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JONESTOWN - NOT FORGOTTEN
November 18, 2011 was the 33rd anniversary of the tragic deaths of over 900 men, women and children - including babies - at Jonestown, in the jungles of Guyana.
This 33rd anniversary year has seen a number of developments including: the building, dedication of, and controversy over, a special memorial wall; the release, on line, of hundreds of Jonestown related documents from the FBI archives; a new book by investigative journalist and historical writer, Julia Scheeres.
WALL OF REMEMBRANCE - WALL OF SHAME?
On Sunday May 29, 2011, a special memorial wall with several engraved marble slabs was dedicated to ALL those who died at Jonestown on November 18, 1978.
918 people died that day, including Senator Leo Ryan and some of the team that accompanied him to investigate the Peoples Temple - Jonestown commune, and also Jim Jones. After the tragedy, the bodies were returned to the USA, but some had no relatives to claim their remains; others had no money to pay for any burials; many cemeteries refused to accept unclaimed or unpaid-for remains for burial, and then the Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California accepted 406 bodies, mostly children, for burial in a mass grave. Many of the Peoples Temple members came from that area, apparently.
For years the mass grave had little memorial acknowledgement. Then, in late 2009 the Guyana Government decided, at long last, to acknowledge the 1978 mass murder-suicides. The then director of the Guyana Tourism Authority, Indranauth Haralsingh, stated: "We think the time is now ripe for some sort of memorial to remember those who died as 31 years have passed and the wound is not so raw. There should be something to remember them as people do come." A small memorial slab was unveiled at the Evergreen Cemetery. It was not much of a memorial. There was no mention of any kind of the great number of people who died, or why they died. It was just a headstone with the bland wording: "In Memory of the Victims of the Jonestown Tragedy, Nov. 18, 1978, Jonestown, Guyana, Guyana Emergency Relief Committee."
Jim Jones had started his Peoples Temple as a member congregation of the USA Christian Church-Disciples of Christ denomination. He gained support amongst church leaders, government and community leaders for his radical social action activities and his racially integrated congregation. He attracted many highly motivated and compassionately caring Whites - including members of pastors’ and missionaries’ families, as well as other wealthy White activists. He also attracted many more African Americans. They were accepted in the Peoples Temple, while all around them was rejection, segregation and separation - especially in white middle-class communities and Christian congregations.
One of the (many) early supportive connections of Jim Jones and his Peoples Temple was a United Methodist preacher, John V. Moore and his family. Moore had started ministry as a Baptist in Southern USA, but then changed and joined the more theologically liberal United Methodist Church as one of their ministers.
In the early 1960s John Moore became a pastor with San Francisco’s Glide Memorial United Methodist Church. This church is described as: "Although conservative until the 1960s, since then it has served as a counter-culture rallying point and has been one of the most prominently liberal churches in the United States." Moore became a social activist, espousing all sorts of community causes. He declared: "I had become convinced that the Bible says nothing about homosexuality or sexual orientation," and preached three sermons in the mid-1960s encouraging acceptance of practicing homosexuals in the United Methodist Church. He and his wife Barbara marched and waved placards for numerous social causes and often took their daughters with them on these marches. Their social activism, and that promoted by Jim Jones at his Peoples Temple, provided fertile soil for further Moore connections with Jim Jones.
The Moore’s eldest daughter, Carolyn, and her husband, Larry Layton, joined Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple around 1968. It wasn’t long before the Layton’s divorced and Carolyn became the mistress of Jim Jones (still married to his wife Marceline). Moore claims he had problems with Jones and his relationship with his daughter Carolyn, but he did not (doesn’t) seem to refer to it anywhere as adultery and a real problem for a man supposedly a Christian leader. In 1972 the youngest Moore daughter, Annie, a nurse, also joined the Peoples Temple. Moore acknowledged that: "Publicly we affirmed the good works of Peoples Temple, such as housing for elderly women and developmentally challenged teenagers in Redwood Valley, periodic sickle cell anemia tests, regular blood pressure check, nutritional education, enabling individuals to become free from drug addiction, taking stands on justice issues." A few years after Moore had become a District Superintendent in the United Methodist Church he apparently wrote a "To Whom It May Concern" letter of support for Jim Jones on April 21, 1975: "I have known the Rev. Jim Jones and the work of the People’s Temple for a number of years. In my judgment, other churches could learn from People’s Temple. Their concern and care for their members provides the qualities of family life which have been lost in so many churches."
