The year is 1902 and the United States is exiting the “Gilded Age” and entering the “Progressive Era”. Although Nebraska is a historically Republican state, its most well-known politician is a Democrat, William Jennings Bryan, who ran on a left populist platform both in 1896 and in 1900 for president. Although George Norris (1861-1944), just elected to Congress from the state, is not at this time receptive to Bryan and his ideals, he will be more and more so as time goes on and will become one of the most accomplished progressives in American history.
Contending With Cannon
Norris could be thought of as a fairly regular if independent-minded Republican at the start. Although initially elected with the support of railroad companies as a conservative, he would come to support regulation of railroad rates proposed by President Roosevelt and after his first term his voting record would grow increasingly progressive.
Norris would become increasingly unhappy with Speaker Joe Cannon (R-Ill.) Cannon was too conservative and autocratic in his iron-fisted rule of the House. So powerful he was that he was both Speaker and chairman of the Rules Committee, meaning that he got to set the terms of debate for legislation in the House. Cannon and his top two lieutenants were called “the most powerful triumvirate known to parliamentary history” (House of Representatives). Cannon regarded the young Norris as “nominally a Republican”, an early way of calling him a RINO. However, he wasn’t alone in his opposition to Cannon and the numbers of dissatisfied Republicans were growing. This all came to a head on St. Patrick’s Day 1910. Many of Cannon’s supporters were at home in their districts attending the day’s events when Norris motioned to bar the Speaker from sitting on the Rules Committee and expanding the committee’s membership. He won this battle against Cannon and in 1912, he supported Theodore Roosevelt over President Taft in the presidential election, supporting his moderate progressivism. Like numerous other progressives of his day, Norris saw political issues in the frame of black and white, right and wrong. In 1912, he won election to the Senate.
Support and Opposition to Wilson
Norris was one of the Republicans more open to Wilson’s progressive measures, including voting for the Federal Reserve Act and anti-trust legislation. However, he would, as most Republicans did, vote against the Underwood Tariff in 1913, which reduced tariffs and enacted an income tax. Norris by contrast would butt heads with Wilson repeatedly on foreign affairs.
George W. Norris was one of only six senators to vote against American involvement in World War I and also defended civil liberties during wartime. He voted against both the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918. Norris would also stand as one of the “irreconcilables”, a group of around fifteen senators who would not agree to the Versailles Treaty under any circumstances. Their view prevailed in the Senate at the time and no treaty was ratified.
Amending the Constitution
George W. Norris supported multiple efforts to amend the Constitution. Successful efforts he supported included women’s suffrage, direct election of senators, Prohibition, repeal of Prohibition, and the income tax. Norris defended his stand on Prohibition in 1930, stating, “I speak as one who believes in…prohibition…For more than forty years, both as a public official and as a private citizen[,] I have favored prohibition in all the contests and battles which have taken place on that subject during that time… [The wets] believe it is a wrongful intrusion upon their personal rights. I do not agree with these men…It seems to me they should be broad enough and fair enough, even if they feel we are giving up some of our personal rights and personal privileges, to see that this greatest evil of all mankind is driven from the homes of the American people” (Folsom, 72). He also supported unsuccessful efforts at ending the Electoral College and an amendment banning child labor. He also has to his name the 20th Amendment, which he authored and sponsored, that abolished the “lame duck” session of Congress, in which legislators had four months to legislate after an election.
Norris and The Three Republican Presidents
The 1920s were not a good time for Norris politically. He was often critical of key policies of these presidents, including on taxes and tariffs. Norris supported aid for farmers in the form of the McNary-Haugen Act, which was opposed by both Coolidge and Hoover. He also supported veterans bonuses, opposed by the Republican presidents for cutting into their income tax reduction agenda. Norris opposed a proposal to have Henry Ford purchase Wilson Dam from the government for $5 million to generate power for the Muscle Shoals area. He and other progressives put up enough of a fight against it for Ford to withdraw the offer. Norris would be vilified by some in the South and would receive death threats over his opposition. However, his plan was for the government to not only power the Wilson Dam but build other dams to generate power. This one was opposed by conservative Republicans who regarded it as socialist. However, such an act of socialism would be embraced by the people of Muscle Shoals as well as the government in the following decade.
In 1928, Norris did not endorse his party’s nominee, Herbert Hoover, instead backing Democrat Al Smith. In retaliation, Republican regulars tried to sabotage his renomination bid in 1930 by attempting to place a grocer named George W. Norris on the ballot to split the vote. However, Norris’s position in Nebraska was solid at the time and he prevailed.
The Golden Years: Norris and the New Deal, 1933-1939
The first six years of the Roosevelt Administration would arguably be the time in which the direction of the nation best fit with Norris’s views. Norris had endorsed Roosevelt for president, and Roosevelt took special care to court progressive Republicans like him. This contributed to the idea that Roosevelt was in essence a continuation of the greatness of his fifth cousin, Theodore. Norris would support most New Deal legislation and sponsor the Tennessee Valley Authority Act. He had gone from a figure condemned in the region for his blocking of Henry Ford’s purchase bid to one of the most celebrated. To this day one of the dams built by the TVA is named the Norris Dam. Roosevelt would call him “the very perfect gentle knight of American progressive ideals” (U.S. Senate). In 1934, he campaigned for the state of Nebraska to have a unicameral and non-partisan legislature, which passed. To this day, Nebraska is the only state to have such a legislature. However, Norris maintained a degree of independence and in 1935 voted against the United States joining the World Court. Although President Roosevelt supported this proposal, he didn’t push hard for it and it ultimately died. In 1936, Norris decided to run for reelection as an Independent rather than a Republican, as he was already solidly tied with the Roosevelt Administration, Republicans weren’t going to get back their majority any time soon, and he was also officially endorsed by the Nebraska Democratic Party, which chose to ignore their own candidate, former Congressman Terry Carpenter. He won his three-way race by six points. Although numerous sources I’ve found have claimed that Norris opposed FDR’s court packing plan, he was one of 20 votes against shelving the measure on July 22, 1937.
Civil Rights: A Mixed Legacy
Although Norris was known as one of the most liberal people in the Republican Party, he time and again opposed anti-lynching legislation, like his colleague William Borah of Idaho. He feared that such a bill passing would result in a second War of the Rebellion (Barnes, 6). However, towards the end of his career he supported the first legislative proposal to ban the poll tax in 1942. Norris’s view of how the South dealt with black people was that they did well under the circumstances. And although it is true Southern whites could have done much, much worse, a system of second-class citizenship and informal social terror is hardly what I would call doing well.
