There are many different huge events throughout history that have greatly impacted both society and culture. Events like The Civil Rights Movement, the 9/11 Attacks, and the Columbine Shootings all had wide, long-lasting effects on our world. In Silent Shift, we focus on the smaller, less publicized events.

Events that silently shifted our culture, as well as changed how we live our lives. In this edition of Silent Shift, we focus on the collapse of the Hippie Movement, and the religious movement that was born from it, for better or worse.

In the 1970s, something strange occurred. The youths of the West Coast, youths who had spent years preaching peace and love, started to move back towards structured religion. Specifically, a wave of new evangelicals, preachers and all around crackpots emerged in former hippy hotspots.

This movement gave new life to a generation who had just survived a war and a corrupt presidency. While many of these new faith sects were born in enthusiasm and wholesomeness, a cult of personality began to coalesce around the movement, as strands of cult behavior emerged.

This is how the faith movement of the 1970s both changed and corrupted modern day America.

Genesis

As America entered the 1970s, the country was in disarray. The decade prior had brought about a savage war, political corruption, and several prominent assassinations. The youth of the nation, looking to break away from the War Hawk mentality of their forefathers, started looking towards pacified means to get their new age message across.

The hippie movement began in earnest in the mid-1960s. As the media’s coverage of the escalating Vietnam War began to become more explicit and transparent, the baby boomers saw it for what it was; needless bloodshed. Youths from around the country began to preach peace and love, as a new counterculture emerged.

It didn’t last long, though. Corruption quickly poisoned the movement, as hippie hotspots, like Haight Ashbury, became dens of sexual assault and heavy drug use. A movement that preached love and tolerance was violent and manipulative behind closed doors.

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Charles Manson.

The zenith of this building violence occurred in the summer of 1969, “The Summer of Love” when members of the Manson Family murdered Sharon Tate in her home. The brutality of the violence, and those who perpetrated it, seemingly shattered the hippie movement overnight. The hypocrisy of the movement became clear, and a whole generation found themselves left out to dry, their moral compass pointing in every which way but north.

It was in this moment of confusion and loss, that a new movement was silently born.

Exodus

When the pacified ways of the hippie movement led to nothing but more corruption and deceit, a generation of peace free young adults were left seemingly stranded. Searching for meaning in this new nihilistic world led people to reach out, striving for a new cause. New movements began to blossom up and down the West Coast.

While some of these groups followed the new age rhetoric that the hippie movement birthed, many former hippies found themselves flocking back to their old religious stomping ground, finding a reborn faith in Christianity.

Jesus Movement

A generation that once fled from their parents’ religion had now found themselves left in a world without meaning. The surge of support that once powered the hippie movement had seemingly died overnight. It was in this void of theology that the Jesus Movement began. But, the Jesus Movement wasn’t born overnight. It had already been growing steam in the previous decades, just not on the West Coast.

Christianity saw a huge surge in the United States during the 1950s. A country at peace and prosperity, people found that they once again had time for their faith. It was during this time that the country began to lean into its faith, such as adding “Under God”  to the Pledge of Allegiance in 1954, and adding “In God We Trust” on our paper currency, as well as making it our national motto, in 1957.

Then the 1960s happened. A decade of war, civil unrest, and political assassinations brought a waning faith to the country. People focused more on surviving this new, harsher American landscape. But, while the faith began to shrink on the coasts, it only grew more rabid in the south.

It was here that the Jesus Movement began.

Charismatic Movement

First called the Charismatic Movement, this new religious zealotry began to take prominence in the American South. Mainly preached by former Protestants and Roman Catholics, this religion had a focus on the religious experiences associated with the church. Pastors would preach about their own literal experiences with god, such as talking in tongues. Specific denominations of Christianity still follow these teachings, such as the Pentecostal faith.

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Pentecostal Preacher Oral Roberts preaching to a crowd.

Through the early years of the ’70s, youth evangelical leaders began to preach throughout the West Coast of America. Thousands of disenfranchised young men and women began to flock to this new faith, believing they had found their new home. In these early years, religious leaders would preach the same core principles that the hippie movement had been built on while interweaving the Christian religion within. Pejoratively dubbed “Jesus Freaks,” these youth helped build the movement into a religious renaissance.

