Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre

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  • Topic: Jonestown, Peoples Temple, Jim Jones
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  • Published : October 26, 2005
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On November 18, 1978, followers of Jim Jones shot and killed United States Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four others traveling with him on a fact finding trip to Guyana. Ryan was there to investigate complaints about the community called "Jonestown," which was largely inhabited by his former California constituents.

After murdering a United States congressman Jones knew the end of his rule was near. He ordered his entire following, some 914 people, to commit what he called "revolutionary suicide." This included more than 200 children.

The rise
Jones began his group in San Francisco and was once a respected community leader. He started programs to help the elderly and poor. His circle of friends once included leading politicians, who once defended him against allegations of abuse.

An ongoing scandal about such abuse is what prompted Jones to isolate himself and his followers in Guyana, where the media, former members and families could not influence his faithful remnant. However, Rep. Ryan ultimately came there to investigate the continuing abuse within the compound.

Once the Rev. Jim Jones was a popular figure and something of a religious celebrity in San Francisco. He participated in fashionable charity events and perhaps most importantly could turn out the vote or do whatever else was necessary through the well-oiled machine composed largely of his church members.

Jones was not some self-proclaimed "prophet" or fringe religious leader. He was an ordained minister of the Disciples of Christ, a respected mainline denomination. At one point his congregation numbered 8,000. It was composed largely of poor African Americans.

Jones cast himself as a politically progressive and was embraced by liberal politicians such as U.S. Representatives Phillip and John Burton, Assemblyman Willie Brown and Mayor George Moscone.

After the tragedy at Jonestown these politicians found it difficult to explain how Jim Jones so easily took them in.

One of Jones' long time followers Tim Stoen explained, "There wasn't anything magical about Jim's power. It was raw politics. He was able to deliver what politicians want, which is power. And how do you get power? By votes. And how do you get votes? With people. Jim Jones could produce 3,000 people at a political event.''

Agar Jaicks, Chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee seemed to agree with Stoen's assessment when he said, "What you had here was a ready-made volunteer workforce&he was very strong&here was a guy who could provide workers for causes.''

Jones first step on his path to political influence began in the Fall of 1970. He created a fund for the families of slain police officers. This was the beginning of a viable process he used to make valuable friends through charitable contributions.

The first bad press Jones received in the Bay area was a somewhat critical story run by the San Francisco Examiner in 1972. The paper exposed that Jones had claimed to be a "prophet" and said he could raise the dead.

Perhaps to preempt any further embarrassment Jones subsequently gave out grants to 12 newspapers. He even bussed his people to demonstrate in support of reporters who had been jailed for not revealing confidential sources. Ironically, the man who would later flee from the press and oppress dissent within his group once said in 1973 that he wanted "to defend the free speech clause of the First Amendment.''

In 1973 the San Francisco Examiner briefly ran articles critical of the Temple. However, Jones' political machine continues to garner him influence by helping to elect Mayor Moscone, District Attorney Joseph Freitas and Sheriff Richard Hongisto in 1975.

And Jones was still spreading money around to seemingly buy influence. A writer for the San Francisco Chronicle wrote in 1976, "Many a San Franciscan and many a project have received sizable checks from Peoples Temple, accompanied by only a short note from Jim Jones, saying, `We...
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