I'm Warren Olney in Los Angeles. Ninety minutes ago came word from Guyana, making this bizarre story more bizarre than ever. Troops from Guyana have found between three and four hundred bodies at the People's Temple commune at Jonestown. No marks of violence on any of the bodies. No marks of anyone alive, despite reports that as many as 1,200 people lived in Jonestown. There had been predictions that a mass suicide would occur from several defectors. We don't know that that's what happened. We don't know what happened to the rest of the people who lived at the commune. We don't know what's happened to attorneys Mark Lane or Charles Garry, or to the Reverend Jim Jones. And we don't know how much longer this awful story will take to unfold. For Edwin Newman and for all of us at NBC, I'm Warren Olney in Los Angeles.This is not the article I'd intended to write to mark the 30th anniversary of the horrific events the took place in Jonestown, Guyana on November 18, 1978. I'd already written several pages of scathing expose of the CIA and their ongoing criminal activities in South America and of how Jonestown was a CIA sponsored mind control experiment.
Is that really the key lesson of Jonestown? Is there anyone with half a working brain that is not aware of what the CIA does? That The Agency is filled to the brim with murderous psychopaths who get their jollies by torturing innocent citizens and manipulating foreign governments?
The evidence of CIA involvement in Jonestown is too strong to ignore. Jim Jones was friends with Dan Mitrione, the CIA agent notorious for both torturing South American political dissidents and teaching the security thugs of the right-wing dictators there how to torture for themselves. Mitrione's torture lessons were hands-on, demonstrating the techniques using beggars taken from the streets. He was memorialized in the film State of Siege, though his name was changed in the film to Philip Michael Santore. Following his death at the hands of the Uruguayan Movimiento de Liberación Nacional, or Tupamaros, Mitrione was all but canonized as a saint by the right-wing in the U.S. None other than Frank Sinatra and Jerry Lewis held a benefit to raise money for his family in his home town of Richmond, Indiana after his death. White House spokesman, Ron Ziegler, said of him, "Mr. Mitrione's devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world will remain as an example for free men everywhere.''
All this for a man who not only tortured innocent beggars pulled from the streets of South Amercian countries but also had a soundproof room built in the basement of his Montevideo, Uruguay home. I don't want to even think of what went on there for his personal entertainment.
It was in Richmond, Indiana that Mitrione and Jones met. Mitrione was the Chief of Police and Jones was a young street preacher who'd had an obsession with religion, death and racial integration since he was a small child. And he was charismatic.
Mitrione took a keen interest in the young preacher. While we have no solid documentation on the details of any ongoing relationship between them after Mitrione left the Richmond Police and joined the CIA, we do know of one very curious fact. In the early 1960's, Mitrione was stationed in Brazil. At the very same time, Jim Jones packed up his family and moved to Brazil, ostensibly to preach there. What he told his Brazilian neighbors had nothing to do with preaching, however. He claimed to work for Naval Intelligence and to be supported in Brazil by the U.S. Embassy. One of his sons claims that Jones took regular trips to Belo Horizonte, the home of the CIA's Brazilian headquarters and the first place Mitrione was stationed in Brazil.
Jones left Brazil in 1963 $10,000 richer, nearly twice the average yearly income in the U.S. at that time. He returned to Indiana and established the People's Temple there, eventually moving it to Ukiah, California, a few hours north of San Francisco. He gathered his flock from amongst the poor and disenfranchised, mostly black, preaching racial integration, equality and an utopian society in which all would be respected for who they were rather than the color of their skin. His notoriety was such that he was referred to as the "Messiah from Ukiah."
When Jones eventually moved the Temple to San Francisco and Los Angeles, his star really began to rise. His flock numbered in the thousands, and they would do whatever he asked them to do. Thousands of people at your command meant serious political clout. Jones put that clout to work helping George Moscone become the Mayor of San Francisco. Moscone won by a narrow margin - a margin so narrow that it could be accounted for by the population of the People's Temple, all of whom voted for Moscone. There were also rumors that Jones had bussed in thousands to vote illegally for Moscone, too. Jones was rewarded with the title of Housing Authority Chairman of San Francisco.
