Sunday, January 12, 2014

White Night…

The phrase kept constantly coming from the loudspeakers on that final day in Jonestown. Call him a mad man or whatever you want, but there is no doubt Jim Jones had power. That is what he wanted and that is what not only destroyed him but the people who called him their leader.

I have spent a good deal of time studying the Jonestown phenomenon asking probably the same questions you have asked yourself about it. One thing you have to know is in this lunatic fringe, there is something we can all take away…when it is time to leave and the tragedy of not acknowledging what our hearts, minds, friends and family have said to us. It is very well documented that this same set of people echoed in the thoughts of the people of Jonestown as they slid into the blackest of pits. The same people who perhaps at the top of their lungs voiced their concern and yet for over 900 people, they were not listened to for any direction…there was only their habit, complacence, fear and perhaps pride that kept them from leaving the vortex Jim Jones had created.

How do I know this?

Fact: In every dysfunctional group, there are the same manifestations and responses to those characteristics by those who live in the group. I was reading some interviews from people within the world of Jim Jones. Those who had been with him from almost the beginning and lived through the nightmare of Jonestown. Here is one particular interview url. Check it out yourself:

As I went through article after article, I saw many thoughts and situations that were quite familiar. What follows are some snippets from the interview that shows a commonality in manifestation of dysfunctional behavior in the group from the outside, the leader, the group from the inside and the follower:

I.                    The group from the Outside (what it appears to be).

Its inhabitants…were warm people who worked hard to build a utopian community”

What was good about Jonestown was not Jim Jones. It was the people he attracted. They came from every walk of life, from the very well educated to the totally uneducated. It could have been you. It was me.”

"It wasn't blind faith," Stephan [sic Jones] later concurs. "There were other responsible adults in that community. They were some of the best people I ever met – and some of the worst."

If you are looking for monsters in the closet, they are not there. People in such groups are perhaps the finest kind of people. This is what is leveraged against them: their passion for Christ and their love for their family, a good work ethic and highly moral people….and…almost too perfect. What they begin to portray is not who they really are but the fa├žade of what they behold and to an outsider, there is always as sense of the artificial…that is the reality. There are indeed churches in Stepford. This is the lethal nature of the dynamic. What we saw in Jonestown may be an extreme representation but if someone in the group says something like:

Man (archival, subtitles): Christine, your life has been extended to today. That you’re standing there is because of him [sic Jim Jones]. This was spoken about Christine Miller on the final day at Jonestown. She was pleading for sparing the childrn and for another solution versus poisoning.

You must note the focus and intent here. What this ‘Man’ was saying is inferring is all source of life comes from the leader (in this case Jim Jones). The elevation of the leader to such a lofty status invades upon the role and leadership of Christ.  What this is yet another facet of this ‘loss of self’:

Hue Fortson Jr., Peoples Temple Member: Being in an environment where you’re constantly up, you’re constantly busy, and you’re made to feel guilty if you take too many luxuries like sleeping — you tend to not really think for yourself. And I did allow Jones to think for me because I figured that he had the better plan. I gave my rights up to him. As many others did.


II.                  The Leader

There is a morphing that occurs gradually over time to a more toxic personality. The cause and the leader’s key and vaunted role in the cause is the point of entry. The scenario of the steps into darkness:

1>     the cause is first and foremost in the leaders heart. Their passion and perhaps sacrifice to achieve their role in the cause is exemplary. They become the paternal leaders in the group. In this phase of development, all efforts are focused outward: this may take the form of personal evangelism, the sending forth of ministries to ‘spread the word’, development of training materials to prepare the members for the great mission that they because of their leadership were called to fulfill. It is heady stuff and quite exhilarating to be a part of what ‘God is doing’ in the earth.  Using Jim Jones as an example, he was fully aware of himself and his role in fulfilling his mission – and was very effective in its implementation:


a.       Jones himself waspassionately committed to civil rights – during the 1960s, he helped integrate churches, hospitals, restaurants, and movie theaters, and he personally adopted several children of color.


b.       Tim Reiterman, Journalist: He [Jones]  saw that they were a surrogate home. He saw that the preachers were like father figures to their congregations. And that role represented power over the lives of your congregation.


2>     Points of controversy with members and the outside world become focal points. As this occurs, the leader begins to build walls from the outside world. The ‘doors’ are no longer open in terms that ‘outward’ efforts slow to a trickle. The evangelistic message is preached but in the sense that it is indoctrinated into those who make their way into the group and it is their rite of passage into the group. The ‘Us versus Them’ mentality is borne out in the leader themselves and as the bully pulpit is used, it is fed to the people. The group begins to think of themselves as  the ‘last ark’ in the world that is tailspinning into destruction. What is the reaction? To look further to the leader for sense of purpose and direction. The role of the leader begins to morph from paternal to messianic. When I mean messianic, it is to portray the following:

a.       The leader is not just seen as paternal but the possessor of the persons final eternal state. They or who they appoint are seen as ‘keepers of the keys’. Without their approval, the Lord Himself will not approve. There is an injection of the leader between the follower and Christ Himself.

b.      The leader’s teachings provide the only true way to interpret the source of truth (aka Bible). In essence, they hold the true definition of all the source of truth comprises.


