Here’s something you don’t see everyday, footage of Rev. Jim Jones and a few hundred members of his People’s Temple. One of their actual services. It’s astonishing. Thirty fly-on-the-wall minutes of an expert brain-washer in action.
This was shot sometime in the 1970s and is presumed to have been recorded during a service at the People’s Temple’s Redwood Valley “home church” (there were several dozen satellites churches in California and about 3000 People’s Temple members).
At first you hear some testimony and praise from some members of the congregation about how great Jim Jones is and then some gospel singing. When the crowd is all good and worked up, the good Reverend steps up to the pulpit to harangue them with a sermon about socialism. Then more gospel music, then more preaching about Marxism.
Jones’ idol was Mao Zedong and the reason he got into the religion racket in the first place—which he was quite open about—was to infiltrate it. Religion was the vehicle for Jones to demonstrate his Marxism in the 1950s and initially he did so by organizing things like soup kitchens for the homeless and other charitable works. By the 1970s, the Peoples Temple was running nine residential care homes for the elderly, six organizations for orphaned children and a state-licensed 40-acre ranch for the mentally disabled.
Jesus was a Communist, he taught. Jones himself was the “ultimate socialist” and often hinted that he was a prophesied revolutionary messiah, a reincarnation of Jesus, Gandhi, Father Divine and Lenin!
Jones studied Mao’s moves during the Cultural Revolution carefully and used the same propaganda/mind control techniques that the Chinese Communist Party had perfected, in particular the “we’re the vanguard of a new age” and “us vs. them” aspects of “outcast” group think. Since he was so paranoid himself, this talent came easily to Jim Jones.
When you look at the composition of the followers in the videotape, at first it looks like all of the People’s Temple members were black, but then the camera finds an entire contingent of young white people sitting together who are dressed conservatively. Whenever Jones starts hitting the high notes about socialism, these folks stand up and cheer like Pentecostal apparatchiks.
Nearly 80% of the People’s Temple congregation was comprised of working class blacks. If you examine the format of the service, Jones kept the trappings of “old style religion” that his African-American followers would have felt at home with at the same time they were being politically re-indoctrinated. One of Jones’ standard dramatic tropes was to throw the Bible on the ground and stomp on it, telling his African-American followers that the white man’s version of Christianity was a boot on their necks.
“This black book has held down you people for 2000 years. It has no power.”
The young white people were the inner circle and had law degrees and other skills that would be useful to a barely disguised flim-flam man like Jones. Some knew how to work the public relations levers or deal with politicians or were good at keeping Jones’ various mail order scams going. Most were Communist “true believers” and felt that they were a part of an exciting social movement. Many of them also acted as de facto social workers, interacting with the State of California on behalf of the poorer members. The praise being heaped on Jones at the beginning of the tape should be seen in that context. By helping the less fortunate deal with the state’s often cruel bureaucracy or by getting them much-needed medical care, housing, food and so forth, Jones became a beloved and trusted father figure, gaining their loyal attendance at his church even though he often openly admitted to being an atheist!
It was ingenious. And it was utterly insane.
Part of the online collection of the Media Resources Center, Moffitt Library, University of California, Berkeley at Archive.org. Digitized by the California Audiovisual Preservation Project (CAVPP).