From these preachings, two major sects began to form. These disenfranchised youths began to flock to these two groups, looking for structure and faith. While both groups formed wholesomely, their leaders quickly began to abuse their power, leading to the corruptions these kids had once run away from.

Shiloh

The Shiloh Youth Revival Centers were the largest concentration of congregants in the Jesus Movement. Created in 1968, founder John Higgins catered to the newly disenfranchised youth, offering them communal houses to continue their simplistic way of life. The group’s numbers soared in the 1970s, as more and more communal houses formed. At their height, the Shiloh group boasted over 100,000 members living among 175 communal houses.In 1970, John Higgins created a new headquarters for the group outside of Dexter, Oregon, called “The Land.” It is here that a majority of the higher ranking members of the faith lived.

The group continued in earnest through the majority of the 1970s. Like many grassroots movements, the group was entirely communal, meaning every member had to do their fair share of the work. Money was also pooled together, all wages going to the administration, to be dispersed when needs rose.

It was in this system of pooled wages that corruption began. In 1978, board members of the group called for the resignation of founder John Higgins, on the basis that he had used funds for his own purposes. Instead of arguing his case, Higgins quietly stepped down as leader of the group.

With his resignation came the near destruction of the entire movement. Some stayed on in Oregon, attempting to keep the faith. The movement saw complete dissolution in 1989 after the few remaining members lost a court battle with the IRS over charitable funds.

Shiloh was a true grassroots movement, with a wholesome message that they, for the most part, saw through to the end. The same cannot be said for the other prominent Jesus Movement group, a group that still has followers to this day.

The Children Of God

This is important to say off the top; The Children of God, now known as The Family International, is a cult. Shiloh was an earnest attempt to follow the teaching of Christ through simple means. The Children Of God Church preached a facade of religious teachings and communal living, while behind the scenes, it was filled with horrific acts of pedophilia and incest. Readers be warned.

David Berg first founded the church in 1968. Berg was a former missionary minister, who, from a young age, was afflicted with hypersexuality. Berg started the church, then known as Teens for Christ, in Hunting Beach, California. The group quickly grew in membership, and with their new popularity came a name change, becoming the Children of God.

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Early followers of Berg’s Cult.

The newfound power soon went to Berg’s head. He changed his name to Moses David, and began to write long, rambling scriptures to his followers, dubbed “Mo Letters.” It is in these letters that we can start to see the true sexual deviancy that Berg ascribed to. By the time of his death, he had written 3 thousand of these letters.

“Flirty Fishing”

The church began to grow immensely. Thousands of converts joined the church around the world. Even celebrities began to flock to the church, as Jeremy Spencer, founder of Fleetwood Mac, left the band to join the church.  The numbers weren’t growing fast enough for Berg, though. In the mid-1970s, Berg introduced “Flirty Fishing.”

In layman’s terms, a woman of the church would prostitute themselves in an attempt to find converts, as well as grow the churches numbers with their pregnancies. This practice ran from 1974 until 1987, with 200 thousand men being “fished.” From this practice, several prominent celebrities were born, such as Joaquin and River Phoenix, and Rose McGowan.

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In 1978, the church came under fire when (true) allegations of child abuse arose. Accusations that Berg had been molesting his granddaughter surfaced along with them. The church rebranded, calling themselves The Family Of Love, as Berg went into hiding, traveling around the world to avoid authorities.

Story of Davidito

During this time, Karen Zerby, Berg’s wife, gave birth to Ricky Rodriguez. Mothered by Zerby and a hotel employee in the Canary Islands, Ricky was considered a living god in the cult. Rebranded as “Davidito,” Berg and Zerby used Ricky’s upbringing for their own malicious purposes. In 1982, the Children of God published the book “The Story Of Davidito.” It was meant to be a guide to members of the faith on child raising.

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Instead, it was a 762 paged book that promoted open pedophilia and incest. Ricky, as well as dozens of other children, were subject to horrific abuse throughout their childhood, and this book was both an instruction manual and a tomb for those memories.

