Jonestown Revisited

Lloyd Billingsley is the author of Hollywood Party and From Mainline to Sideline. His work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Reason and many other publications.


Brown_JonesClinton veteran John Podesta recently joined the Obama White House and quickly caught the spirit of the place, describing the house GOP as a “cult worthy of Jonestown.” Podesta apologized to House Speaker John Boehner, who duly accepted the apology, but the matter should not end there. Indeed, it abounds in educational value.

In this news report on the putdown, Jonestown emerged as a “Guyana cult colony where, in 1978, a member of Congress was killed. Nearly 1,000 people died in what was described as a mass suicide days later.” It actually was an enforced mass suicide, with armed guards making sure the victims, most of them African Americans, drank a deadly brew of kool-aid and cyanide. The murdered member of Congress, one of five people killed that day, was Leo Ryan, a California Democrat. One of the survivors was Ryan staffer Jackie Speier, now a member of Congress. But there’s still more to it.

Jim Jones was an orthodox Stalinist and member of the Communist Party USA. He was a true believer in “revolutionary suicide” and left the assets of Jonestown and its followers to the Soviet Union. Before that, as John Fund has noted, Jones was a big hit with those Jeane Kirkpatrick called the “San Francisco Democrats.”

Jones launched the People’s Temple in his home state of Indiana but headed west to San Francisco in the 1960s. He drew rave reviews from California Assemblyman Willie Brown, who compared Jones to Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, and Mao Tse-Tung. The late Chairman Mao is the most appropriate comparison, with the possible exception of Davis, who twice ran for vice-president with the Communist Party USA, on the bottom of the ticket with white Stalinist Gus Hall.

Jones also hung out with Jerry Brown, governor at the time and already making unsuccessful bids for the White House. Walter Mondale met with Jones, as did Rosalynn Carter. Federal HEW boss Joseph Califano hailed Jones’ contributions to freedom and “human dignity.” Closer to home, San Francisco mayor George Moscone appointed Jones to the city’s powerful housing commission. Fund cites evidence that Jones was deeply involved in electoral fraud.

So from his base in San Francisco, supposedly a place of political sophistication, Jim Jones easily faked out Democrats at the local, state, and federal levels. The key was not the bogus healings and such but Jones’ “progressive” credentials. Adulation aside, Jones had another place in mind for the “purest communist” settlement on earth.

He decamped for the remote reaches of Guyana, taking nearly 1,000 followers with him. He ruled the Jonestown gulag in true Stalinist style, but news of Jones’ repressions managed to leak out. When Leo Ryan and his congressional delegation showed up, Jones gave them the tour. They left with a group of defectors, but Jones loyalist Larry Layton opened fire, gunning down Ryan, defector Patricia Parks, NBC reporter Don Harris, NBC photographer Don Brown, and Greg Robinson, a photographer for the San Francisco Examiner. Jackie Speier was wounded but survived by hiding behind an airplane wheel and playing dead. Jim Jones had already ordered the mass suicide that claimed nearly 1,000 victims. It was November 18, 1978.

In 1983 President Ronald Reagan awarded Leo Ryan the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2008, 30 years after Jonestown, Jackie Speier was elected to Congress from Ryan’s district. She has not exactly gone public with any thoughts on John Podesta’s equation of the House GOP to the Jonestown cult, which John Fund called “political malpractice of a high order.” For other observers it was as dirty and low-down as it gets. But maybe Podesta, who was 29 at the time of Jonestown, simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Eric-Paddon/100001252965548 Eric Paddon

    Lloyd, you left out one other name from the list of San Francisco Democrats who was a big booster of Jones, and that’s one of the Left’s biggest icons of secular worship, Harvey Milk.

    • UCSPanther

      “Saint” Milk was also alleged to preyed upon vulnerable teenage boys.

      If he were still alive, he would have sooner or later suffered a Jerry Sandusky-esque fall from grace.

  • Bamaguje

    “Jim Jones was an orthodox Stalinist and member of the Communist Party USA” – Billingsley.

    This isn’t making much sense – communist religious cult leader – I thought communists were supposed to be atheists.

    • goodforlaughs

      Jones was not a believer. He was a charlatan. He was an evil man who sexually abused both men and women.

    • A Z

      Some Russian posting on “The Blaze” related how they would get together on Sundays to read from the Good Book. The good book was not the Bible, but various Marxist tracts. They were trying to fill the void. You would think that after indoctrination in grades K thru 12, extra curricular activities (Young Pioneers aka Soviet Boy Scouts) and everything else they would not need further indoctrination.