Both Carolyn and Annie became part of the top elite leadership circle with Jim Jones and both women were amongst Jones’ mistresses and closest intimates. Both women died at the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project in Guyana - better known as "Jonestown". Evidence indicates both women were involved in "aiding" the murder of children and adults on November 18, 1978 under Jones’ direction. Annie shot Jim Jones before taking the poison and shooting herself - blaming everything on the opposition of those who supposedly were against the People’s Temple and the "good work" done by Jim Jones.
John Moore and his middle daughter, Rebecca, a Religious Studies lecturer, particularly, have been working hard to reject claims of the Peoples Temple/Jonestown being a cult. They have long been regarded as cult apologists, more particularly, as Jonestown apologists. They, along with Rebecca Moore’s second husband, Fielding M. McGehee, have been involved in raising money to have a special memorial "wall" built over the mass grave at the Oakland "Evergreen Cemetery" California, and dedicated in May 2011.
On their memorial wall they listed ALL those who died in Guyana that day in November 1978, including the names of Senator Leo Ryan, who was killed just prior to the commune members being persuaded to poison their innocent and uninvolved children; other members of his team murdered by Jones’ men; the men who committed those murders; the Moore sisters and other leaders who helped to poison others; as well as Jim Jones himself - the instigator of the mass murder - suicide.
Rebecca Moore constantly reminds others that she lost two sisters to the Jonestown tragedy, and there were reminders of that at the May 29th dedication of her support group’s "Memorial Wall" - which included Jim Jones Jr, who declared it was right his father’s name be on the memorial because he was also a victim that day, the victim of his own madness!
"Those most strongly promoting and defending or justifying the inclusion of Jim Jones’ name included more white Americans, including a number of academics, than African Americans."
On the "other side" is a very angry and upset African American Pentecostal preacher, Dr. Jynona Norwood. Like Rebecca Moore she lost relatives at Jonestown - not two (in the top hierarchy and elite inner circle), but 27 - including her mother, Fairy Norwood, 17 youths, and the youngest child to die from being poisoned at Jonestown, a 3-month-old cousin, Charles Henderson, Jr.
Each year, following the 1978 mad massacre of innocents and the burial of most of them in the anonymous mass grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California, Jynona Norwood, conducted a special remembrance service at the grave. She has been especially passionate about many unidentified children and toddlers. She has wanted people to remember the many people who were deceived by Jones and his inner circle of social activists turned murders - and especially the children and teenagers forced to take poison (or having it forcibly injected into them).
She founded the "Cherishing the Children Jonestown Memorial Services and Wall / Guyana Tribute Foundation" to raise awareness and fund the memorial wall. Her aim: "The children perished in Jonestown without a fighting chance and we must say ’Never again........gone but not forgotten.’"
For years she had promoted the idea of a memorial wall of remembrance listing the names of the Jonestown victims. But those who attended her memorial services weren’t numerous; most were predominantly Black and not too wealthy; costs for the marble slabs and their engraving, to make up the wall, were high, and she had difficulty raising sufficient money for the total wall project. She wasn’t able to complete her task - though she had been promoting it for many years. Rebecca Moore and her husband, Fielding M. McGehee, were better at fund-raising and had access to wealthier contributors. It could be said, in a sense, that they took Jynona Norwood’s idea and "hijacked" from under her, installed their version of the Memorial Wall at the Evergreen Cemetery, with the names of Jim Jones (and others actually responsible for murders) engraved on the marble slabs, and had John V Moore "blessing" them at the May dedication service.
A number of people, mostly amongst African Americans who had been involved with the People’s Temple, or who had lost relatives at Jonestown, expressed distaste at the inclusion of Jim Jones’ name on the memorial wall. Comments included: "I wouldn’t want it there myself, unless it said ’This murderer killed all these people’;" "We absolutely hate it;" "It’s very disrespectful."
Jynona Norwood expressed that distaste more vividly: "Evergreen Cemetery has chosen to work with Jim Jones’ former leaders and celebrate him by putting his name along side of the children he ordered to be murdered. It is said that Adolph Hitler caused the murders of over 1.5 million Jewish children and if you were to add his name to the Holocaust Memorial in memory of him, I, along with the world would be outraged. This is unacceptable and the Jewish community would not sit down and say, ’It’s Ok, he was a victim of his madness.’ Our brothers and sisters would come from the four corners of the world, join forces and pro-actively fight anyone who would desecrate the Memorial dedicated to the innocent children and loved ones who were gassed at the order of Hitler. Jonestown is the African American Holocaust and Jim Jones was our Hitler. I know that he has a family and I sympathize with them, but we will not honor, celebrate or remember the murderous name of Jim Jones."
