Skip to comments.Jim Jones & Harvey Milk: The Secret History
Posted on 10/16/2018 7:44:06 PM PDT by ReformationFan
Next month marks the 40th anniversary of two landmark events of American popular culture: the assassination of pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk, and the mass suicide of 900 members of the Peoples Temple cult.
If you remember anything about the mass suicide, its probably that cult leader Jim Jones was a fundamentalist Christian demon whose Bible-thumping berated brainwashed followers into drinking cyanide-laced Kool-Aid.
Harvey Milk, by contrast, is a folk hero. The San Francisco supervisor became a gay-rights saint because he was martyred by a right-wing fanatic.
Thats the received history in both cases. But according to author Daniel Flynn, its scarcely truth at all, but rather propaganda. And the way history remembers these men and the time and place that made them offers a dire warning to us today.
Flynns new book Cult City: Jim Jones, Harvey Milk, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books) is a bold, at times shocking work of revisionist history that challenges what we think we know about both men and the murderous events that brought them to national prominence.
Flynn reveals that Jones was in fact a socialist fanatic who, far from the theological and cultural fringes, was a key player in left-wing San Francisco politics. Flynn also shows that Milk was an opportunist and a showboater who was willing to use extremist rhetoric and in one case, indulge in outing to advance his political career. His assassin was not a homicidal homophobe, but a hotheaded former political ally furious over Milks political betrayal.
And, most bizarrely of all, Milk and Jones were friends and allies. That was the kind of place San Francisco was in the 1970s, says Flynn, who agreed to do an interview with me by e-mail:
RD: I was shocked to discover that Jim Jones and Harvey Milk were allies in the politics of 1970s San Francisco. Before we get into the details of that alliance, what does the fact that it existed have to do with the title of your book, Cult City?
DANIEL FLYNN: San Francisco suffered the hangover after the high.
Following the day-glo 1960s exemplified by the Summer of Love, Haight-Ashbury, and Golden Gate Parks Human Be-In, San Francisco became a very dark place. The Zodiac Killer taunting the cops, the Zebra Murders racially targeting white people, the terrorism of the New World Liberation Front leading to a bomb placed on Dianne Feinsteins windowsill, among other frightening acts. The Symbionese Liberation Armys kidnapping of Patty Hearst, and so much else made a beautiful city ugly. Political crazies and just plain crazies intermingled with little to differentiate the two.
This worked as the ideal milieu for Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. It fit in to its time and place, even if it stands out to us forty years later.
The Temples politicized theology really grabbed Harvey Milk, a man heretofore largely indifferent to faith. Jim Jones promoted gay rights, which appealed to Harvey Milk. Beyond this, he provided his campaigns volunteers, a printing press, and publicity through his widely distributed newspaper. When Milk organized a fair on Castro Street, Peoples Temple provided professional-level entertainers. When his lover committed suicide, Temple members sent dozens of condolence letters inviting Milk to visit or even live in Jonestown.
Milk clearly found his association with Jim Jones exhilarating. It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach[ed] today, he wrote Jim Jones after one Temple service. I was sorry that I had to leave after 4 short hours . I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave.
In exchange for all that, Milk provided legitimacy to Jim Jones. He spoke at Peoples Temple. He praised it in his column in the Bay Area Reporter. He lobbied on Joness behalf to President Jimmy Carter, Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Joseph Califano, Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, and other powerful figures. As Cult City shows, this proved disastrous for many people.
So many local leaders enthusiastically vouching for Jim Jones made it easier for people in positions of responsibility far away to dismiss the charges against him as fantastical. Before the poor drank Jim Joness Kool Aid in South America, the powerful did in San Francisco.
I was a kid when the Jonestown mass suicide took place, and always assumed that Jim Jones was some kind of fundamentalist Christian. In fact, he and his Peoples Temple were very much the opposite. What were they really about?
I had the same experience. I write about it briefly in the acknowledgments. Perhaps we both thought that because media initially reported this Bible-thumping Jim Jones as fact, and that first draft of history stuck.