Ricky’s Revenge

As Ricky became an adult, he broke away from the church. He hoped to be able to heal from his painful past, but years of abuse created too large of an emotional and mental scar to recover from. In early 2000, Ricky began to plan his revenge.

It was already too late to exact vengeance on Berg, who had died in 1994, having never answered for his crimes. Ricky still had two other names on his list; Susan Joy Kauten, a former nanny and abuser of Ricky’s, and Zerby, his mother and current head of the cult.

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In 2005, after locating Kauten, Ricky invited her to his home, under the pretense of “catching up.” There, he stabbed her to death. Later that same evening, unable to take the weight of the crime he just committed, Ricky killed himself.

Zerby continues to run the cult, under its new title The Family International. Her whereabouts are still unknown, as she, like her deceased husband, flees from authorities and angry former members alike. in a final act of profanation on Ricky’s life, Zerby has transformed him into a martyr for the church, ensnaring him back into the fold after death.

Leviticus

While both the Shiloh movement and the Children of God were both born out of the Jesus Movement, that isn’t to say that other sects of religious ideology didn’t descend upon the newly shell-shocked West Coast. Several already established movements found reprieve in this new land of theological opportunity. One religious movement was able to use this wave of new world religious openness to become one of the most powerful, and notorious, religions in the entire world.

The Church of Scientology

Founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, The Church of Scientology had slowly built its ranks before the Jesus Movement of the 1970s. Hubbard was a popular science fiction author through the ’40s and ’50s. He was a voracious writer, publishing over a thousand books, and earning himself a Guinness World Record for it.

He was also a habitual liar, telling outlandish tales about his life. None of his stories were built in truth, instead of putting forth an image of the ultimate explorer, fighter, and man. This is how Hubbard wanted the world to see him.

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L. Ron Hubbard.

But, it wasn’t enough. He needed more. How perfect can a man really be? Man is still fallible, vulnerable, and finite. To become truly perfect, one must transcend being a man. One must become a god.

Dianetics

In 1950, Hubbard published what would be the first version of what was to become Scientology; Dianetics. The book touted a new “Psychological Health Science.” Its focus was on the Analytical mind (conscious) and the Reactive mind (unconscious). The book explained a new way to clear one’s mind, to find and terminated traumatic memories.

This new psychological technique didn’t impress the mental health community. The book was immediately rebuffed by medical and scientific professionals, such as physicist Isidor Isaac Rabi and psychoanalyst Erich Fromm. The American Psychological Association went on to pass a resolution against Dianetics, stating “The fact that these claims are not supported by empirical evidence of the sort required for the establishment of scientific generalizations.”

While the professionals hated it, the general population quickly fell in love with Dianetics. The book quickly became a nationwide bestseller, selling over 150,000 copies in its first year. Hubbard began to take his book on tour, performing lectures across the country through the 1950s. It is during these lectures that he began his enterprise, as he charged more and more money to learn the secrets of Dianetics.

But, like many trends of the time, the general public saw Dianetics as another fad. Losing believers, and money, fast, Hubbard began work on his biggest project yet; Scientology. Building on what he had already done with Dianetics, Hubbard added more layers to his work, adding additional levels that his believers would have to achieve, and thus pay for.

Even though Hubbard had seemingly hit the jackpot, the IRS was hot on his heels on tax evasion charges. To escape the long arm of the law, he went to the only place he knew he could be safe; international waters.

Sea Org

Hubbard created the Sea Org in the early 1960s. Looking for cheap labor, Hubbard would enlist young, naive people to come join a journey he promised would be filled with adventure and humanitarian aid. What these youths instead found was a billion year contract, a fleet of rusted out ships, and enough cheap manual labor to keep them busy for years.

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One of the original Sea Org crews.

Hubbard used this fleet to sail around the Mediterranean, spreading the gospel and evading U.S. authorities. It was during this time at sea that Hubbard wrote the churches Ethics or rules. While all religions have their doctrine and their punishment for breaking it, Hubbard’s penalties were swift and harsh.

