I was living in San Diego, CA. during the fall of 1978. With the exception of the weather and the proximity to Baja California, there wasn’t much for my friends and I in that town back then. R and John got busted every week or so for “walking funny.” This gave the cops an excuse to take them to the drunk tank and beat the shit out of them because they didn’t like the way they looked. Yeh, they were longhaired and rough around the edges and in the cops’ eyes, barely better than a Black man or a Mexican. R had warned us about going there when our landlord kicked us out of our studio in Santa Cruz to make room for the Canadians who always wintered in that apartment. The reason R knew so much about San Diego was because his ship had docked there during his stint in the Navy and he had spent many shore leaves in the same tank as a sailor. The cops, he said, were klansmen. Sure enough, shortly after we left the place, a klavern was exposed within elements of the police department.
However, my reason for bringing up San Diego is not to play guide to that California city, but to relate an incident that occurred to a group of San Franciscans who were in Georgetown, Guyana one day during that period. On November 18, 1978, over nine hundred followers of Reverend Jim Jones committed suicide by drinking poisoned kool-aid at an encampment run by his church, the People’s Temple. Those who didn’t go willingly (many of whom were the members’ children) were killed by others in the congregation. Having known a couple teenagers whose parents were among this crowd, I was, to say the least, upset.
Here it is, twenty-six years later, and the whole damn country of the United States is on a similar trajectory as that small church out of the Bay Area. With the man of god George Bush playing the role of Jim Jones, millions of his followers are (un)consciously being led to their deaths. Like Jones’ followers, many of Bush’s most fervent supporters are absolute true believers in the man and the philosophy he espouses. This does not mean that the leader himself believes in the particular philosophy that he utters (at least not with the same fervor), but he certainly counts on a substantial numbers of his followers to have that faith. Eric Hoffer wrote in his study of the fanatical believer, The True Believer:
“The less justified a man is in claiming excellence for his own self, the more ready he is to claim all excellence for his nation, his religion, his race or his holy cause…A man is likely to mind his own business when it is worth minding. When it is not, he takes his mind off his own meaningless affairs by minding other people’s business….”
This is the mindset of those in our government and our populace who have no time to argue with those who disagree with them, even if those disagreements are as minor as the differences George Bush and Democrats like John Kerry have over foreign policy. To the true believer, there is only one way and it doesn’t matter if that way has a foundation in reason, only that it makes sense to the believer. As anybody knows, any argument can be logical, even if the precepts are absolutely false. This is the case in today’s United States. True believers will kill and excuse any killing if they believe it moves them closer to their goal. In Guyana, the goal was some kind of heavenly transport. I fear that a similar goal is the hope of those Christian followers of George Bush who want their apocalypse before they die.
There is no room for freedom of thought in the true believer’s world. Hoffer tells us that these folks want to be free of the burden of freedom. This is true among those who would oppose a woman’s right to choose and among those who (like Bush) select their advisors to make certain that they only hear what they want to hear. If there is no dissension, than there can be only one truth-the one held by the leader.
Before the tragedy at Jonestown that October, the security wing of the Temple murdered a congressman and his aide as they left Georgetown after investigating complaints about Jim Jones and his alleged kidnapping of members. The complaints were made by relatives of Peoples Temple members still in California who were concerned about the fate of their family members. As is typical in these types of circumstances, it was difficult to determine who was in Guyana of their own volition and which members were kidnapped and taken there. The murders of the congressman and his aides were fueled by a paranoid fear that the temple was under attack and faced its dissolution.
To continue the analogy to today’s global Peoples Temple under the ministry of George Bush, it is probably safe to say that a similar fear is part of what is behind Bush’s actions (and the actions of his most fervent followers). Just like various governments and private investigative groups did vis-à-vis Jonestown and People’s Temple, perhaps someone should launch an investigation to determine how many members of Bush’s temple in Iraq, Afghanistan are there of their own volition and how many have been taken there against their will. If we can get an answer without being jailed or killed, then perhaps we can reverse the suicidal trajectory that George Bush and his deacons have us on.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s new collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org