The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Jim Jones, Harvey Milk and the Weird Cult of ‘Revolutionary Suicide’

Posted on | November 15, 2018 | Comments Off on Jim Jones, Harvey Milk and the Weird Cult of ‘Revolutionary Suicide’

Daniel J. Flynn and his new book, ‘Cult City.’

A strange and chilling saga:

Thanksgiving, 1978 was bookended by two of the most bizarre and notorious events in American history. On November 18 in Guyana, hundreds of members of Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple committed mass suicide, or were murdered. Over the next few days, news trickled out from the jungle of 300, 400, 600, and finally more than 900 poisoned cultists, most of them from the San Francisco Bay Area, including many children; and of a congressman, Leo Ryan, ambushed and assassinated as he left with a dozen or so apostates whom he had rescued. Then, the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend, San Francisco mayor George Moscone and a city supervisor, Harvey Milk, the first openly gay non-incumbent politician elected to office in America, were shot and killed in City Hall by Dan White, a disgruntled city supervisor who had quit his job and then wanted it back.
The connection — sometimes tenuous, sometimes shocking — between these incidents has been brushed over by a society eager to sanctify its martyrs and forget its villains, but Daniel Flynn in Cult City brings to light a kind of secret history of California in the 1970s, showing how modern progressive politics intersected with cults of madness and despair. Jim Jones came from Depression-Era Indiana, and was drawn to charismatic Christianity and radical politics from an early age. He founded a church called People Temple, dedicated to racial harmony, the living Christ, and veneration of the Soviet Union, and presented a compelling enough message that he attracted thousands of followers over the years.
Having moved his flock to northern California in the 1960s, Jones began leveraging their labor toward political ends, volunteering them for protests or electioneering on behalf of friendly aspirants to public office. Gaining the respect of San Francisco’s political class, Jones became a player in his own right. Many gave him credit for Moscone’s tight victory in the 1975 mayoral runoff, and he was appointed head of the San Francisco Housing Authority. Praised as a hero of social justice and a crusader for racial equality, Jones became an important figure in Democratic politics.
Among his advocates was Harvey Milk, also a newcomer to San Francisco. Milk, formerly a Goldwater Republican, became politically radical in California and repeatedly sought election to office as an outsider to the political machine. Milk attended services at Peoples Temple dozens of times, and wrote effusive letters to Jones. “Such greatness I have found in Jim Jones’s Peoples Temple,” Milk proclaimed.
Milk wasn’t Jones’s only fan. Many powerful people — Governor Jerry Brown, columnist Herb Caen, and Vice President Walter Mondale, to name a few — sought Jones’s blessings and expressed admiration for his dedication to racial equality and a better world.  . . .

Read the rest at City Journal.

I’ve previously recommended Daniel Flynn’s new book Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco.



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