Dee Finney's blog
start date July 20, 2011
Today's date July 28, 2012
TOPIC: EVENTS OF 1978
PEACE - NOBODY WANTS ANY:
ANOTHER CLUE MIGHT BE ANOTHER DREAM I HAD ABOUT A RED LINE - IT WAS A WARNING
ABOUT THE DEATH
OF THE PRESIDENT:
NOTE: HERE IS WHAT HAPPENED IN 1978.
Odell Rhodes, a Temple member who survived by hiding underneath a building, said that among the very first to line up for the poison were several mothers and their babies. He said that there was no panic or emotional outburst; that people looked as if they were "in a trance."
The large central building was ringed by bright colors. It looked like a parking lot filled with cars. When the plane dipped lower, the cars turned out to be bodies. Scores and scores of bodies —hundreds of bodies—wearing red dresses, blue T shirts, green blouses, pink slacks, children's polka-dotted jumpers.
Couples with their arms around each other, children holding parents. Nothing moved. Washing hung on the clotheslines.
The fields were freshly plowed. Banana trees and grape vines were flourishing. But nothing moved."
So reported TIME Correspondent Donald Neff, one of the first newsmen to fly in last week to the hitherto obscure hamlet of Jonestown in the jungles of Guyana, on the northern coast of South America. The scene below him was one of almost unimaginable carnage. In an appalling demonstration of the way in which a charismatic leader can bend the minds of his followers with a devilish blend of professed altruism and psychological tyranny, some 900 members of the California-based Peoples Temple died in a self-imposed ritual of mass suicide and murder.
Not since hundreds of Japanese civilians leaped to their deaths off the cliffs of Saipan as American forces approached the Pacific island in World War II had there been a comparable act of collective self-destruction. The followers of the Rev. Jim Jones, 47, a once respected Indianaborn humanitarian who degenerated into egomania and paranoia, had first ambushed a party of visiting Americans, killing California Congressman Leo Ryan, 53, three newsmen and one defector from their heavily guarded colony at Jonestown. Then, exhorted by their leader, intimidated by armed guards and lulled with sedatives and painkillers, parents and nurses used syringes to squirt a concoction of potassium cyanide and potassium chloride onto the tongues of babies. The adults and older children picked up paper cups and sipped the same deadly poison sweetened by purple Kool-Aid.
All week long, a horrified world marveled at new details of the slaughter and new mysteries about Jones' cult. While the bodies swelled and rotted in the tropical sun, two U.S. military cargo planes flew in to bring back the remains to grieving relatives. At the same time, helicopters whirred over the jungles to search for survivors who were thought to be hiding from the cult. There were reports that the colony had been terrorized by Jones, who was rumored to be dying of cancer. Police found huge caches of illegal arms, ranging from automatic rifles to crossbows, but hundreds of thousands of dollars had disappeared from the colony's safe. And only at week's end did officials declare that there were virtually no survivors in the forest, and that the death toll was not 409, as first announced, but about 900.
Psychiatrists and other experts on group psychology and mind-control techniques offered rational explanations of how humans can be conditioned to commit such irrational acts (see box). Yet the stories told by those who survived were both fearsomely fascinating and ultimately inexplicable. How could such idealistic, if naive, people set out to build an idyllic haven from modern society's many pressures and turn it into a hellish colony of death? This is how the Jonestown dream turned into a nightmare:
In the spring of 1977, Ryan, a liberal but maverick Democrat, spoke with a longtime friend, Associated Press Photographer Robert Houston. Houston, who was ill, told Ryan that Houston's son Bob, 33, had been found dead in the San Francisco railroad yards, where he worked, just one day after he had quit the Peoples Temple. Though authorities said his son died as the result of an accidental fall, Houston claimed the cult had long threatened defectors with death.