It is at this phase, the toxicity begins to accelerate. Power is being consolidated and concentrated. It comes to a point that the revelation of the leader and their personal interpretation of the world is infused into the group psyche. When dissention is expressed, it is either quashed or eliminated by the intimidation or expelling of dissenters. All manifestations of dissention are seen as infernal and with the intent of destroying the movement from the inside. In this situation many things begin to occur:


c.       Loyalty to the leader becomes tantamount. In some instances, this is worked out in ‘tests’ of loyalty that the leadership executes on the flock. This could take many forms but mostly it can be expressed as ‘offerings’ given to the leadership of members who dissented with the leaders secretly and were informed upon.


Vernon Gosney, Peoples Temple Member: A father would turn in a son. A husband would turn in a wife. A small child would turn in a parent. There was no freedom to express to one another what was going on, because everything was suspect.


d.      Fear of reprisal for expressing one’s true thoughts regarding life in the group. This could take the form of being called up for public reprisal. In the end, a person learns not to say anything:

Stanley Clayton, Peoples Temple Member: There
wasn’t a week  that went by that I wasn’t called up on
the floor because of my behavior , because of my attitude.
 “Stanley Clayton, up, front, center.”

Tim Carter, Peoples Temple Member: I have a
 conscious memory  of sitting there, thinking to myself,
 “This is wrong.” And I didn’t do a  damned thing to
stand up and say, “This is wrong.”

Grace Stoen, Peoples Temple Member: One of the powerful things that Jim used, to keep us to not think, was that we were never really allowed to speak with one another. I’d look around and I’d say, “Am I the only one that feels this way?” I learned, eventually, not to say anything to anyone.

Deborah Layton, Peoples Temple Member, Author, Seductive Poison: Every night, at some point, his voice would come over the loudspeaker and he’d say, “I’m sending somebody out tonight, somebody you know, somebody you trust and they’re going to act like they want to leave. But this is a loyalty test and you need to turn them in.”

Vernon Gosney, Peoples Temple Member: When Congressman Ryan came, I wanted to pass him a note that said, “Help us get out of Jonestown.” When one of the reporters was walking around toward the edge of the pavilion, I stuck the note in the fold of his arm and it fell to the ground. And so I picked up the note and I — and I gave it back to him. I said, “You dropped something,” and this little boy, about nine years old, started saying, “He passed a note! He passed a note!”

The last note is perhaps the most chilling of all. A nine year old boy soon to be murdered is informing on an adult. What does this say about the environment in which that little boy was raised. Ask yourself and think deeply regarding the kind of dynamics within the group in Guyana that would manifest such behavior. Is the group you are within or were in look favorably upon those that inform on others and is that expected when you find or found something out about another. Were you/ are you expected to ‘go to the leadership’ with it?  If so, read the comments in this point again , it may be the direction your group is headed.

3>     Paranoia begins to set in as the group matures into is final toxic state. This can take many forms but in the end it is manifested in separation – that is a sequestering of the group’s members from outside influences. If there are cutting off of family ties, please know that this is a main manifestation of cultic behavior. The dark reason is NOT to protect, it is to control. When other influences are in play outside the leadership, there is a chance that it will be exposed as being disingenuous to its members. There is such insecurity in the leadership that in order to maintain control over the members, it paints impending Armageddon, Evil motives for all outside ‘worldly’ influences (including family members), and to stay in the ‘ark’ for safety because it is the only place of assurance that the person will be one who is not left or judged as a failing believer – not an overcomer. While the below might be extreme forms of disconnection with the outside world, please read them and see if something in them resonates with you. If so, the group you are in  may be in the process of becoming or already is toxic.


Laura Johnston Kohl, Peoples Temple Member: We had no other radio or T.V. or communication with parents or any kind of, you know, update that could show us, really, that there’s a whole other thing going on besides what Jim was interpreting for us.

Rebecca Moore, Relative of Peoples Temple Member: There was this pervasive sense of being under attack in Jonestown. He told them that things were just getting worse in the United States, they couldn’t go back home. And not only that, but these forces were traveling to Guyana to destroy them there.