The New York Times, for instance, described Joness preaching as fundamentalist Christianity immediately after the tragedy. They knew better. A.M. Rosenthal, the managing editor of the paper, several years earlier ridiculed the first expose on the Temple by a religion writer in the San Francisco Examiner, explaining to a Temple member: We do expect to be attacked by people like Lester Kinsolving and others who have political axes to grind.
In reality, Peoples Temple used the trappings of Pentecostal Christianity to win over large numbers of people to socialism. Jim Jones ridiculed the Bible, stomped on it in front of his flock, and instructed his followers to use it as toilet paper when their supply of the luxury ran out in Jonestown. The rest that Temple survivors told me about this really dropped my jaw.
The Nation stood as one of the few outlets to accurately report on Peoples Temples outlook in the aftermath of the tragedy. The temple was as much a left-wing political crusade as a church, the weekly noted. In the course of the 1970s, its social program grew steadily more disaffected from what Jim Jones came to regard as a Fascist America and drifted rapidly toward outspoken Communist sympathies.
In members occasionally donning red uniforms, frequently singing The Internationale, and teaching Russian to Jonestown inhabitants, Peoples Temple advertised its political creed. Jones even politicized the groups grisly coda, calling it revolutionary suicide as though the nihilistic act contained some higher ideological purpose. Who Jones borrowed this revolutionary suicide concept from, and how it slowly developed within the Temple, may surprise a lot of readers.
The received story about Harvey Milk is that he is a secular saint. In fact, as you show, he was sexually involved with underage boys, and he was willing to use slanderous extreme rhetoric against his opponents, even other gay people. Why have these facts been shoved down the memory hole?
When a supporter discovered that Milk had fabricated a tale of a dishonorable discharge from the Navyonly in San Francisco would a politician lie about his honorable service to enhance credibilityMilk responded, Symbols. Symbols. Symbols.
In death, Milk the man became Milk the mytha human symbol of something greater than himself. Men are complicated. Myths? Not so much. The need to be neat and pure.
Gays understandably tried to make sense of a senseless act. Rather than a petty man seeking murderous redress for a petty grievance, the assassination of Harvey Milk became an act of homophobia and its victim a martyr of the gay rights movement.
Part of this mythology involves creating a caricature of Dan White and his motives. What I discovered about Milks assassin from interviewing people close to him really floored me. I will leave all that for the book. The other part of the equation of the mythologizing involves transforming Harvey Milk, who authored one single city ordinancesensibly ordering dog owners to clean up the mess their pets leavein his 11 months in office into a colossal figure (and a secular saint).
Saints require saintliness. Harvey Milk acted as a great friend, demonstrated a terrific sense of humor, exhibited an amazing penchant for reinvention, and tenaciously served the causes in which he believed. He was not a saint.
His biggest critics are not right wingers (John Briggs [a retired California politician best known for an anti-gay bill RD] clearly conveyed to me in our conversation how much he enjoyed Milks company) but gay men, several of whom spoke to me for this book. Other gay men jealously guard Milks legacy. One refused to answer my questions but instead began asking me questions about my book. Theres a bowdlerized quality to books on Harvey Milk. I hope this book helps to change that. Affirmative action history with varying standards for people according to identity politics isnt history. Its propaganda. My aim is not to make Milk into a monster, but a man. Men are flawed. People who choose to worship a man find this hard to accept.
Jim Jones has been largely forgotten today, but I think it matters that people today, if they think of him at all, remember him as a lone cult crazy, like a predecessor of David Koresh or Warren Jeffs. In fact, before he exiled himself and his congregation to Guyana, he was a mainstream left-wing figure of his time and place. Why has our historical memory been falsified?
Jim Jones held private meetings with Jimmy Carters running mate Walter Mondale and his wife, Rosalynn Carter, during the 1976 presidential campaign. San Francisco Mayor George Moscone appointed him chairman of the citys Housing Commission Authority, effectively making him the citys largest landlord (scary when thinking of how he treated his tenants in Guyana). Jane Fonda, Huey Newton, Angela Davis, and others heaped praise upon him. Willie Brown compared him to Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi.
