Friday, February 26, 2010
Jonestown is the informal name for the "People's Temple Agricultural Project" located in northwestern Guyana. It became internationally known on November 18, 1978, after 909 people were killed in Jonestown. The occupants apparently died of cyanide poisoning in what Jones (Jonestown's leader) said was "revolutionary suicide" on an audio tape prior to the incident. Among the victims was Congressman Leo Ryan who was the first Congressman to die in the line of duty in the history of the United States. The incident has been viewed as a mass suicide and is the largest such event in modern history. It resulted in the greatest loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Now that we know what happened, let's examine some of the conspiracies. The most accepted conspiracy is that Jim Jones created Jonestown to support a CIA study on the effects of truth serums and other drugs on mind control. Some claim that the CIA was conducting mind control research branching off from its previous program, MKULTRA, despite the fact that they claimed to have abandoned all mind control research. Some claim that the CIA's ultimate goal was to overthrow Guyana's government. It was believed that a nation run by Jones under CIA influence would provide an example of a communist nation the United States could engage with politically. For this reason, the CIA kept Jonestown supplied with drugs, weapons, and money with the hope that they would eventually be able to convert the locals.
Some theorize that the CIA used the Peoples Temple and its unlicensed nursing home to defraud US government assistance programs by secretly transferring money through the church, then depositing it to the congregation's private bank accounts which had all been signed over to the church. It is claimed that this money was used to fund political advertisements, busing voters to the polls, and secretly paying homeless people and others who wouldn't normally vote to support their candidates.
Originally, the Guyanese army reported that 408 people had committed suicide while more than 500 managed to flee into the surrounding jungle. Some dispute the fact that more than 500 fled into the surrounding jungle because the deaths were supposedly voluntary. If committing suicide was optional, why would you have to 'flee'? When the American military arrived several days later, the death count first rose to 700, then 780, and finally a final count of 909 seven days after the Guyanese report was released. It was reported that only 167 Jonestown inhabitants survived. To explain the discrepancy in body counts, one US official said the Guyanese couldn't count while another said that 400 corpses had initially been found in such a way that they hid 500 more. The compound was littered with piles of dead, decomposing bodies atop one another near the pavilion.
Although the total number of settlers living at Jamestown at the time of the massacre has never been verified, it is estimated that 20-120 followers were not accounted for. According to the New York Times, all 100 of the bodies that were initially examined had been injected with cyanide in places they could not have reached without assistance and that many had also been shot. Charles Huff, one of the first American soldiers on the scene reported that many of the gunshot victims as well as other victims had been attempting to flee. The first doctor on the scene who initially examined 100 bodies, Dr. Leslie C. Mootoo, felt that the children were incapable of consenting to suicide and speculated that a majority of those who died at Jonestown may have been murdered.
The Jonestown Massacre was truly a tragedy that took the lives of 909 people. Whether they committed suicide or not will never be known for sure. The fact that the Guyanese army reported that over 500 people managed to 'flee' is suspicious if the suicide was voluntary. It is also quite hard to believe that the 400 bodies that were initially found could be stacked on top of each other in such a way that they could hide 500 more. How can we conspire that 20-120 weren't accounted for in the death toll if we don't know how many inhabitants Jonestown had at the time of the incident? If suicide was taking place so massively, why were the participating people injecting cyanide in places they couldn't reach without assistance? It is quite possible that the CIA's ultimate goal was to overthrow Guyana's government, but I don't think they smuggled money through the church to private accounts by defrauding US government assistance programs. The fact that one of the most powerful members of the church, Timothy Stoen, never said anything about the CIA or its mind control experiments is a point against a conspiracy. Since he published everything he could find to discredit the organization and Jim Jones in an attempt to win back his son strongly suggests that the CIA was not involved. Regardless of who is to blame, the largest mass suicide in modern history took the lives of 909 people. Whether or not they committed suicide, may an event of such magnitude never take place again.