produce accolades from liberals and clenched fists from conservatives - Fahrenheit 9/11 - about the Bush administration's march to war after the 9/11 attacks, is the largest-grossing documentary film of all time.

"Moore's success, followed by the growth of independent theaters and the development of alternative means of film distribution such as the internet and DVD, has led to a groundswell of similar films. Media observers generally welcome the new diversity of viewpoint, even as they urge viewers to beware."

Hmmmm, did he say Michael Moore (another "Moore"?) Maybe somebody could ask Nelson in his next interview about the enhanced personal-viewpoint on-the-job documentary skills he learned being one of Moore's producers on the "TV Nation" television series.

Nelson's company, Firelight Media, issued a "Jonestown" news release that addressed, among other issues, any incoming accusations of his putting a "positive spin on this terrible incident." Nelson insists "our role was not to editorialize. It was to uncover the facts and to present them."

Of course, Stan. I just wonder why on earth your "documentary" hid so carefully under the covers so many, many of those "little details" of things at Jimmy's ideal community. Not one word of mention about this "love-filled family's "Blue-Eyed Monster."? You think your audience might have taken some interest in this account from ex-Temple member Jeannie Mills's book, "Six Years With God," who described the "Monster," as related by a 5 year-old kindergarten age girl who had come back into her care.

"I got in trouble in the church because I lied, and Father (Jones) said I'd have to go to the Blue-Eyed Monster. Then they took me in this dark room, and the monsters were all over the room. They said, "I am the Blue-Eyed Monster and I'm going to get you..‚ Then a monster grabbed my shirt and tore it open‚" Then all of a sudden the monsters started to say, "I'm going to get you again‚ and then one hit me right here,‚ she said, pointing to her chest. ‚Then it felt like a knife was going right down to my back, and my body started to shake back and forth like this... Then my teeth were tied together so I couldn't open them... I couldn‚t believe it--it hurted so bad."

What the little girl had been describing was a darkened room filled with adults armed with cattle prods (which explained the blue electric light). They zapped the child with the cattle prods, then the impact of the electric current would lock the child's teeth together as they were propelled across the room to be hit yet again.

This, of course, all took place in California, years before Jonestown, where it evolved into a new torture: "Big Foot," a horrendous series of well-dunkings for the children. So, as Nelson wants us to believe, the cult members (which he rarely, if ever, calls them, you'll notice) while "sharing a lot of love" and having "Dad" Jones "delivering promises" were TORTURING CHILDREN on a regular basis with their "Blue-Eyed Monster."

".....people went along with it because it was a small part of their lives," claims Nelson, regarding "Jim's" (as Nelson likes to call him) behavior, in an October interview with Newsweek.  Okay, hate to bring it up again, but this is yet another of those publications the conservatives have branded with "liberal bias." isn't it?

Just look at the way Newsweek, a Washington Post-owned publication, soft-peddled this clearly left-wing activist director, allowing him to get away with outrageous falsehoods such as describing the cult's phase in California, where there was fraud, abuse, and torture.

Behavioral scientists, from Milgram to Zimbardo, Lifton to Singer, have all conclusively demonstrated how a single person or entire group can be subjugated by a well-structured mind control environment. George Orwell illustrated how this plays out on a grand scale, with the nightmare of an all-out totalitarian society. His inspiration was based a good bit on an iron-fisted leader named Stalin.

The demonic Cult of Personality phenomenon. Model for a lot of little Stalins that emerged later, some to rule nations, others to start their very own cults, or in cult apologists' newspeak, "New Religious Movements"

Could it have mattered that Jim Jones started admiring Stalin and studied his totalitarian ways while a college student in Indiana? Certainly not to Historian Nelson. He made sure still another piece of the real puzzle be covered over by his own "intepretive" piece, sprinkling in another euphemism: "Socialist". Careful, though; don't confuse it with the real thing, like practiced in some northern parts of Europe. No, try again, and take a peak at northern parts of Korea.

This "socialism" is the jingle that our totalitarians Stalin--and Jones--used as window dressing for the ongoing hell inside their houses. In the People's Temple, long, long before Guayana, Stalinist Jones had triumphed, precisely because he had expertly perfected his own cult of personality, and enslaved his flock through relentless mind control and brutal maintainence tactics.

