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Peoples Temple


Leslie Wagner-Wilson, now 56, says the stigma of surviving the Jonestown disaster of the Peoples Temple has blighted her life. She reports “going through hell” after her escape from Guyana, including drug addiction, three failed marriages, and considerations of suicide, all of which she discussed in her 2009 memoir, Slavery of Faith. “Twenty years I was in denial,” she says. “So as time wore on I’ve got through the post-traumatic stress, I’ve moved past the survivor’s guilt, depression.” (Grio, 12/4/13) [IT 5.1 2014] 

Reviewing the history of the Peoples Temple and the Jonestown disaster, one finds that 75% of Temple members were African American, and that a majority of these were women. As the population with the greatest investment in the philosophy, ethos, and mission of the Peoples Temple, these members were “the backbone” of the church and also its primary victims. It’s troubling, then, that few women survivors have written book-length accounts of their experiences. (The best articles by women followers appear on the Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple website.) A 2012 Kaiser Foundation/Washington Post poll suggests that the preponderance of women is explained by the finding that black women are among the most religious people in the country. Temple leader Jim Jones exploited this religiosity. (Religion Dispatches, 11/18/13) [IT 5.1 2014]

Jonestown survivor Tracy Diaz, formerly Tracy Parks, recounts her first-hand experience of the People’s Temple, from California days through her bloody escape from death in Guyana, in a lengthy article in the Ukiah [CA] Daily Journal of 12/13/08. Meanwhile, Jackie Speier, assistant to slain Congressman Leo Ryan who joined him in his ill-fated investigation of the People’s Temple, recounts her experience in a three-part, November, 2008 Los Angeles Times article. [csr 8.1, 2009)

Zimbardo believes that at the heart of the controversy over the existence of mind control is the belief that people can “resist the power of such situational forces.” But he notes in this regard that “examples abound that challenge this person-power misattribution,” and he cites historical examples that give the lie to the assumption, from Stalin’s Moscow show trials and Chinese thought reform during the Korean War era to various CIA projects and the “persuasive bidding” of . . . Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones.” In addition, he says, “the power of social institutions to induce ‘ego alien’ behavior over even the best and the brightest of people” has been demonstrated experimentally.[csr 2.1 2003]