A Changing Nebraska and the End
By 1940, Nebraska was one of the least friendly states for FDR and progressivism as a whole. Norris had become thoroughly identified with the Roosevelt Administration, even changing his longstanding non-interventonism in 1937. This was in response to seeing the famous “Bloody Saturday” photograph of a burned Chinese baby crying in the aftermath of a Japanese bombing of a train station. Norris voted for the end of the arms embargo under the Neutrality Acts in 1939 and for Lend-Lease in 1941. However, he couldn’t bring himself to vote for the peacetime draft. Norris was getting up there in age and he was increasingly out of step with the trends. An exception to this was Norris’s new willingness to accept some restrictions on the power of organized labor, but he was the foremost figure in the state identified with the Roosevelt Administration, and unpopular the Administration was. Although he wanted another term in 1942 after being persuaded to run again by some of his loyal supporters, the Democrats decided to pick their own candidate, splitting the liberal vote and dooming his reelection effort. Norris lost to a former acolyte of his, Kenneth Wherry, who had moved to the right. He stated in defeat, “I have done my best to repudiate wrong and evil in government affairs” (Greenbaum, 7). Norris’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 31%. On August 29, 1944, he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving him partially paralyzed and died on September 2nd. Norris had, however, completed his autobiography, Fighting Liberal, which was posthumously published.
Official Recognition Denied!
In the 1950s, a committee of senators took it upon themselves to name the greatest senators in American history. The list they came up with reflected regional and ideological inclinations and prides: Henry Clay of Kentucky, Daniel Webster of Massachusetts, Robert Taft of Ohio, John Calhoun of South Carolina, and Robert La Follette, Sr. of Wisconsin were in the top five. However, one figure who historians repeatedly named was Norris. The trouble? The senators from Nebraska at the time were Carl Curtis and Roman Hruska. Both men were hardcore conservatives and had been foes of Norris when he was a senator. They hinted they would cause a long debate in the Senate regarding the top five if Norris were to be considered. Many historians regardless think of him as one of the greats.
Barnes, H.W. (1969). Voices of Protest: W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington. Smith College.
The Disney Corporation has as of late been playing a game of duality with the American public: woke in the United States, and accepting of anything from nations whose policies are far more racist and anti-gay than even some of the views of the most regressive people of the United States, such as China and Saudi Arabia. They cemented this further when on April 6th, Disney hired as head of global communications Kristina Schake, a Democratic Party operative and LGBT rights activist. They have also attracted the ire of Republican Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida for their embrace of the misleading “Don’t Say Gay” campaign against a bill that prohibits the teaching of gender identity to children K-3 as well as their new policy of “gender neutrality” at Disney parks, with him signing a bill into law placing Disney’s self-governing status under review, meaning that unless the Florida legislature acts to renew it, its self-governing status will expire in June 2023. A take on the recent controversies surrounding Disney I read recently asserted that Walt Disney himself would be canceled by the Disney Corporation except for the fact that the name is so iconic. Indeed, there have been accusations against Disney of bigotry, including anti-black racism and anti-Semitism. The purpose of today’s post will be to ascertain truth and myth surrounding Walter Elias Disney’s (1901-1966) politics as well as to address claims of prejudice against him from various sources, including from actress Meryl Streep and his own grandniece, Abigail Disney. Neither Streep nor Abigail Disney, however, knew Walt very well. Streep was 17 and never met Disney and Abigail was only 6 when he died. In other words, neither speaks from personal experience being around Disney, simply what they have read, and what they have read are the words or people writing based on the words of people who participated in the 1941 Disney Animators’ Strike, namely union organizer Herbert Sorrell and animator Art Babbitt.
A Look at Walt Disney
“I am not Walt Disney. I do a lot of things Walt Disney would not do. Walt Disney does not smoke. I smoke. Walt Disney does not drink. I drink” (Calia). This revealing quote from Walt Disney illustrates the difference between his public wholesome image and his actual self. It is indeed irresistible to look behind the curtain at the man behind the Disney Corporation and his image. Author Marc Eliot’s 1994 critical and heavily criticized biography, Walt Disney: Hollywood’s Dark Prince, is a prime example of such an effort to look behind the curtain.
Politics: Both a Democrat and Republican
Walt Disney’s father, Elias, would actually have appealed to many people who work in the political field of the Disney Company today as he was a socialist. He was an imposing and stern figure and would take the earnings his children made at work for “safekeeping”, the rationale being they didn’t know the value of money yet. Disney himself was influenced by his father and was a Democrat for his young adult life. However, he seems to have been the old-fashioned sort of progressive, opposing bigness in all things. Although he supported FDR for a first and second term, he would overtime become disillusioned with Roosevelt and the New Deal. By 1940, he regarded himself as a supporter of Wendell Willkie. He would never again back a Democrat for president Disney befriended and supported the campaigns of several prominent Republicans, including Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. The Disney Company made a cartoon (“I Like Ike”) to promote Dwight Eisenhower’s 1952 campaign and in 1960 he backed Nixon’s bid for the presidency. In 1964, Disney was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. LBJ knew of Disney’s politics and support of Barry Goldwater, and to his chagrin he showed up wearing a Goldwater button on his jacket. That year Disney urged actor George Murphy to run for the Senate and gave him financial support. Murphy won in an otherwise difficult election for Republicans. In his last political effort, Disney backed Ronald Reagan’s successful 1966 campaign for governor.
Walt Disney died in 1966, but if he were alive today, his politics indicate that he probably would be a critic of the direction of his company, like Colonel Harland Sanders was of Kentucky Fried Chicken in his later years. The difference was Disney would disapprove of his company’s culture politics while Sanders disapproved of the quality deficiency of KFC’s product.
