Friday, September 23, 2011

The Kool-aid

The people involved are always the losers in cultural wars. They get consumed by their culture.

I want to revisit an observation I first made directly in Patriarchal Apostasy, as well as some observations I once offered which compare P/QF to the dynamic at play in the People's Temple/Jonestown. I hope by the time you finish reading this, and watching the material I'll post below, the phrase that many of us use (sometimes almost casually, although innocently), "drinking the Kool-aid", will have more significant meaning.

In Patriarchal Apostasy, I presented the observation that, in P/QF, the authoritarian culture and lifestyle is the true deity and true religion. Yes, I believe there ARE other idols within it - the bible, or certain interpretations of it and such - but the centerpiece of worship, when you get right down to it, is the authority structure, the family unit, agrarianism (in some cases), et cetera - the culture, the way of life which will bring about the eventual utopia.

For instance, in the typical, dedicated VF or Gothardite P/QF home, there's a lot of Christianese, a lot of God and Jesus talk...but if you took God out of the equation, probably little about the way of life would change...there'd just be less religiousness involving God talk. A few rituals might change (bible studies and so forth), but chances are, the authority dynamic would remain intact, the agrarian, minimalistic and isolationalist lifestyle may very well continue, the mega-family mentality may very well continue. BUT...If you take the authority structure out of the equation, if you necessitate a change in lifestyle, everything about their God would change. Everything. The culture itself has become the true deity, the true religion. They've been swept up in the current of "the movement".

Fear, paranoia, and common enemies are fantastic at uniting people in misguided causes. As one People's Temple survivor once said, "No one sets out to join a cult."

If you're a fundamentalist Christian, fearful of the government, fearful of the public school system, fearful of television and modern media, fearful of anything outside of the straight and narrow-minded way of fundamentalism, yet genuinely wanting the best for your family, that fear, that paranoia, can lead you to some questionable zeal - which leads you to even more questionable choices. When a VF or such comes along, and immediately starts stoking and nourishing your already existing fears, and then you see their webpage or materials showing spit-shined families having perpetual picnics in flowery meadows, and all of it is splashed in the right buzzwords like "godly" and "biblical" and "character", it isn't particularly hard for them to set the hook and reel you in just on what they're offering in the window display. Now, you're united with people who share your fears, who share your societal and spiritual paranoia, you don't have to worry about the public school system teaching your kids evolution or giving them opportunities to do drugs and get pregnant, you now have like-minded media materials available with which to protect your children from what "the world" has for them, and all kinds of formulas which guarantee that your family will end up looking like the family in that initial picture you saw.

With these common enemies, and your own fears, paranoia, and reactionary zeal now being validated by this movement, you can now take dominion over society - and then everything will be the utopia God meant it to be. And, you're now in a cult.

Jim Jones was something of a paradox - part sociopath, and, according to some, at least initially concerned about the outcasts and misfits of society (which is a category he fit into as a boy). A childhood friend claims that Jones was so obsessed with religion and religious ritual as a boy that he once killed a cat with a knife just so he could hold a funeral service. At the same time, he befriended people in the black community in his small, still largely segregated Indiana town, demonstrating a sympathetic view of their plight. It may or may not have been genuine. I really don't know, and probably no one on this earth could answer that definitively.

As a young adult, he began preaching fiery sermons at the local Pentecostal church, and began developing a following within the African-American community there - which didn't sit well with the locals. So, he began looking for someplace more conducive to the culture he was crafting, taking his People's Temple to Northern California in the mid-60s. A congregation of about 100 people went with him, and soon, largely by exploiting the fears of the African-American community (many of which were well-founded in a very turbulent era, racially speaking), he began to build what was portrayed as a religious commune, but what was, in reality, the crafting of an authoritarian culture entirely dependent upon him and his influence over the people. His sermons became less about religion, less about God, and more about Jim Jones and his power and authority, more about social commentary and socialist principles of giving all for the good of People's Temple and "no man is greater than another". He taught that our government was evil, and the only hope for his people was the People's Temple.

The people stayed with him.

They all worked for the greater good of People's Temple, giving everything they had to PT, working 20 or more hours a day between their real world jobs and their duties within PT. Being so physically depleted left them mentally, intellectually, and emotionally vulnerable - willing to accept any and everything Jones told them. It was the perfect environment for a sociopath to indoctrinate a following.

The people stayed with him.