Sea Org members found themselves thrown overboard for seemingly trivial mistakes, falling over 30 feet to the ocean below. It is also here that Hubbard began his controversial Rehabilitation Project Force, forcing cruel punishment upon his followers.

By the mid-1970s, the Sea Org found that they were no longer welcome in the ports of the Mediterranean. It didn’t matter, though; Hubbard was ready to go home. Smuggled into America to avoid both IRS agents and subpoenas, Hubbard now set his sights on Hollywood.

Celebrity Center

Hubbard had come back to a different America. The hippie movement had ended with a violent whimper, and a new generation of creative types began to flock into Los Angeles, leading to the “New Hollywood” era. Hubbard saw an opportunity in both of these circumstances.

The Scientology Celebrity Center opened in 1969, located in downtown LA. The purpose of the center was to attract as many celebrities as possible to the new religion, as well as grab the youth who now looked for an alternative to the drug and violence fueled reality they had witnessed in places like Haight Ashbury. Scientology began to advertise their services as “Getting High Without Drugs.”

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The Church of Scientology Celebrity Center.

The center was an immediate success. Young people began to flock in, in tune with the new age aesthetic that the church was touting. Soon, celebrities started to appear to have their readings done, such as Leonard Cohen and Rock Hudson. It was during these early years of growth that Scientology snagged one of its early spokesmen: John Travolta.

When Travolta joined the church, he was still a nobody, scraping by and hoping for a commercial gig. After joining, his luck seemed to change overnight. He began to land bigger and bigger roles, leading to the show WELCOME BACK, KOTTER, and then the international hit SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER.

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It is success stories like this that helped fuel the early years of Scientology. Starry-eyed hopefuls, looking for their big break, flooded into the Celebrity Center. Scientology offered them support, something that many of these kids didn’t have; support against the constant “no” of auditions, as well as a way to progress towards something, towards “clear,” while their professional life seemed to stagnate.

It was this progression, this trip towards “clear,” that Scientology made their money. Scientology is broken down into several different levels, known as “bridges.” With each move up the bridge, they move closer and closer to enlightenment. With each bridge, though, comes a price tag. People can spend nearly a 100 thousand dollars just to make it to the top level, known as OT VIII.

While this was all going on, Hubbard began his warfare against all critics of the church, which would lead to one of the largest espionage infiltrations of the United States Government (it may finally be trumped by the 2016 elections).

Operation Snow White

Hubbard believed in “Fair Game.” He silenced and crushed any and all critics of the church. One of the biggest critics of the church, in Hubbard’s mind, was the United States Government. As early as the 1960s, Hubbard proposed infiltration of government offices by his followers. Angered over a raid by both the FDA and FBI, Hubbard began his campaign against the government with a publicity campaign, looking to smear both organizations.

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The operation only gained steam as Hubbard created the Guardians Office, a branch of the church whose focus was to protect the church, by any means necessary. It is through this office that the operation began to form. Hubbard focused his attention on the IRS offices in Los Angeles and London, as well as the Department of Justice.

Other organizations targeted were the DEA, the National Institute of Mental Health, and the American Medical Association. The point of these infiltrations was to both purge any information about the church and Hubbard, but also to plant false information, to help spread disinformation and create legal chaos.

In the mid-1970s, Operation Snow White was implemented as church members infiltrated different U.S. government buildings through both employment espionage and straight breaking and entering. All in all, 136 government agencies had been infiltrated across 30 different nations.

Aftermath

The operation came to an end in 1976 after two conspirators, Michael Meisner and Gerald Wolfe, were caught after raiding the offices of the Assistant U.S. Attorney to the District Of Columbia. After an FBI raid of their Washington, Los Angeles and Hollywood headquarters in 1977, it was becoming clear that the church wouldn’t be able to escape this one unscathed.

In 1978, 11 high ranking officials of the church found themselves indicted on 28 charges. Among those charged was Hubbard’s wife, Mary Sue Hubbard. All 11 were found guilty and sentenced to 5 years in prison. Hubbard was able to avoid charges, only being named an “unindicted co-conspirator.”