4>     Paranoia drives the leader to points that are extreme. To the outward world this is most manifested as a protective stance. This can take the form of patrols during services or perhaps even armed personnel on-site. What is really the message here? It is to protect those ‘inside’ from those ‘outside’. In Jonestown it took the form of guard towers and armed patrols. In some groups it takes the form of some one appointed to patrol the premises during organized meetings or perhaps a security guard or off duty policeman hired to protect. It can take other forms as well.

a.       Whenever documents are forced on members to sign that in essence allow the leadership to practice what they feel is biblical discipline without legal process.

                    b.      In some cases, income statements may be demanded
                           from members to  ensure that the full tithe is being
                   c.       In by-laws of the group, leadership is protected and
                            guaranteed input on transition any of  power. Also,
                            in any spin-off of the group, it is usually in the by-laws
                            that the leader is engaged in all legal ownership of
                            any assets and can assume them at any time.
d.      Extreme tests of loyalty may be exercised. This may take many forms but the common element is how the leader positions them: they are to ‘set up’ the person in order to test their obedience to the leader.

Teri O’Shea – Peoples Temple He had us all sign papers -- Jim called them compromises. They were blank sheets of paper, or typed sheets of paper that he'd cover up while we signed our name. He had something he could blackmail all of us with. One guy tried to leave and Jim said he'd use his paper against him so he'd never see his children again. So he came back.


5>     Personal Narcissism – the most blatant form of this is the level at which the teachings of the leader are held. They come to be held on equal footing with the scriptures. In the case of Jim Jones, it was his taped voice and harangues over the loudspeakers at Jonestown night and day peppered with demands for meetings where the personal presence of Jones would continue the abuse.  Ask yourself if it is healthy to listen to one man’s taped voice as a group? Is something similar occurring in the group you are in?


Teri O’Shea – Peoples Temple There were loudspeakers all over the compound, and Jim Jones's voice was on them almost 24/7. He couldn't be talking all the time, but he'd tape what he said and then play it back all day long. And the rule was that we couldn't talk when Jim Jones was talking. So on the loudspeakers, he'd suddenly call out, "White Night! White Night! Get to the to the pavilion! Run! Your lives are in danger!" Everyone would rush to the pavilion in middle of the encampment.


III.                The Group from the Inside (What it really is)

Perhaps the best way to describe such a group of people going through the morphing into toxicity is the word ‘undercurrent’. There is an undercurrent that pervades the group. Its main root is the uneasiness at an individual level that is experienced by EVERY member. It has been my experience that what a person is sensing about the group is not just going through their own mind but is pervasive. That is, if there are feelings of uneasiness about general practices of the leader and their stances on certain issues or modes of behavior, chances are very high other people in the group are thinking the very same things. This has been manifested to me over and over again as I have contacted and talked to people who came out of a dysfunctional religious group. Friend, you are not insane, you are not being attacked by the enemy (more than likely – he already has you where he wants you), you are not worldly. You are a person with a brain and most likely infused with the Spirit of God both of who are trying to tell you something is wrong. Yet you feel frozen to act. Why? The reasons are numerous:  

1>     Fear: It is fear of the unknown or reaction of the leader that keeps you in check as Teri O’Shea describes it, you live on a knife-edge and hinge upon what the leader thinks or assesses you to be:

Teri O’Shea Peoples Temple I remember mentioning that I was in the mood for bacon and someone told me, "Oh, don't talk that way! You'll get beat!" I thought, "Oh my God, I can't even talk about food desires!"

Teri O’Shea Peoples Temple He held a gun to my head and said, "Tell me you love me." I thought, I could tell him what he wants to hear. On the other hand, he's paranoid, so maybe I should tell him the truth. It was a flip of the quarter.

Ok, so no one has put a gun to your head or beat you yet. Well, my answer to that is in the literal sense yes, but what about coercing you to extract some kind of information from you with some underlying threat so tangible that you feel as if you had no choice but to render it? In some experiences while the gun is not literal, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a form of power of one being exercised in an aggressive manner over another. Name the ‘gun’ that may have been used against you and it will give credence to what it really is…a gun in another form but just as real and in some cases just as damaging. The last phrase above is chilling: ‘It was a flip of the quarter…’ is that how you sometimes feel – your life at the mercy of the other and you do not know the outcome of whatever you say. I have been there. Have you?

2>     Betrayal: In essence the group becomes so enmeshed in the person of the leader and their perception of reality, that they can no longer separate themselves from it without loss of identity. In essence, one feels that they are the betrayer of themselves by having thoughts and positions counter to the leader. This is manifested in many forms of self-hate such as embracing of the personal sketch of the what the leader thinks (or what a member perceives as the leaders  idea ) of an ideal follower. This leads to a loss of one’s identity. In some cases it is so extreme, when and if the person is extracted, they have no sense of self and direction. As a result, to those still inside, it looks like they lost their faith. When in essence, what has truly happened is there is no self identity left and so they are adrift on a sea of emotion left to fend for themselves. This is where my heart breaks.


