JONESTOWN SURVIVOR Meets Up with Jeff Guinn

Over the past three years, Jeff Guinn (author of 19 books) has been interviewing the people around the country who have remained in the “attic” of Peoples Temple. Of course, he also interviewed all of the more public and available survivors, family members, and connections. In March, his book ROAD TO JONESTOWN was published. Now he is doing the road tour to introduce his book and touch on a few of his discoveries.

I am a Jonestown survivor, and travel often, to universities, conferences, Quaker Meetings, and other
OSHER and community gatherings around the country. I rarely get to hear other presentations from people I know have first hand experience in Peoples Temple. I speak with many survivors, but presentations have a different level of reflection – or at least potentially can.

Last week, I went to hear Jeff Guinn speak about his research and book, in my own area – in San Diego. I learned a lot. I agreed with so much of what he said, and I was very impressed with the research he did and with the thoughtful presentation.

Here are some of the points he made that interested me the most. I have long thought that power corrupted Jim Jones, and that absolute power corrupted him absolutely. (A quote from Lord Acton in 1887.) I have used that quote many times to describe the de-evolution of Jim. Jeff was able to persuade me that that was too “positive” a spin to put on him. The reality was that – from inception it seemed – and crediting his “Socialist pragmatism,” Jim could come up with a lie to better his position in any situation. He had no qualms about telling someone he was a “Quaker,” or that his father was KKK, or that he was terribly poor growing up, or any other lie. He did it from an early age, and up until November 18, 1978. I also learned that his own mother was talented in creating her own fabric of lies.

Another wonderful point he made, putting it more precisely than I have in the past, is that Jim drew people who had the best of intentions. Many cult leaders, like Charles Manson, Grand Wizards of the KKK, gangs (which I consider cults), and certain current elected officials, bring out the worst in their supporters/members. Jim appealed to the best in us, and made us into an efficient and caring community, a wonderful family. He brought in the best friends and families so that we could share the work ahead. The people of Jonestown were the people you would choose for your family, and the people you would love when you met up with them.

I have more thoughts, and as I read his book – I can guarantee that I’ll write more!