Hubbard remained in hiding, avoiding all legal ramification until his death in 1986, at the age of 74, from a stroke.

Miscavige

An issue arose after Hubbard’s death; he had not made clear who would be his successor. It didn’t take long for David Miscavige to seize that power, and start the Miscavige Era. Setting the hierarchy of the church with his own loyal lieutenants, Miscavige began to shape the church to his liking.

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David Miscavige.

Miscavige was a former “Action Officer” of the church, essentially an enforcer. He brought that same level of intimidation to the head of the church. Miscavige immediately started attacking the IRS. The church, still not tax exempt at the time, was looking down the barrel of a tax bill over 1 billion dollars. In an act of “Fair Game,” Miscavige had thousands of lawsuits filed against the IRS. An institution that was already dealing with a scandal at the time had seemingly found a whole new rival in Scientology.

Not wanting to deal with the massive burden that Scientology threatened to smother them with, the IRS relented and gave the church its tax-exempt status in 1993.

With seemingly unlimited wealth and unrestrained power, Miscavige began and continued some of the churches more notorious programs, such as the Gold Base and the Cadet Org. It was during this time that the church started to see a mass purge of high ranking officials, such as Marty Rathbun, as well as more vocal criticism from former members like Paul Haggis and Leah Remini.

Today, the church touts less than 50 thousand members but is worth more than it’s ever been. With purchases of tax-free properties around the world, Scientology has become richer, and thus more influential. As Hubbard once said, “If you want to get rich, you start a religion.”

Revelations

Not unlike the movement that preceded it, the Jesus Movement, and more wide-reaching, the new age religious movement that swept the country, came to a tragic end. In 1978, the worst mass suicide in the modern era occurred. Televisions across the country broadcasted helicopter shots, showing a wide field, filled with hundreds of bodies. Both the hippie and the “Jesus Freaks” ended due to violent adherence and obedience to a cult of personality.

The Peoples Temple

In 1955, Jim Jones founded The Peoples Temple. At the time, Jones had made a name for himself as a civil rights activist and revivalist preacher. Over the next 20 years, Jones amassed thousands of followers and gained strong political connections. It was all fell apart in 1978, in the small South American country, Guyana.

First, we need to dissect the church at its birth before we analyze its death. The church’s foundation sat on sound principles; Jones had already made a name for himself preaching tolerance and desegregation in Indianapolis. In the early years of the church, Jones specifically targeted the disenfranchised, both racial and age. The majority of his first congregation was both black and elderly.

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Jim Jones.

As the church continued to grow, so did Jones charitable contributions. Jones organized several walks for desegregation, comforted those who were targeted by racially motivated violence, and opened the doors of several soup kitchens around the state. The first decade of The People’s Temple was one of social justice and was by and by a positive force in the state of Indiana.

Atomic War

Then, a sinister power grab began to clench down on The People’s Temple. Jones started to preach about an upcoming nuclear war. He spoke of a dream, a prophecy, that came to him one night, as he watched Chicago burn in atomic flames.

In an attempt to find a place for his flock to survive this upcoming atomic war, Jones traveled to Brazil, hoping to find a reclusive oasis. What he instead found was a country already plump with Missionaries, unwanting and uncaring for his specific message. Having failed, Jones returned to Indianapolis. In his time away, his congregation had fallen into disarray. Several members had left, being plucked by other local preachers. Following his example, the city of Indianapolis had also carried on their desegregation movement; without him. Jones came back to America without a mission and cause, and with a splintered congregation. It is here where Jones started down the road that led him to Guyana.

Ukiah

In 1967, Jones moved his congregation to a small California town in the Redwood Forest area, called Ukiah. It is there that Jones created his first compound, where his followers began to live communally. It is at this point that Jones starts to preach his socialist and communist ideals. While still concealed behind the gospel, Jones message started to speak of the evils of capitalism, and the racist, fascist government that had taken control of America. Russia, once the nuclear boogeyman Jones rallied against, became an ally in Jones’ eyes.

It is also during this time that Jones experienced his first “assassination attempt.” While at his compound, Jones, while alone, fired his pistol into the woods. He then ran back inside, screaming about a mad sniper in the woods. With this, he was able to move the narrative; I am right, and they are trying to silence me for it.

