John Africa And Jim Jones
(This week marks the 30th anniversary of the death of over 900 at Jonestown. The similarities between MOVE and the People's Temple are too many for me to ignore. This essay was written some time ago, but I think is just as appropriate now as when I wrote it. -TA)
There are really only a few differences between John Africa and Jim Jones.
Both committed suicide. (John Africa via the method of "suicide by cop")
Both cultivated a personality cult around themselves that grew increasingly paranoid and delusional.
Both were convinced of their utopian visions, but were seemingly immune to the reality that their ideas had dangerous consequences.
Both worked to isolate their followers from society and families thru tried and true authoritarian methodologies.
Both claimed to be fighting injustice, for the poor, and against racism.
Both were sociopaths whose schemes went terribly awry and ended in tragedy.
The reason that Jim Jones is by far the more well known is that unlike John Africa, he was able to attract a huge following. And it was by way of the deaths of his multitude of followers that the name of Jim Jones is synonymous with dangerous cults, while John Africa remains an obscurity, even in his hometown of Philadelphia.
A recent documentary titled "Jonestown Paradise Lost" that aired on the History Channel offered new insights into the horrible events that transpired at Jonestown including interview footage of the son of Jim Jones, one of the few survivors of the carnage in Guyana.
The film documents Jones, who branded himself a "christian socialist" leading his congregation out San Francisco into the jungles of Guyana where he claimed an agrarian utopia could be created.
Unlike John Africa, Jones had connections with and the support of, the Northern Democratic Party and he was compared by then state assemblymen and eventual Mayor Willie Brown to Martin Luther King. An interesting footnote to Brown’s lack of judgement of charachter was his allowance of "Mumia Day" to be officially declared in San Francisco while he was mayor of the city.
The documentary splices actual footage with re-enactments of events that allow for an emotional re-telling of the Jonestown story that does not sacrifice facts in pursuance of asthetics.
The film methodically traces the last days of Jonestown which began as a delegation of reporters, and family members of People’s Temple cultists that was led by Representative Leo Ryan of California’s 11th District. An increasingly paranoid and delusional Jones saw the delegation, which had come to investigate the conditions of Jonestown and follow up on reports of violent repression as a sign that the end of his experiment in the jungle was soon to end.
Just as the delegation with some cult members who wanted to leave in tow, was about to leave they were attacked by Jones’s gunmen. Later that day the remaining cult members were called upon by Jones to kill themselves. Some did willingly, others were murdered. Just like with John Africa, children were not spared the savagery.
Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the film is the interview with the son of Jim Jones who escaped the mass suicide because he, and the cult’s basketball team were out of town when the end came.
Stephan Jones, now a middle aged family man says he never greived for his father. He says that "I knew, I had known for a long time, that my father was nuts".
In another poigniant moment he claims that "every hour of the day, Jim Jones knew he was a fraud."
In the end the fraud that was Jim Jones led to 900 deaths.
John Africa’s manical actions led to the death of 11 including himself.
The disparity in magnitude is clear, however the tragedy and pointlessness of both incidents are the same.
But while there is nothing left of the Peoples Temple but a terrible legacy, MOVE continues on it’s bloody path, indoctrinating yet another generation with it’s nihilistic system of backwardness.