Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Seductive Poison

30 years ago today that over 900 people died in the People's Temple mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana. Wouldn't it be nice to think that the world learned a lesson from that awful event and vowed the next century would be different? Alas, there seems a straight line from Jonestown to this century's blight of suicide bombings by fundamentalist religious zealots.
Deborah Layton is a Jonestown survivor. She was a high-level member of the People's Temple cult that moved from California to Guyana to build a socialist utopia. She realized the utopia had become a nightmarish dystopia, was able to escape to the US and warn authorities there. Ironically, it was the resulting investigation by U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan that sparked the mass suicide, with Ryan and four others assasinated after they arrived by plane in Guyana. Layton's memoir,Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor's Story of Life and Death in the People's Temple, is a gripping story, even if we know how it all ends.

Journalist Tim Reiterman was with Ryan, and was shot and injured. He reflects on the anniversary in Time Magazine. Reiterman continued to work on the story for years, and in 1982 published the 600+ page, definitive book on Jonestown: Raven: the Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People.

An odd little thing here: CBC journalist Terence McKenna talking about Jonestown on December 1, 1978 on CBC's venerable TV show, Front Page Challenge, as he was one of the first reporters into Jonestown after the massacre. McKenna appears to be about 12 years old, with a big head of 1970s' hair. Panelist Gordon Sinclair asks some tactless questions, as he was wont to do. Need more about FPC? Read Front Page Challenge: History of a Television Legend by Alex Barris.


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