It was understood in San Francisco that if a political race was close, it was impossible to win it without the support of Jones. But word was about to leak in the press that all was not as it appeared on the surface at the People's Temple. Mere hours before the August 1, 1977 edition of New West Magazine hit newsstands, Jones and a large number of followers were on a plane headed for Guyana to join the already large number of people already populating Jonestown. Within that issue of the magazine was an article titled "Inside People's Temple" by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy. The revelations in the article were damning. It told of abuse, beatings, crooked financial dealings. And Jones, who had been read the article before publication, clearly knew it meant the beginning of the end.
According to those who lived at Jonestown and managed to get out before the tragedy, the atmosphere of Jonestown changed dramatically upon the arrival of Jim Jones. What had been a vibrant and joyful community became somber and fearful. Jones had become a monster. More specifically, he had become a drug addicted monster. He talked all day over the compound speaker system. When night came, tapes of his talks were played. No one could go anywhere without hearing the sound of his voice, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
There is some evidence of medical experimentation at Jonestown. The cache of psychoactive drugs found there was staggering. The fact that Jones had armed guards around the camp is telling, as is the fact that Jones was not the only one with interesting connections to U.S. Intelligence organizations in the hierarchy. The fact that his attorney, Mark Lane, also served as the attorney for John Hinckley (the would-be assassin of President Reagan), James Earl Ray (the accused assassin of Martin Luther King) and, for a short time, Lee Harvey Oswald is interesting, to say the least.
Then there is the description of the men who drove a tractor onto the Kaituma airstrip and opened fire, giving Leo Ryan the dubious distinction of being the only U.S. Senator in history killed in the line of duty. Like nearly every political assassin, they were described by the survivors as glassy-eyed and mechanical. Where have we heard that one before? Sirhan Sirhan, James Earl Ray, Lee Harvey Oswald, who seemed completely oblivious to why he was being held by the Dallas Police. And San Francisco Supervisor Dan White.
Dan White was the assassin of Mayor Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk, both strong advocates of Jim Jones. Interestingly, like many other assassins, White somehow managed to live a life that seemed far beyond the salary he drew. Also, like some other assassins, White had an episode of "missing time" in his life. In 1972, White mysteriously disappeared to points unknown for a year.
Harvey Milk, portrayed recently by Sean Penn in the movie The Times of Harvey Milk, was the nation's first openly gay elected public official. He was a man who had fought his entire life for the world of equality and acceptance that Jones preached and seemed to be working to achieve. Naturally, he was more than a mere political ally of Jones. He often spoke at the Temple and wrote personal letters to Jones. Moscone, as you'll remember, is the mayor who was virtually elected by Jones.
About a week before the Jonestown massacre, Dan White unexpectedly resigned his position with the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The reason he gave was that he could not support his family on the city salary he was receiving. Lobbying by supporters convinced White to approach Moscone and ask that he be allowed to rescind his resignation. Moscone, on advice from Milk and others, refused. On November 27, just nine days after the Jonestown massacre, White entered San Francisco City Hall, strangely through a basement window, and murdered Moscone and Milk.
What should be no surprise by now is that White was described by witnesses as being in a "zombie" state during and after the murders.
I could go on. Others already have, for thousands upon thousands of pages. The facts of CIA involvement in assassinations, both in the U.S. and abroad, are so well documented that anyone who doesn't get it by now probably never will. The sordid details of the Jonestown massacre that have come to light over the past 30 years are easily available to anyone with an Internet connection and a couple of hours to spare reading. Search, read and judge for yourself. I have my own ideas, but they don't really matter in the long run. Sure, the CIA was involved. So what else is new?
Jonestown was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a mind control experiment. Whether that experiment included well-researched aspects of MKULTRA, such as drugging, hypnotism and torture, I don't know. What I do know is that one form of mind control that was used by Jim Jones, the one I haven't seen written about in any of the countless pages I've read on the subject, is one that is used on you and me every single day. It is the most effective form of mind control known.
