Monday, November 17, 2008
CNN's "Escape From Jonestown"-- Powerful But Still Incomplete Reporting On The Eve Of A Terrible Anniversary
"Thirty years ago," says CNN, "900 people died by murder and suicide. Only a few survived. Now, CNN special correspondent Soledad O'Brien reports on their untold stories...."
In its special report that originally aired last Thursday--five days before we observe the anniversary of that horrific day--CNN did a fine job interviewing former cult members who miraculously survived the slaughter. They told the truth about life in Jonestown, in all its graphic, shocking details.
But what the CNN producers refused to reveal was just how preventable this crime of the century really was. Not that this coverup wasn't expected. But just imagine if all the guilty parties that aided and abetted Jim Jones
in his rise to power were to step forward with one massive, long-overdue apology (in the style of Robert MacNamera's Vietnam mea culpa) AND media behemoths like the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle admitted they could have stopped Jones's cult assassins LONG before November 18, 1978?
Imagine if, just once, the San Francisco Examiner came clean about their cowardice in not standing up to Jones and his threats to sue because of the paper's exposes in 1972 (half of which were shelved by those editors.) Imagine, too, if the San Francisco Chronicle at last gave us an accurate retrospect of what they did and didn't do to save the Temple cult members from their hellish captivity and ultimate destruction
Maybe this could be made into a song. Call it "Imagine II." Much less sanguine than the first.
As it is, the Chronicle's series, "Ten Days That Shook S.F.," kicked off yesterday, bringing on an added dimension to the world of media whitewash.
Imagine (sorry, the thought keeps poppin' up) the public's reaction if the Chronicle revealed how their "Institution", the late, great columnist Herb Caen, had been in virtual cahoots with Jim Jones. Caen did all kinds of shimmering plugs for the cult; just a little over a year before the November, 1978 mass murder, Caen claimed Jones was the "target of a ceaseless media barrage" and was actually "doing the work of the Lord" in Guyana.
Oh, but of course, Herb. The "work of the Lord", .....
Don't worry folks, the secret's safe. Current Chronicle editor-in-chief Phil Bronstein would no more disclose this on his pages than he would discuss the shameless behavior of his former employer, the S.F. Examiner. The Examiner, of course, had been bullied by Jones's attack dog attorney, Tim Stoen, to shelve half of my father's 1972 Temple exposes, even after he had returned from Ukiah with taped sworn statements and signed affidavits from members of the Concerned Citizens who were facing down--unlike the Chronicle & Examiner--the cult terror all around them.
That brings us to yet another exceedingly dishonest voice that has already been telling his Anniversary Historic Fiction Story over the Associated Press network: Mr. Tim Reiterman. Ol' Tim, as I have said, was unquestionably brave in going down there to Jonestown with the Ryan party, and nearly got killed on that airstrip. Still, this can't excuse his lying about investigative reporter Les Kinsolving, loaded down with sworn statements and affidavits fresh from Ukiah, and falsely accusing him of having exposes "not well substantiated."
Clearly our "Raven" star author was angling for some insurance that it would be REITERMAN that would stay bathed in limelights, despite the fact that he, like Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff and all the rest, did NOTHING for all those years leading up to 1977. NOTHING to lift a hand to write a critical word about this dangerous cult leader. NOTHING to try and save all those people trapped in a madman's crushing iron grip.
Better late than never?? Not this time.
That's the truly phenomenal thing about this People's Temple Saga. Like the astoundingly evil Indiana con man that gave birth to this frightful cult, so also came a school of relentless bottom feeders.
Be they ruthless opportunists or gutless appeasers, their sordid behavior was the ultimate key to Jim Jones's breath-taking success before The Fall.
San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church's Radical Reverend Cecil Williams gave his blessing......
"We are pleased and honored that you will be with us...to accept Glide's 4th Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award", Williams wrote to Jones, in January, 1977, "in recognition of your leadership to many communities of people."
Rev. Williams presented this coveted honor to Jones at the height of the Temple's power in San Francisco. Interestingly enough, the Martin Luther King Award was offered up just two years after Humanitarian Mister Jones had stuffed $6,500 into Williams's pocket. Who knows, maybe Jones was flush with some freshly extorted cash from some senior's "donated" life savings....
And what did the high and mighty local media baron Charles deYoung Thieriot have to say about all this? ".....The church is best known and highly regarded for its
social works," said the publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle, "which include housing and feeding senior citizens and medical convalescents, maintaining a home for retarded boys, rehabilitating youthful drug users. . ."
Now here's yet another famous fellow, something of a community leader in his day, who also was highly regarded for his social works, too. The city of Chicago surely must have been deeply grateful when "Uncle Al" started a program, which was continued for decades after his death, to fight rickets by providing a daily milk ration to Chicago school children. Not only that, but he ALSO opened up many soup kitchens for the poor and homeless....
