Jonestown Conspiracy Theory Rhetoric Essay


James Warren Jones or as he is commonly referred to, Jim Jones was born May 13, 1931 in Crete, Indiana. Jones grew up in a poverty stricken home due to the Great Depression and lived in a shack which would later lead to him wanting to base his religious teachings on helping people from lower economical and social backgrounds including people of African-American and Hispanic-American descent. During Jones’ childhood he studied the works of Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Mahatma Gandhi just to name a few and he would study each leaders strengths and weaknesses. Jones had a difficult time making friends and began diving heavily into his religious studies. In 1949 Jones married his wife, Marceline and the two would go on to adopt many children from different ethnic backgrounds calling their family, “The Rainbow Family”. Jones later decided he wanted to start a congregation called “The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ” or as it is more commonly known as “Peoples Temple”, it was a new religious movement founded in 1955 by Jones in Indianapolis, Indiana.
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Jones used the Peoples Temple to spread a message that combined elements of Christianity with communist and socialist ideals, as well as an emphasis on racial equality. Their classification was a Christian new religious movement, utopian and social change church movement. And their orientation was Eclectic Pentecostal with Christian socialist, which is a form of religious socialism based on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and many believe that capitalism is a form of greed and often lead many Christian socialists to become communists, with communistic elements, Theosophical and New Thought which is rooted in the teachings of spiritual teacher and mesmerist Phineas Quimby (Eldridge).
Jones decided to move to Guyana, a country in South America, to get away from the United States which he often called, “The Antichrist”. Once he moved to Guyana he started his new utopian civilization with his congregation called Jonestown. Before they left for the Jonestown site, the Peoples Temple members were the subjects of local scandal in the news. Jones claimed these exposes were attacks on their newly-found religion, and used them as an excuse to move most of the members to Guyana. These exposes and after the defection of Jeannie Mills along with her husband Al and their children who were all ex-members of People’s Temple published a memoir, Six Years with God: Life inside Rev. Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, established a center in Berkeley to deprogram ex-cultists, and persuaded Rep. Leo Ryan to undertake the fact-finding mission to Guyana that led to the Jonestown massacre and Ryan’s death (ADST). It was because of these particular events in which Ryan found his kairos and was able to try and help people who were being negatively affected by Jones’ teachings and possible abuse.
Disturbing reports continued to surround Jones, and soon came to the attention of congressional members like Ryan. Stories of beatings, kidnapping, sexual abuse and mysterious deaths leaked out in the press. Ryan decided to go to Guyana and investigate the situation for himself. He arrived to Jonestown on November 14, 1978 with reporters, CNN cameramen and Richard Dwyer. On November 18, 1978 while leaving Jonestown, Ryan and Dwyer were headed for their plane on the airstrip. Right before, Ryan decided to shake the hand of the pilot and as he does this Dwyer mysteriously disappears. Then, moments later, Ryan and the CNN cameramen and crew members were shot on camera (PlaneteryBOOM).
The chain of events which led to Ryan’s death in Guyana on November 18, 1978 began one year earlier. The spark that ignited his interest was a San Francisco Examiner article on November 13, 1977, involving an old friend and constituent, Sam Houston of San Bruno, Calif. Headlined “Scared Too Long,” the story recounted the death of Sam Houston’s son, Bob, beneath the wheels of a train on October 5, 1976, one day after he had announced his decision to leave the People’s Temple. The article explained that Houston was “speaking out” because he was outraged by the way the Temple had treated his son, about whose “accidental” death he had lingering doubts. He was also speaking out because his two granddaughters, who were sent to New York on a “vacation,” ended up at the People’s Temple agricultural mission in Jonestown, Guyana never to return. Houston was also described as speaking out because he didn’t have much time left. Doctors would be removing his cancer-choked voice box within a few days. Finally, Houston said he was speaking out because he was “tired of being scared”(McGehee). By doing this, Huston demonstrated not only kairos by using his voice to speak out before he would lose his voice, but he also used pathos based on his emotional attachments to many of the victims of Jonestown.
