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Jim Jones

Jim Jones

Every now and then I’ll deviate from a specific motorcycle post and such is the case today.

I remember the time like it was yesterday.  At the time I was living in Alexandria, Virginia and would drive down to visit my grandfather and step-grandmother who was a most religious woman.  They lived on a large well-maintained ranch with the literal white-picket fence in a Richmond suburb that had many more retired civil service employees living out their days versus actual working ranches.

For weeks she spoke of the second coming…as if drugged with some “opiate” of religion and everyone had to be brought on board a new level of enlightenment.  She relayed stories about an engaging speaker out of San Francisco, a pastor who drew religious people together from all across the country. This minister had built a communal organization and set up an integrated sense of family which was rare to have an integrated Christian congregation filled with young, idealistic and many college-educated people.  Unable to enlighten or convince my grandfather to make the appropriate changes, she took all the money from the family savings account, packed a small suitcase with only a few belongings, boarded a commercial air flight and left my grandfather to live out his remaining days alone.

The flight was headed to Jonestown, Guyana and home of the Reverend Jim Jones, the twisted leader of the Peoples Temple cult.

Later on we learned that Congressman Leo Ryan who was concerned about constituents that had joined the group arrived on a fact-finding mission to Jonestown on November 18, 1978.  After meeting with Jones and his followers, their small party was ambushed by Peoples Temple gunmen as they were leaving. The congressman and four others were killed.  The shootings were just the beginning of the carnage as later in the day more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple died in a mass suicide ceremony, most after they lined up to drink poisoned Flavor Aid.

I never understood the path my step-grandmother took, how she became misled to give all her money to Jones, or sought out acceptance and a sense of family through this cult.  It turns out that many people were fooled by this engaging speaker or character who called himself a minister. It’s been reported that Jim Jones entertained people and had a way of spinning words with a tremendous power in his voice. He drew people who were basically religious, were hard-working, and drawn to his messages and promise of a paradise.

Not a year goes by that I don’t stop to remember Jonestown and the terrible loss.

Photo courtesy of NYT

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