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By the early 1970s, The People Temple had grown exponentially, from a couple hundred to a couple thousand. The church moved its headquarters to San Francisco, and with that move, came political connections. Jones quickly went to task making friends with local politicians, culminating in the church’s effort to get  George Moscone elected mayor of San Francisco in 1975. Moscone repaid the favor by making Jones the chairman of the Housing Authority Commission.

Jones political connections only continued to grow from there. The People’s Temple found public praise from Vice Presidential candidate Walter Mondale, former (and current) California Governor Jerry Brown and lieutenant governor Mervyn Dymally. Jones even met with first lady Rosalynn Carter several times to discuss civil rights. (Rosalynn also took a photo shaking hands with notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy before his capture. Possibly the unluckiest First Lady of all time).

Controversy

With this new political strength and support came a deeper scrutiny. By this point, Jones had already started to lock down on his congregation, ostracizing anyone who disagreed with him and punishing members for any perceived slights. Jones had started to take on new lovers, as well. In one instance, he forced one of his most devout followers, Attorney Timothy Stoen, to give his wife over to him, and then write a letter to the congregation advocating what he had done.

Soon, local journalists started to get wind of The People’s Temple harsh rules and living arrangements and started work on an exposé. When Jones got wind of it, he kicked his rhetoric into high gear. Unknown to the general public, Jones had already purchased a wide swath of land in the newly liberated South America country of Guyana. For the past several years, devout followers had been working day and night to establish a new “Eden,” a new home for The People’s Temple.

In 1977, as the several article long exposé began to run, Jones loaded up over 9 hundred of his followers, and shipped them to their new home; Jonestown.

Jonestown

In the summer of 1977, Jones arrived at the small jungle compound with several hundred followers. The construction of Jonestown had started in the early 1970s, as followers cut and slashed their way through a dense jungle to create this “Utopia.”

Before Jones arrived, there were less than a hundred people living in Jonestown. These people had grown used to their surroundings and their living conditions. They truly lived communally, able to grow enough to share and survive.

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Jim Jones in Jonestown.

When Jones arrived, the occupancy of Jonestown ballooned to over 900 people. A village that could sustain the original inhabitants could not sustain the nearly thousand people who had just arrived. Food rationing began almost immediately, and the quarters became uncomfortably cramped in just a day.

It was here that The People’s Temple truly started to spiral. Jones, already deeply addicted to amphetamines, began to lose his totalitarian control over his flock. As such, he began to violently punish dissenters. In several of the infamous Jonestown Tapes, Jones would scream and rant at his congregation, calling them “sons of bitches” and “bastards.” He blamed them for his “condition” and for making his life stressful. In some tapes, we hear the sounds of people being beaten to within an inch of their life, while a crowd of onlookers cheers them on.

The Population of Jonestown

Now, when envisioning this, one might think that the majority of Jonestown is young, impressionable adults who have fallen under Jones spell. In fact, the majority of Jonestown were the elderly, having followed him from his early years in Indianapolis. Many of these beatings were done to the elderly, by the elderly. That was the power of Jim Jones; he was able to manipulate those who would seem to wise to fall for such a charlatan.

Not just that, but the majority of his Jonestown congregation was black, a whole 68 percent of them. Jones had taken his Civil Rights message and corrupted it, bringing these people who yearned for equality into a fetid jungle swamp full of dictatorial rules. Jones, who had started as a beacon of hope for these people, had become a corrupt monster of control.

Leo Ryan

It didn’t take long before the horrors of Jonestown got back to the United States. The exposé that had run Jones out of the country was still fresh on everyone’s minds, and the anti-Jones group “Concerned Relatives” had begun to put pressure on the government. Formed by former Jones followers, the group called for a congressional investigation, arguing that there was enough evidence for the government to act.

Most of these requests fell on deaf ears, except for that of Leo Ryan. Ryan was a congressman who had made a name for himself investigating cases of human rights abuses. Accompanied by an NBC camera crew and former Peoples Temple followers, Ryan flew down to Jonestown to investigate. Ryan expected be turned away at the gates.

