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Sunday, February 28, 2010

People's Temple & Heaven's Gate

In comparing the two catastrophic killings of these two groups, one must make reference to the works of Emile Durkheim. Investigating both of these killings highlights the fact that both cults adhered to an "altruistic suicide", which goes by the mantra of "for the good of the whole".
Altruistic suicide results when the level of social integration is "too freat, the collective consciousness too strong, and the individual is forced into committing suicide". While neither Jim Jones nor Marshall Applewhite forced followers to commit the suicide, they were so heavily integrated into their cults that they did it in an enthusiastic, voluntary way. George Ritzer further explains that many feel that it is "their duty" to commit suicide, and it is often tied to their beliefs about life.
In both cases, the suicidal cult followers believed that something greater was present after death. They chose to shed their earthly bodies in order to pursue the higher level of life. Paradoxically however, the Heaven's Gate cult looked down upon suicide, stating that they had been given their "containers" (or bodies) by the extra-terrestial beings, and that they must respect these earthly shells. They did not view their killing as "suicide", but merely as a passageway into the Next Level.
Another aspect to note is that the level of integration may have been so high for both groups because of the persuasive leaders. Both Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite were charismatic, knowledgeable men with impeccable oratorial skills. They were able to convince their followers to do just about anything: leave their families, leave their children, flee the country....and even end their lives.
The People's Temple and Heaven's Gate are not drastically different in their reasons for committing suicide: both did it for religious reasons. Being so tightly knit within their respective cults, many members felt obligated, and even excited, to partake in the adventure together. Most followers viewed the experience as a release and as a hopeful experience, which supports Durkheim's statement that this type of suicide "springs from hope", depending upon various outlooks on life.

Video Documents of Heaven's Gate Mass Suicide

The Heaven's Gate suicide was a phenomenon that shook the nation. Below, please find a list of links to visit for news reportings, documentaries, and other informational videos.

Photos of Heaven's Gate Cult










Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven's Gate cult.










The model of Nike shoes worn by all Heaven's Gate members during the suicide. After the event, Nike discontinued the selling and manufacturing of the shoe.






















Dead members of the Heaven's Gate cult, pictured in the black attire and death shrouds. Members died by ingesting phenobarbital and suffocating themselves.







































Medical examiners remove the body of Wayne Cooke from a hotel near the Ranchero Santa Fe mansion. Cooke did not commit suicide at the mansion, like other members of the cult.

Heaven's Gate: An Out-Of-This-World Mystery....Literally




One of the most infamous cult suicide cases is that of Heaven's Gate. Centered in California, Heaven's Gate was one of three foundations established by Marshall Herff Applewhite and Bonnie "Ti" Lu Trusdale Nettles, also known as "The Two".

The pair's first organization, founded in 1975, was Human Individual Metamorphosis (HIM). Followers of HIM travelled to the Colorado desert to await the arrival of a UFO. As could be expected, no UFO arrived.

Ten years later, Bonnie Nettles succumbed to cancer, leaving Applewhite to lead the loyal followers on his own. In 1993, he organized a group of followers known as Total Overcomers Anonymous (TOA). The group put an advertisement in USA Today, announcing that the Earth's present population was going to be "recycled". When the public negatively received the ad, Applewhite and his TOA members moved to San Diego County, California.



The Beginnings of Heaven's Gate


In San Diego, the group adopted the new name of "Heaven's Gate". The cult combined elements of Christianity along with unusual beliefs regarding UFOs (Un-indentified Flying Objects). They interpreted passages from the Biblical books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, as well as the entire book of Revelation to be about UFO visitation. Revelation 11 speaks of two people who die, remain dead for 3 and half days, and are then resurrected and "went up to Heaven in a cloud". This reinforced their extra-terrestial beliefs.

Heaven's Gate viewed Earth as being in control of evil forces, and only the elite (members of the cult) would attain Heaven. Rising out of this belief, members believed in an extremely dualistic view of the body, leading Applewhite to describe the body as:


"...[Bodies are] the temporary containers of the soul...the final act of metamorphosis or separation from the human kingdom is the 'disconnect' or separation from the human physical container or body in order to be released from the human environment."



Extra-Terrestrial Beliefs


Members of Heaven's Gate believed that approximately 2000 years ago, a group of aliens came to Earth from the "Kingdom of Heaven", also known as "The Next Level". The team was led by "Do", and his female companion "Tu", whom Do referred to as his "Heavenly Father". Do left his alien body, transported to Earth in a spaceship, and moved into the human body of Jesus Christ.

A second expedition was led in the 1920s with Do as "The Leader" and Ti as "The Admiral". Upon landing on Earth, each alien sought a hosting human body. However, while searching for their hosts, the alien members became scattered. Do and Ti remained together, and held public meetings to discuss and publicate their beliefs. Much to their surprise, they found that most of their newest converts were actually long-lost alien members who had found their way back. Following this tale, Applewhite's followers referred to him as "Do" and to Nettles as "Ti".



