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"Your 'reality', sir, is lies and balderdash and I'm delighted to say that I have no grasp of it whatsoever."
— Karl Friedrich Hieronymus, Freiherr von M√ľnchhausen

Jonestown (Part 2, 1965 - 1974)

(Continued from Part 1, August 30)

In 1965, some 70 families – half black, half white – followed Jim Jones to Ukiah, California, located in the Redwood Valley. In relative isolation, Jones was able to forge a community dedicated to his radical vision, slowly gathering new followers and pushing out those he considered weak in their conviction. This middle stage of the life of the Peoples Temple, the time between Indianapolis and Guyana, is a time of growth on several fronts as Jones prepared to make his vision of a socialist utopia a reality.

In a way, the theme of migration was never totally submerged and the search for sanctuary was never totally satisfied during the California years; the stay there represented an extended sojourn for Peoples Temple. But those years can be considered a sojourn only because Jim Jones and his associates successfully built a group and organization that possessed the solidarity, the social control over significant numbers of followers, the material resources, and the origanization and political acumen that made it possible to prosper in California and establish an enterprise on the scale of Jonestown. (Hall, 73)
Jones began to form a conglomerate corporate entity, a thriving, independent community funded by the collective donations of the members. Those that "went communal" would hand over some or all of their income and assets to the community, and seniors would sign over their social security checks. In return, the Temple would provide its members with everything from jobs and health care, to tax services and legal advice.

Jones ran bus tours throughout California and the surrounding area, performing faith-healings and seeking converts in the revivalist style of the Pentecostal Christians, and it is estimated that perhaps 50,000 to 100,000 people heard him speak on these tours (69). He would preach in poor, mainly black areas, seeking out the marginalized and speaking to their personal trials in the context of the larger struggle of class and race against the iniquities of an oppressive, segregated and unjust capitalist system. Jones followed the pattern of a black preacher called Father Divine, who is considered by some to be one of the first modern cult leaders (source). Father Divine established several communes in New York during the Depression, and proclaimed himself to be God Himself. Jones at various times claimed to be Marx or Christ reincarnate, and like Father Divine, he encouraged his followers to call him Dad.

The public face of the Peoples Temple was that of a small but devoted Christian church, and they were involved in a number of social work programs. They ran soup kitchens, nursing home facilities, homeless shelters, and addicition treatment programs. Some former addicts became members, and some of those people felt indebted to Jones for saving their lives from drug and alcohol abuse. But other newcomers from northern California were affluent, white college graduates – disenchanted liberals who wanted to become part of a community. They had organizational and professional skills to offer the Temple, and over time, they became Jones' inner circle.

Like Father Divine, many of the members of Jones' staff were white women, who served as secretaries, administrators and representatives for the church. They acted with a great deal of personal autonomy, and they ran many of the day-to-day Temple activities in his name. Carolyn Layton joined with her husband Larry in 1968; she was a high school teacher and Larry was doing alternative service as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. The two were divorced in 1969 after just two years of marriage and thereafter Carloyn became the first and most constant of Jim Jones' lovers. Carolyn's sister, Annie Moore, would follow and join the Temple right out of high school, and they would pay for her to study nursing. Larry remained with the group, and his attractive, eighteen-year-old sister, Debbie, would join as well, explaining in 1971 "By joining Peoples Temple, I hoped to help others and in the process to bring structure and self-discipline to my own life." (Hall, 68) Larry later remarried and his new wife, Karen, would eventually become another of Jones' lovers, as would Maria Katsaris, the daughter of a former Greek Orthodox priest. Carolyn, Karen and Maria would all be found dead with him at Jonestown.

Another couple joined in 1969, Elmer "Mert" Mertle and his wife, Deanna, who each had children from a previous marriage. Mert would quit his job, sell his house in Hayward, and move his family to live with the Peoples Temple, thinking that it would provide them an insulated environment in which to raise their children away from drugs and violence. The Mertles eventually defected from the group and changed their names to escape Jones' wrath, and they would later become his most active opponents. But the most important new follower from California was Timothy Stoen, a talented and idealistic Stanford Law graduate who served as legal counsel for the group from the time he joined until his eventual defection in 1977. John Hall calls him "the hinge upon which the history of the Peoples Temple turned" (211) because not only were his considerable talents instrumental in allowing Jones to deflect legal and political pressure, but also because the custody battle that later ensued over his son turned him into a powerful adversary. In the end, Jones would say

