"The key to understanding the tragedy that was Jonestown lies in the oratory skills of the Peoples Temple founder, Jim Jones.
...Like all powerful speakers, Jones' greatest asset was his ability to determine what listeners wanted to hear and give it to them in simple language that appealed to them on an almost instinctual level.
'He was very charismatic, very charismatic,' said Leslie Wilson, who survived that fateful day in Jonestown by walking away from the settlement before the cyanide that killed more than 900 Peoples Temple members was distributed. She was one of 33 people who began the day in Jonestown and lived to tell the tale.
'He could quote scripture and turn around and preach socialism,' she said. 'He appealed to anyone on any level at any time.'
Jones further enraptured crowds with faith healings -- laying hands on disabled or sick people who would miraculously be cured of any ailments. Though insiders later revealed that these healings were staged, Jones' mastery of word and presentation left few in attendance with any doubts about his abilities.
He also indoctrinated many young, idealistic liberal white people in progressive 1970s California with the themes of socialism, equality and political activism. And he justified his brand of socialism with the Bible for those recruited from more conservative religious factions, who might have found such left-wing ideas tough to swallow.
'The only ethic by which we can lift mankind today is some form of socialism,' he said in another 1972 sermon. 'There's a smattering of it in the, in the New Testament. It's very evidently clear on the day of Pentecost that they that believed were together and had all things common.'
Socialism, he said, is 'older than the Bible by far.'
He also used a 'divide and conquer' method among his followers.
'What Jones did was try to break all ties that were not to him,' said former believer Vernon Gosney. 'Transfer all that loyalty, all that bonding to him. And so families were broken apart. Relationships were divided.'
Such divisions caused family members to spy and report on one another, or friends to turn in friends for various transgressions.
Jones furthered the poisonous atmosphere among his followers by encouraging physical fighting to either solve problems or administer punishment. Audiotapes of such sessions reveal Jones laughing, apparently entertained.
Jones' mastery of the spoken word also enabled his many sexual exploits with both female and male followers. Jones deftly justified his actions to his followers by saying that what he did to them was actually for their own benefit, or the benefit of making the church a stronger, tighter-knit organization.
He preached that many of his male followers were in denial about their homosexuality, conditioning those followers to accept him if he approached with a sexual advance.
And he defused any accusations of sexual perversion on his part by claiming that he gained no personal pleasure from his acts, which he called a 'great sacrifice.'
'And if the leader is attracted to you, then somehow that cultivates,' Jones said during a temple meeting in 1978. 'Well, you ought to know I'm attracted to you, I'm ready to die for every one of you, so that means I'm attracted to you. You follow what I'm saying? I'm attracted to all of you. How much more attraction can you have than to be ready to have your eyes plucked out?'"
-- David M. Matthews, in the religious cult story that covers almost all the political issues of this "spiritual" NewAge, for CNN.com.
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