Life In San Diego


The Heaven's Gate members lived together in a large, rented San Diego County home, known as the Ranchero Santa Fe mansion. Members referred to each other as "brothers and sisters", and viewed themselves as "monks and nuns". They referenced their mansion home as their "monastery". Members had little contact with their "human" family, friends, or neighbors. Many had successful professional careers prior to joining the cult, but chose to sacrifice that pleasant lifestyle for one of ascetic behavior. Many abandoned their children and families before joining, even though they were free to leave the cult at any time.

Heaven's Gate followers dressed in unisex clothing, consisting of black garments with Mandarin collars, black pants, and black Nike shoes. Once joining the cult, members agreed to lead a celibate lifestyle, which prompted some to venture to extreme measure. Eight followers, including Applewhite, submitted to a voluntary castration. They believed that it would prepare them for their "next level of existence": one free of gender and sexual activity.


Higher Source


The cult supported themselves through Higher Source, a company which designed web pages for a profit. They then began to use the Internet as a recruitment tool. On the site http://www.heavensgate.com/, Applewhite drew parallels between himself and the heavenly spirit that occupied the body of Jesus Christ. Displayed prominently on the homepage of the site is the message:


"As was promised- the keys to Heaven's Gate are here again in Ti and Do (The UFO Two) as they were in Jesus and His Father, 2000 years ago."


Also posted on the site is the task of the group:


"To work individually on our personal overcoming and change, in preparation for entering the Kingdom of Heaven."


After the Heaven's Gate suicides, the FBI seized control of the site.



UFOs


Heaven's Gate believed that UFOs are "inter-stellar spaceships operated by extra-terrestrial beings who are attempting to bring humanity to a higher level of knowledge". They believed that by ending their lives at the correct time, they would be able to leave their bodies, also known as "containers", behind. The soul, keeping in the dualistic mindset, would remain asleep until it was "replanted" in another container. The soul would be grafted onto a representative of the "level above human". That representative would be onboard a UFO ship, much like the one they believed was behind the Hale-Bopp comet.


Comets = Killings?


Near Easter 1997, when the comet was closest to Earth, the members believed that they had been sent a celestial "marker". A video tape shot shortly before the suicides showed that the members were extremely excited about their futures. This excitement may have been due to the feeling of release of the tortures of Earth. Heaven's Gate feared persecution, death, arrest, physical and psychological torture while on Earth. They feared it would come from outside of their group, either from an "irate individual" or "the powers that control the world".

On that fated day in 1997, 21 women and 18 men prepared for their deaths. Apparently, the cult died in three groups; one round of 15 members, then another round of 15, and then a last round of 7. All seemed to have died by ingesting phenobarbital mixed with either applesauce or pudding. Phenobarbital is a drug used as a sedative hypnotic and as an anticonvulsant in subhypnotic doses. After ingesting this combination, members chased it down with a shot of vodka. They then proceeded to asphyxiate themselves by placing a plastic bag over their heads. All members, except for 2, died with shrouds covering their bodies. Marshall Applewhite, 65 years old at the time, died alone in the master bedroom.
Sources Used:
Gleick, Elizabeth. "It Was The Marker We Were Waiting For." Time Magazine. 7 Apr. 1997. Web. 20 Feb. 2010. http://www.time.com/time/reports/cult/heavensgate1.html
Robinson, B.A. "Heaven's Gate: Christians/ UFO Believers". ReligiousTolerance.org. N.p., 12 Dec. 2002. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.religioustolerance.org/dc_highe.htm
"Phenobarbital (Phenobarbital Tablets And Elixirs)". Rx List: The Internet Drug Index. N.p., 2010. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.rxlist.com/phenobarbital-drug.htm



Photos of Jim Jones And The People's Temple








Jim Jones (center) surrounded by young children.

















A chart detailing the membership of the People's Temple by both gender and race. As can be seen, black females held the highest attendance, followed by black males, and then their white counterparts. The high population of black members can be attributed to the message of racial equality and freedom that Jones promised to the Temple.










A chart depicting the racial breakdown of Temple members living in Guyana. As can be seen, blacks populated 68% of Jonestown, whites populated 24%, mixed races populated 5%, and other races populated 3%.









An aerial view of dead bodies surrounding The People's Temple compound in Jonestown, Guyana. Approximately 914 people committed suicide in November 1970.

































Trailer: "Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The People's Temple"

This is the theatrical trailer for the critically-acclaimed documentary, Jonestown: The Life And Death Of The People's Temple", which was constructed by news footage, as well as interviews with People's Temple survivors. The film was released in April 2007 by PBS Home Video and Paramount Home Entertainment.



http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6S_d1eVv0E8

For additional videos, please visit the Cult Suicide video bar at the top of the main blog page.