I interviewed ex-member Jeannie Mills in California, about two years before she was killed. She explained how easy is was for anyone, rational or not, to fall victim to cult mind control, and to be trapped. In her book, she explained her plight:

"We had to face painful reality. Our life savings were gone....Our property had all been taken from us....We thought we had alienated our parents when we told them we were leaving the country. Even the children whom we had left in the care of Carol and Bill were openly hostile toward us. Jim had acomplished all this in such a short time! All we had left now was Jim and the Cause, so we decided to buckle under and give our energies to these two."

Amazing. One would get the impression that this revealing testimony, even if recounted second-hand (since Mills is diseased), would be an important part of a documentary purporting to show an inside look at what drove these cult members.

But Doctor Stan? Naaaw. He knows better than to cloud up his revolutionary view with such needless static. So, his "reality" of the cult that died was, for the most part, quite normal. And cheery, too.

"It was something that was sane, rational and made people feel good"  Nelson claimed, "He [Jones] told people to invest their welfare check or Social Security check and he would turn it into something that would be so much better than being taken care of by the government, and he did that. That's why sane people joined and stayed."

    Newsweek joins the herd of other select media sheep in a grim confirmation of that now-infamous sign in the Jonestown Pavillion about history. They still haven't learned, and continue repeating the lesson that con artists--religious, film, or otherwise--are teaching them in gullibility.

The only thing that seems to make sense, after watching Nelson's free hogwash tour in interview after interview, is that too much of our media elite simply can't help themselves, and won't suppress self-serving instincts or these allegedly "progressive" biases. Thus, the pathetic lack of any substantive follow-up inquiries that our Mr. Nelson so desperately needs, which would expose his reprehensible whitewash of, for starters, the media's past complicity in helping Jones build his empire; Jones's unmentioned Stalinist overtones; and, most significant, the social psychological dynamics of a cult.

    At this point, I wouldn't expect a cover story any time soon. Likely the best we'll get is a Nelson "Every Cult Has A "New Religious Movement" Silver Lining!" sequel.

In the upcoming next posting, more provocative aspects of the Stanley Nelson cult film folly will be discussed, all the other critical elements of the People's Temple "life and death" that Nelson inexplicably "forgot" to mention.

Then again, maybe not so inexplicable after all.  Extremist activists have bad habits of chopping facts in half, out altogether, or radiating them with "interpretation." The same can happen with mainstream media pundits, as we've seen. This is obviously dangerous to an uninformed audience, whose history will either stagnate in fallacy or do a permanent tailspin thanks to some ruthless revisionist.

And worth noting, while on the subject of ruthless revisionists, was a curious addition to the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema's online advertising of Nelson's film.

   It was a paragraph providing details about a lady named Rebecca (are you ready for this??) Moore--one of the film's interviewees--and her devotion to "New Religious Movements", as well as her "interpreting" People's Temple and the events at Jonestown. Impressive indeed. Rebecca's father, interestingly enough, is none other than the Rev. John Moore. Yeah, the very same John Moore, Temple Propagandist, suspected of helping Jim Jones stop a newspaper investigation, two years before New West.

And, oh yes--Moore's daughter"Interpreting" People's Temple? Are she and Stan up to something here??

Stay tuned.

                                   By Tom Kinsolving


by the author said...

It is pretty sad, but the government has always and since been terribly afraid of going after these groups -- even in a preventative manner -- just in case someone were to cry about infringing on religious rights. And the only government official ever interested in exposing cults died in Guyana.

Koresh was the same, Heaven's Gate ... while Scientology might be too far-reaching for such an event, it's always possible with the public pressure being levied recently.

It's too bad, but in this PC age it's terribly difficult for people to be informed about the difference between benign social groups and brainwashing leader-centric cults.

Anything from Buddhism to the Bretheren could be labeled as a new American religious movement in today's media, and it's depressing to think that the only religion we as a nation are wary of, Islam, is terribly kind compared to some of the crazy groups breeding in our own back yards.

The fact that groups like Children of God continue without investigation, despite hundreds of stories about child abuse and rape, is truly appalling.

mrtpk said...

