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Sunday, November 9, 2008

Now The Really Big Question: Will MSNBC Honestly Bear "Witness To Jonestown"?

Tonight, on network television, we're going to once again be served another purported slice of the real story of the People's Temple.

This month, after all, is a banner anniversary--the 30th--of the November, 1978 Jonestown Massacre in a South American jungle. So a retrospect of this so very, very avoidable tragedy is more than appropriate.

The only question, of course, again is: Will our Big Media finally, at long last, tell the whole truth this time? Or will MSNBC's "Witness To Jonestown" special turn out to be just another truncated tale, with the same old media smokescreen covering up their shameless sloth and cowardice that let Jim Jones get away with mass murder?

Even worse, will it be a companion piece to Director Stanley Nelson's scandalous 2006 cult apologist mockumentary, "The Life and Death of Peoples Temple"?

This is not to say it might not have valuable components, featuring credible interviews with survivors, including the very significant ex-Temple insider, Terri Bufurd. But what really concerns me have been some of the remarks by "Witness To Jonestown" producer/writer Stephen Stept.

"And what is a cult anyway?" writes Stept in the MSNBC website, "Even former members disagree on whether that 'four-letter word' applies to Peoples Temple."


Quite astounding. That's just exactly the bunkum we've been getting for years and years from Official Jonestown Apologist Rebecca Moore.
She's more than qualified for the job, as the sister of two Jonestown mass murderers as well as daughter of one of that "four-letter word's" most ardent propagandists.

"That's a term [cult] we use to describe groups we don't like," Moore told the Sacramento Bee in 2002. "But it's so loaded with negative connotations. If we label something a cult, then we don't make any effort to understand it."

Of course, Professor Becky. She currently uses the San Diego State Univ. Religious Studies Department to promote--not cults, mind you--but what she and her nationwide network of academic cronies like to call "New Religious Movements" (NRM). Scientologists. The Moonies. The Children of God (reported to be child abusers.)

My question is: Who did the Good Professor spend more time lecturing the joys of cult life to, Director Nelson or Producer Stept?

On the other hand, there's always the chance that Stept didn't bother with Rebecca Moore or take seriously her landmark book, "A Sympathetic History of Jonestown," which has countless gems such as, "....Peoples Temple followed a long tradition common to other groups trying to forge a new society."

A long "tradition"? Say, like, attacking five year-old children with cattle prods, and dunking them at the bottom of a well?? Then again, Jim Jones lived and breathed like a good Stalinist, so sure, that would make perfect sense.

So stay tuned tonight, 9:00 p.m. EST, to see if MSNBC finally fesses up the WHOLE story, including how their former San Francisco affiliate station KRON promoted this sadistic cult in the early 1970s, and the way the San Francisco Examiner ran away from Jones and his law suit blustering enforcer, Tim Stoen.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat is virtually the only newspaper decades later to finally tell the authentic story of the Temple cult's terrorizing of Redwood Valley, California, in the 1960's and early 70's.

Will MSNBC have the guts and honesty to do the same tonight, as the Press Democrat did five years ago with this report?

Peoples Temple:

by Mike Geniella
Press Democrat

Nov. 16, 2003

Twenty-five years have done nothing to diminish the anger of Brenda Ganatos and Nancy Busch.

The two women still get fighting mad about how Mendocino County officials and the local news media, and later their counterparts in San Francisco, turned a blind eye to the Rev. Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple. Jones arrived in Mendocino County in 1965, and he and his followers quickly infiltrated the local political and government establishments.

Temple members worked at every level of local government, from the Social Services Department to the District Attorney’s Office. Jones was to repeat the pattern on an even grander scale when he moved on to San Francisco in the early 1970s.

“We can live with ourselves today because we know we did everything we could to try and stop this madman,” Ganatos said.

“Frankly, I still don’t understand how all those people who should have been concerned and weren’t can look themselves in the mirror today,” adds Busch.

Ganatos first learned of Jones and his Peoples Temple when some followers from Indiana moved in next door in the late 1960s.

“They were lovely people. I liked them, and helped get them settled,” said Ganatos.

But by 1970, Ganatos began to take note of persistent rumors about misconduct at the Redwood Valley church.

Ganatos went into action after hearing a story about a 4-year-old boy named Tommy. On a “survival training” camping trip, Jones allegedly forced the boy to eat his own vomit after he became ill at dinner.

“That was it. I couldn’t handle any more of these stories without doing something,” Ganatos said.

Ganatos and Busch organized about a dozen friends and co-workers into a group called “Concerned Citizens.”

The group began to plead with local and state law enforcement agencies and government officials to take notice of the many concerns that were being outlined to them by neighbors and former temple members. They included a litany of incidents at Jones’ Redwood Valley church, including armed guards, beatings, sexual abuse and financial wrongdoing.

Ganatos and Busch say they were rebuffed at every level of law enforcement, government, and the news media.

“We were dismissed as busybodies and kooks,” said Ganatos, a retired telephone company supervisor who now lives in Oregon.

Busch, who still lives in her Ukiah home, believes she was frequently put under surveillance by Jones, and said it wasn’t easy to be among the few who were publicly questioning a man so eagerly accepted by community leaders and the local political elite.

“We kept being reminded what good deeds Jones was doing on behalf of the poor and the elderly, and how he was so informed that a local judge decided to name him foreman of the county grand jury,” recalled Busch.