There are many illogical discrepancies with the events and reports on Jonestown. One major discrepancy is the death toll, it was first counted by the Guyanese Army at a total of 480 members of Jonestown dead. Several days later, the U.S. Military did a count and the total raised to 700 then a few days after that 780. Then, seven days later it rose to 909. Only 167 Jonestown inhabitants were reported to have survived. When asked why there were discrepancies with the death toll, a U.S. Army official said, “the Guyanese can’t count”, though there is no real credible source other than John Judge who wrote about the events of Jonestown and many of the conspiracies surrounding it in the article entitled, The Black Hole of Guyana: The Untold Story of the Jonestown Massacre. While another Army official said that the 400 corpses initially found had just been stacked in such a way that they hid more than 500 more. According to the New York Times, the first trained medical official on the scene was Guyanese coroner Dr. Leslie C. Mootoo. He and his assistants examined over 100 of the bodies during a 32-hour period and found that the adults had all been injected with cyanide in places which they could not have reached without assistance, such as between the shoulder blades, and that many of them had also been shot. Charles Huff, one of the first U.S. soldiers on the scene, also reported having seen “many gunshot victims”, as well as other victims who had been shot with a crossbow, all of whom appeared to have been attempting to flee (Treaster).
Relatives and officials back in the United States complained about being kept from the remains, and according to the New York Times, Dr. Sturmer, then President of the National Association of Medical Examiners, sent an open letter to the U.S. Army complaining about the handling of remains and the illegal cremations of most of the Jonestown victims (Rensberger). For a number of reasons, some legal and some merely logistical, the bodies were not flown out of the remote jungle location of Jonestown for up to a week before being flown to New Jersey, which allowed significant decomposition to occur. Ultimately seven autopsies were conducted but the medical examiners were not informed of Dr. Mootoo’s preliminary findings and the corpses were far too decayed for injection sites or other wounds to remain identifiable during the procedures.
A popular conspiracy surrounding Jonestown is that the Guyanese government helping the American government cover-up Jonestown. There are other indications that the Guyanese government participated with American authorities in a cover-up of the real story, despite their own findings. One example was Guyanese Police Chief Lloyd Barker, who interfered with investigations, helped “recover” 2.5 million for the Guyanese government, and was often the first to officially announce the cover stories relating to suicide, body counts and survivors. Among the first to the scene were the wife of Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham and his Deputy Prime Minister, Ptolemy Reid. They returned from the massacre site with nearly $1 million in cash, gold and jewelry taken from the buildings and from the dead. Inexplicably, one of Burnham’s political party secretaries had visited the site of the massacre only hours before it occurred.When Shirley Field Ridley, Guyana Minister of Information, announced the change in the body count to the shocked Guyanese parliament, she refused to answer further questions. Other representatives began to point a finger of shame at Ridley and the Burnham government, and the local press dubbed the scandal “Templegate”(The Unredacted).
On the information I found while researching the events that lead up to the Jonestown Massacre and what would later be its aftermath, I would have to say this conspiracy is purely a conspiracy theory. Based on much of the information I found going in-depth about the actual conspiracy is that the conspiracy itself was not covered by any academic or major news outlet. Many of conspiracies come from people on the internet who regurgitate much of the same non-factual information on Jones and the members of Jonestown. There is no proof that Jones was affiliated with the CIA or even had any remote ties to the CIA except for Mitrione, who he knew growing up. He knew Mitrione prior to his days of being affiliated with the CIA while working as a police officer in Richmond, Indiana, which is where Jones was living at the time during his teenage years after his parents separation. Many of the Jonestown conspiracy theories all have many dead ends and loose ties and there is nothing I could find that would even remotely relate Jones to the CIA. All of the sources found about the conspiracies are illogical and have no real evidence and are purely based on assumptions.

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