On the morning of November 18, 1978 America awoke to the news that California Congressman, Leo Ryan, had been shot dead in Guyana and hundreds of people had committed suicide by drinking cyanide laced Cool Aid in what remains the largest mass suicide in American history.  Few Americans at the time even knew who Jim Jones was, although there had been investigations into his “church” by California authorities before this horrific news was broadcast across the nation.   We were stunned.  How could it be that more than 900 people living in the jungles of a third world country could do this?  What the fuck was going on?   As time went on, we learned who Jim Jones was and we learned about the “hold” he had on and over his People’s Temple followers.  Even so, it was hard to believe.  The question then was and still is:  "How Could This Happen?" Or "Why Did This Happen?"

Jim Jones, the strange and charismatic leader of Peoples Temple, proved a master at politically wiring San Francisco in the mid-1970’s. The driven preacher had begun his climb up the political pyramid by planting roots in the Fillmore district, the city’s devastated black neighborhood. Jones moved into the Fillmore at its most vulnerable moment. Urban renewal czar Justin Herman – the Robert Moses of San Francisco — had “literally destroyed the neighborhood,” observed community activist Hannibal Williams, “[and] 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.”
Jones’s flock, ignored and scorned by society, was electrified by the preacher’s vision of a new Eden on earth. Everybody was exalted in his services, even the lowliest recovering drunks and addicts. “He made us feel special, like something bigger than ourselves,” said one temple member. “Total equality, no rich or poor, no races,” said another. “We were alive in those services,” testified one more. “They had life, soul power.”
Jones — an oddball and renegade his entire life, someone who never felt at home in his own skin — had found his identity by taking on a black persona. He saw himself following in the footsteps of Malcolm and Martin, leading “his” people out of bondage and into the promised land.
  [The preceding three paragraphs are excerpted from a Salon article, “Jim Jones’ Sinister Grip on San Francisco,” and a Rolling Stone article,
In the Valley of the Shadow of Death: Guyana After the Jonestown Massacre - Rolling Stone

 By the way, the Jim Jones mass suicide is where the "Drinking The Kool Aid" phrase originated.  

Since that fateful day in 1979, literally millions of words have been written and dozens of documentaries produced about Jones, his People’s Temple and the events in Guyana.  The answer to “Why” and/or “How” has invariably landed on one single theme:  Jones was a cult leader and his People’s Temple members were cult followers who saw in Jones a means for religious forgiveness, redemption and renewal.  They believed that through him, and only through him, would they reach the promised land, nirvana, everlasting peace.  This is essentially what cults are, whether one is looking at the Church of Scientology, the Branch Dravidians or the Twelve Tribes.  The People’s Temple was not a one-off example of cult followers committing mass suicide.  There have been many.  In 1997, 39 people from the Heaven’s Gate cult committed suicide when they believed that the discovery of the Hale-Bopp comet was their “redemptive sign” and believed that their spirits would be taken away by this celestial vision.   The cult was founded by Marshall Applewhite, who during  a near death experience, had a vision predicting the events that followed years later.    

All right then.  So how do Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite have anything to do with Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump?  It’s true that both Jones and Applewhite had much more coherent “visions” for the future for their respective followers based on Biblical writings and prophecies than Trump, who has yet to articulate some marginally articulate and unified future his followers can look forward to, save that "it's going to be great."  But like Jim Jones, Trump relies heavily on painting a picture of present and future dire, Armageddon like, circumstances keying into the fears of his followers that their future prosperity, indeed their very survival, is based exclusively on the ultimate triumph of their leader (Trump) against all others.   And this strange outcome is one of the more bizarre, “magical results” of our current Presidential Campaign.  Me?  I fully expected – and predicted – that ex-Florida Governor, Jeb Bush, would be the Republican nominee this year since he had the deepest name recognition, wasn’t an ultra radical conservative like Ted Cruz, and would have had the backing of the entire Bush family.  (I am an eminently rational human being in a world that defies rationality.) I thought – we all thought – that Trump was basically a joke, not a serious candidate, someone we could easily dismiss as irrelevant to our lives.  When he finally emerged from the Republican primary crowd (The Klown Kar) with the nomination, we were thrilled – what better candidate could there be for Hillary to soundly defeat?  