Claims of Anti-Semitism
Despite popular belief, the claim that Walt Disney was an anti-Semite is based on flimsy evidence. The basis for this as well as the claim of his racism stems primarily from the 1941 Animators Strike, which is the starting source for many criticisms about Disney. As his biographer Neal Gabler (2009) writes, “Disney came by those enemies honestly when his animators staged a strike in 1941 complaining of paternalism and low wages and Walt responded by hustling the supposed union ringleaders off the lot and firing other union members to quash their organizing. Even after the four-month-long strike was settled — under duress by the federal government — the wounds did not heal. Disney would feel betrayed for the rest of his life by what he saw as ungrateful employees. The aggrieved employees got their own measure of revenge by portraying Walt thereafter in the least flattering light. Most of what we hear about Disney as a racist or anti-Semite was circulated by animators who had struck in 1941”. The primary figures in this strike were labor organizer Herbert Sorrell and animator Art Babbitt, and both men would accuse Walt Disney of anti-Semitism. Babbitt alleged that Disney attended meetings of the German-American Bund, a pro-Nazi group run by the hapless Fritz Kuhn, but he was the only person to have made such a claim. He was also alleged to have fired an employee because he was Jewish despite employing numerous Jews in his company. Another piece of “evidence” cited for his anti-Semitism was Disney’s involvement with the Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals. He was vice president of this group and it was explicitly anti-communist and anti-fascist and had a reputation for being very conservative. The organization itself was not anti-Semitic, but some of its members are believed to have been so privately. This would have made it similar to the John Birch Society, which although it officially disavows anti-Semitism, some of its members, including one of its founders (Revilo P. Oliver), was without doubt anti-Semitic. One thing I’d like to note is that anti-communism can often get tarred as anti-Semitism as there were some outspoken figures who were anti-Communist and conflated it with Judaism. The most notable example was of course the Nazis, who regarded Judaism and Communism as a tautology. The United States also had some homegrown people who also thought Judaism and Communism to be interlinked, such as retired Generals George Van Horn Moseley and Pedro del Valle. As a consequence, some Jews came to view anti-Communist politics as a smokescreen for anti-Semitic politics and anti-Semitism became a frequent charge against anti-communists, when it applied and when it didn’t. This perspective is behind the view that Disney was an anti-Semite. Walt Disney would later testify as a friendly witness before the House Committee on Un-American Activities his belief that communists were behind the animators strike.
Allegations of Anti-Black Racism
Walt Disney, unsurprisingly, was also accused of anti-black racism. This is due to stereotypes displayed in Disney cartoons, but this was the norm in cartooning and in other Hollywood productions of the time. In live-action films. The big one people look at, of course, is 1946’s Song of the South which has been criticized as being a film demeaning to blacks. However, according to biographer Neal Gabler (2009), “Walt anticipated these criticisms and actually went to great lengths to make the film as racially sensitive as he could. He hired a Jewish left-wing screenwriter, Maurice Rapf, to do a draft of the script because, as he told Rapf, “You’re against Uncle Tomism and you’re a radical.” Before signing Baskett, he approached the black actor, singer and leftist activist Paul Robeson to play Remus and asked him to review the script. And he sent the script to a number of black notables for comment, including the actress Hattie McDaniel; the secretary of the NAACP, Walter White; and, via his friend producer Walter Wanger, Howard University scholar Alvin Locke. Walt even did something that he had done on no previous film: He invited White to the studio to work on revisions with him. White begged off, saying he was too busy. In short, Walt did everything he could plausibly do to get input from the black community”. The worst that can be said about Disney was that he was no better than anybody else in the industry on this subject in his time, and arguably he was better. Disney may not have been quite on the mark with the film, but he sought input and tried to do right.
Calia, M. (2015, September 10). Walt Disney: The Imperfect Man Behind the Perfect Persona. The Wall Street Journal.
On October 21, 1917, Senator Paul Husting of Wisconsin is duck hunting with his brother. Spotting one, he tells his brother Gustave to fire. However, Husting rises in his rowboat and his brother accidentally shoots him in the back. He slips into a coma and dies later that day. Husting, a Democrat, had been one of the most pro-Wilson senators, and his death is politically consequential. His elected successor in the special election the next year is Republican Representative Irvine Lenroot (1869-1949), and in the next Congress Republicans hold a 49-47 majority. Had Husting lived, the Democrats would have had a majority through the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Thomas Marshall.
Lenroot got his start in Wisconsin state politics as a strong ally of Governor Robert La Follette in the Assembly. From 1903 to 1906 he was the Assembly’s speaker and was key in getting La Follette’s reforms through, including a primary election law and a railway tax. In 1906, Lenroot and La Follette backed each other’s bids for higher office. La Follette won his Senate bid, but Lenroot lost the Republican primary for governor. In 1908, with the support of La Follette, he defeated Congressman John J. Jenkins for renomination to the House. Jenkins was a conservative supporter of Speaker Joe Cannon and had been backed by President Roosevelt. In the House, he would often vote against legislation supported by President Taft including the Aldrich-Payne Tariff and he backed the 1910 revolt against Speaker Joe Cannon. In 1912, Lenroot sided with Theodore Roosevelt in the Republican split and tried to get an alliance between La Follette and Roosevelt, but neither man liked each other. Roosevelt thought La Follette too progressive and La Follette saw Roosevelt as compromising too much to business interests. Although the two patched up their relations, this was the beginning of a political separation between La Follette and Lenroot. He was also growing more conservative during the Wilson years and the split between the two was complete in 1917 when La Follette voted against American entry into World War I while Lenroot voted for. Among Republicans from the Wisconsin delegation, he was joined only by Representative David Classon in support of war. To get the Republican nomination for the Senate, Lenroot had defeated La Follette-backed James Thompson on a platform of patriotism. This was bitter for La Follette, who was accused of being “pro-German” and was even subject to a campaign to get him expelled from the Senate.
La Follette was not pleased with his former lieutenant as a senator, thinking of him as having compromsied too much, like he thought Roosevelt. In 1920, as Senator Warren G. Harding of Ohio won the nomination for president, party bosses selected Lenroot as their choice for vice president. Harding was a staunch conservative while he was a moderate, including on the Versailles Treaty, being one of the mild reservationists. They supported the Versailles Treaty with only modest alterations and such figures would be the precursors of the post-World War II internationalists in the GOP. This would have been a solid ticket balance, but there was a popular cry at the Republican National Convention for Governor Calvin Coolidge of Massachusetts to get the nod as he had been popular for his calling in troops to stop a Boston police strike in 1919. Coolidge won 674 delegate votes to Lenroot’s 146. Lenroot remained in the Senate, and both Republicans on the presidential ticket were conservatives. Had the delegates gone along with party bosses, Irvine Lenroot would have been our 30th president. He would be considerably more supportive of Republican presidents Harding and Coolidge than he was of Taft, voting for the Mellon tax cuts. However, he retained his general opposition to high tariffs. In his final term in Congress, Lenroot’s MC-Index score reached an 82%, and many Republicans in the state were not pleased with his conservative turn. In 1926, they picked Governor John J. Blaine, a Republican of the La Follette mold. Lenroot’s lifetime MC-Index score was a 58%, indicating a moderate record. He was subsequently nominated by President Hoover to the U.S. Court of Customs and Patent Appeals. Confirmed by the Senate, he served until his retirement in 1944.