By the early 70s, PT had become far more a "movement" than a church, and Jones eventually moved PT to San Francisco. By this point in time, there was nothing religious about Jones' sermons, as he began instructing his people that there was no God above that would help them, no Heaven awaiting them. They would have to help themselves and make Heaven on earth. Also, by this time, Jones had engaged in sexual relations with a large number of PTers, both male and female, having began teaching them that they were all homosexuals, with him being the only heterosexual among them, and that his sexual relations with them were for them, not for him.

The people stayed with him.

By the time Jones began construction of Jonestown in the Guyanese jungle in 1975 (where he planned to craft his ultimate socialist utopia which he would rule and reign over), his message had become outright atheist. He began to involve himself in the political scene, becoming a mover and shaker in Democratic circles in SF, eventually being named head of the city's Housing Authority. He was given audience by various political dignitaries who visited San Francisco, including eventual First Lady Roselyn Carter. By 1977, a large number of PT members were already living in Jonestown, with Jones and many others waiting to join them at a later date. Also by this time, the small number of people who had left PT began to tell their stories. When Jones learned of a particularly indicting story to be published in a SF newspaper concerning his own corruption and the cultic nature of PT, he immediately left for Jonestown to escape the scrutiny it would bring.

The people stayed with him and went with him to Jonestown.

In Jonestown, Jones began preaching a message of outright Communism, bringing in Marxists with Soviet affiliation to indoctrinate his people. The people there were, by their OWN admission, generally happy, believing in the socialist principles on which Jonestown was founded and operated - although, under Jones' authoritarian rule, dysfunction was always right beneath the surface if not in full bloom. I've listened to some of the tapes of the public meetings in the Jonestown pavilion as the residents hashed out their daily business issues with Jones moderating. Lots of "F@#$ you!" - "No! F@#$ you!" - "Shut the f@#$ up, you asshole!" types of exchanges. The people there loved each other deeply, but were obviously dysfunctional on many levels. Jones probably reveled in this dysfunction. It would serve as evidence, in his mind, that they needed him. Of course, by the time he got to Jonestown, he was also a raging drug addict.

The people stayed with him. They all called him "Dad".

Jones and his People's Temple had shifted from Jesus, to socialism, to atheism, to outright Communism - and the people stayed with him. Jesus left their culture, and they never even noticed, because their eyes were on the culture. There were VERY few people in Jonestown that didn't want to be in Jonestown. Their minds had been cooked. When a culture crafted to [supposedly] combat common enemies is the focal point, gradualism within it is hardly noticed as long as the common enemies remain intact.

Jones couldn't have them devoid of fear and paranoia. That was his means of control. They had to continue to believe that the United States government, and whatever other enemies he concocted (and they accepted) wanted to destroy them. They practiced "White Nights" - where at Jones' command, they drank Kool-aid to perfect the implementation of "Revolutionary Suicide" should events ever "require" as much.

The people stayed with him.

In 1978, members of the "Concerned Relatives", which consisted of former PT members and others who had relatives in Jonestown, began pressuring Congressman Leo Ryan to visit Jonestown, telling him that people were being kept there against their will and being subject to various abuses. On November 17th, 1978, Congressman Ryan visited Jonestown. This video picks up the story from there (and be warned - it's pretty graphic, and some of you may be very disturbed by it)...


The words of the young girl at around the 4:05 mark are frightfully similar to some words my ex once said. People who've been brainwashed aren't aware they've been brainwashed. If they were, it wouldn't be brainwashing.

More here (very graphic)...

The audio of Jim Jones in the above clip is from the so-called "Death tape", recorded as the actual event was happening.

Even the final letter written in Jonestown reeks of denial. Some of the PT survivors, decades removed, still have an attachment to the culture that would have killed them too, had they been in Jonestown. Just listen to their words in that last clip. I hurt for them.

Heart-wrenching in every imaginable way...and for those who weren't around back when this happened, or who don't know a lot about Jonestown, it likely puts "drinking the Kool-aid" in a whole other realm of sobering reality.

Under Jones' authoritarian rule, with him using the weapons of fear, paranoia, and common enemies (and promoting the "solution" to those problems), these people deified a culture (and in their case, a man at the front of it), and that devotion took them to a gruesome, senseless death.

Lew! You don't really think the P/QF crowd is that extreme, do you?!

To stage a mass suicide? Probably not - even though there are likely plenty of borderline dangerous individuals (and plenty of religious sociopaths) within the movement. What I see are the same weapons of extremity being used - fear, paranoia, and common enemies - and a culture being sold as the solution to those problems. I see the same authoritarian dynamic, the same bounded choices, the same learned helplessness, the same persecution complex, the same dysfunctions (even if the manifestations are different), the same denial and dissociation.