But, what the hell happened?  Because it hasn’t turned out that way.  Trump’s first pronouncement to build a wall to stop the Mexican government from flooding the U.S. with criminals, druggies, rapists and murderers, was so outrageous, so false, so bizarre, we thought “OMG – this guy is crazy!”   As the campaign has progressed, Trump’s pronouncements have become even more un-moored from reality (“If I were running ‘The View’, I’d fire Rosie O’Donnell. I mean, I’d look at her right in that fat, ugly face of hers, I’d say ‘Rosie, you’re fired," “the Clinton campaign was responsible for the Birther Movement,” “Global warming is a hoax invented by the Chinese,” “I saw hundreds of Muslims celebrating in the streets after 9-11”) and yet his poll numbers – while not expanding – have remained solid.   Today he polls around 44% in match ups against Clinton, exactly where his poll numbers were a year ago.  There is a very solid, unmoving and devoted base of Trump supporters. 

The latest pushback to Trump’s prevarications (as belated and mild as it is) comes from the media itself.  At long last, the media – after questionable activities by the Trump Foundation, allegations of Cuban activities in violation of the U.S. embargo of Cuba, fat-shaming women, the Birther thing – have actually called Trump a liar – and continue to do so - after more than a year since the beginning of his campaign.  So what to make of the folks who are so dedicated to Trump’s presidency that even in the face of the most blatant of falsehoods, are still solidly behind him, support him no matter what is uncovered about his nefarious, if not illegal, past activities, and will not abandon him despite facts, evidence and data that he is roundly conning them?  (There is no other appellation than "con" that so fully encapsulates Trump's campaign.) After all, how can a multi-million/billionaire portray himself as the champion of the “little guy” who got his start with a $1 million loan in 1978 from his father and has never had to worry about paying his rent, paying for his kid's education or being laid off or fired from his job?  All of us should have have such a working/middle class upbringing. 

Here’s how:

Here’s the definition of a “cult:”

1.    a system of religious veneration and devotion directed toward a particular figure or object.
"the cult of St. Olaf"
o   a relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or sinister.
"a network of Satan-worshiping cults"
"a religious cult"
o   a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.
"a cult of personality surrounding the leaders"
obsession with, fixation on, mania for, passion for, idolization of, devotion to, worship of, veneration of
"the cult of eternal youth in Hollywood"

Note that the most common use of the term “cult” is associated with religious movements like the People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate, both of which had charismatic leaders steeped in Biblical (religious) themes and dicta.  Trump and his followers do not share this characteristic.  But, if you strip away the religious aspect of the definition of a “cult” one is left with: “a misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing; a cult of personality surrounding the leaders.”   What you wind up with is pretty much what we have in Trump and the Trumpettes:  a group of followers who have an excessive admiration for the personality of their leader, indeed, a cult leader, with a cult following.  Hitler, for example, was not a religious cult leader.  While he invoked religion (Christianity) as a moral compass, just as our own political leaders often do, the center and power of his cult and its effectiveness was centered around him, his personality and his policies.  I’m not suggesting that Trump has the same goals and aims as did Adolph Hitler but the techniques that Trump employs to enlarge his image, to endear him to his followers, to cement his personal relationship with his audience, are pretty much the same that Hitler used: demeaning and demonizing perceived enemies; blaming “others” for his followers problems; appealing to fear; playing fast and loose with facts.  As a result, Trump evokes the very same excessive, unwarranted, admiration among his followers as did Hitler on his rise to power.  To me, it is instructive that Trump - like Hitler - portrays Hillary Clinton not as a competitive contender for the Office of the President, but as the very personification of evil, duplicity and underhandedness when not a single "criminal charge" leveled against Clinton for the past thirty years has proven to be true.  This is the very essence of a propaganda based campaign that not only has no basis in history or fact, but is the very essence of the kind of propaganda campaign that Hitler employed to sway the German public to his side.  

Trump (like Hitler) has become "The Savior" to his followers portraying himself as the only means to their release from the burdens they carry and the only path to redemption, salvation and bliss just as Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite positioned themselves as the saviors of the People’s Temple and Heaven’s Gate followers.  Trump, in the eyes of his followers, can do no wrong and exists above the restraints, rules and laws that others (the rest of us) are obliged to adhere to due to his exalted, God-like, status.  This is exactly why and how over 900 people committed suicide in Guyana in 1978 at Jones’ request and at his behest.  And, let's not forget, this is how and why 6 million people were massacred by Hitler in the early years of the 20th Century. 

This, friends, is a very scary proposition.    



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