Husting is Killed By Brother In Hunt. (1917, October 22). The New York Times.
The 93rd Congress constitutes President Nixon’s second term, and he is considerably more conservative. His ACA-Index scores stand for 1973 and 1974 as 100% and 89% respectively in the Senate, while his House scores for 1973 and 1974 are 80% and 60% respectively. Nixon opposed the minimum wage, postcard voter registration, and campaign finance legislation and unlike in the first term, he does not compromise on busing. He also supported the reinstatement of the death penalty and opposed price controls on oil. Nixon’s left turns include his support for continuing price controls, his opposition to restricting exports to communist countries, and support for foreign aid. Some Republican senators reach all-time lows on conservatism, including Senators Charles Mathias (R-Md.), Clifford Case (R-N.J.), and Jacob Javits (R-N.Y.) scoring 0% in 1974. Mathias and Case would only vote for the conservative position a single time by ACA standards in 1973. Very few elected officials get a 0% or a 100% in both sessions of Congress. Only Representatives Sam Steiger (R-Ariz.) and Delwin Clawson (R-Calif.) as well as Senator Jesse Helms (R-N.C.) were always right by ACA standards in the 93rd Congress. For people who did all wrong by ACA’s standards, the number is also quite low. Hugh Carey (D-N.Y.), Jonathan Bingham (D-N.Y.), William J. Green Jr. (D-Penn.), and William Moorhead (D-Penn.) are the four in the House. Senators Ed Muskie (D-Me.), Hubert Humphrey (D-Minn.), and Harrison Williams (D-N.J.) are the three senators who did no right by ACA in the 93rd Congress.
This post covers the 92nd Congress, and there’s a bit more stabilization than in the last edition. Some whose scores were depressed in the last session have gone a bit back up. This includes Minority Leader Gerald Ford. In the Senate, only Carl Curtis (R-Neb.) had a perfect 100% in both years. In the House, only seven representatives scored a 100% in 1971, and thirty received this score in 1972. Del Clawson (R-Calif.), Durward G. Hall (R-Mo.), Samuel Devine (R-Ohio), George Goodling (R-Penn.), and Bill Archer (R-Tex.) received a 100% in both years.
Part of the difficulty in getting people 100% scores was ACA’s counting of the bailout of Lockheed Martin, an issue that saw liberals and conservatives on both sides of the debate. Likewise, with the railroad strike matter in the House, opposition to settlement came from both liberals and conservatives.
For some time, I have been working on what you might call “deciphering” Americans for Constitutional Action vote criterion for the scores the organization released. While we know what liberals thought was important at least back to 1947 based on Americans for Democratic Action scores, what of conservatives? Americans for Constitutional Action provides scores for the House dating back to 1957 and for the Senate dating back to 1955. The good news is that I have deciphered the entire Nixon Administration period. That means the 91st, 92nd, and 93rd Congresses are all revealed. This post will contain the criterion for the 91st Congress.
The ACA could be strict graders, and this is no more apparent than in the 91st Congress, especially 1969. Numerous Republicans who were previously thought of as conservatives see their scores plummet as opposed to during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, and this is in part following Nixon who started his presidency by appealing more often to the Rockefeller wing of the party. Republican legislators who demonstrated conservatism during the Johnson Administration demonstrated increased liberalism. Some notable examples based on altered ACA-Index scores (meaning including paired votes and certain announced positions) include:
James B. Utt (R-Calif.) 1968 – 95% 1969 – 75%
Charles M. Teague (R-Calif.) 1968 – 78% 1969 – 50%
Gerald Ford (R-Mich.) 1968 – 74% 1969 – 53%
Al Quie (R-Minn.) 1968 – 70% 1969 – 53%
Howard W. Robison (R-N.Y.) 1968 – 61% 1969 – 35%
William M. McCulloch (R-Ohio) 1968 – 63% 1969 – 33%
Thomas Pelly (R-Wash.) 1968 – 70% 1969 – 47%
Catherine May (R-Wash.) 1968 – 73% 1969 – 40%
John W. Byrnes (R-Wis.) 1968 – 86% 1969 – 56%
For 1969, ACA judged the House based on 17 votes and the Senate based on 16 votes. Zero senators and seven representatives score a 100%. Based on official positions, President Richard Nixon himself scores a mere 30% in the House and a 22% in the Senate. For 1970, ACA judged the House based on 19 votes and the Senate based on 24 votes. Zero senators and nine representatives score 100%. Of these, however, three did not serve for the entirety of 1970. President Richard Nixon scores a 67% in the House and a 75% in the Senate, a marked improvement, although not enough to dampen conservative criticism.
The basis is below, and I have provided descriptions of the votes scored:
On August 7, 1964, one of Alaska’s first two senators, Ernest Gruening, was one of only two senators to cast a vote against the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. The other was the famously stubborn and principled Wayne Morse of Oregon. His anti-war vote caught him a lot of flak, and this combined with his age of 81 in 1968 didn’t help him for reelection. Although Gruening was the presumptive favorite, real estate developer and former Alaska House Speaker Maurice Robert (“Mike”) Gravel (1930-2021) stepped up to challenge him. He was 43 years younger and he emphasized his youth and good looks throughout the campaign while keeping his stance on Vietnam ambiguous, asserting that he was “more in the mainstream of American thought on Vietnam” than Gruening, and later admitted he did this to win the election (Power). This led people to think that Gravel was to Gruening’s right on the subject, when in fact he was on his left. Gruening, who had been one of Alaska’s leading figures for decades before statehood, was defeated in an upset. Although he ran for reelection through a write-in campaign, Gravel won the election in a plurality.