Jones was very much in with the in crowd. Then he orchestrated the murders of more than 900 people. At this point, the evangelical atheist and committed Communist morphed into a power-hungry fascist in the words of Walter Cronkite, and his followers became religious zealots in the words of the Associated Press.
The reasons for this Jedi Mind Trick appear pretty obvious. Many powerful politicians killed investigations of Peoples Temple. Many famous journalists, including San Francisco Chronicle mainstay Herb Caen, acted as boosters for Jim Jones. Many had blood on their hands. Beyond this, Jones discredited the politicians who aided and abetted him and the political causes they valued. So, they turned him into something he was not.
When one thinks of weak but frequent attempts to link mass murderers to political figures without any evidenceone thinks of the lame gambit to tie Tucson mass murderer Jared Lee Loughner to Sara Palin and the Tea Partythe disassociation of Jim Jones from the very real friendships and alliances he forged with San Francisco Democratic elies astounds. He was close to Supervisor Harvey Milk, future San Francisco mayors Willie Brown and Art Agnos, and California Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, who actually made a pilgrimage to Jonestown and colored himself impressed.
On the other hand, the fact that so many journalists had skin in the game helps explain why, after providing laudatory coverage of Jones during his life, they danced around the subject of his famous friends and fashionable causes after his death. Journalists had compromised themselves.
You say in your conclusion that the lessons of Jonestown remain unlearned? Explain.
People lied. People died.
People died. People lied.
Jim Jones could not have killed 918 people without politicians, journalists, and activists running interference for him. They mistook ideology for ethics, a mistake common to fanatics of all stripes. Rather than learn from this mistake, they compounded it by portraying Jones posthumously as someone he was not to protect their ideology, shield their political skullduggery, and absolve themselves from the journalistic sin of performing PR instead of real reporting.
Cult City is a case study in the worst that can happen when powerful people look away from evil because the evildoer shares their politics. This repeats itself in the Jonestown post mortem, which witnesses a massive attempt to suppress the whole point of Peoples Temple: to promote left-wing politics. Because the truth discredits famous people and favored causes, the cable-TV documentaries and newspaper retrospectives that surely commemorate the 40th anniversary of the tragedy next month go into contortions to maneuver around the truth.
Jim Jones believed in making heaven on earth. Like so many others devoted to that proposition, he ended up making hell on earth. Jonestown, and the politicians who helped make it happen, is a truly amazing storybut an untold one. I think curious people who want to know the truth of what happened in this stranger-than-fiction tale will want to read my book.
The book is Cult City: Harvey Milk, Jim Jones, and 10 Days That Shook San Francisco (ISI Books), by Daniel Flynn.
Others, including some of the survivors, have also revealed that Jones & Milk were close. And so were Jones & Jerry Brown and other California politicians as well as churches.
Liberalism is a cult
\ was omitted that the murder of milk is what started Feinstein et alii on their gun control rampage.
I wuz there.
Wow, do I remember the Jim Jones, Peoples Temple thing. Inwas a first year junior college student and a ham radio operator. I was always trying to contact a new country and get a QSL card from them to verify it.
One day I was listening and heard a station from French Guyana which I had never contacted. I tried ab\nd contacted them. They said They would send me their station QSL card if I sent them a US Postal Service Reply Coupon that would pay for their postage. I agreed and sent it.
A few weeks later the Jim Jones mass suicide happened. I did not think anything about it. About two weeks later my father came into the house mad as hell after going by the PO Box on his way home. There was a letter for me from the Peoples Temple thanking me for my contribution and also having their station QSL card confirming the contact. Well, that was the first time I knew who they were and it took a lot of explaining to my father to get out of trouble. I still have the card.
Jones and Williie Brown. Jim Jones and Diane Feinstein Jim Jones and Moscow. Any democrat in SF politics would go and kiss Jones ass. After the massacre they turned the story into Jones was a Christian leader, instead of one of their commie buddies
Yes, they were a communist commune and turned out like most do.