I also see Kool-aid being poured and served continually, received and consumed readily, through the message of dominionist movements like VF, Gothard, and Christian homeschooling, and through fundamentalists like the IFB. God is a part of their culture in name and window-dressing only as best I can tell, but the people IN these movements haven't really noticed him missing, like I wrote about in my last piece.

Their batch of Kool-aid may not kill the physical body, but it kills the soul.


  1. Wow -- Lewis, you actually brought this up! Kudos to you.

    To anyone inflamed *at* Lewis' article: If you really are as level headed and clear thinking as you think you are, calm down and reread his post before flaming Lewis and posting in righteous indignation. Listen and read carefully. Do not jump to conclusions. There are no attacks here, only questions, deep concerns, and a desire for truth.

    An interesting comment by a survivor of PT said, "Where did all these guns come from?" I think I recall a similar comment made by someone from Waco. When people allow control to seep in just a little, no one notices when more powerful and dangerous things slip in the back door until they might even take part in bringing those dangerous things in. Denial leads to apathy and can lead to willful participation.

    People who believe that VF, QF, P, and other systems are harmless to interact with need to wake up. While most likely there won't be a mass suicide like in Jonestown, those reporters thought they were protected by a "congressional shield". They were not protected by the Congressman. PT had no respect for human life when the cult-system was threatened. All bets are off when someone with radical ideas are threatened. There is little difference between a muslim suicide bomber and an unhinged fundamentalist who thinks the government is out to get him/her. One looks for 72 virgins and the other looks for pearly gates. Both attempt to take innocent lives that they have no authority to take. Both seek to control other people and are willing to do anything without regards for the consequences.

    > Their batch of Kool-aid may not kill the physical body, but it kills the soul.

    I agree, but if I may, I would like to elaborate on this.

    Immediate death does not typically happen. However, the stresses of VF, P, QF, etc and leaving those systems behind do slowly kill the physical body. You wrote a great article about people in recovery having physical and mental needs that include extra rest. The stresses are born out in the body and take quite awhile to recover from, if ever. And unfortunately, there are those that struggle with extreme despair that have difficulty valuing their life. I don't know of any that have resulted in suicide or self-murder and hope that never happens.

  2. "at least we tried. We tried and failed. It was a failure, it was tragic, but at least we tried."

    As if the attempt was justification for this horror. As if the tragic conclusion, the wasted lives and hopes and passions were an acceptable cost for "trying".

    I hear frequently enough on Facebook, "at least we are trying to make a difference" about religiously mandated cultural choices--like Meet At the Pole school prayer, or protesting Gay Pride Parades, or picketing Planned Parenthood. It is is the same dynamic in action: no matter the cost to ourselves or our community, the culture must reflect our Utopic vision of Christianity. "At least we tried...."

    NO! It is a f@#$ing crime to the soul! Selling out our families and our children to someone's fearmongering, controlling, One Right Way to Live. God NEVER commanded that, he never asked for that, he DOESN'T WANT our lives as forfeit for a failed theonomy.

    Love is all that was ever asked, all that is ever needed. Compassion for one's neighbor, all our neighbors. Love has no room for the kind of fear that these movements are based on. If you fear the government of a free country, if you fear your community, if you fear television, processed food, the public library--you have not love. Christians are called to love, called only to love.

  3. I've been thinking something for a while about the way this movement villifies the "socialism" of the US Government, opposing it in the name of "freedom." But I'm becoming increasingly convinced that the issue with them is NOT freedom vs. government control. That's merely the clothing it wears. The real issue is that the government's power threatens the power of this movement's authority structures. It's not, "we want to be free." It's "we only want those we consider to be God's representatives to have any power." If movements like this get their way, the result will not be less government; it will simply be a shift of governmental power to the shoulders of new leaders-- their leaders.

    Don't get me wrong-- I don't believe in an us-them mentality and I don't want to think of people in this movement as "them." But they have already decided that they are "us" and I am "them," whether I like it or not. And they want the power to control my life, too. They can't be allowed to accomplish this, especially since they claim to do it in the name of "freedom."

  4. My heart breaks. I had always heard they had a choice, that they drank the koolaid, but I had no idea of the shootings, or the fact that the children were murdered first. It had to have had an impact on the response. My heart breaks. They had NO choice.

  5. Anonymous -- the only ones whose choices were truly removed from them were the children. The adults still had a choice and have blood on their hands for the deaths of the children. The survivors got out, did they not? All at one point in time had a choice, but they waited too long. This should serve as a warning to anyone who knows they are in a cult yet decides to stay in it for just a little bit longer. Denial kills.