Although Gravel had a well-grounded reputation as a staunch liberal in his first four years in office, he nonetheless could be independent in his voting. For instance, in 1969 he was the only Democrat not from a Southern or Border state to vote for the nomination of South Carolina’s Clement Haynsworth to the Supreme Court, a man attacked by liberals for his record on labor and civil rights as well as for ethics questions. He would not do the same for G. Harrold Carswell. Gravel presaged the modern era of politics in his propensity for showboating, rather than relying on traditional methods of moving up in the Senate. His most notable attention-getting incident was when he inserted 4,100 pages of the Pentagon Papers, which exposed a pattern of systematic lying by the Johnson Administration on Vietnam to the public and Congress, into the Congressional Record, making them a part of public record. Gravel also unsuccessfully filibustered a proposal to extend the draft for two years in 1971 before a planned end in 1973. He would in his 2008 campaign take credit for stopping or shortening the draft despite 1973 having already been the planned end date. Gravel’s staunch and vocal advocacy against the Vietnam War led to him going on numerous speaking tours, which resulted in a high absentee record. He did, however, defend the status quo on the Senate filibuster, a sore spot for liberals in his record. “Loose cannon is a good description of Gravel’s Senate career. He was an off-the-wall guy, and you weren’t really ever sure what he would do” (Westphal). In 1971, both he and Senator Ted Stevens came out against the Milrow and Cannikin nuclear tests, to be detonated under the unpopulated Amchitka Island. They and environmentalist groups feared that the detonations would cause major earthquakes and tsunamis. The tests ultimately were conducted, and no major earthquakes or tsunamis occurred with only minor earthquakes occurring in the aftermath (TIME). Similar to his treatment of his efforts against the draft, Gravel would later claim that his efforts had been responsible for cutting short the tests. He would be a frequent foe of other forms of military spending and would also oppose nuclear anything. Gravel came out against the Anti-Ballistic Missile system in 1971 and opposed continuing construction of nuclear power plants.
In 1972, Gravel, who was French-Canadian by birth, endorsed Senator Edmund Muskie for the presidential nomination, hoping his endorsement would help him among people of French-Canadian extraction in the New Hampshire primary. While Muskie did win the New Hampshire primary, his campaign floundered after. He also made a bid for the vice president nomination, but ultimately Sargent Shriver would be the nominee.
Trans-Alaska Pipeline: Gravel vs. Environmentalists
While Gravel had won praise from environmentalists for his opposition to the Cannikin nuclear test near Alaska, he crossed them in his advocacy for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. Gravel won a major victory when his proposal to bar judicial review of the pipeline on environmental grounds, supported by the Nixon Administration, passed by a single vote on July 17, 1973. This halted numerous environmental lawsuits against the pipeline and enabled its construction, crucial to growth in Alaska. Gravel was also a consistent supporter of the oil industry as Alaska was and is an oil state. This would not be the last time he crossed environmentalists.
Although Mike Gravel was thought to be in a tough spot for reelection or even renomination in 1974, there were three factors that helped him win reelection. First, he was able to secure key endorsements from organized labor. Second, his victories for Alaska such as the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. And third, the Republicans nominated State Senator C.R. Lewis, who was a leading member of the John Birch Society. Gravel prevailed by over 16 points on Election Day.
Allegation of Sex for Votes
In 1976, Gravel was investigated by the federal government over allegations that Rep. Kenneth J. Gray (D-Ill.) had instructed his staff clerk Elizabeth Ray in 1972 to help secure funding for the National Visitor Center in Washington (which was under both men’s subcommittee jurisdictions) by sleeping with him on his houseboat and that he had changed his vote over it (Crewdson). The investigation didn’t prove any such arrangement occurred, and Gravel would many years later admit that he had slept with her, but that it didn’t change any of his votes. He at the time was married to his first wife, and they would divorce in 1981.
The Alaska Lands Bill: Gravel Refuses to Compromise
Jimmy Carter in many ways appealed to environmentalists despite his mixed record. One of the ways he appealed to environmentalists was through his extensive conservation program that strongly impacted the west and resulted in the Sagebrush Rebellion. Gravel was part of this rebellion in his resistance to conservation in Alaska. In 1978, he filibustered to death a compromise Alaska Lands Bill pushed by his Republican colleague Ted Stevens that would open some mining lands and expand ANWR but leaving the coastal plain open to oil development and adding wilderness protections. Gravel did so on his belief that the bill didn’t go far enough in securing routes for transportation corridors for oil (Alaska Historical Society). As a consequence, President Carter would on December 1st issue an executive order using restrictive national monument designations of 56 million acres of land into 17 national monuments and an additional 40 million were withdrawn until the issue of Alaska land development and conservation got a compromise resolution in 1980 (Cole). The land restrictions were incredibly unpopular in Alaska, resulting in protests and acts of civil disobedience. Alaska voters blamed both Carter and Gravel for this outcome. Gravel also lost a key financial backer when he voted for selling F-15 fighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia and spoke passionately against opponents of the sale. The key backer, Barney Gottstein, had been a staunch advocate of Israel. Gravel would later accuse his primary opponent Clark Gruening of receiving funds from “a special interest group”, meaning Jews, as he thought them a special interest group on foreign policy (Greely). Gruening had previously promised not to seek funds from outside interest groups.
The 1980 Election
Senator Gravel’s bid for renomination was complicated by the fact that he had never been a popular figure among the Alaska Democratic establishment due to his defeat of Ernest Gruening as well as his approach on the Alaska land bill. He lost renomination by 11 points on August 26th to Clark Gruening, the former senator’s grandson. Gravel had ultimately lost due to alienating numerous groups as well as his unconstructive approach to Alaska lands legislation. However, even without Gravel’s personal difficulties Alaska was becoming an increasingly Republican state and President Jimmy Carter was deeply unpopular there (he only won 26% of the vote!), resulting in Republican banker Frank Murkowski winning the election. Gravel’s MC-Index score was a 14%. Although on most issues he was left-wing, he proved that on certain issues that were regarded as in the interests of the state of Alaska he was flexible.
Return to Politics
While most former senators tend to go into lobbying or only occasionally speak on political matters, that was not for Gravel. The Iraq War motivated him to return to national politics. In 2003, he spoke on direct democracy at an event hosted by American Free Press and cosponsored by the Holocaust denying journal The Barnes Review, both run by the pro-Nazi Willis Carto. Gravel subsequently apologized for his appearance, stating that he didn’t know they were Holocaust deniers and affirmed that six million Jews were murdered. This would not be the last time he would associate with fringe groups. In 2013, Gravel would attend a conference by the Iranian government on “Hollywoodism” to discuss Iran’s negative portrayals in American media (Botwin). He would also associate himself with Lyndon LaRouche organizations. LaRouche was a conspiracy theorist who maintained a cult of personality through his LaRouche movement, which had both strongly left and right swings.
