(JIM JONES and HIS PEOPLE'S CHURCH – continued)
Jones won from the government of Guyana permission to begin building a commune in a rural area near the Venezuelan border. Jones had stopped by Guyana during his return from Brazil in the early 1960s, and he was impressed by the socialist credentials of the less than democratic government there, headed by Lynden Forbes Burnham. And the government looked with approval upon the rural development that Jones promised. Burnham's regime believed that a large commune of people from the United States would help fend off claims to the area by Venezuela.
Jones had sent some staff members to his commune site, and wanted to publicize himself by giving a sermon in Guyana's capital city, Georgetown. Jones' staff was aware of a Catholic Church there and the ecumenism of Father Andrew Morrison, and they asked Father Morrison if they could use his Sacred Heart Church to give a service, without being candid about the nature of Jones' preaching. Father Morrison and his parish council agreed. Jones' appearance at the church was well advertised. Father Morrison was present at the service and was appalled. In the days that followed, Morrison apologized publicly for what he called a blatant hoax and fraud having taken place in his church. Some people in Georgetown saw Jones as having imported cheap tricks, and Jones was disappointed that techniques that worked in Indiana and California had not worked in Georgetown. And Jones wondered whether he was losing his touch.
Back in the United States, Jones continued his healing services. He had a staff of women who sifted through the garbage of temple members for information that Jones could use for appearing clairvoyant when calling out to people during his sermons. His staff believed that Jones' charade was beneficial in building his movement. Like mystics of ancient times, including the oracles at Delphi, they saw nothing wrong with Jones' creating whatever he wished truth to be.
A few of the more intellectual of his recruits were interested in metaphysics and astrology. These few were more likely to become a part of Jones' staff. Jones' lawyer, Tim Stoen, was one such intellectual. Stoen had been living in Berkeley and was from a family of Presbyterians. He was a graduate of Wheaton College and Stanford Law School. While a student he had been a devout member of the Campus Crusade for Christ, and now he was giving his all for Jones' movement.
Jones was providing a church for those who were mystical, politically anti-establishment and in favor of racial equality. Potential members or visitors to the People's Temple were invited to cozy meetings at which his staff spotted for exclusion anyone who appeared given to doubting or might be too politically conservative. Most welcomed were African-Americans who were anti-establishment and religious in the Pentecostal tradition. The majority of Jones' recruits were African-Americans from Los Angeles and San Francisco, and black ministers were disturbed by the People's Temple "stealing their sheep."
In appealing to the poor, Jones spoke of his never demanding a dime from anyone. He attacked the Baptists as mercenary. He described himself as a friend of the poor. He was, he said, "the people's minister." The People's Temple banned fur coats and stoles.
Jones' call for sharing and Christian communalism had some appeal. Temple members pooled their incomes and turned their property over to the Temple for sale at Peoples' Temple stores and at weekend flea markets. Temple members adopted a more ascetic lifestyle: two dollars a week allowance money in addition to room and board.
Jones told his congregations that only socialism brought perfect freedom, justice and equality, perfect love in all its beauty and holiness. Believing that God was manifest in all people, that God was goodness, and seeing himself as the one to deliver humanity to this utopia, he described himself as coming to them as "God Socialist." "See socialism as God in me," said Jones, and his congregation spoke their approval. In his passionate delivery he reminded his congregation of his Christ-like feats, of his feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, and of his healing when doctors had said that a person could not be healed. And to his congregation he shouted: "You're free! You're free!"
In tune with the 1960s, Jones had become an advocate of sexual liberation, and he talked too of the liberation of women. He advocated marriage, especially between races, but he attacked marriage without sexual freedom as counter-revolutionary. He attacked being jealous over a partner having sex with someone else. He also advocated celibacy. He attacked the sexuality of individual members. As a sort of confession he had temple members list their sexual practices and urgings. He had wives stand up and complain about their husband's lovemaking. He declared himself the only true heterosexual, and in private he sodomized a male follower to prove that person's homosexuality to him.
In December 1973, on one of his trips to Los Angeles, Jones was arrested at MacArthur Park, reputed to be a meeting place for homosexuals. He was booked for lewd conduct and held on $500 bail. He was bailed out promptly by his Temple lawyer, Tim Stoen, who tried without success to have the arrest expunged from police records. The case went to court on December 20. The charges against Jones were dismissed, but Jones had to sign a "stipulation as to probable cause," a document admitting that the officer had had reason to arrest him. Jim Jones was now more vulnerable to attack by his enemies.