  6. Semperfid, soooo true. Something about the shootings, and the way the entire thing was carried out though, left a very gloomy, very tear-filled face here on this side of the screen... I had no idea. They had to have been afraid. I hadn't seen the part when they were saying, "At least we tried". Even the survivors don't seem to have gotten the point that everyone else was murdered in the process, and that an experiment to have failed so miserably still... failed. Any group of people who lean so heavily on their leader are in grave peril, but I can't help but think it wasn't really ALL their fault. People can be truly heartbroken and come into an environment that seems inviting & warm-hearted, and don't realize until they're basically trapped that they don't have much option. Didn't it say only 5 managed to run into the woods and escape? The others who tried had to have been gunned down. I mean, who ended up shooting Jones?

    Denial does kill, and not everyone is strong enough to stand up against the tide and say, "This is wrong... we're leaving". They were obviously very scared, to be secretly asking for help to leave. And they were shot in the attempt.

    On a very side note, Semperfid, I imagine you have some connection with the Marine Corps. Thank you for serving! My brother is deployed in Afghanistan right now, and we pray for him every day. He's doing well, but only those with military ties truly understand the worry, and the support needed back home. So thank you!!!

    Sort of how, though, unless you've faced it, you can't possibly understand. We'll never understand what a tragedy it was that day. And the amount of mind control he had on his people. I pray we remember... so we are not doomed to repeat it. Eerie that it was the sign in the meeting hall there... we forget, and I pray we NEVER repeat the tragic mind control, manipulation, loss of life, death of innocent children, and grieving family who really felt lost and at the end of their ropes.

  7. Here's an interview of Stanley Clayton (who is featured in the video clips above) which was done in the days immediately after Jonestown...

    Most of the people had already died by the time Clayton got out (he says there were approximately 100 or so still alive), and it was only after he was hiding in the bush that he heard a few gunshots - presumed to be those that killed Jones and a couple of his inner circle. He, personally, only saw one person struggle against the command to drink the poison, and that person was injected.

    While I don't doubt for a second that Jones (and the handful of women in his inner circle who were the real power brokers in Jonestown once Jones became strung out on drugs) would've executed those who resisted...other than the children (who were given no choice), I think the sad reality is that most of the people in Jonestown drank the poison willingly. Not necessarily happily - but willingly. In the clips above with snippets of audio from the death tape, Jones' chastening isn't for resisting, but for being emotional and lacking "dignity" in administering the poison to their children and babies.

    I've heard all of the death tape. Jones tells the people that they have no choice - they could either "die with dignity" and "die in peace", or the American authorities/military would come in guns blazing. Only Christine Miller offers any recognizable resistance, making a couple of observations and asking a couple of questions of Jones. She's shouted down by the masses who supported Jones' call for "revolutionary suicide".

    This "revolutionary suicide" (the "White Night") was something they rehearsed regularly.

    Jones used every manipulative trick in the playbook of a mind-control cult on that day. He played on the fears and paranoia of his people, created a situation himself which took away their options (in their eyes) and left them with bounded choices (at best), gave them all common enemies in the US authorities and also in Timothy Stoen (a leader among the "Concerned Relatives", a PT defector from a couple of years prior with whom a custody suit was underway over Stoen's son...whom Jones claimed was his own), who is mentioned on the death tape when Jones says "We've been so terribly betrayed", and the people responded with learned helplessness and the conformity that manifests in a cultic peer-pressure environment. Jones created (sometimes), and then validated, their worst fears and paranoia, pointed to a reviled person (namely Stoen), someone who'd "betrayed" them, as the source of their problem, and placed himself in a situation where he would no longer just control their lives, but also their deaths.

    He'd become lost in his own narcissistic delusion, had lost control of the larger picture, and decided they'd all go out with a bang for his personal crimes. He couldn't fathom a life in which no one would kiss his ring.

    There are an awful lot of the same coercive psychological weapons and markers in the governance of Jonestown that you can see in the everyday practices of many patriarchs (and sometimes in the matriarchs manipulating the patriarchs) within the P/QF cult.

  8. No, I don't serve in the Marine Corps. Sorry. I chose it as a life motto years ago not knowing who it was attached to.

  9. Lewis,

    Again I agree with most of what you're saying in this post. And I, too, and concerned. But my general impression of your overall blog is that you lump all homeschoolers into the movement you describe above--which yes, needs to be fought AGAINST--but don't understand the bigger picture of how people outside of the patriarchal movement homeschool. There is honestly every flavor out there. Please think about blanket statements and generalizations and stereotyping. You have so much that is important to say and IMHO you take away the potency by your lack of understanding of the big picture of homeschooling.