Run for President
On April 17, 2006, he announced his candidacy for the Democratic nomination for president. His platform included a push for more direct democracy through the creation of a fourth branch of government that would be a legislature in which citizens would vote directly, an immediate pullout from Iraq, a single-payer health care system with coverage for homeopathy and acupuncture, repealing the income tax and replacing it with a national sales tax, term limits, and legalization of same-sex marriage. Gravel would also call for another investigation into 9/11. His participation in the Democratic primary debates resulted in heated moments. When the subject of the possibility of using nuclear weapons in Iran was discussed, Gravel asked Senator Barack Obama (D-Ill)., “Tell me, Barack, who do you want to nuke?” to which Obama replied, “I’m not planning to nuke anybody right now, Mike” (ABC News). He was not permitted to attend the debates after the third one.
Despite his consistently bottom-barrel poll numbers in the Democratic primary, he was one of only three remaining candidates by January 2008. On March 26th, Gravel announced his departure from the Democratic primary, opting instead to seek the nomination of the Libertarian Party. He wrote in an email to his supporters on his decision that the Democratic Party “no longer represents my vision for a great country. It is a party that continues to sustain war, the military-industrial complex and imperialism – all of which I find anathema to my views” (ABC News). Gravel attracted a bit more support, but ultimately came in fourth. After his defeat, he stated, “I just ended my political career. From 15 years old to now, my political career is over, and it’s no big deal. I’m a writer, I’m a lecturer, I’m going to push the issues of freedom and liberty. I’m going to push those issues until the day I die” (Fox News). Despite Gravel’s statements about the Democratic Party, he returned to the fold in 2010.
Criticism of American Foreign Policy and 2020 Run (Sorta)
Gravel had been a critic of American foreign policy since the start of the “War on Terror” and he regarded American actions as amounting to imperialism. Although he had for years associated himself with 9/11 truthers, in 2016 he confirmed his beliefs on the subject when he stated, “There’s no question in my mind that 9/11 was an inside job. We killed 58,000 American servicemen in the Vietnam War and all they did was die in vain. What’s so unusual about killing 3,000 more in order to develop the grist for the mill to empower into infinity the military industrial complex?” (Cheadle)
In 2019, although Gravel had previously concluded that he had “ended” his political career, he was urged by two teenagers to make yet another run for the Democratic nomination despite his advanced age. However, this bid was in truth a symbolic effort to communicate his views nationwide by appearing at the Democratic debates and he would not travel unless it was to the debates. Gravel’s campaign manager was 18-year-old senior David Oks, one of the teenagers who had convinced him to run. He dropped out after it became clear that he wouldn’t make the debate stage given that he didn’t attract enough donor support. He didn’t even endorse himself for president, rather endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii. After he concluded his campaign, Gravel established The Gravel Institute with remaining money he had raised for the campaign, intended to be the left-wing answer to PragerU. This organization has attracted staunchly left-wing figures, including Senator Bernie Sanders and Professor Cornel West. Gravel died on June 26, 2021.
Botwin, N. (2019, March 21). Mike Gravel’s Unseemly Associations. Jewish Worker.
I have recently recalled a most irritating discussion I had with a person I no longer know about eight years ago, in which she said, despite a heap of evidence to the contrary, that Jim Jones was an evangelical Christian and that he was NOT a communist or in fact an atheist because her professor said so and that professors cannot lie. She was in truth what we would be called an “SJW” nowadays. Her professor was not alone among staunch left-wingers in this denial of a deeply uncomfortable truth, especially in California. It is the truth that not only was Jim Jones a communist and an atheist, but how close-knit he was to the political powers that were in San Francisco in the 1970s. It reminds me of the late Reverend Sun Myung Moon and his Unification Church and their extensive ties to the American right (including ownership of The Washington Times for years through his company, New World Communications), although unlike Jones, Moon never killed anyone.
James Warren Jones (1931-1978) would make his greatest political mark in the California Bay Area, but his start would be in the state of his birth, Indiana, and would engage in his earliest political activities in Indianapolis. He went to church with his parents from a young age but there were already troubling signs of where he would eventually go. Jones was obsessed with Pentecostalism and death and claimed that he had special powers, including the ability to fly, which he attempted and broke his arm in the failure. It didn’t help that his mother told him that she had a vision that he would be a great religious leader one day. Jones also came to idolize Adolf Hitler as an adolescent and would even play a game of “dictator” in which he would have kids goosestep and hit them if they disobeyed him, but he later expanded his influences to communists such as Stalin, Mao, and Marx. He also admired the fact that Hitler committed suicide rather than be captured. As a teenager, Jones became disturbed by society’s treatment of black Americans, including his own father’s. By 1948, he considered himself a communist and three years later, he moved to Indianapolis and attended his first Communist Party meeting. The following year, Jones opted to join the church and reflected back on the matter, “I decided, how can I demonstrate my Marxism? The thought was, infiltrate the church”, and he went on to say, “The early years, I’d approached Christendom from a communalist standpoint, with only intermittent mention of my um, Marxist views. However, in later years, there wasn’t a person that attended any of my meetings that did not hear me say, at some time, that I was a communist, and that is what is very strange, that all these years, I have survived without being exposed” (Jones). In 1977, Jones’ wife Marceline admitted “Jim used religion to try to get some people out of the opiate of religion” and had slammed the Bible on the table yelling, “I’ve got to destroy this paper idol!” (Lindsey) Disturbingly, he also claimed to his followers that he was God, but did not do so outside of Peoples Temple meetings. This was an odd proclamation given that he was quoted as saying, “Off the record, I don’t believe in any loving God. Our people, I would say, are ninety percent atheist” (Jones, Q622). This tendency to seeing himself as God was confirmed by the testimonies of former members. Former member Hue Fortson Jr. reported that he said, “What you need to believe in is what you can see…If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have a father…If you see me as your savior, I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God” (PBS).
Civil Rights Leader in Indianapolis
In 1961, Jones was named by conservative Democrat Indianapolis Mayor Charles Boswell as director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission. He had been interviewed by a priest, a rabbi, and a black judge without investigating his background. What they knew was that Jones was an advocate for civil rights and an advocate for poor people. Boswell had appointed him as he was in truth the only candidate, and despite being advised to keep a low profile and minimize antagonism to the business community, he drew a lot of attention to himself and engaged in militant rhetoric, although in practice Jones’ actions were more moderate (Alternative Considerations, 2013). He was credited with pushing certain business owners to be more open to black customers. In a life otherwise filled with darkness, this is the bright spot. This was brief, however, as in the following year Jones moved to Brazil with his family, trying to get a Peoples Temple foothold there, but was unsuccessful and moved back to Indianapolis in 1963.