      After all everything is scientific right? Atheists and others who reject religion might strictly use scientific argument but as time goes on they band together, group think and create their own socialist.communist religion. during the French Revolution is was called The Cult of the Supreme Being”.

    • Edward Benjamin

      Jones was a thoroughly deranged character who saw no contradiction in merging his rural evangelist-style preaching and socialist doctrine. That there is an obvious contradiction there simply wasn’t relevant to a man as mentally ill as he was, and most of his followers were too dedicated to the cause to care.

  • EconProf

    And again a leftist says something awful and inaccurate, and after he’s caught, issues an unapologetic apology – and then, nothing happens. His leftist boss says nothing, the leftist press says nothing, and he keeps going on living off of the public dime. The rage is building my friends…

    • Ellman48

      Right! Let’s hope it continues building because “rage” may be what eventually saves this country.

  • nomoretraitors

    The story does not mention Jones got a PRIVATE audience with Roslynn Carter during the ’76 campaign and a ride on Mondale’s campaign plane (see “Jonestown: The Life and Death of People’s Temple” available at PBS.org)

    • TalkinHorse

      Heck, Rosalynn also had that famous handshake picture expressing gratitude to Democrat activist and serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Rosalynn was okay with the serial killing, since dead people are the most reliable Democrat voters.

  • nomoretraitors

    “She has not exactly gone public with any thoughts on John Podesta’s equation of the House GOP to the Jonestown cult”
    Why has she not been called out??

    • Fritz

      Called out for what? I’m not a fan of the Dems by any means but Jackie Speier was a staffer of Leo Ryan, and a survivor of the massacre, so other then not talking about it I’m not sure what she did wrong.
      Actually if anything resembles the People’s Temple Cult it’s the Obama White House, not because of political ideology but because of the cult of personality surrounding the great and unaccomplished.

      • Edward Benjamin

        Agreed. She was not a supporter of the Peoples Temple in any way and was severely wounded in the attack. She’s repeatedly denounced Jones and his cult ever since. She’s completely blameless.

  • http://www.shugartmedia.com/ Chris Shugart

    I think it’s a pretty consistent characteristic of the Left in particular, and criminals in general that their crimes are always revealed by what it is that they’re accusing others of.

    • Ellman48

      Absolutely true. Great observation!

  • UCSPanther

    This blogger does a very good job of describing San Francisco’s evolution into the Progressive swamp we know of today, and how influential Jim Jones was in ensuring that descent back in the 1970s:

    http://www.the-spearhead.com/2013/09/10/jim-jones-the-father-of-the-progressive-coalition/

    If Jonestown never went down, It would be a safe bet they would still be viewing Jim Jones as a hero.

    • Edward Benjamin

      I doubt that. He had already been exposed by the press as a charlatan and a criminal, hence his hurried flight to Guyana, where he could not be prosecuted under US law. Had he stayed, his cult would almost certainly have collapsed anyway. Many have speculated as to why Jones chose to order the attack on Ryan, and the most likely reason is that he was aware of how totally the defectors who left with Ryan could destroy his reputation.

      • UCSPanther

        Both the Ryan murder and the mass murder/suicide utterly reeked of desperation as you mentioned, and Jones was such that if he couldn’t have control over his cultists in life, he would surely keep them in his thrall in death.

        Pretty much your typical tyrannical cult leader/madman.

  • Ellman48

    Talk about “the pot calling the kettle black”! Progressives really don’t see themselves as they actually are – do they? If anything it’s Obama that bears an incredibly close similitude to Jim Jones, and the leftist progressive Democrats who resemble Jones’ followers.

  • Edward Benjamin

    The description of the airstrip massacre is inaccurate. Larry Layton did not kill Ryan or the members of his party. He shot one Jonestown defector on one of the planes and was disarmed. The massacre was carried out by a death squad almost certainly dispatched by Jones. None of the killers survived the mass suicide/murder.

  • Russell Lissuzzo

    As an aside;if I had the $$$ I believe it would be among my most memorable experiences in my life to attend David’s 75th birthday celebration.

    Now; boehner is less than an honorable man; he is not even close to being a conservative, and he has not even had his cajones’ drop yet; which in the “ivory tower”/dc, is not unique among an overwhelming majority of the “repulicant’s”!

    That POS trotskyite, podesta owes AMERICAN CITIZEN/PATRIOTS AN APOLOGY AND A QUICK EXIT BACK TO HIS “RAT-HOLE”!