JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Answers Some Student Questions

JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Answers Another Student's Questions:

1. Why did I join Peoples Temple?

The United States was going through critical growing pains in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. In the decade of the 1960s, five American heroes were shot and killed by vigilantes – John Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers – and many more besides these heroes. Then, we got into the war in Vietnam. I did not want the world run by bullies, nor by vigilantes. I tried as a single, naive woman to change some things – but was pretty powerless, it turned out. When I met Jim Jones, and joined Peoples Temple, I thought Jim would protect me, and stand for issues I felt were important. He had adopted children of many races, had gathered a huge interracial congregation, and stood with other leaders of our times – Angela Davis, Cesar Chavez, Dennis Banks, many in the LGBTQ community in San Francisco, and others. It seemed like a perfect fit, even though I was an atheist. Jim’s efforts were to move people into activism.

2. How was Jim Jones’ behavior?

At the beginning, when I was part of the smaller Redwood Valley Peoples Temple, Jim’s behavior was inclusive, and consistent with the ideas he shared. He did work to get rid of racism within the Temple. Once he moved to San Francisco with many of his members from Redwood Valley, and many new members, I only saw him in public. He was very polished in public. I felt like I knew the “real” Jim Jones and so did not watch him as critically as I should have.

3. How did I feel inside the community?

The people I met in Peoples Temple were the best, most dedicated and diverse people I have met in my life. Many people made huge sacrifices because we all felt that we could create a safe community for our friends and family, and be a role-model community for the larger world. We worked tirelessly, and felt that each day, we accomplished a lot. I loved the Peoples Temple community, from the communes I lived in and the entire family – which is what it felt like to me.

4. Was sex an important element?

Jim was married, had a long-time mistress, and continued to have multiple partners over the years. He would justify having sex by telling us why these people “needed” him to show his care or his appreciation for their beauty – really, blaming the victim. And then, he used sex as a further control over that person. I would say that others in the Church were not invited to have multiple partners, and instead earned Jim’s trust be being celibate. He often referred to people as most trustworthy because they were single. He preferred everyone to have a personal connection with him, no room for others or rather, no distraction from others.

5) When and why I left the community?

I did not leave the community. I happened to be working in Georgetown from late October through the deaths in Jonestown on November 18, 1978.

6) How Jones exerted such a strong control over the members?

First, Jim Jones was extremely smart. He just outsmarted us by knowing what to say to pull us in. He would speak and be sure he covered exactly what each person or group wanted to hear. I was always political, along with many other members. He would be sure to include politics and a political message in each sermon. Many members were religious, and he would be sure to include that as well. He was well-versed in the bible, although I have a strong opinion that it was useful for him, rather than it being his core belief. Religion was a magnet he could use to draw people in. Then, he would teach and model  how activism was essential in interacting with the world.

Second, Jim actually helped nearly every family. He could write letters to get people out of jail or on probation, or get leniency. He helped get people off of drugs, into housing, into communes with shared resources so everyone had a safe place to stay, with enough food. He provided free legal help and got medical attention to members when they had been denied help. Really, every family was impacted by the services provided in Peoples Temple. People could not fathom that he would do them harm when he had so tenderly cared for them or their loves ones over the years. He was powerful because of his deeds. He took care of people.

As a consequence, people did not admit to seeing his flaws. His drug addiction and personality disorder, which worsened in Jonestown, were hidden by his closest nurses/mistresses/secretaries. His reputation was protected vigilantly. Most of us had no clue about how he was disintegrating right in front of us. Even people who did see some problems had no idea that he was so mentally ill that he would kill 917 people and himself.

There had been no precedent in US history of a leader killing nearly 1,000 people. No one in Peoples Temple – or very few, because some did see it on the horizon and left – could have imagined that end. We thought any issues in the community could be fixed as we settled into Jonestown and didn’t have to work so hard.