Jim Jones sold an insane agenda by convincing his followers they were buying something else entirely: their dreams.
The secret of mind control is not the complete replacement of human will with programmed instructions, which was ostensibly the goal of MKULTRA. The secret of mind control is the control of perception, of making the controlled believe they are doing one thing while they are doing something else entirely. This can be done over long periods of time or, under the right circumstances, rather quickly. It is a technique that you are subjected to every day of your life. No one ever sells you a car, do they? They sell you luxury, excitement, status or practicality. There is no need to sell you on the idea of a car. You already think you need one. The only question posed is, "which car?"
Jones had no need to sell his flock on the idea of an alternative society. His followers were taken from the downtrodden, disenfranchised and abused of society. The idea of the need for an alternative to the culture that had abused them was already in their minds.
His followers had recently suffered the assassinations of John Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy and many members of the Black Panthers. Men rose to lead only to be just as quickly laid to rest. To many, the situation must have seemed hopeless.
The came Jim Jones. Bigger than life, charismatic, a mover and shaker. He had political connections and he got things done. He told them exactly what they wanted to hear and they believed. They hoped. They dreamed that they could, at last, build the world that so many times had seemed almost within their grasp, only to be violently taken away again. When Jones told them there were plots against the Temple and the good work they were doing, what sliver of evidence would contradict his claims? They knew he was telling them the truth because they had witnessed it for themselves in the previous decade.
These were a people raised on misery and the super-hero comic literature of Christianity. They had been trained from day one to believe in a savior. With enough faith, God and Superman would swoop down from the sky and make everything right again. Jim Jones did not need to brainwash his followers. They came to him with minds already drowning in suds. Like every other con man, he just identified his mark, played the game and reaped the rewards.
I can't count the number of times I've heard references to "those people" in Jonestown, as if those making the references were any less brainwashed than the members of the People's Temple. Look no further than the recent presidential election to find exactly the same hopes and dreams that lead the followers of Jim Jones to their deaths. I am not speaking only of those who saw Barak Obama as practically the second coming of Jesus. I am talking about everyone across the ridiculously narrow U.S. political spectrum sure that the election of their candidate would mean a bright new day for the country.
With all due respect to the dead of Jonestown, is that event really so singular and spectacular in our history? How many men and women have been lead to their deaths by every "savior" to hit the scene? Look at what has come from the latest political savior, the wartime President George Bush?
Following the events of 9/11, we all felt dazed and abused, much like how many of Jones' followers felt every day of their lives. When Bush stood before the citizens of the U.S. and promised a brave new world of freedom and liberty, a world that would require sacrifice to achieve, did we run for the doors and disavow this mad man? Absolutely not. We rallied behind him and his insane "war on terror." When evidence of his misdeeds became so common as to be almost comical, did we say, "stop the madness now?" No, we did not. We told ourselves that we needed to stay the course and finish what we'd begun.
And when our children were sent to a foreign country to kill and rape innocent people then get killed themselves, did we rebel and demand that this lunatic be stopped before more innocent lives were taken? No. We reminded ourselves that freedom and liberty would require sacrifice or just waited for the election of the next messiah and hoped for the best.
So I ask the question again. What is so special about Jonestown? It was a terrible tragedy, to be sure. Yet, that same tragedy is playing out right now, right here amongst us. We willingly send our sons and daughters to the jungles and deserts of foreign lands to kill and be killed, solely because our "leader" has told us this is what needs to be done. We still believe that someone else is going to fix our problems and build utopia for us. All we have to do is elect the right people, follow the right leader, then pack our stuff and get ready to move in.
Mourn for the people who lost their lives at Jonestown, then mourn for yourself and the life you are willingly handing over to whatever savior you happen to like. The result is always the same. When you abdicate your responsibility to think for yourself and build a sane world to someone else, you have abdicated the choice of whether you get to live or die.
Jonestown did not just happen 30 years ago, it is happening right now.