Jones and California Democratic Politicians
In 1965, Jones moved the People’s Temple to Redwood Valley, California, a few miles outside Ukiah after he read in Esquire Magazine that Ukiah would be an area that would likely survive a nuclear war. He declared that there would in the future be a nuclear war and that from the ashes would spring a socialist utopia. In 1971, Jones bought an abandoned synagogue in San Francisco and set up the new headquarters of the Peoples Temple. The Temple would also have locations in Sacramento, Santa Rosa, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Los Angeles. He spread money around for charitable causes in the city to gain support, including a fund for policemen’s widows and the local NAACP. Jones also curried favor with the media by speaking in defense of Fresno reporters imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources. Jones’ newspaper, Peoples Forum, in practice according to a 1977 expose, “regularly exalts socialism, praises Huey Newton and Angela Davis and forecasts a government takeover by American Nazis” (Kilduff & Tracy).
Jim Jones had numerous ties with prominent Democratic politicians in California, especially ones in the Burton machine in San Francisco. They either looked approvingly at his Marxism or did not care, as they could be characterized as “anti-anti-communists”; Burton and his ilk were the staunchest of foes of the Vietnam War and the House Committee on Un-American Activities. They also ignored any signs of trouble from him as they saw him as a useful supporter given all the people he could bring to campaign events and canvass for them. Future San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown praised Jones as “What you should see every day when you look in the mirror” and that he was a combination of Martin Luther King Jr., Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, and Mao (Reiterman & Jacobs, 308). Mayor Tom Bradley of Los Angeles visited the Los Angeles Temple, and Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally visited Jones’s Guyana agricultural location. As Kilduff and Marshall (1977) wrote, “The source of Jones’s political clout is not very difficult to divine. As one politically astute executive puts it: “He controls votes.” And voters. During San Francisco’s run-off election for mayor in December of 1975, some 150 temple members walked precincts to get out the vote for George Moscone, who won by a slim 4,000 votes. “They’re well-dressed, polite and they’re all registered to vote,” said one Moscone campaign official.
Can you win office in San Francisco without Jones? “In a tight race like the ones that George or Freitas or Hongisto had, forget it without Jones,” said State Assemblyman Willie Brown, who describes himself as an admirer of Jones’s”.
In a San Francisco rally for First Lady Rosalynn Carter, 600 of 750 people in the crowd were members of the People’s Temple. Jones also met with Mrs. Carter as well as Jimmy Carter’s running mate, Walter Mondale. Harvey Milk attended his rallies and considered him a partner in the struggle for liberation. Kilduff and Tracy (1977) wrote this in their expose on Jones, “Finally, something must be said about the numerous public officials and political figures who openly courted and befriended Jim Jones. While it appears that none of the public officials from Governor Brown on down knew about the inner world of the Peoples Temple, they have left the impression that they used Jones to deliver votes at election time, and never asked any questions. They never asked about the bodyguards. Never asked about the church’s locked doors. Never asked why Jones’s followers were so obsessively protective of him. And apparently, some never asked because they didn’t want to know”.
The 1975 San Francisco Mayoral Election
Jim Jones saw value in cultivating support from Moscone, so he rallied his followers to work for the mayoral candidate, sending them out walking precincts. The 1975 mayoral election was close and it ultimately set San Francisco on the course to where it is today politically. In opposition was John Barbagelata, a conservative Republican member of the San Francisco City Council, who ran on a platform of bringing the city back to the values of decades past. However, come election day Moscone prevailed by 4,400 votes, but was the election legit?
Former Temple members would later state that “busloads” of members were taken from Redwood Valley to San Francisco to vote and that refusal would be met with physical violence (Fund). Jones required his followers to produce ballot stubs proving they had voted. Although there was an investigation by the city government into allegations of voter fraud, the man assigned to lead the investigation was Timothy Stoen, who at the time was chief legal adviser to…you guessed it…Jim Jones (Fund). As expected, Stoen found no wrongdoing by Jones or his Peoples Temple. Jones would be appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority by Moscone and then made head of it. Additionally, Supervisor Harvey Milk was strongly supportive of Jones as he was pro-gay rights, had provided his campaigns with “volunteers”, positive press in his newspaper, and had his followers send him condolence letters after his lover committed suicide (Dreher).
Exposure, Stoen’s Defection, and Jonestown
Although Jones had managed to gain the support of many Democratic politicians and that of the local media, reporter Marshall Kilduff of the San Francisco Chronicle, which had refused to print his stories of former members speaking out, published an expose through an independent paper, New West, in August 1977. These revelations included how Jones controlled his followers through psychological manipulation, regimentation, fear, humiliation, and violence.
One family who left the Peoples Temple, the Mertles, reported that when they first joined they were first treated with great love by Jones and his followers, but this gave way to discipline for minor infractions which started as denouncing and humiliation of the person in front of the entire congregation and then spankings with wooden paddles in front of the congregation. These would end with the punished person saying, “Thank you Father” and Jones would praise how much better they had become (Kilduff & Tracy). These beatings escalated in their severity. One day, one of their daughters, Linda Mertle, was disciplined for hugging and kissing a female friend who was reputed to be a lesbian, and was swatted on the buttocks 75 times (Kilduff & Tracy). Elmer and Deanna Mertle subsequently left the Peoples Temple and changed their names to Al and Jeanne Mills to void the power of attorney had given Jones. Jones also controlled people by making them write false confessions of crimes and indecent acts and having people give the church their money and property.
Jim Jones would also trick his followers into believing that he had healing powers. Wayne Pietila and Jim and Terri Cobb reported that a people purportedly ill with cancer would be taken into a restroom with Jones and his wife and they would come out apparently healed with the cancer cupped in a napkin. One time, Terri managed to get a look at a bag full of the cancers, and reported, “It was full of napkins and small bits of meat, individually wrapped. They looked like chicken gizzards. I was shocked” (Kilduff & Tracy). He also faked multiple assassination attempts on himself as a demonstration of his ability to heal himself and as a demonstration that the Peoples Temple and Jones had dangerous enemies.
Another issue that arose for Jones was the custody battle over John Victor Stoen, son of Tim and Grace Stoen. However, Grace was also having relations with Jim Jones and the couple had signed the child over to Jones. However, Stoen broke with the group after the 1975 election and he joined forces with the Mertles to provide support for people getting out of the Peoples Temple.