A loner who liked doing his own investigating of constituents' concerns, Ryan began inquiring about Jim Jones and his followers, who had just started clearing some 900 acres in the rain forests of Guyana. Other unhappy relatives of temple members, as well as a few people who had fearfully left the cult, told the Congressman that beatings and blackmail, rather than brotherly love, impelled the cultists to work on the new colony. Articles in New West magazine and the San Francisco Examiner in August 1977 further documented the temple's increasing use of violence to enforce conformity to its rigid rules of conduct. Members were routinely scolded by Jones before the assembled community and then whipped or beaten with paddles for such infractions as smoking or failing to pay attention during a Jones "sermon." A woman accused of having a romance with a male cult member was forced to have intercourse with a man she disliked, while the entire colony watched. One means of indoctrinating children: electrodes were attached to their arms and legs, and they were told to smile at the mention of their leader's name. Everyone was ordered to call Jones "Father."
Ryan repeatedly asked the State Department to check into reports about the mistreatment of Americans in Jonestown. The U.S. embassy in Georgetown sent staff members to the colony, some 140 miles northwest of the capital. They reported they had separately interviewed at least 75 of the cultists. Not one, the embassy reported, said he wanted to leave.
That did not satisfy Ryan, who decided to find out what was happening in Jonestown by going there. Ryan wrote Jones that some of his constituents had "expressed anxiety" about their relatives in the colony. Back came a testy letter, not from Jones but from controversial Attorney Mark Lane, who has built a career on his theories of conspiracies behind the assassinations of John Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. Lane charged that members of the Peoples Temple had to flee the U.S. because of "religious persecution" by the Government and implied that Ryan was engaged in a "witch hunt." If this continued, he said, the temple might move to either of two countries that do not have "friendly relations" with the U.S. (presumably Russia and Cuba), and this would prove "most embarrassing" for the U.S. Lane asked that the trip be postponed until he was free to accompany Ryan. Ryan refused.
Lane then found the time to go along.
Ryan took along eight newsmen as well as several relatives of temple members, who hoped to persuade their kin to leave the colony. The visitors arrived in a chartered aircraft, an 18-seat De Havilland Otter, at an airstrip in Port Kaituma, six miles from Jonestown. They rode to the colony along a muddy and barely passable road through the jungle in a tractor-drawn flat-bed trailer. At Jonestown all were greeted warmly by a smiling Jones.
The members of the Peoples Temple put on a marvelous performance for their visitors. Reporters were led past the central, open-air pavilion, used as both a school and an assembly hall. The visitors saw the newly completed sawmill, the 10,000-volume library, the neat nursery, where mosquito netting protected babies sleeping peacefully on pallets. The colony hospital had delivered 33 babies without a single death, the tour guides said.
The highlight of the visit was an evening of entertainment in the pavilion. As a lively band beat out a variety of tunes, from rock to disco to jazz, the colonists burst into song, including a rousing chorus of America the Beautiful. Even the skeptical Ryan was impressed. He rose to tell his assembled hosts: "From what I've seen, there are a lot of people here who think this is the best thing that has happened in their whole lives." The audience applauded loudly. Jones stood up and led the clapping.
Privately, Ryan expressed a few reservations. He found some of the people he interviewed unnaturally animated. Yet no one had expressed any dissatisfaction with life at Jonestown. At the head table,
Jones told newsmen, "People here are happy for the first time in their lives."
Next day, however, NBC Correspondent Don Harris asked Jones about reports that his colony was heavily armed. Jones, who had been swallowing lots of pills, blew up. "A bold-faced lie!" he cried. "It seems like we are defeated by lies. I'm defeated. I might as well die!"
The colony's facade was crumbling.
One Jonestown resident had nervously pushed a note into Harris' hand. "Four of us want to leave," it said. Ryan was getting other furtive pleas from cultists asking to go back to the U.S. with him. Jones was asked about the defectors. "Anyone is free to come and go," he said magnanimously. "I want to hug them before they leave." But then Jones turned bitter.
"They will try to destroy us," he predicted. "They always lie when they leave."