People's Temple: The Story of Jim Jones


When the words "cult suicide" are said, most minds immediately jump to Jim Jones and the tragic event involving the People's Temple. However, what most people fail to note is the complex and mysterious story surrounding this cult. In this blog post, we will seek to get a better look at WHO the People's Temple was, WHAT their mission was, and WHY they participated in a mass suicide.
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The People's Temple was founded by James (Jim) Warren Jones in Indiana. Initially founded as an inter-racial mission for the sick, homeless, and jobless, the Temple defied social norms by being one of the first inter-racial organizations of the time. By the mid-1950s, the Temple had adopted approximately 900 members. Kevin Hozak of The University of North Dakota explained Jones' mission for the Temple as such:

"He preached a 'social gospel' of human freedom, equality, and love, which required helping the least and the lowliest of society's members. Later on, however, this gospel became explicitly socialistic, or communistic in Jones' own view, and the hypocrisy of White Christianity was ridiculed while 'apostolic socialism' was preached."

It sounds as if The People's Temple's original mission was admirable, no? Helping the least and the lowliest, just as Jesus commanded in the New Testament. So, where did Jones go wrong? What happened to the Temple?





Government Investigations Begin


As the Temple's number of followers grew, so did Jones' "spiritual" license. He began to develop odd and unsafe cures for medical maladies such as cancer, heart disease, and arthritis. When the government began an investigation of these practices, Jones moved the Temple to Ukiah, in Northern California. He then began to preach that a nuclear war was inevitable, and according to Esquire magazine, Ukiah was 1 of 9 American cities that could survive a nuclear attack.


In the mid 1970s, Jim Jones and The People's Temple were featured in a New West expose. After this article was published, the government was once again on the hunt to uncover the truth of the Temple. Allegations of "suspicious illegal activities" arose, forcing Jones to move the Temple members to Jonestown, Guyana.



Life In Guyana


The People's Temple leased approximately 4,000 acres of dense jungle land from the Guyana government. At this point, they began calling themselves "The People's Temple Agricultural Project". Keeping in a purely agricultural mindset, The Temple raised animals for food, and grew and sold assorted tropical fruits and vegetables.



The Beginnings of Mass Suicide


Jones developed a theory called "Translation" , in which he and The Temple would all die together from a self-induced poisoning. This death would act as a "release", in that the followers would move to another planet for a "life of bliss". Jones even went as far as to have practice sessions for the suicide. Members would drink fake poision and then fall to the ground, as if dead.


During the late 1970s, Jones began abusing prescription drugs and started to become increasingly paranoid. Rumours swirled that human abuse was occuring within the Temple, and there was an unsteadly influx of members into the group. Some people left the Temple, while countless others continued to join. Tim Stoen, the Temple's attorney and best friend of Jim Jones, started a group called "Concerned Relatives", which reported that the Temple had become like a concentration camp, with people being held prisoner within the institution.



Congressman Ryan's Intervention


After hearing of the dire situation in Guyana, Congressman Leo Ryan (D-CA) visited Jonestown in November 1978. Ryan was extremely involved in the eradication of destructive cults, which led him to research a testimony written by John Gordon Clark, a Harvard psychiatrist, about the health hazards surrounding cults.


When Congressman Ryan first arrived in Jonestown, the visit went very well. However, it did not take long for the situation to turn sour. On November 18th, 1978, 16 Temple members decided that they wanted to leave the Temple with the American visitors. This disloyalty greatly upset Jones and the rest of the Temple community. While Ryan and the others were waiting at Port Kiatuma airport, an airstrip near Jonestown, heavily armed Temple security guards began shooting. Leo Ryan and four others were killed; three were press members, the other was a Temple member who wanted to leave Jonestown. Eleven were wounded.



The Case of The Kool-Aid: The End of The People's Temple


After the murder of Congressman Ryan and the four others, the Temple members began to fear trouble. They knew that word would spread would quickly of their actions, so they started discussing any viable options for escape from punishment. The final decision? Group suicide. Studies done on the bodies found that most members drank a grape drink laced with cyanide and a number of other substances, such as liquid Valium, Penegram, and chloral hydrate. Exactly what the grape drink was is still a topic of dispute. Some say it was the immensely popular Kool-Aid, while others insist that it was FlaVor-Aid.


Other members died through poision injection, according to the Guyanese coroner, who said that many bodies presented with numerous needle marks. Still other members shot themselves, while a very small number of members fled the suicide and escaped into the jungle.


Death Count of The People's Temple:



  • 914 Total Deaths

  • 638 Adults

  • 276 Children

  • Some reports say that 911 people died, but the exact count is difficult to determince since many bodies decayed beyond recognition when authorities arrived.






Sources Used:

Robinson, B.A. "The People's Temple, Led By James Warren Jones." ReligiousTolerance.org. N.p., 9 Apr. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.religioustolerance.org/dc_jones.htm

"Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and the People's Temple," Department of Philosophy and Religion, University of North Dakota, at http://www-rohan.sdsu/~remoore/jonestown

"Leo Ryan." Biographicon. N.p., 12 Mar. 2009. Web. 21 Feb. 2010. http://www.biographicon.com/view/7ewun