New West magazine editor Rosalie Wright had informed Jones about the publication ahead of time and read him the story over the phone because of the numerous letters of support she had received from numerous California politicians, including Governor Jerry Brown (Layton, 113). After the revelations, Jones and around a thousand followers fled to Guyana. Despite this expose, Mayor George Moscone refused to investigate the Temple, and Councilman Harvey Milk remained a supporter of the Peoples Temple. The latter even wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter accusing Timothy Stoen of lying about Jones and the group.
Support for Communist Dictators and The Kim Connection
Jones’ publication wrote in support of the Chinese Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong and the North Korea regime of Kim Il Sung. As early as the 1950s, Jones criticized the American role in the Korean War, holding that Kim Il Sung’s invasion was a liberation of South Korea, holding, “The south is a living example of all that socialism in the north has overcome” (Thayer). In the case of the latter, support went beyond favorable coverage; North Korea initiated contact with the Peoples Temple. In March 1978, Jones went to a meeting in the North Korean embassy of Guyana and on over a dozen occasions he and his family met with the North Korean ambassador and other officials in Georgetown, Guyana, and he and the North Koreans exchanged propaganda materials. Jones would indoctrinate his members with North Korean propaganda and extol Kim Il Sung. The North Korean government would in turn praise Jones in its propaganda. He viewed North Korea’s effort and his effort at Jonestown as similar in their pursuit of a socialist utopia. As Jones said, in reaffirmation of his atheist and utopian views, “There is no Heaven up there, so we are going to have to make Heaven down here” (Thayer).
Psychological Deterioration, Jonestown
Jim Jones’ evil obsession with power and death grew worse as he was increasingly dependent on amphetamines and tranquilizers. This caused the whites of his eyes to be constantly red, thus his wearing of sunglasses. He would hold practice sessions for suicide, conditioning his adult followers for what would eventually come. Jones also lied about the conditions of the United States to his followers, telling them that blacks were being rounded up into concentration camps and that the Americans would come for them next. Upon Leo Ryan’s visit to investigate conditions at Jonestown and after he took some people who wanted to leave with him, Jones ordered his assassination. The purpose of this was to bring about the American troops that he had warned his followers of, thus fulfilling his own prophecy. Jones proceeded to direct his followers to commit suicide on November 18, 1978, through the consumption of grape “Flavor Aid” laced with cyanide, with the children first being murdered. He had managed to accrue a major supply of cyanide over several years as he had obtained a jeweler’s license, the cyanide officially being purchased in bulk to clean gold (Polk). Disturbingly an audio recording exists of this event. Among the disturbing and haunting content in it, Jones implores dissenters among his followers to commit suicide, “Stop these hysterics. This is not the way for people who are socialists or communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity” (The “Death Tape”). Although Jonestown is often thought of as mass suicide, it can more accurately be thought of as mass murder. Those who did so “willingly” did so under brainwashing and many did so unwillingly, at gunpoint. And it cannot be said that any of the 276 children (including John Victor Stoen) chose to end their lives. Although Jones was commonly thought of as a champion for black people, most of his victims were black. His political allies Moscone and Milk would be assassinated by disgruntled former supervisor Dan White only nine days later.
Post-Jonestown Massacre Spin: The Mainstream Media Disassociates Jones from Marxism
After the Jonestown Massacre, those who had praised him before as a partner in social justice, “liberation”, or whatnot, were quick to distance themselves from him, not just on a personal level, but also to deny his ideology. Comedian Mort Sahl, for instance, cooked up a fine “no true Scotsman” fallacy with, “The exercise in Guyana was a fascist exercise, no matter what the label on the can. Socialists don’t do that” (Irvine). The legendary Walter Cronkite (a man who hid his really left-wing politics well for a time) retconned him, holding that he was a “power-hungry fascist” when in truth he hadn’t been fond of fascists since his teenage years and TheNew York Times labeled his philosophy “fundamentalist Christianity” (Dreher). The media’s immediate reports on Jones were that he was a fundamentalist Bible-thumping preacher, thereby buying the image Jones had presented to the public. One source that quickly reported the truth on him was none other than the left-wing magazine The Nation. The Nation wrote in the aftermath that, “The temple was as much a left-wing political crusade as a church. In the course of the 1970s, its program grew steadily more disaffected from what Jim Jones came to regard as a ‘Fascist America’ and drifted rapidly toward outspoken Communist sympathies” (Dreher). Yet, many Americans still believe the initial story the media told us, just like they grabbed onto “drinking the Kool-Aid” as a synonym for suicide or becoming brainwashed, even though what Jones’ followers were manipulated and forced into consuming was “Flavor Aid”.
Why Did People Follow Jones?
Part of why people followed Jones was because of the legitimacy he was lent by the press and politicians. As author Daniel J. Flynn stated in an interview with Rod Dreher (2018), “People lied. People died. People died. People lied. Jim Jones could not have killed 918 people without politicians, journalists, and activists running interference for him. They mistook ideology for ethics, a mistake common to fanatics of all stripes. Rather than learn from this mistake, they compounded it by portraying Jones posthumously as someone he was not to protect their ideology, shield their political skullduggery, and absolve themselves from the journalistic sin of performing PR instead of real reporting”. Another part of it was that Jones was a charismatic figure, stood for numerous liberal causes, and stood as a figure of hope for people who were vulnerable and looking for answers. As community activist Hannibal Williams observed, urban renewal specialist Justin Herman had “literally destroyed the neighborhood…people were desperate for solutions, something to follow. Jim Jones was another solution. He had a charismatic personality that won the hearts and souls of people. And people followed him to hell. That’s where Jim Jones went. That’s where he took the people who followed him” (Talbot). Jones himself represents what happens with a raw exercise of power in the promise of utopia. Even after his demise, there were still people who looked back with some positivity on their experiences following him, and more disturbingly, there were several murders of defectors after Jonestown. Not all of Jones’ followers had gone to Guyana. For instance, on February 26, 1980, Al and Jeannie Mills were murdered along with their daughter Daphne, execution style. While it is a significant possibility it was their son Eddie Mills, the case has remained officially unsolved.
I found that the more I read about Jones the more disturbed I got, and yes, found him to be even worse than people already think he is. Jones’ false dream of a utopia on earth is one that has in truth never died. Humanity has never created heaven on earth, but many, many times has created hell on earth and has sometimes done so in the pursuit of the former as happened with Jonestown. If you don’t believe in heaven, that’s your cross to bear, and the creation of it is not your cause to impose on humanity.
Crewdson, J.M. (1978, December 24). Defector Says Jones Used 2 Methods to Control Cult. The New York Times.