I watched the PBS special on Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre that aired last night. I was struck by several things that at the same time disturbed and sobered me:
1. Jim Jones had a vision for racial harmony that was way ahead of his time. He was sensitive to the experience of minorities and willing to stand for racial equality. He adopted and gave his own name to a black child who is still living.
2. Jim Jones seemed to care about justice and social welfare. At least at first it looked like he was not trying to financially profit from the communal living.
3. Jim used all the trappings of Pentecostalism to present the feeling of Gospel ministry but all the while there was no Gospel message anywhere to be found.
4. It is amazing how simple it is to entrap individuals and lead them to make decisions they would never make if presented to them at the outset. The recipe? Make them feel at home (this is why outcasts are much more susceptible), give them things they have been longing for (power, meaning, identity, purpose), allow them to gain a sense of ownership (not real, but felt), ask them to do great things for the whole, cut them off from their family and limit their outside information, and stretch their comfort levels with smaller trust tests (in California, Jim gave everyone punch and said it was poisoned (it wasn’t) and then later told them he did that to test them to see if they trusted him) before being more demanding and using power to violate since they have nothing else to lose but “the family.”
5. How self-deceived, paranoid, and weak these leaders are. As long as they can keep from letting others see the little man behind the curtain, they have power. But any threat to their power is perceived as a total threat. It was better in his mind to kill all than lose power.