You are absolutely correct, my friend--and you are definitely not alone in these concerns about cult predators roving around at will, slithering beneath a First Amendment smoke screen blown up by their apologist cronies.
It was indeed a disgrace how our government sat on its hands all those years while Jones did his dirty work, then recklessly allowing the courageous Leo Ryan to walk into a trap.
The Scientologists generally try to silence critics by squeezing their "litigation terror levers" about as often as they hit their "org" cash registers.
And, yes, the "Children of God": a truly perverse title for a group that savagely abuses children. Still, the cult apologists choke on denial and regurgitate twisted fabrications to cover up this depravity.
That is precisely why there will be plenty of "coming attractions" here featuring the words and deeds of these cult ambassadors, AKA, "New Religious Movements" scholars.
Keep on speaking out!

Gillian said...

I found the third or fourth post of your blog while searching for the original New West article, and have been wading through your vast diatribe for half an hour, trying to make sense of it and figure out what your point is.

I finally went to the beginning and started from there, and I still am not sure what you're doing. You seem to be very angry at Mr. Nelson and other representatives of the media for various reasons. Your first target was the media in general for not making a big deal out of the anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre last year, which was confusing to me. Do you mean that there should be a media circus for every annual anniversary of every terrible event that has happened in the last--how many years exactly? Obviously 30, so does that mean 40? 50? 100? With this premise, the newspaper headlines would be filled with nothing but rehashing of past horrors, leaving little room for current news, because in this world every day is the anniversary for some kind of tragedy.

A bit later within the same post, you belittle and ridicule a man who lost two daughters at Jonestown--you castigate him for his attendance at the cemetery on the anniversary, of all things! You want the newspapers to go to the cemetery and make a big production of it, but you begrudge this victim his right to mourn the same event in the same cemetery because he was taken in by Jones 30 years ago? He's not been punished enough for his ignorance or anything he might be guilty of by the death of his children? You think he deserves to be mocked by you for attending the memorial service, and also to be placed in your future "hall of shame"? Attacking Mr. Nelson is one thing--that simply seems misguided and paranoid, as if you completely misunderstood his film by mishearing the speakers and judged them because you misconstrued their descriptions of their experience and heard things they did not say. But attacking the tragedy's surviving victims is another thing entirely. You are judging and condemning people who are already in hell on earth, and must live with their mistakes and their unbearable loss every moment of their lives. Let them be! Why kick people who are lying beaten on the ground? And in a cemetery where they are mourning, of all places?

Mr. Nelson's documentary didn't "whitewash" the horror of Jonestown for me. It didn't apologize for anything, and didn't justify anything. There was no way he could include everything in the scope of his documentary, so he had to choose how to deliver his information and how to format it. This is the third program about Jonestown that I have seen, and it was by far the most affecting for me. The former temple members that spoke about how they felt about the temple in the beginning were very helpful to us as we watched the documentary because for the first time we understood how people were lured to follow Jones in the first place. Other programs have left us wondering why on earth anyone would have been stupid enough to be taken in, and this program showed how they were lured and how it seemed to them to be what they were looking for. Nelson didn't say that the People's Temple *WAS* a wonderful place, he showed us that people joined because THEY THOUGHT it was a wonderful place! Couldn't you make that distinction? You have taken so many things out of context in your blog that at times I had to check to make sure you had watched the same program as we just did! Those people were NOT fans of or apologists for Jones! You are deluded if you thought that they were! This documentary, more than any other, made me understand the horror that occurred at Jonestown and the evil manipulations and mind-control that orchestrated everything that led the victims there. I cried through the last fourth of the program and went on crying after it was over because of what I learned in the documentary and my new understanding of how all those people had been tricked and lured and betrayed and murdered by the man they had seen as their saviour. Nelson's telling of the story showed me the existence of evil as I had not seen it before.

Your blog may be some kind of strange tribute you are doing for your father, but your method is scattershot, petty and shrill. You belittle people who should be pitied, not humiliated, while you castigate others, like Nelson, who should be lauded for contributing something enlightening to our understanding of a senseless tragedy.

Slowhand said...

To "Gillian"; It seems to me you're missing the point of this blog post entirely. What the writer is criticizing is how one family has been using and abusing their status as victims in this tragedy in an effort to pull the wool over the eyes of the public as to how evil Jim Jones really was. Have you read Ms. Moore's website? It's called "Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple." To me, that implies a denial by the Moore family that Jim Jones was a psychpathic monster. I've read several pages of their website and it is nothing but typical socialist gobbledygook. Ms. Moore quotes a murdering racist named H. Rap Brown for chrissakes! What the Moore family is doing is akin to Holocaust deniers or these kooky 9/11 Conspiracy theorists.

