What candidate went to Jonestown?
December 18, 2007 10:54 AM   Subscribe

Who is C. Hitchens talking about when he says a presidential candidate "followed the "Rev." Jim Jones to a Kool-Aid resort in Guyana"? (He claims that this actually happened!?!)
posted by griseus to Law & Government (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Wikipedia is your friend.

James Warren "Jim" Jones (May 13, 1931 – November 18, 1978) was the American founder of the Peoples Temple, which became synonymous with group suicide after the November 18, 1978 mass murder-suicide by poison in their isolated agricultural intentional community called Jonestown, located in Guyana. Over nine hundred people died from cyanide poisoning or gunshot wounds in the aftermath of Jones ordering his men to kill visiting Congressman Leo Ryan and numerous members of his entourage.

posted by worker_bee at 11:01 AM on December 18, 2007

That is a bit puzzling...

I do know that Jerry Brown supposedly attended services at the People's Temple when it was still located in California... but the Guyana reference? Not a clue.
posted by MiaWallace at 11:02 AM on December 18, 2007

Sorry, I meant to add that presumably he is saying that the candidate is leading both himself and his followers to (political) suicide.
posted by worker_bee at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2007

Here's a response to that sentence on Daily Kos.
posted by witchstone at 11:03 AM on December 18, 2007


I don't think Leo Ryan counts, because the only reason he went to Jonestown was to investigate human rights violations, not to hobnob with the "Rev". He never ran for president, either.
posted by MiaWallace at 11:06 AM on December 18, 2007

Can he mean Leo Ryan? It's a strange reference, though, because Ryan visited Jonestown (and was murdered there) on behalf of families who had lost members to the cult.
posted by maryh at 11:10 AM on December 18, 2007 [1 favorite]

For those too lazy to follow the Daily Kos link, Hitchens is either referring to Leo Ryan or Mervyn Dymally. If it's the former, then Hitchens is a douchebag for insinuating that someone that went to investigate the abuses at Jonestown was somehow a follower. Leo Ryan was actually murder by followers of Jones in Guyana. Fearing the repercussions of such may have precipitated the infamous Kool-Aid.

If it's the latter, then Hitchens is just a bit obscure, since Dymally isn't really that well known.
posted by Nelsormensch at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2007

I know about Leo Ryan, and don't think that's who Hitchens is referring to. The Daily Kos article, which I hadn't seen before, mentions Mervyn Dymally, who I know nothing about. This is puzzling. Any other ideas?
posted by griseus at 11:11 AM on December 18, 2007

Did Dymally run for prez?
posted by desuetude at 11:33 AM on December 18, 2007

Note that Hitchens only says "a candidate," not "a presidential candidate." Given that, I'd say Leo Ryan fits the bill.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2007

Given what a dirty player Hitchens is I would not be surprised in the least if he was sneakily trying to implicate Ryan. The man is a lizard.
posted by Cosine at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2007

Dymally can't run for president. He was born in Trinidad.
posted by faster than a speeding bulette at 11:44 AM on December 18, 2007

But Ryan left for Jonestown on 11/14/78, which was only a week after he won reelection to the house. Given that, it seems like a stretch to call him a "candidate" at the time. Not saying he isn't who Hitchens was going after, just another datapoint making Ryan an odd fit to that line.
posted by epugachev at 11:54 AM on December 18, 2007

Slate commentors are saying Dymally. From a linked Time article:
Politicians were particularly impressed. Governor Jerry Brown came to the Peoples Temple. San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, who received important help from Jones in his close 1975 election, appointed him to the city's housing authority in 1976. (Said the mayor about last week's horror: "I proceeded to vomit and cry.") The sheriff and district attorney were temple visitors, but Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally outdid them all by dropping in on the 27,000-acre plantation in Guyana that Jones had acquired in 1974.
posted by epugachev at 12:01 PM on December 18, 2007

So...for what was Dymally a candidate? Bah, I suspect that Hitchens is mistakenly referencing Jerry Brown.
posted by desuetude at 12:28 PM on December 18, 2007

Jackie Spier was also there as a part of Leo Ryan's investigation, and has been a successful candidate and politician in California since then. It does seem dirty pool to cast the investigators as "followers". Jim Jones was very influential in local San Francisco politics before he left for Guyana, serving on local commissions and turning out the votes for the progressive machine here. Most politicians were keeping their distance, though, by the time he went to South America, as I understand it.
posted by gingerbeer at 1:18 PM on December 18, 2007