Jackie Speier, Aide to Congressman Leo Ryan: Jones was in the pavilion. At one point, he said, “Well, of course you can go if you want.” But clearly, that was not the message. The message was, “You are betraying me.”

Jim Jones Jr., Peoples Temple Member: He had a real
issue with separation. People could not leave him. He took it
as a betrayal to the cause, and to him personally.

IV.                The Follower

                  There are so many thoughts and feelings that come from
                    inside when caught in the  maelstrom of the dysfunctional
                    group. The key word here is ‘confusion’. Confusion 
                   manifests itself in so many ways but the fruit of confusion
                   is the inability to act or decide. I have personally talked
                   to people who have let 10,20,30 years of their life slip by
                   in a state of confusion. This is the greatest of all crimes.
                   Is it self inflicted? Oh yes, that is never the issue. But while
                   it might be one’s responsibility how they react to their 
                   environment, they are to only be blamed partially for
                   the environment  they lived in  during that period of time.
                   The leader is to shoulder the blame in some portion for 
                   creating, promoting and accelerating the dysfunction
                   – most were only passively reacting to the direction of the
                   leader and their group. They were willing victims.

The individual is swept along in a current too strong for
them to fight. They gradually defer all decisions to the
leadership and in the end, it is ironically that they say
‘It is not my will, but thine [the leader of the dysfunctional
group] be done…” Remember the characteristics of
Satanic influence is the twisting of truth not the presentation
of an outright lie. Stop and see if this description applies.

There is a surrender of will. Read the below and see if in
some essence they resonate with your personal experience
 in some way:

1>     A sense of helplessness – There is confusion in what next step to take. You  know something is seriously wrong but you are not sure you are right in what you are thinking.

Hue Fortson Jr., Peoples Temple Member: But then we felt like we had gotten involved and gotten in so deep that it was actually no way out.

Tim Carter, Peoples Temple Member: I have a conscious memory of sitting there, thinking to
myself, “This is wrong.” And I didn’t do a damned thing to stand up and say, “This is wrong.”

 2>     You lose your sense of what is normal. In a group your perception is fundamentally altered. This a gradual process and in that process is coercion and the exercise of power over the individual in a collective sense. Meetings of ‘utmost’ importance are called and the edict or revelation comes rolling down from the higher echelons. The result is a galvanized people with one thought and one mind – the leader’s  not the Lord’s

Jordan Vilchez, Peoples Temple Member: It’s like a child in a dysfunctional family. On a certain level, it’s normal, you know? I just kind of took everything in stride.

3>     A total surrender to the group dynamics. Whatever they do, you do, this is the final phase of a dysfunctional group – self destruction with lost and broken people without any sense or hope of going on. They have been totally possessed by the inertia of the group and swept along in its final infernal crescendo:

Tim Carter, Peoples Temple Member:
 I went back to my cottage. All I wanted
to do was see my wife and my son. Gloria
 and I were laid down on the cot and we
just held each other and I said, “You know,
 I think we may all die.” And she said
— she kind of looked at me and then she
looked down at our son, who was playing
on the floor with the toys, and she said,
“You’re scaring him.” I had literally opened
my mouth to say we need to leave, when
there was an announcement on the
loud speaker —
“Will everybody report to the pavilion for
 a meeting.”

Stanley Clayton, Peoples Temple Member: My wife came up to me, she didn’t
have no tears in her eyes. She just was — was just in a daze. “My mother, my grandmother,
 my sister, my brother, they gone.” You know she said, “Just take me. Just take me
and just lay me down next to my grandmamma.” And she went up to that Kool-Aid,
to that death barrel and she just, I mean — didn’t hesitate, just took it and drunk it
 and then told me to hold her, to take her, and I did. And she died in my arms. And
once I laid her down and she told me how she wanted to lay with her grandmother,
I — at that point, knew that I didn’t have no reason to be here no more.
V.                  Epilogue

How do we digest the dysfunctional group that was Jonestown? We learn from the mistake. We see and heed the warning signs. We think for ourselves and take back our right to go to the Lord ourselves for any life direction. We take responsibility for our lives and its outcome. In the wake of the departure or destruction of the group (it is only a matter of time, you cannot hold people prisoner forever), we offer our compassion and hand of fellowship to those who once cursed us and saw us as infidels and heretics to the cause. We be Jesus to them.

What may be the alternative if we do not take back our lives?

Jim Jones (archival, subtitles): Quickly! Quickly! Quickly! Quickly! Quickly! Where is the vat? The vat, the vat…Bring it here, so the adults can begin.