Tim Reiterman in his book RAVEN gives a biography of Jim Jones and a fairly even-handed story of the People’s Temple. But he understates Jones’ complete commitment to communism. He does not mention that the audio recording of Jones while the Kool-Aid murder/suicides are happening are of a harangue about socialism. He should have included an entire transcript in the appendix.
Congressman Ryan who was murdered by the People’s Temple in Guyana also pandered to the pavilion crowd saying that for many “Jonestown was the best thing” that ever happened to them. But Jones learned that people were handing notes to Ryan informing him that they wanted to leave Jonestown. It was this PR embarrassment which led to the murders at the airstrip and the subsequent mass poisoning.
The basic fact is that Jim Jones could turn out 300-1000 people for a political event. In a city the size of San Francisco, that is power, pure and simple.
Amazing how we trip into the periphery of historical events.
After the Jonestown people killed the Congressman, one of the alternatives they considered was fleeing to the Soviet Union.
Yes. This is where the phrase “Don’t Drink the Kool-aid” comes from. Because the Kool-aid , this time, had cyanide in it. They had routine drills where they had to drink Kool-aid. The reason was this time where there was a threat to the commune and all must die.
Jim Jones was NEVER a fundamentalist Christian. Fake news.
The real story is that Rev. Jim Jones (Love the “Rev” part, just like in “Rev” Al Sharpton - charlatan) was a raging Marxist fanatic who used the cover of religion to create his “cult” of the dispossessed, low economic poor, as W.E. B. DuBois once said, “as cannonfodder for the Communist Party” (or in this case, Jonestown).
Remember, Jones’ own people shoot those who wouldn’t drink the Koolaid as well as Rep. Ryan (D-NY), one of the weirdest leftist members of congress at that time. Unfortunately, they missed killing Jones’ two commie lawyers, id. CPUSA member Charles R. Gary (with whom Hillary did her internship on the Black Panther New Haven torture murder trial re Alex Rackley) and Mark Lane, “Rush to Judgement” the disinformation book about the Kennedy Assassination and “Conversations with Americans”, another hoax book about so-called Vietnam veterans who committed atrocities in Vietnam (Leftist journalist Neil Sheehan, to his credit, discredited this book after many months of actual research revealed that most of those who claimed to have committed atrocities in VN were either not there, not in the military, or not in combat units.
Harvey Milk is his own story and the praising film, I believe it was called simply “MILK” and a documentary about him, left out a lot of what Daniel Flynn has written about.
By the way, for my bonifides, I debated Lane on television in 1970 and basically wiped the studio with him because of his lying and then admitting that he never read any of the VN atrocity reports on what the communists were doing there. This even pissed off the liberal moderator who criticized Lane on air for NOT reading the materials I was showing the audience before he criticized them and me.
Game, set, match with the sane viewers despite the reds packed studio audience.
You’ve got to know the whole story about so-called social leaders (Lane, Jones, Milk, Sharpton, even Ralph Abernathy - who later defected from the reds - because their often is a greater “truth” than what the liberal/left media said and wrote about them.
If half the stories I was told about various people, events and organizations were true, I wouldn’t be typing here at FR, I would own it from the sales of my articles and books.
And yes, in some cases, there are photographs and documents (buried away in hopefully un-destroyed files), that might, yet, see the light of day.
“ordering dog owners to clean up the mess their pets leave”
I get it, but to put that single accomplishment in perspective: the current SF regime that can’t get the homeless to do the same.
You can't the Nazi out of the German...
Out of all those leftist luminaries, Harvey Milk was the only one so far to get a Forever commemorative postage stamp out of it. The USPS may be completely sold out by now, but I'd pass it over many times when I bought stamps and wondered who in the heck he was. Now I at least have an overview.
I remember the Jim Jones mass suicide and murder of his brainwashed followers and the metaphor that came from it about Kool Aid. The comparison to leftist ideologues was interesting; otherwise it was more than I really cared to know.
That Hale Bopp cult was similar but different. And I resent the comparison to fundamentalist Christianity. Any leader who would blaspheme God's word and recommend to his followers what to use the pages for is no Christian even if he borrowed some of it to serve his own purpose.
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