But of all of Jim Jones's benefactors, none could dare hold a candle to flamboyant, dynamic, and dapper local politician, Willie Brown. "When somebody like Jim Jones comes on the scene," said Brown, in July, 1977, just after the New West expose hit the streets, "...and constantly stresses the need for freedom of speech and equal justice under law for all people, that absolutely scares the hell out of most everybody...I will be here when you are under attack, because what you are about is what the whole system ought to be about!"
Thus, a cornucopia of local celebrities......all of them did their part to make the truly avoidable massacre......unavoidable.
For all the agonizing questions regarding the "hows" and "whys" of such a thing like this happening, one need only look deep into the face of the social psychology dynamic working in tandem with the primeval acts of unscrupulous power brokers.
My best friend, Gregory, is still living in California. He remembers as well as I do the fall day in 1972 when Temple thugs broke into my house at the corner of Marin and Spruce Streets, in the Berkeley Hills. They got what they came for--copies of my father's future columns. The great & powerful Rev. Jim Jones and his top henchman, Tim Stoen, were reaching the point of plotting exactly how to murder the Examiner investigative reporter (no, not you yet, Reiterman.)
Gregory asked me, just after viewing the CNN documentary:
"Did the government officials believe Jones or did they think he was a non-violent quack they could use for political gain? What happens to peoples brains when people like Jones or Hitler or a screaming Drill Sargent keep on screaming at them?
"Is there something hard-wired in children (and adult dumb f----) that when someone screams at them long enough, they will do what they say, and believe anything, because the ones who didn't believe and do what the group did, were taken out of the gene pool....?"
Excellent, relevant questions. One of the best resources available for such inquiry is the renowned Stanford social psychology scholar, Prof. Philip Zimbardo. Zimbardo, whose famed 1971 Stanford Prison Experiment set a standard in gauging the capacity for cruelty, recently authored, "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil."
Judging from the reviews, including these kudos from author Gail Sheehy, there seems little doubt about this book offering some solid insight.
"Stunning!" says the 'Passages' author. "Drawing on a lifetime of brilliant social psychological research, Zimbardo demonstrates how good people can be transformed into 'evil doers' by the power of situation--even you! He decodes how the Bush administration, in the delusion it alone can rid the world of the evil of terrorism, has turned into a model of 'administrative evil.' But Zimbardo also offers us a vision of how we can challenge an unjust system."
A number of sections in Zimbardo's book ultimately had to be deleted for lack of space. One of them was entitled (and can be found on the book's website): "Killing Your Children on Command: Ultimate Demonstration of Situational Power by Reverend Jim Jones"
It is enthralling, to say the least.
"Our final extension of the social psychology of evil from artificial laboratory experiments to real-world contexts comes from the jungles of Guyana, where a very popular American religious leader persuaded more than 900 of his followers to commit mass suicide or be killed by their relatives and friends on November 18, 1978.
"Jim Jones, pastor of Peoples Temple congregations in San Francisco and Los Angeles, set out to create a Socialist utopia in South America where brotherhood and tolerance would be dominant over the materialism and racism he loathed in the United States. But Jones was transformed over time and place from the caring, spiritual 'Father' of this large Protestant congregation into the Angel of Death--a truly cosmic transformation of Luciferian proportions. For now, I want only to establish the obedience link between Milgram’s basement laboratory in New Haven and the jungle killing-field in Guyana.
"The dream of the many poor members of Peoples Temple for a new and better life in Utopia were demolished as soon as Jones instituted forced extended labor, armed guards, the total restriction of all civil liberties, semi-starvation diets, and daily punishments for the slightest breach of any of his many rules that amounted to torture.
"When concerned relatives forced a Congressman and his media crew to inspect the compound, Jones arranged for them to be murdered. He then gathered almost all of those members who were at the compound and gave a speech that lasted less than an hour in which he exhorted them all to take their lives by drinking cyanide-laced Kool Aid. Those who refused were forced to drink by the guards or were shot trying to escape, but most obeyed their leader.
"Jones was surely an egomaniac; he had all of his speeches and proclamations, and even his torture sessions tape-recorded -- including this last hour suicide drill. In it Jones distorts reality. He lies, pleads, makes false analogies, appeals to ideology, and gives assurance of transcendent after lives. Finally, he outright insists that they follow his orders, as his staff efficiently distributes the deadly poison to the more than 900 members gathered around him." [NOTE: Link above ("Torture Sessions")--then click the "Audio"--for a sampling of the cult's unspeakable brutality in CNN's "Punishment With Snake" audio. Jones's shocking sadism is all the more chilling with the sound of his hideous high-pitched laughter as the woman is tortured while the cult mob cheers it on.]
