Dateline: Jonestown

Monday marks the 34th anniversary of the shootings and mass suicide at Jonestown, Guyana, the greatest single losses of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of September 11, 2001.

In 1974, the charismatic and politically connected Rev. Jim Jones, leader of the California-based “Peoples Temple” cult,  leased 3,800 acres of isolated jungle from the government in Guyana, and began moving operations there to establish a socialist religious commune in the South American jungle. After relocation, Jones’ apocalyptic world view became even more removed from reality and his increasingly erratic behavior began to frighten some among his followers, who complained of beatings and electrical shocks being used to punish minor infractions. Eventually, some of his followers contacted California Rep. Leo Ryan for help in leaving the compound and getting back the the States.

In 1978, Rep. Ryan arrived with an investigative committee to tour the compound, then returned to the Port Kaituma airstrip with a handful of defectors. They were met at the airstrip by a contingent of Jonestown’s “Red Brigade” security squad who opened fire on the congressman’s party, killing Rep. Ryan, cameraman Bob Brown, photographer Greg Robinson, NBC reporter Don Harris and Temple defector Patricia Parks and left nine others wounded on the airstrip.

Back in Jonestown, Rev. Jones convinced his followers that Ryan’s death would result in reprisals against the group and that the church would “fall into the hands of the enemy.” An audio tape made on that last night in Jonestown recorded Jones urging Temple members to commit “revolutionary suicide”. His followers drank poisoned punch; the parents of children (there were 200 in Jonestown) gave them poison first before joining in the mass suicide. Those who were reluctant were executed on Jones’ orders. A total of 909 Temple members died in Jonestown. Rev. Jones died from a single gunshot to the head, apparently self-inflicted.

The Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University maintains the “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple” site, dedicated to presenting personal and scholarly perspectives on the events at Jonestown. The tragedy of Jonestown is responsible for introducing the term “drink the Kool-Aid”  as a reference to a person or group holding an unquestioned belief, argument, or philosophy without critical examination. The drink mix actually used in the Jonestown suicides was “Flavor-Aid” (spiked with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide and Phenergan).

He’s a red-faced monkey of jihad now: In a Dilbert-esque faux pax, a Taliban spokesperson sent out a routine email last week with one notable difference: he publicly CC’d the names of everyone on his mailing list. The list, made up of more than 400 recipients, consists mostly of journalists, but also includes an address appearing to belong to a provincial governor, an Afghan legislator, several academics and activists, an Afghan consultative committee, and a representative of Gulbuddein Hekmatar, an Afghan warlord whose outlawed group Hezb-i-Islami is believed to be behind several attacks against coalition troops.

The Lord is not spell-checked: Oklahoma state lawgiver Rep. Mike Ritze (R-obviously) oversaw the installation of a 2,000-lb. granite block depicting the Ten Commandments on the grounds of the state capitol Friday, ignoring the likelihood that the monument will spark a costly legal battle over its constitutionality. But before Ritze, whose family donated $10,000 to fund the project, worries about fielding a suit from the state’s American Civil Liberties Union, he first needs to deal with spelling errors. The rose-stone block reads “Sabbeth” instead of “Sabbath.” The tenth commandment reads, “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidseruent.” It should read “maidservant.”

Imagine suing the IRS for not enforcing the tax code. It’s easy if you try. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is asking the the federal court to enjoin IRS Commissioner Douglas Shulman from continuing “a policy of non-enforcement of the electioneering restrictions against churches and religious organizations”,  calling it a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment and of FFRF’s equal protection rights. FFRF filed the lawsuit today in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. (View the lawsuit here.) The suit cites “blatantly political” full-page ads running in the three Sundays leading up to the presidential elections by the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and an order from Roman Catholic Bishop Daniel Jenky of Peoria, Ill., requiring all the priests in his diocese to read a statement urging Catholics to vote and stating that, “Catholic politicians, bureaucrats, and their electoral supporters who callously enable the destruction of innocent human life in the womb also thereby reject Jesus as their Lord.” As many as 1,500 clergy took part in “Pulpit Freedom Sunday” this year, pointedly flaunting electioneering from the pulpit.

A widely circulated Bloomberg news article quoted Russell Renwicks, with the IRS’ Tax-Exempt and Government Entities division, saying the IRS has suspended tax audits of churches. Other sources claim the IRS hasn’t been auditing churches since 2009. Although an IRS spokesman claimed Renwicks “misspoke,” there appears to be no evidence of IRS inquiries or action in the past three years.

Ken at Popehat has been writing about a very sleazy porn site that posts nude pictures of women without their permission (along with their phone numbers and other contact information), makes insulting and degrading comments about them, then monetizes the perfidy by advertising the services of a fictitious attorney to have the offending content removed. Oh, and it’s all Obama’s fault, says the site’s asshole convicted felon owner, Craig Brittain.

A lawsuit brought by eight inmates of the Idaho Correctional Center alleges that the Corrections Corporation of America, one of America’s largest private prison operators, is cutting back on personnel costs by partnering with violent prison gangs to help control the facility. Court documents and an investigative report issued by the state’s Department of Corrections show how guards routinely looked the other way when gang members violated basic facility rules, negotiated with gang leaders on the cell placement of new inmates, and in one instance may have even helped one group of inmates plan a violent attack on members of a rival gang.

Anything for a buck: Last year, Luzerne County, PA ex-Judge Mark Ciavarella was sentenced to nearly three decades in prison after he had sent hundreds of kids to a privately-run juvenile detention facility in exchange for millions of dollars in bribes from the private facility’s owner, Robert Mericle. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had to overturn hundreds of convictions of kids that Ciavarella issued between 2003 and 2008.

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5 Responses to “Dateline: Jonestown”

  1. Kyle Says:

    There’s no apostrophe in “Peoples Temple” Peoples is plural (not indicating ownership).

  2. V.E.G. Says:

    One of the victims of Jonestown, Thom Bogue, is the distant cousin of a Moffat County, Colorardo woman who died very unexpectedly.

  3. Mark Johnston Says:

    A very uncomfortable fact for me is that Jim Jones was an atheist. The Peoples Temple was a political cult, not a religious one.

    • offlogic Says:

      An “atheist” is a member of a large sub-set, and it probably is not his defining attribute. To me it’s like noting that Adolph Hitler was a christian or vegetarian. Neither of those facts is as important as his insanity.

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