As divided families argued over whether to stay or go, Jones saw part of his congregation slipping away. Al Simon, father of three, wanted to take his children back to America. "No! No! No!" screamed his wife. Someone whispered to her: "Don't worry, we're going to take care of everything." Indeed, as reporters learned later from survivors, Jones had a plan to plant one or more fake defectors among the departing group, in order to attack them. He told some of his people that the Congressman's plane "will fall out of the sky."
The first violence occurred as Ryan conferred with Jones about taking those who wished to leave with him. Lane and Jones' longtime attorney, Charles Garry, sat in on the negotiations in a room inside the pavilion. Suddenly a cultist later identified as Don Sly ran up to Ryan from behind, grabbed him around his throat with one arm and brandished a knife with the other. "I'm going to kill you!" Sly shouted. Lane and Garry wrestled the knife away from Sly, accidentally cutting the assailant. The blood spattered Ryan's clothes. Jones watched impassively. He made no move to interfere.
Outwardly, Ryan appeared calm and seemed to shrug off the attack. The visiting newsmen and relatives were alarmed. The colonists who wanted to flee were frightened. But the plans for departure proceeded. The party again headed down the rutty road to Port Kaituma, where the two aircraft awaited them.
Lane and Garry stayed behind at Jonestown, knowing that the aircraft would be overcrowded. They expected to be picked up the next day.
At the crude landing strip, the party split up as its leaders tried to decide how to get everyone in the Otter and a smaller five-passenger Cessna brought in to help take the defectors out. A slim youth boarded the Cessna. "Watch him," one of the defectors warned Ryan. The Congressman, the newsmen and most of the fleeing cultists prepared to get into the larger craft. Then a tractor pulling a long trailer approached the field. The three men standing in the trailer did not appear to be armed, but the departing cultists were terrified.
The tractor crossed the airstrip. The men in it suddenly picked up guns and began firing at the people near the Otter. Before he could seek cover, Ron Javers of the San Francisco Chronicle was hit in the left shoulder. He crawled behind a plane wheel. NBC Cameraman Bob Brown stayed on his feet, filming the approaching riflemen. "He was incredibly tenacious," Javers reported. "Then I saw him go down. And I saw one of the attackers stick a shotgun right into his face—inches away, if that. Bob's brain was blown out of his head. It splattered on the NBC minicam. I'll never forget that sight as long as I live. I ran, and then I dived head first into the bush and scrambled as far into the swamp as I could."
Inside the Cessna, the young man, later identified as Larry Layton, 32, proved that he should have been watched. He opened fire with a pistol, wounding a woman, Vernie Gosney, who was seated beside the pilot. Layton ran from the plane. After the assailants withdrew, the Otter was found to be too damaged to fly. Its crew rushed over to the Cessna and managed to take off for Georgetown with five survivors.
When the shooting was over, Ryan, Harris and Brown lay dead on the runway. Killed, too, were Greg Robinson, 27, a photographer for the Examiner, and Patricia Park, one of the cultists who had hoped to find freedom in the U.S. At least ten others were wounded.
The survivors spent a night of terror in a small bar near the Port Kaituma airstrip. They feared that the Jonestown gunmen would return to finish their deadly task. Drinking coffee laced with rum through the long night, the defectors from Jones' colony told how far their community had fallen from their Utopian ideal. They lived in fear, one reported, because "Jim Jones said the Guyanese government gave him authority to shoot anybody who tried to leave."
The fugitives recalled the "white night" exercises in which loudspeakers would summon all Jonestown residents from their sleep.
They would convene in the central pavilion, and Jones would harangue them about "the beauty of dying." All would line up and be given a drink described as poison. They would take it, expecting to die. Then Jones would tell them the liquid was not poisonous; they had passed his "loyalty test." But if ever the colony were threatened from without, he told them, "revolutionary suicide" would be real and it would dramatize their dedication to their unique calling.
The survivors of the landing strip massacre had no way of knowing that the ultimate white night—a ghastly and irrevocable test of loyalty—had already taken place back in the Jonestown commune. Equally unaware of the murders at the airfield, Lawyers Lane and Garry witnessed the ominous signs of the impending disaster. Recalled Garry: "When 14 of his people decided to go out with Ryan, Jim Jones went mad. He thought it was a repudiation of his work. I tried to tell him that 14 out of 1,200 was damn good. But Jones was desolate."