The tragedy with Jonestown isn't just the fact that all these people died. It's also the fact that several members of the Bay Area political community and media aided and abetted this butchery to happen. They could have stopped it, yet they didn't because obtaining and keeping power (which Jones & the Temple helped them obtain) was more important to them than saving the lives of their constituents. Many of these people are still alive and have NEVER been held accountable for their inaction. Rev. Moore, whom I assume you were talking about, could have stopped it but he didn't. Thus, he's spent the last 30 years in CYA mode because he failed in his responsibility as a father, while demonizing the one person who tried to warn him that Jones and the Temple were up to no good.

Rose said...

Gillian has it all wrong. As someone who was searching for information about People's Temple and Tim Stoen, I can testify to the importance of complete and accurate reporting, details of what went on, not the craven whitewashing that is all too prevalent. Stoen's role in the People's temple has been all but ignored, journalists today note that he was "an adviser to Jim Jones" - some shorten it to say Stoen "has a colorful past." But, looking at Les Kinsolving's accounts of what was going on in People's Temple in 1972, Stoen is front and center, directing and manipulating. Amazingly, after the massacre, all investigation of Stoen and lawsuits against him were dropped and he faded from sight. Til he found a new cause and a new Jim Jones in Humboldt County in 2003.

I doubt that Les Kinsolving could have anticipated the importance of what he wrote all those years ago - that people today would be seeking him out with questions, and a need for answers. It's what a reporter does, record the history of his time. He did it. The newspaper shut him down under pressure and threats from the Temple. Tim Stoen recently apologized to les Kinsolving for his actions, filing lawsuits to shut him down - oh he wasn't quite that specific, but it is an incredible and important fact that has to be added into the mix.

I share Tom's frustration, as finding answers has been very difficult.

The publishing of his father's exposes on this blog is a major step in the right direction. And I applaud both Tom and his father, to whom I am very grateful for their courage and dedication.

Robin said...

People like this woman (Gillian Lindt, I presume) gripe me because there is a whole other group of "survivors & victims" out there that is entirely overlooked by her & her ilk & I include myself in that group as you do, too, I think.
As for me, I was in the process of growing up as the People's Temple California saga began & unfolded not 35 miles from my home town in Mendocino County. It was my local government that sold out to Jim Jones & Tim Stoen. It was my county sheriff, DA, social services director, board of supervisors, radio stations & newspapers that sang the praises & overlooked the strange & suspicious activities of these men & their followers in exchange for money, votes & services. The people who were hired or voted into office & were sworn to uphold the law & protect the best interest of the people of my county did not do so. The inquiries, warnings & complaints from the general citizenry of my county were all but ignored by my spineless & gutless county officials. The citizenry had to go outside of the county for help - to your father, the state attorney general - but also to really no avail & we all know why. Talk about a loss of innocence & faith! It only got worse as more information became available over the years.
George & Kathy Hunter are long gone & "The Ukiah Daily Journal" is a little better paper now but its editor, KC Meadows, doesn't acknowledge the Jonestown anniversaries because it's "old news & not relevent". She, who is relatively young & did not live in Mendocino County during the time of the PT, has faith that something like the PT could never happen there again yet Tim Stoen is ensconced in the Mendocino County DA's office where there seems to be a revolving door with his name on it. Tim Stoen! Devout socialist, anarchist, liar, planner of deception, plotter of murder, abuser of office, worshipper of Jim Jones, chameleon - all in Mendocino County. Am I the only one who sees the irony (to say the least) in Tim Stoen working for the Mendocino County government as a prosecuting attorney?!! Surely not, but where's the uproar? Where's the new media & the new county officials with backbone & guts who are sworn to uphold the law & protect the people? There's something perverted about allowing Stoen to represent the people of Mendocino County.
The former members of PT make interesting & probably important sociological studies & I am genuinely interested in hearing their stories. Some of them seem almost as amazed by their own history as I am. But their history foricibly marred my history so I don't pity most of them & their words don't make me cry. They are victims of their own choices & I don't appreciate that the people they worked so hard against are the same people who have had to spend years cleaning up their ugly mess. Perhaps Stanley Nelson would like to make a film about that.
As long as these "victims" continue to talk just about their personal reasons, losses & thoughts rather than their specific deeds & the far-reaching consequences & effects of those deeds, I will view them all with a jaundiced eye.
Robin Shelley