Instead, Jones invited the crew in. Ryan found an encampment filled with intensely happy people who espoused the kindness of Jones. To Ryan, it seemed like a perfectly peaceful, if not intense, utopia. That all abruptly changed as a member attempted to slip Ryan a note, pleading for him to save him. Unfortunately for everybody, the member’s action drew the attention of others. It is at this point that the mood in the camp took an abrupt shift into a sinister territory.

The Beginning of The End

Ryan spent the night in Jonestown, only to awaken to find a couple dozen members waiting at his door, pleading to be taken with him. While Ryan attempted to figure out how to transport them, the NBC crew was filming a rambling 45-minute interview with Jones.

After Ryan left Jonestown with 15 defectors, Jones began what would become the final White Night. Jones sent out a truck full of assassins to follow Ryan, while he prepared his followers for the inevitable. The assassins caught up with Ryan at the airport. There, Ryan was gunned down, along with 3 reporters and one defector. Ryan remains the only congressman killed in office.

Flavor Aid

Back in Jonestown, Jones began to prepare for his final solution. Lining up his faithful followers, Jones began to call out over the speakers that were scattered throughout the camp, which became known as the infamous Jonestown Suicide Tape.

He spoke of the only solution, the only way to escape from the violence that was heading there way; mass suicide. As he spoke, his chemist finished up his creation; a vat of Flavor Aid (not Kool-Aid, as popularly misattributed) laced with cyanide.  The followers, so enraptured in the cult of Jones, cheered this final solution. Only one, an elderly real estate broker named Christine Miller, stood up against Jones. Her protests fell on deaf, brainwashed ears.

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The Aftermath.

First up; the children. Families brought their children up, their blind adherence to the word of Jones marching them to their deaths. children had syringes filled with the poison squirted into their mouths, as the parents continued to praise Jones. Soon, the poison took hold; a painful, gasping death, which ran against Jones reassurance that it would be “quick and peaceful.”

As the death toll started to rise, and the followers started to sober up to reality, Jones had people brought up to the Flavor Aid vat at gunpoint. It took several hours for every last person to perish, most of them dying confused and in horrible pain. All in all, 909 people died inside the walls of Jonestown. Jim Jones himself brought his life to an end with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head. It was the worst deliberate mass killing of American citizens until the 9/11 attacks.

Aftermath

Jim Jones did not receive the victory he had hoped for, though. He considered the mass murder (these people were manipulated and warped into this act; what Jones did was mass murder) a “revolutionary suicide.” He thought their deaths would spark a socialist revolution across the world, and that he would be viewed as a hero of the movement in the generations that followed.

Instead, history now knows him for what he was; a delusional egomaniac who manipulated his way to power, and in the slightest act of defiance, he crashed down like a house of cards, taking 900 people with him. In the modern day, his biggest contribution to the world is the cautionary idiom, “don’t drink the Kool-Aid.”

Life After The Rapture

With the end of Jonestown came the end of another movement. The mass suicide was a deadly reminder to the world what can happen when one follows another’s word blindly. Soon, the world became wary and vindictive against anything that even appeared to be related to cult activity. The early 1980s saw the rise of the “Satanic Panic,” a witch hunt that filled the country with fear and animosity, leading to several unwarranted arrests such as the West Memphis Three.

Cults continued in the shadows, their time in the light-filled with death and violence. Cult activity exists today, now easily fed into with the rise of the internet. What was once a practice that could only be conducted in close quarters, now can be transmuted across the world, ensnaring other like-minded individuals.

“A Simpler Time…”

But, what of the followers? What about those that once believed in the words of these men, who lived their lives by their gospel? What happens to a generation that’s been betrayed by both peace and religion?

The Baby Boomers had been burned by the hippie movement in the ’60s, then the religious movement of the ’70s. Youthful priorities and humanitarian goals had been poisoned before their eyes. The Era of Pacificisty had only led to more violence. The Baby Boomers, left with nothing to believe in anymore, became losers. They were losers in war, losers in government, losers in love, losers in god. They needed a win.