After the Ryan party left for the airstrip, the two lawyers took a walk, comparing impressions of the visit. When they returned to the center of the village, they found all its residents assembled in the meeting hall. "You and Mark better not attend because tension is running pretty high against you," Jones told Garry. He and Lane retreated to a guest house several hundred feet from the pavilion.
The attorneys became frightened when they saw eight men run toward a nearby building and take out rifles and boxes of ammunition. Said Garry: "Then two young men whom I knew very well came to us with rifles at the semi-ready. They were smiling, very happy.
'We're going to die for the battle against fascism and racism,' they said.
'We're going to die in revolutionary suicide—with dignity and honor.' They were both black, maybe 19 or 20. I got the impression that perhaps they were sent down to get rid of us."
But the quick-witted Lane had a suggestion. Said he: "Charles and I will write the history of what you guys believed in." The gunmen paused. Then one said, "Fine." The ready-to-die cultists hugged both lawyers. Lane had another apt thought. "Is there any way out?" he asked. The armed men pointed into the bush and said the road to Port Kaituma lay in that direction. The attorneys plunged into the jungle. As they fled, they heard Jones shouting:
"Mother, mother, mother!" They heard shots and screams, then nothing.
outer world would not get an accurate report of what had happened for nearly two days. But one survivor, Stanley Clayton, 25, reported that there may have been more coercion and fear than loyal devotion when the final test came. Clayton was cooking black-eyed peas in the colony's kitchen when the call to assemble was sounded. He recalled: "A security guard came into the kitchen, pointed a pistol at everybody and told us all to go to the pavilion." Jones had already ordered that preparations for mass suicide be started. But one woman, Christine Miller, was protesting. Continued Clayton: "She was telling Jones she had a right to do what she wanted with her own life. Guards with guns and bows and arrows pressed in on her, and Jones tried to make her understand that she had to do it."
Then a truck drove up to the pavilion. Said Clayton: "The people in the truck rushed up to Jones. He announced that Congressman Ryan was dead and we had to do what we had to do. He told the nurses to hurry with the potion. He told them to take care of the babies. He said any survivors would be castrated and tortured by the Guyanese army.
"The nurses started taking the babies from the mothers. Jones kept saying, 'Hurry, hurry!' But the people were not responding. The guards then moved in and started pulling people, trying to get them to take the potion." Clayton had seen enough. "It was dark by now. I went around to each of the guards, embraced them and told them, 'I'll see you later.' I skipped out into the bushes. All the time I kept saying to myself, 'I can't believe this. Jim Jones is mad.' "
Another survivor, Odell Rhodes, agreed that the armed guards helped persuade the cultists to kill themselves. But many, Rhodes reported, had taken their lives willingly. When Christine Miller challenged Jones' claim that "we've all got to kill ourselves," Rhodes said, "the crowd shouted her down." Many mothers, he added, voluntarily gave the cyanide to their children, then swallowed the poison themselves. Seated on the high wicker chair that served as his throne, Jones kept urging the crowd on, holding out the vision that all would "meet in another place." The scene quickly turned chaotic. Said Rhodes: "Babies were screaming, children were screaming, and there was mass confusion."
Nevertheless, the lethal drinking continued. Cultists filled their cups from a metal vat on a table at the center of the pavilion, then wandered off to die, often in family groups, their arms wrapped around one another. The tranquilizers in the liquid concocted by the temple's doctor, Larry Schacht, 30, may have dulled their senses; it took about five minutes for them to die.
No known survivor had witnessed the entire ritual of death, so just how Jones died remained uncertain. He was found at the foot of his pavilion chair with a bullet wound in his head, an apparent suicide. A pistol lay near by. An autopsy disclosed that Jones had not consumed the poison and had not been dying of cancer, as he had often told his followers.