Seeing the need for discipline within his church, Jones had instituted corporeal punishments. Boxing matches were also used as punishment. One member who was ordered into the boxing ring was Bob Houston. Houston was one of the earlier members of the church, and he liked to read. He had taken seriously Jones' invitation to ask questions, and he asked questions that sometimes embarrassed Jones. Houston was charged with being an 'insensitive intellectual" and a prig. In the ring he was pummeled, and some Temple members hoped that this would knock some of the elitism out of him.
Paddling before a group of Temple members was common, one of the paddles labeled "the board of education." Rather than report to the police that a member of the Temple commune had molested a boy, the Temple applied its own disciplinary procedures: it had the offender's penis whipped with a hose. A forty-year-old woman was punished for having accused Jones of turning them all into robots. She was pummeled by about a dozen other members. The animal rage involved in the attack inspired Tim Stoen's wife, Grace, to quit the Temple. Other churches accepted that people came and went, but Jones had a great fear of defections. He was outraged, asking how Grace Stoen could do such a thing after all he had done for her. Tim Stoen appeared to side with Jones and not with his wife. A custody battle for her son soon followed, with Jones falsely claiming to be the father of the child.
Jones and his staff saw talk from defectors as a threat. He denounced defectors and he lied about them. Some African-American defectors – whom Jones had denounced as Coca-Cola revolutionaries among other things – surprised Jones at the home of a congregation member. They were armed and caught Jones without his bodyguards, and they complained about Jones' lies. Jones was afraid. He made excuses, saying that lying and denunciations were one of the needs of "the dictatorship of the proletariat," and he spoke of the end justifying the means.
When the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA) created a sensation by kidnapping Patricia Hearst, in February 1974, Jones told his congregation that the terrorism of the SLA was understandable, and he expressed admiration for the SLA. Among Temple members Jones distributed the declaration of the SLA's General Field Marshall Cinque. Outside the Temple he had a different message. He said he deplored the terrorist violence of the SLA. Then he involved the Temple in the food distribution program that the SLA had made as a condition for the release of Patricia Hearst.
Jim Jones was becoming well known in San Francisco, while the Hearst newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, remained suspicious of him. Jones was welcomed on the Left as a fighter for the common good and progressive causes. As one of a few speakers at San Francisco's Cow Palace, Jones made a dramatic show by speaking of threats to his life and the terrorism of US government agencies at home and abroad. With emotion he announced that "if they come for one of us" they had "damned well better come for all of us." And for forty-five seconds the audience applauded with enthusiasm.
Temple members worked in political campaigns in San Francisco. Jones tried cultivating relations with the local chapter of the Black Muslims, without success. The Black Muslims were not big on integration. But Jones benefitted from the superficiality with which people rushed into political associations. He befriended the Marxist philosopher and Communist Party devotee, Dr. Angela Davis, a member of the faculty at UCLA, who was critical of Jones but also supportive, believing as she did in coalition politics. The People's Temple participated in rallies that she supported. And, by associating with Dr. Davis, Jones believed he was strengthening his radical credentials – consistency not being one of Jones' dominating characteristics.
Jones became acquainted with a variety of influential people. He befriended Dr. Carlton Goodlet, a wealthy African-American who owned a local newspaper. Jones befriended the Reverend Cecil Williams of San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church, and he became acquainted with Assemblyman Willie Brown. In 1975 Jones helped George Moscone win his election as mayor of San Francisco, and Moscone put Jones in charge of the city's housing authority. And during Jimmy Carter's campaign for the presidency in 1976 Jones relished the fifteen-minute interview that he had with Rosalynn Carter.
By now Jones had accumulated a considerable amount of money that he could donate to causes and charities – which helped establish him in local politics. He donated $19,500 to Dennis Banks and the American Indian Movement. He gave $6,000 to save the senior citizen's escort program and $1,000 to a Marin County drug treatment program.
Jones had befriended Huey Newton, and he was to visit Newton in Cuba, talking to Newton about his parents and a cousin who had attended Temple services. He discussed Newton's desire to return to the United States, and later Jones criticized Newton, saying that Newton missed his luxurious apartment and his favorite bars in Oakland.
Copyright © 2006-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.