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A provocative headline, but true. Thanks to another Ricochet member for commemorating a day that should live in infamy, 18 November 1978, Jonestown 40 years ago yesterday. Secular-supremacists, from the first news of the mass suicide, with the horrific photographs published in major news magazines, sought to smear devout religious faith. The narrative was all about blind following of a cult leader. Yet, the true story of Jim Jones’s rise to power, and eventual movement of his devoted followers out of the United States, is inextricably tied to the modern California Democrat party.
Lest you discount this claim as a right-wing, conservative, Republican outrage, exploiting deaths of over 900 men, women, and children, here is what the San Francisco Chronicle has to say:
Before he became infamous for leading 913 people to their deaths in the Guyanese jungle, the Rev. Jim Jones was the darling of San Francisco’s liberal establishment — a man who could spread the wealth to all the fashionable charities and, at a moment’s notice, marshal thousands of followers for a good cause.
Jones was a minister of the Disciples of Christ, but in San Francisco he was best known as the suave if slightly sinister leader of Peoples Temple, a flock of perhaps 8,000 people, mostly poor and mostly black, who appeared to do everything Jones told them to do.
With these willing workers, Jones made himself the perfect gift for the liberal machine of US Representatives Phillip and John Burton, Assemblyman Willie Brown and Mayor George Moscone, which was trying to consolidate its hold on San Francisco politics….
“There wasn’t anything magical about Jim’s power,” Timothy Stoen, who spent nearly seven years in Peoples Temple as Jones’ attorney, said the other day.
“It was raw politics. He was able to deliver what politicians want, which is power. And how do you get power? By votes. And how do you get votes? With people. Jim Jones could produce 3,000 people at a political event.”
Or, consider the words of Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D–CA). She was an aide to Congressman Ryan (D–CA), who died in an ambush in Guyana, trying to rescue people from Jonestown.
She said that San Francisco politicians failed to hold Jones accountable before he fled to Guyana in July 1977.
“Elected officials in San Francisco put their political interests ahead of their public duties to enforce the laws,” she said.
At the same time that Ryan investigated Jonestown, California state Assemblyman Willie Brown was organizing a $25-a-plate fundraiser for the Peoples Temple in San Francisco, with comedy legend Dick Gregory as a headlining act and city supervisor Harvey Milk as a scheduled attendee.
Speier said that State Department officials failed to hold Jones accountable after he moved to the remote northwestern province of Guyana.
“The State Department did not do its job,” she said. “They had a duty to warn, a duty to investigate, a duty to protect, and they failed on all three of those.”
In 1977, the State Department was led by Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, in President Jimmy Carter’s administration. They were hardly likely to get crosswise of San Francisco Democrats, or California Governor Jerry Brown. Not one of the leftist California Democrats, depending on street muscle and “votes” have ever been held to account, not one’s legacy tainted, by their cynical embrace of Jim Jones. Salon, in 2012, was excoriating:
It was Burton ally Willie Brown – a rising force in California’s state capital — who first recognized that Jones’s organization could play a pivotal role in his friend George Moscone’s run for mayor. Moscone, a charming and handsome state legislator, had electrified San Francisco progressives with his campaign for city hall. A champion of gays, women, minorities, tenants and organized labor, Moscone was locked in a tight race with a pack of opponents led by conservative realtor John Barbagelata, whose campaign evoked a nostalgia for an older San Francisco, when it was ruled by traditional Catholic values.
In this political season, with fresh stories of vote rigging, it is worth considering Jim Jones part in rigging the San Francisco mayoral race against a conservative Catholic Democrat, in favor of the new secularist leftist coalition:
“We loaded up all 13 of our buses with maybe 70 people on each bus, and we had those buses rolling nonstop up and down the coast into San Francisco the day before the election,” recalled Jim Jones Jr. “We had people going from precinct to precinct to vote. So could we have been the force that tipped the election to Moscone? Absolutely! Slam dunk. He only won by 4,000 votes. I’m sorry, but I’ve got to give my father credit for that. I think he did the right thing. George Moscone was a good person; he wanted what was best for San Francisco.”
If Republicans had embraced Jim Jones, using his support to cement the ascent of the conservative wing, we would have wall-to-wall television retrospectives and demands for every Republican to denounce “religious extremists.” Instead, even Fox News focused on survivors, the martyrdom of a few journalists, and the heroism of one Democratic politician.