Weird, I took the original quote as an analogy: so-and-so candidate will (metaphorically) follow [who? I'm not sure] to mass suicide.
posted by serazin at 1:19 PM on December 18, 2007

I don't think Hitchens was saying any specific candidate did any of the litany of things necessarily, but if they did he would have a problem with them.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:22 PM on December 18, 2007

Pollomacho , the quoted line is
A candidate who followed the "Rev." Jim Jones to a Kool-Aid resort in Guyana (don't forget that this did actually happen)
I'm sure he meant a specific candidate, but didn't fact check himself. I also really doubt it was Dymally, but I'm sure when and if Hitchens responds to the question he'll use that as his source. Like desuetude, I suspect he actually meant Brown but misremembered the gov.'s relationship with Jones along with Ryan's trip. ("Yeah, sure, Mervyn Dymally, that's the ticket! Yeah, it was Mervyn Dymally all along, yeah...")
posted by maryh at 2:42 PM on December 18, 2007

Did you read the Whole list?

A candidate who was a member of Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood or the Nation of Islam
A candidate who was a supporter or member of the Orange Order or the Ulster Unionist Party

is there a politician in America who was a member of Hezbollah? Nevermind the Orange Order or Ulster Unionists.

Did you consider that perhaps he is equating all these different religious beliefs to each other as pointless dangerous outlets of rage?

I would recommend it.
posted by Megafly at 2:48 PM on December 18, 2007

Megafly: Again, here's the line in question-
A candidate who followed the "Rev." Jim Jones to a Kool-Aid resort in Guyana (don't forget that this did actually happen)

If he hadn't made a point of reminding his readers that this was an actual event, then there would be no reason to ask who he was referring to in the first place.
posted by maryh at 3:13 PM on December 18, 2007

Um, yeah, I'm with megafly. I don't think Hitchens was saying that there was a candidate who had followed James Jones or done any of the other things on the list, but that if there was such a hypothetical candidate, you'd want to be able to criticize him publicly and vote against him.

(But though I completely agree with Hitchens that Huckabee verges on theocracy and with Ron Paul - scary as it is to admit that - that Juckabee's latest campaign ad evokes "It Can't Happen Here", I'm not sure I follow the logic to the immediate loss of my ability to criticize a candidate's religion.)
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:25 PM on December 18, 2007

Juckabee? Huckabee.

And I somehow discounted the parenthetical as Hitchen's typical hyperbole.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 3:30 PM on December 18, 2007

And I somehow discounted the parenthetical as Hitchen's typical hyperbole.

Hyperbole or not, he made an assertion that an actual, not hypothetical, candidate "followed the "Rev." Jim Jones to a Kool-Aid resort in Guyana". That's the point of the OP's question- Who was this candidate?
posted by maryh at 3:35 PM on December 18, 2007

It came to Hitchens in a hazy gin-dream. No need to over-analyze.
posted by Jimbob at 3:57 PM on December 18, 2007

Hitch must have heard that a congressman died at Guyana and not reailzed it was while in the line of investigating Jim Jones. Ryan was an amazing politician who was known for rolling up his sleeves to look into everything from seal clubbing to California prison conditions.

This isn't very well known, but Ryan became concerned about the West Coast cult phenomenon after a nephew of his landed in debt to Scientology, then disappeared. Meanwhile, he joined a House investigation probing the activities of the Reverend Moon.

My favorite Ryan quote is found in a letter to a distraught constituent who had fallen in with the L. Ron Hubbardites. "It's too bad there isn't a 20th Century Charles Dickens to write about the terrible destruction of these 20th Century fagins who make themselves rich while they destroy the psyche of so many." (Ryan was a former English teacher.)
posted by johngoren at 7:27 PM on December 18, 2007

(correction--to a constituent whose kid had joined Scientology.)
posted by johngoren at 7:30 PM on December 18, 2007

Highly odd -- the facts of the Ryan (and Spier) visit -- and its devastating, unspeakable aftermath -- are so well known, at least in California. Nothing to do with "following."
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 7:51 PM on December 18, 2007

I think either Hitchens is clumsily smearing Ryan as a Jones supporter, or forgetting that Jerry Brown only visited the People's Temple in San Francisco.

Or maybe he meant Jackie Speier.

Hard to tell -- it's a weird comment.
posted by dhartung at 10:24 PM on December 18, 2007

The recent documentary on Jonestown included funny footage of future SF mayor Willie Brown singing the praises of Jim Jones.
posted by johngoren at 12:16 AM on December 19, 2007

How about emailing Hitchens or Slate to ask?
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 6:48 AM on December 19, 2007

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