TIME Correspondent Neff arrived on the scene in the same Cessna that had flown away from the gunfire at Port Kaituma. He reported:
The first of the bodies was a man by himself, face down, his features bloated, his torso puffed into balloon shape. Then more bodies, lying in a yard. Grotesque in their swollenness but looking relaxed as though comforted in their family togetherness. Nearly all of them were on their faces, eerie figures of slumber.
"I turned a corner, and the whole mass of bodies came into view. The smell was overpowering, the sight unworldly. There were no marks of violence, no blood. Only a few bodies showed the gruesome signs of cyanide rictus. Outside there were three dead dogs, poisoned. Down the road in a large cage was 'Mr. Muggs,' the commune's pet gorilla. He had been shot. In a tree-shaded area was Jones' home, a three-room bungalow. Bodies were scattered through all three rooms, some on beds, others on the floor. The quiet was broken only by the meowing of a cat beyond the porch."
Skip Roberts, the Guyanese assistant commissioner of crime, told Neff that the first troopers arriving in Jonestown had found Jones' house ransacked and a large safe standing both open and empty. Two of the victims in the house had been shot: one of Jones' bodyguards and Jones' mistress, Annie Moore. Most of the eight men suspected of having taken part in the airport ambush also lay dead of poisoning in the house.
The first searchers reported finding $500,000 in cash, many U.S. Treasury checks, an unspecified quantity of gold —and about 870 U.S. passports. The fact that Jones was rumored to keep some $3 million in cash at his commune raised a mystery as to whether large amounts of money were missing. The passports far exceeded the number of bodies first reported to have been found in Jonestown, promoting belief that hundreds more of the cultists had fled into the jungle.
Not until week's end did Guyanese authorities report that they had miscounted the bodies. Instead of 409, as first related, the count was about 900. U.S. embassy officials confirmed the discrepancy, attributing it at first to the finding of many children's bodies underneath the piles of others. The State Department later explained more plausibly that additional bodies had been found in outlying buildings—but failed to explain why those buildings had not been searched earlier.
As the U.S. sent large Air Force cargo planes to return the mounting numbers of American bodies to the East Coast (at a cost of some $3 million), the FBI moved into the case on the basis of a 1971 law making the assassination of a Congressman a federal crime. The FBI was also probing persistent reports by surviving members of the cult that Jones had decreed that if his community was destroyed, a "hit team" of other members would be dispatched to hunt down and kill any defectors who had turned against the cult, as well as any public officials considered guilty of harassing his group.
In San Francisco, outside Jones' remaining temple, a crowd gathered despite a chilly rain. Some were anguished—and angry—relatives of those who died in Jonestown. Inside the temple, Guy Young, 43, said he had "one son and a son-in-law that I know are alive." Then he sobbed, and another member explained: "His wife, four daughters, son and two grandchildren have been reported dead." Young recovered and added: "I don't regret one moment they were there. That was the most happy and most rewarding days of their lives."
Inevitably, bitterness erupted over whether the tragedy at Jonestown could have been prevented. Members of Congressman Ryan's saddened staff claimed that the U.S. embassy in Georgetown should have known of the cult's potential for violence and warned him. Sorrowing relatives of the victims charged that both the State Department and FBI should have long ago heeded their warnings about Jonestown. Yet both agencies had a valid point in claiming that there are important legal restrictions against the Government's prying into the private affairs of Americans living abroad, as well as constitutional protection of groups claiming to be religious.
The bickering, the probes, and the fear of hit men stalking their prey will not soon end. Yet the blame for the tragedy at Jonestown must rest primarily on Jim Jones. Even his 19-year-old son Stephan admitted, "I can almost say I hate this man." His father, Stephan said, "claimed he was afraid of nothing, which I know was bull. My father was a very frightened man."
DISASTERS - NATURAL
category has the following 7 subcategories, out of 7 total.
The following 6 pages are in this category, out of 6 total. This list may not reflect recent changes (learn more).
THATS NOT ALL THAT HAPPENED IN 1978
BUT WE HAVE ENOUGH TO WORRY ABOUT IN 2012