Though Moore and her apologist friends seemed to have had their wall erected as a fait accompli, Norwood is rallying support for her memorial wall (with names and ages of those who died - minus the infamous name of Jim Jones) and is pursuing legal action against Moore and the Evergreen Cemetery. This sad saga is far from over.
Release of jonestown Documents
Following the Jonestown massacre, Guyanan authorities handed over documents and audio tapes found in the Jonestown compound. Seven crates of documents and four crates of tapes were shipped to the FBI in the USA. The eleven crates of materials remained sealed for a long time, but in recent years the materials have been releases to the public.
On August 18th this year (2011) the FBI announced the online availability of released documents relating to the 1978 Jonestown murders. The FBI had a responsibility to investigate Jonestown because of the murder of American Senator Leo Ryan. Some of this material had been previously released under Freedom of Information laws, but this year the material had been scanned and made available worldwide through the Internet.
The relevant website contains the following explanatory comment:
RYMUR (The Leo Ryan Murder/Jonestown Investigation) On November 18, 1978, while investigating human rights abuses by a large cult led by James Warren “Jim” Jones (1931-1978), Congressman Leo Ryan (1925-1978) and several companions were murdered by Jones’ followers. Ryan had traveled to “Jonestown,” the cult’s compound in the South American country of Guyana, at the behest of his constituents, some of whom had family members in the cult. Following Ryan’s murder, Jones ordered his followers to commit mass suicide; more than 900 bodies were later found, most having died by taking poison. The FBI, charged with investigating violence against public officials, opened a probe into the murder of Ryan (hence the case name RYMUR) and provided other support and investigative assistance in relation to the mass casualties. This release consists of material released previously and ranges from 1978 To 1979.
When first opening the website to see any of the documents, a brief disclaimer appears stating that things have changed since the material was first collected and put together.
The material placed online consists of 287 PDF documents - but each document contains anywhere from 50 or more to several hundred pages each - in other words, there are thousands of pages of information researches can now examine from earlier FBI files.
This material can be viewed in the online FBI vault at: http://vault.fbi.gov/jonestown (note: "jonestown" with a lower case "j")
The FBI had previously released 3 other PDF documents (of multiple pages). These can be viewed at: http://vault.fbi.gov/Jonestown (note: "Jonestown" with an upper case "J")
Frustratingly, but typically, in many (or most) of the documents/pages there are sections blacked out. These are sometimes names of witnesses/informants or FBI (and/or other) agents. In spite of some of the blacked-out parts, the information is extremely informative and varied. Some material in the files is repeated, and in a number of cases series of pages have been deleted due to belong to other law enforcement or judicial jurisdictions. While the main initial focus is on the murder of Senator Leo Ryan, and those who were in his party, other information regarding Jonestown and some of the main people involved in: e.g. Jonestown security force; the Ryan assault team; public relations; and much more.
Researchers and interested people around the world can now access all this informative material in the comfort of their own home or office and at their own pace - coming back to the material whenever, and as often, as they wish.
NEW BOOK ON jonestown
Following the publication of a book describing the extremely negative experiences Julia Scheeres and her adopted African American brother, David, in Christian fundamentalist/extremist family (including being sent to a "reform camp" in an overseas jungle setting) Julia Scheeres began research work for a book on Jonestown in 2007. She spent over a year going through released FBI documents and interviewed a number of Jonestown survivors. With information gathered this way, and also information on some individuals who survived Jonestown, but died years ago, she has written a readable book, with accuracy and feeling. She was able to identify with many of the victims, and enables readers to do the same.
Through her book: A Thousand Lives - The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown (2011), as well as various interviews Julia Scheeres shares insights and comments such as: "The extent of the lies that Jones told the people to goad them toward committing mass murder/suicide is the most troubling. A third of the people were children, a third were seniors, and all of them were lied to to some degree about what was going on. They were told that they were surrounded by mercenaries who were going to torture and kill them. It was a lie. There were no mercenaries in the jungle."
"As the crowd dwindled Jones taped one last lie for posterity: ’We didn’t commit suicide, we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.’"
"These people had no choice but to die; they weren’t going to survive, for if they refused the Kool-Aid they were injected with cyanide. If they tried to escape, they faced guards with guns and crossbows. This was not a mass suicide; it was a mass murder, and Jim Jones killed these people."
(TACL Vol 32 # 5 – Oct – Dec 2011)