"And they did; they died for 'Dad.' The power of charismatic tyrannical leaders, like Jim Jones and Adolph Hitler, endures long after their deaths, even though they have done terrible things to their followers. Whatever little good they may have done earlier, however, somehow comes to dominate their legacy in the minds of the faithful.
"Consider the example of a young man, Garry Scott, who followed his father into The Peoples Temple but was expelled for being disobedient. Listen to his brief statement as he called the National Call-that followed the broadcast of the NPR show, 'Father Cares: The Last of Jonestown,' by James Reston, Jr. Listen to how he was punished for an infraction of the rules. But more importantly, listen to his articulation of his enduring reaction to this torment.
"Does he hate Jim Jones? Not one bit. He has become a 'True Believer,' a 'Faithful Follower.' Even though his father died of poisoning in Jonestown and he himself was brutally tortured and humiliated, Gary still admires and loves his 'Dad'--Jim Jones. Not even George Orwell’s omnipotent 1984 Party could honestly claim such a victory.
"Gary: 'Like a lot of other young people, I had my sort of rebellion against some of the doctrinal methods that were taking place in the church, and I rebelled, and for that I was punished to become a better Christian. I was physically abused. Beaten with a two-by-four. I was whipped.
'One of the big problems I have in life is I have a phobia against snakes and for one punishment I was tied up and a snake [a boa] was put on top of me and that was psychological torment that I had to go through for a while. And I was sexually abused as well.'
"Moderator Bill Moyers then asked: “What did you see in Jim Jones when you were in the Temple that caused you to be faithful despite your treatment?
"Gary: 'I think the guilt. I felt that I was responsible for everything that was taking place around me. If there was any bad attitudes or any bad feelings emitting from persons in the Temple, I felt that they were my actions.... I followed Jim Jones because he was a very caring person.
'And even today, you know, despite the fact that a lot of my friends, which I considered my brothers and sisters, died, and a lot of them were forced to their death, there is a very personal part of Reverend Jim Jones that still lives today. And even though I’m very frustrated and very disappointed by what happened to my father, there’s still a peace (piece?) here that I see in Reverend Jones.'
"Like Orwell's protagonist, Winston Smith, Gary Scott seems 'to have won a victory over himself. 'In the end, they love Big Brother and Father Jones, alike. Powerful Authority Systems conquer individual personality systems more often than does the reverse."
So true, Dr. Zimbardo.
I'll have to take issue, however, with his statement that "most obeyed their leader" in taking their lives. Guyanese Chief Coroner Leslie Mootoo examined the corpses at Jonestown and discovered that up to 90 percent of the victims had been injected with the cynanide, shot, or strangled.
In the final analysis, over 900 plus Americans were simply coerced, brainwashed, and enslaved. One Jonestown visitor said it resembled a southern antebellum slave plantation, with "Dad" Jones acting the part of the white master, surrounded by his lily-white planning commission crew serving as the overseers, carrying out Marxist Master Jones's crazed orders.
In the end, of course, Temple planning commissioners cold-bloodedly murdered nearly every one in sight. One of these killers, Becky Moore's own sister Annie, left a final note that corroborates how she, as Gary Scot and Orwell's Winston Smith, had won a victory over herself. For Annie Moore, this meant simply surrendering to a "Big Brother" named Jones.
"Where can I begin — JONESTOWN — the most peaceful, loving community that ever existed,' wrote Annie, 'JIM JONES — the one who made this paradise possible — much to the contrary of the lies stated about Jim Jones being a power-hungry sadistic, mean person who thought he was God — of all things.
I want you who read this to know that Jim was the most honest, loving, caring concerned person whom I ever met and knew.....His love for humans was insurmountable and it was many of those whom he put his love and trust in that left him and spit in his face....."
Maybe it was that ringing endorsement that transformed older sister, Rebecca, into one of today's most unabashed cult shills. In fact, the other day she told the Palo Alto Daily News the following:
"The larger question that we should ask," claimed Moore, in that beguiling pitch she uses so effectively on an unaware audience, "is what would have happened if relatives or the media hadn't pressured the community? If they had tried different means, would they have succeeded, and would 900 people be alive today?"
THAT is the "larger question"??
Okay, then. It appears the issue of accountability is at last solved. We'll all remember that on tomorrow's anniversary of when a captive group of men, women, children, and babies were annihilated by a Frankenstein in sunglasses.
With a little help from his friends, of course.
Postscript: JONESTOWN ANNIVERSARY SPECIAL
Tomorrow, Tuesday, November 18, tune into the online WCBM (Baltimore) radio broadcast of "The Les Kinsolving Show", 9 p.m. to 11 p.m. (Eastern Standard Time). Les will be joined by both myself and sister Kathleen, as we continue our fight to get the WHOLE story told about Jim Jones and The People's Temple.
Remember, 9 p.m. EST, at URL: WWW.WCBM.COM
Join us and call in with your comments! Talk to you soon.