Finally, in 1972, a San Francisco Examiner religion writer — the Rev. Lester Kinsolving — took notice of Ganatos and Busch and their citizens’ group.

Kinsolving, working with an Indiana reporter who also was investigating Jones, soon wrote the first published stories in Northern California about a man he dubbed the “messiah from Ukiah.”

The response from Jones and Temple members was swift. They threw up a picket line around the Examiner building, and Jones’ lawyers threatened legal action. Four more Kinsolving articles were shelved.

It wasn’t until publication in 1977 of a damning article in New West magazine that media attention was revived in Jones and the temple’s surging influence in San Francisco politics.

“By then it was too late. The wheels were already in motion,” said Ganatos.

After the Jonestown mass murder-suicide in 1978, Ganatos and Busch received calls from reporters around the globe inquiring about the information they had gathered.

“It probably wasn’t very smart, but I used to snap at them and say, ‘Where were you then?’” Ganatos recalled.

How about that. These Redwood Valley residents fought to stop the cult LONG before the "Concerned Relatives" ever started making waves. Now what do you think are the odds that you'll hear even one word mentioned tonight, or any night, by our MSNBC about the valiant fight by the "Concerned Citizens"?

I'll predict it may have something do with them being rebuffed by not just all levels of local law enforcement and government, but just by a wild coincidence, our courageous, crusading media!

Anybody taking bets out there??

The horrendous consequences of our law enforcement, government, and media officials doing NOTHING--except backing up Jones as they were all backing away--until it was too late are all too obvious, as much as the disgrace of this California power elite in its attempt to keep it covered up.

Ponder this reality. Be devastated by the unbearable grief in this preview of "Witness To Jonestown." Know that it was all completely preventable.

Then dry your tears. Get angry.


Rose said...

I would like to hear more about Brenda Ganatos.

I missed the airing tonight, but the (multiple) pieces on the msnbc website were really something, original right after the fact interviews with survivors. Heartwrenching!

Anonymous said...

The November issue of DisciplesWorld is devoted to covering Jonestown.

Anonymous said...

I would like to replay to your comment about Rebecca..I am not and have never been in her situation, but I admire her trying to understand her sisters. She is not advocating, nor am I, what Peoples Temple did, but trying to understand it. That is a GOOD thing and I am sorry that you cannot see that. By understanding things we do no agree with, it can only make us stronger. I can't stand what they did, but I support the family and friends.
Best to you,

Henry Baum said...

I don't know half a percent of what you do about Jonestown, but I can't seem to shake the idea that the media/California officials are not equally complicit in the massacre. Yes, horrible, hideous mistakes were made and watching the MSNBC show last night I couldn't shake that Ryan should have known that his presence could have set something off, given what had already been revealed.

But the main onus should be on Jones himself. Some of your rhetoric seems too negative. Such as this: "If we label something a cult, then we don't make any effort to understand it" doesn't strike me as a bad sentiment. Once you say "cult" people tend to think, "Oh, they're nutjobs, nothing like you or me." That doesn't make the woman an apologist for cults, necessarily, but a way of not writing off these groups at the onset. Again, I haven't read her complete words on this, so maybe she is more of an apologist. But there is a possibility of having a communal, even religious, community that is not inherently negative and brutal. And some of the hopes for the Peoples Temple were sincere, even if the place was a nightmare. I don't think that makes a person a cult apologist.

Anyway...I watched the documentary last night and couldn't sleep afterwards. I came here looking for more information because the whole thing is so haunting. Horribly sad and anytime people blithely throws around "drink the kool-aid," especially in relation to the election, should understand what they're referencing. said...

Dear Henry Baum,

Are you kidding me? "Such a thing as having a religious community that is on the up and up?"

Well, your actual words were: "there is a possibility of having a communal, even religious, community that is not inherently negative and brutal."

Well. Yeah. Something like 99.999777% of them.

What does forcing a four-year-old boy to eat his own vomit have to do with the worship of God?

Help me out here.

As we who will not stop are threatened into silence, not by sound argument, but by Orwellian manipulation of the language, we rise up and resist. This massive, con artistry, brainwashing trickery employed by cults, with all their BITE model antics ( and protein depravation (google the coca cola diet), and all the archives at and Steve Hassan's Web site (, why all that mischief and shenanigans oughta be opposed. Even if someone tries to reduce the whole shabang down to the word "cult" and then, poof, make the whole thing disappear by dismissing a word.

Dismiss this.

hoipolloi said...

Great work here. It is so important that the nation hear this story. Why are the mainstream media outlets not presenting the full details of how Jones used the political system, and who was involved? How a brutal cult leader was able to turn a corner of California into a haven for his lawless activities despite the efforts by some to get the word out? There are so many creepy aspects to this story and the fact that other cults continue to work the system makes it very timely. Why was the Muslim Bakery only recently shut down in Oakland when there was decades of abuse and crimes? Do we give a pass to those cults which serve the Black community such a Jones? Why do black community leaders such as Willie Brown allow this type of illegal activity to flourish? A lack of scepticism, combined with a ruthlessly opportunistic streak? When will these questions be openly explored by the Bay Area media? Time for a little more honesty about cults and the devastating effects they have on the lives of the vulnerable, such as children, who we should be protecting. You deserve a medal for your excellent work. Jonestown is a difficult subject that requires a strong stomach just to look at the pictures, but we need to understand the real story here.
Sara Warner
San Francisco

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