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Ronald Reagan.

That win came in Ronald Reagan. Reagan promised a return to the “old times,” a return to the seemingly carefree years of ’50s America. Baby Boomers remembered how simple the world seemed back then, and strived to return to it. Reagan gave them the outlet to do it. He promised to make America great again, to bring back the nation’s confidence and pride. A generation of losers saw this as an opportunity to remake themselves, a chance to make sense of the world once again.

In doing so, the Baby Boomers became like their parents; searching for the status quo. Two failed attempts at change led this generation to retreat back to the familiar, to reset the clock. Instead of striving for change, they looked to set the world back to the days of seeming ease.

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“Time Is Like A Circle…”

Like father, like son. The nut doesn’t fall far from the tree. These idioms exist because they’re true. In times of turmoil, we look into our past, trying to mine a new reality. It isn’t much different than the world we live in today, as the older generation strives to live in the past, to live in a time before things became “complicated,” as they see it. The problem is, reality will always seem “complicated.” Life is never easy, and we will always see our past through rose-tinted lenses.

The tragedy of the religious movement of the 1970s is that, like the hippie movement, it began in earnest. Many people were able to find and hold onto faith through this movement and are the reason why California is one of the highest concentration of Christians in the entire country.

Many people took the teachings they had learned and continued to spread the gospel themselves. The problem, like all vast movements, is that those that lead tend to have nefarious purposes, and the power of a cult of personality can lead a desperate person to do many things. This is why so many good intentions lead to such bitter, violent ends.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

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4 Comments

  1. Spencer Brickey

    March 22, 2018 at 12:44 pm

    It is fantastic to hear you were able to escape that insidious movement, and that you’ve given all of us the opportunity to learn from your experiences. Thank you!

    I would go as far to say they didn’t even go underground, they went primetime. The televangelist movement of the 1980’s was by and large fueled by this new expansion of fundamentalist followers, as well as a push from the “Bring Back The Good ‘Ole Days” initiative of the Reagan Presidency. People like Jerry Falwell, Billy Graham and Pat Robertson owe their careers to this swell of religious fundamentalism. Even in the present day, we see these preachers still active, like Joel Osteen, and to a more political extent, the fire and brimstone political commentators on the more extremist news networks.

    The Jesus movement never left; it just traded out hippy dreads and sandals for Brooks Brothers suits and veneers.

    Reply

  2. Spencer Brickey

    March 22, 2018 at 12:35 pm

    It is absolutely disgusting how women have been treated by and large by cults. Even female led cults, like Kashi Ashram, led to horrible cases of rape and abuse. There is something tribal and feral about cult mentalities, and that limitless power cult leaders have over their followers usually leads to brutal sexual assault. They see it as the ultimate power over their subordinates; to take away their innocence, their identity, their sexual choice.

    Reply

  3. Amber Lea Starfire

    March 22, 2018 at 10:17 am

    Thank you for this very interesting and thorough analysis of the Jesus Movement of the 70s. And thanks to Heather Hicks for her comment, through which I found this site. The Jesus Movement did not entirely end in 1978 with Jonestown; I think it mostly went underground. There were so many hundreds of groups with beliefs that began as innocent and strong and ended up nearly — but not quite — as corrupt. And many of these people have gone on to become far right base of today. Fortunately, I was able to wake up and make my way out of the evangelical fundamentalist church, though it took me some years. My memoir, Accidental Jesus Freak, is about my experiences during those years and explores why an otherwise bright young woman would get caught up in the movement. I was only one of many, and I hope my story will resonate with others who had similar experiences.

    Reply

  4. Heather Hicks

    March 21, 2018 at 2:59 pm

    I tell you what there are some very serious stories that come out of these cults if you will. It’s so hard to escape and/or leave. Especially for women. They are treated with a sort of disregard and that is not acceptable. I have been reading Accidental Jesus Freak by Amber Starfire. You can see from her memoir the ways women are treated and how they are made to feel about themselves. Disgusting to me. Her info is at writingthroughlife.com. It’s a very good look into these kinds of sects.

    Reply

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