Jonestown + 25

Jeff Jarvis reminds us that Tuesday was the 25th anniversary of the day that the sinister and maniacal Reverend Jim Jones– ensconsed with his followers in the jungles of Guyana– ordered the murder of a visiting US Congressman, followed by the mass suicide/murder of himself and more than 900 other residents of his would-be utopia, Jonestown.

Anyone unfamiliar with those horrific events owes it to himself or herself to find out more. Starting in California in the 1970s as a populist preacher against racism and for social justice, Jones drew a large multiracial following and became a powerful figure in the state Democratic party. After defectors from his “People’s Temple” started revealing sordid information about the movement, Jones and hundreds of his followers relocated to his new community in South America. Preaching “a combustible mix of sacrilege and socialism,” the increasingly paranoid Jones led his followers into hell on earth. Not for the first time, the rhetoric of equality and brotherhood was employed in the service of unspeakable evil.

What makes the Jonestown story especially vivid is that Jones had his descent into madness recorded on tape. Those tapes were recovered and they are some of the most chilling things I have ever heard. National Public Radio broadcast excerpts a few years after the massacre, and it is still possible to hear those broadcasts via the NPR website.