What we'd like to get are the people that caused this stuff, and some, if some people here are prepared and know how to do that, to go in town and get Timothy Stoen .... He's responsible for it. .... He and Deanna Mertle.
Suicide Tape Transcript of the final moments of November 18, 1978
Stoen first met Jim Jones in 1967 and joined the community in 1969, seeking to learn to control his "latent materialism" and his desire for "power and pleasure" (67). With Stoen's help, the Peoples Temple was able to maintain the appearance of legitimacy and protect itself from outside scrutiny. In a wedding officiated by Jones in the summer of 1970, Stoen married Grace Grech, who also came to a position of responsibility in the group. In 1972, Grace gave birth to a son, John Victor Stoen, but in a signed document dated February 6, 1972, Timothy Stoen affirmed:
I, Timothy Oliver Stoen, hereby acknowledge that in April, 1971, I entreated my beloved pastor, James W. Jones, to sire a child by my wife, Grace Lucy (Grech) Stoen, who had previously, at my insistence, reluctantly but graciously consented thereto. James W. Jones agreed to do so, reluctantly, after I explained that I very much wished to raise a child, but was unable, after extensive attempts, to sire one myself. My reason for requesting James W. Jones to do this is that I wanted my child to be fathered, if not by me, by the most compassionate, honest, and courageous human being the would contains.

The child, John Victor Stoen, was born on January 25, 1972. I am priveleged beyond words to have the responsibility for caring for him, and I undertake this task humbly with the steadfast hope that said child will become a devoted follower of Jesus Christ and be instrumental in bringing God's kingdom here on earth, as has been his wonderful natural father.

I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. (Hall, 127)
Upon joining the community, Jones had each member sign several blank sheets of paper as a test of loyalty. Stoen later claimed that he was compelled to sign the document as one of many "acts of trust" that Jones demanded of his followers. To this day, the paternity of "John-John" is uncertain, but whether or not Jones was actually the father, the Temple community regarded him as such, and it was understood that this "god-child" would be the inheritor of Jim Jones' wisdom.

When the Peoples Temple incorporated in California in 1966, claiming just 88 adult members, and by 1968, had grown slowly, numbering only 136. But what had also changed was the makeup of the group. With the help of Temple lawyers Tim Stoen, Gene Chaiken and Charles Garry, and the KXTV-TV news bearau chief Michael Prokes, another member, Jones was able to operate on a much larger scale, becoming a player in the world of benefit dinners, political favor-trading, photo-ops and press releases. With ever-increasing assets and a growing sophistication, the Peoples Temple became a political force unto itself. The Temple gave political donations, made savvy legal decisions, and engaged in numerous PR campaigns to position the group in such a way that they could maintain this dual existence of a socialist commune in the guise of a church. Jones came to master the art of what John Hall called "counterposturing," where he would declaim an idea in order to promote it, resulting in a powerful dialectic of intentional ambiguity. He would create a public image that allowed him to operate freely while simultaneously promoting a decidedly anti-establishment message, using the aura of authority as a minister to promote Stalinist ideals in an age still steeped in McCarthyism.

Thus came Jim Jones's first and greatest deception: using the cover of a church to preach that religion was "the opiate of the people." In the United States, serious discussion of socialism effectively has been excluded from mainstream media, and the subject has become virtually taboo for the population at large. One of Jones's converts, Tim Carter, explained, "Telling people about socialism in America, you'd get 20 people. But as a preacher you could get a large audience." In semipublic services in the early 1970s, as a sort of bait to the interested, Jones would allude to deeper truths than those he was presenting, much as gnostics and mystics had done before him. By the mid-1970s, he became more and more explicit about his socialist vision. Like early twentieth-century Black socialist preachers, he used religion as the most straightforward way to inspire followers: both the Blacks he weaned from "jackleg" Christianity, and Whites who were more interested in the "inner light" and the practice of the social gospel. (Hall, 144)
In 1972, the Temple opened the doors to its new church headquarters at Geary Boulevard and Fillmore Street in San Francisco, and another in Los Angeles shortly afterwards, and by 1973 it claimed 2,500 members. Simultaneously, Jim Jones was laying the plans for a second, more ambitious emigration. In 1974, he acquired a lease from the Communist Guyanese government for 3,852 acres of land in the Orinoco River Basin to "cultivate and beneficially occupy" the land for 25 years, which would set the lease to expire in 1999. Jones, with his unique fusion of Christian Apocalypticism, Stalinist socialism and the "back to Africa" movement that inspired Marcus Garvey and Father Divine, sought to build a utopian commune away from the evils of American capitalism and the imminent threat of nuclear destruction.

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