Psychodynamic Analysis of Jim Jones
James “Jim" Jones is not a hero of mine. He is simply a fascinating character in history that was able to lead over 900 people to commit mass suicide, 300 of those people being children whose parents willingly poisoned them.
If I were to play with psychodynamic theories regarding the unconscious traits of Jim Jones which led him to be one of the most diabolical characters in American history, I would have to state that his insecurity as a young child would have been the beginnings of his need to be a revolutionary leader. Experiences in his childhood, such as his Mother being harassed by the FBI, led him to form extremely idealized views of society in which he dreamed of leading people out of their oppression through socialism. In the process he would be a loved and admired hero to his followers which appeased his childhood desire for acceptance.
Jim Jones noticed early on in his life that he could manipulate people through their religion. He turned himself into a charismatic religious leader and formed a following of people who looked to him as the center of their new socialist paradise. He wrapped good ideology, such as de-segregation, into a socialist cult where he placed himself as the center of the movement and used sex and power to bind his followers so closely to himself that they joined him a suicidal nightmare.
Jim Jones needed early intervention in his life. He was living in a volatile age when our country was questioning its own ideals because of the opposition to the Vietnam War. People who opposed the war were attracted to socialism and communism and were antagonistic towards American ideals and capitalism. Some, such as Jones, and perhaps those around him actually hated American ideals enough to think that they needed to save our country from the great evil of capitalism. In his later years, he appealed to those who felt racially and economically oppressed. Those people by which he surrounded himself encouraged him in his delusion of grandeur. They knelt to his leadership and agreed with his ideology, feeding his ego, making his need for approval and acceptance (which had eluded him as a child) grow into an abusive beast that overtook his entire personality. He farther secluded himself and his followers and progressed into the horrid creature that sexually and emotionally abused his followers securing their ties to him.
The only salvation for Jim would have come at an early age before his self-esteem was destroyed by apparent torment as a child. He would have needed at least one adult mentor to lead him into a normal socialization pattern. His Mother, whom it appears had her own strong views of the world, likely shaped his image of the outside world and portrayed the larger society around him as being evil and unjust. His childhood dreams of acceptance and revolutionary change progressed into a deep madness with the admiration and commitment of his followers and supporters edging him farther off the precipice. By the time that he was a young adult, his path was set. There would have been little advise that anyone could have given him that would have changed his self destructive path. Unfortunately the political and economic time frame in which he lived led others to follow him on that destructive path.
Jim Jones' first church in Indianapolis, Indiana
In 1951, Jones became a member of the Communist Party USA, and began attending meetings and rallies in Indianapolis. He became flustered with harassment he received during the McCarthy Hearings, particularly regarding an event he attended with his mother focusing on Paul Robeson, after which she was harassed by the FBI in front of her co-workers for attending. He also became frustrated with what he perceived to be ostracism of open communists in the United States, especially during the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This frustration, among other things, provoked a seminal moment for Jones in which he asked himself "how can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church."
Jones' interest in religion began during his childhood, primarily because he found making friends difficult, though initially he vacillated on his church of choice. Jones was surprised when a Methodist superintendent helped him to get a start in the church even though he knew Jones to be a communist and Jones did not meet him through the Communist Party. In 1952, Jones became a student pastor in Sommerset Southside Methodist Church, but claims he left that church because its leaders barred him from integrating blacks into his congregation. Around this time, Jones witnessed a faith-healing service at the Seventh Day Baptist Church. He observed that it attracted people and their money and concluded that, with financial resources from such healings, he could help accomplish his social goals.
Jones then began his own church, which changed names until it became the Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel. Jones sold pet monkeys door-to-door to raise funds for his church.
Jones moved away from the Communist Party and Maoists when CPUSA members and Mao Tse-tung became critical of some of the policies of former Soviet leader Joseph Stalin.
Deaths in Jonestown
Main article: Jonestown
Later that same day, 909 inhabitants of Jonestown, 303 of them children, died of apparent cyanide poisoning, mostly in and around a pavilion. This resulted in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the September 11, 2001 attacks. No video was taken during the mass suicide, though the FBI did recover a 45 minute audio recording of the suicide in progress.
On that tape, Jones tells Temple members that the Soviet Union, with whom the Temple had been negotiating a potential exodus for months, would not take them after the Temple had murdered Ryan and four others at a nearby airstrip. The reason given by Jones to commit suicide was consistent with his previously stated conspiracy theories of intelligence organizations allegedly conspiring against the Temple, that men would "parachute in here on us," "shoot some of our innocent babies" and "they'll torture our children, they'll torture some of our people here, they'll torture our seniors." Parroting Jones' prior statements that hostile forces would convert captured children to fascism, one temple member states "the ones that they take captured, they're gonna just let them grow up and be dummies."
Given that reasoning, Jones and several members argued that the group should commit "revolutionary suicide" by drinking cyanide-laced grape flavored Flavor-Aid along with a sedative. One member, Christine Miller, dissents toward the beginning of the tape. When members apparently cried, Jones counseled "Stop this hysterics. This is not the way for people who are Socialists or Communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity." Jones can be heard saying, "Don't be afraid to die," that death is "just stepping over into another plane" and that "[death is] a friend." At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: "We didn't commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." According to escaping Temple members, children were given the drink first and families were told to lie down together. Mass suicide had been previously discussed in simulated events called "White Nights" on a regular basis. During at least one such prior White Night, members drank liquid that Jones falsely told them was poison.
Jones was found dead in a deck chair with a gunshot wound to his head that Guyanese coroner Cyrill Mootoo stated was consistent with a self-inflicted gun wound. However, Jones' son Stephan believes his father may have directed someone else to shoot him. An autopsy of Jones' body also showed levels of the barbiturate Pentobarbital which may have been lethal to humans who had not developed physiological tolerance. Jones' drug usage (including LSD and marijuana) was confirmed by his son, Stephan, and Jones' doctor in San Francisco.
On December 13, 1973, Jones was arrested and charged with soliciting a man for sex in a movie theater bathroom known for homosexual activity, in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles. The man was an undercover Los Angeles Police Department vice officer. Jones is on record as later telling his followers that he was "the only true heterosexual", but at least one account exists of his sexual abuse of a male member of his congregation in front of the followers, ostensibly to prove the man's own homosexual tendencies.
While Jones banned sex among Temple members outside of marriage, he himself voraciously engaged in sexual relations with both male and female Temple members. Jones, however, claimed that he detested engaging in homosexual activity and did so only for the male temple adherents' own good, purportedly to connect them symbolically with him (Jones).
One of Jones' sources of inspiration was the controversial International Peace Mission movement leader Father Divine. Jones had borrowed the term "revolutionary suicide" from Black Panther leader and Peoples Temple supporter Huey Newton who had argued "the slow suicide of life in the ghetto" ought to be replaced by revolutionary struggle that would end only in victory (socialism and self determination) or revolutionary suicide (death).
While James “Jim” Jones is not a hero in my eyes, he is a character who fascinates me because of his strong ideals and extraordinary appeal to other people. These strong ideals and his appeal led to the suicide of hundreds of people who also voluntarily killed their own children in the process.