The first episode of How to Become a Cult Leader trudged through the topic of building the foundation of the cult. Cementing the basic idea into people’s minds and working hard enough to make sure people stick to it so that they follow without questioning your intentions. The second episode is not just about building the foundation but increasing the members of your group. A cult leader will want more people to follow him because making them believe in his truth is the ultimate goal. More followers lead to a powerful leader. This is where Reverend Jim Jones comes into the picture. The man behind People’s Temple was known for bringing thousands of his devotees under his wing and making them believe in apostolic socialism, something that capitalist America is dead against. This constant brainwashing about an apocalypse coming their way led to a tragedy of a monumental scale.
Jim Jones had over 20,000 devotees across two continents. At the peak of his popularity in the USA, he had government leaders on his speed dial willing to help him. It is the nature of cult leaders to merge government with their work in the hope of each helping the other in the future. As the experts in the documentary state, Jim Jones was fascinated by different facets of the Christian religion, and he visited every church in his hometown to understand its teachings. He embraced all of them to get a grip on the concept of a wholesome religion of his own that would cater to basically every sect based in the USA. This would make him popular among all the ethnicities residing in the country, thereby increasing his following. This is where the growing flock aspect comes into the picture.
Jim Jones, who became a reverend, went all around the country and blended well with all the races, intermingling with a god-fearing population, and becoming the faith healer they were looking for. He was the messiah the flock was looking for. The man began the revival meetings and healing people with minor to severe ailments. Jim Jones became a man who could sense the pain around him, and his congregation was ready to believe in his acts. His words and actions were in sync, and this brought in more followers. The bigger the group, the more confident he got. This is another fact regarding expanding the flock. His powers grew, and he even claimed to have cured cancer, and more word of mouth flew about his ‘abilities.’
Jim Jones’s skill lay in being comfortable with different congregations and age groups. His ability to speak to them heart-to-heart in every dialect was another reason for his popularity. It was obvious that he did not have any powers; he just made them believe in his ability to connect with the audience. As experts state in the documentary, he was a Pentecostal preacher in Indianapolis, a reverend imparting family values in California, and he would talk about Nietzsche and Mao while interacting with the youth. This allowed him to be relevant to people of all ages. It gave him the power to hold the group and allowed him to find a foothold, which led to him forming a headquarters in San Francisco.
The dark side of this group came out when a constant brainwashing of the followers began about a revolution he stated was coming. The commune pushed the followers, through convincing and emotional blackmailing, to give up their possessions to the People’s Temple. He was famous for keeping these followers as unpaid laborers for the temple’s outreach programs. But Jim Jones, as a cult leader, used most of his power in his capacity to manipulate as many people as possible.
To expand his reach, which is the basis of this episode, Jim Jones’ People’s Temple carries out a series of events for the potential recruits and gets plenty of merchandise as his group’s way of letting people think they care. This is just a maneuver to get a grip over his followers because with power comes the ability to control, not responsibility. His responsibility was only toward himself and his inner circle of loyalists.
Even though the man had a history of misconduct, none of his victims ever appeared in the limelight for his followers to finally see the man that he was. The higher anyone climbs, the harder they fall, and there will be more people behind him ruining their lives. Jim Jones was arrogant enough to steal followers from his mentor’s congregation as a way to upstage the person who made him the man he was.
This cult leader had gone beyond and done many things wrong, which were about to come out as part of an exposé by a newspaper. Jim Jones and his bunch of followers were tipped about it, and they left for Guyana because it was a communist tax haven. Jim Jones, who went from a reverend to a criminal in no time. Plenty of followers, at his insistence, moved to Guyana to a settlement called Jonestown. The man was narcissistic enough to have a small community named after him. As explained in the episode one article, narcissism is a big trait that is found in every cult leader, and I wonder why this man was never diagnosed with any mental health issues. The absence of mental health discussion is a recurring issue with this series because there is no way a normal person would behave the way a cult leader does.
Jonestown was anything but a paradise. Jim Jones yet again got himself a load of unpaid laborers who were conditioned to believe in his truth about the incoming socialist revolution. It is shocking to see how many people in that decade were ready to believe his words without realizing all of them were lies. It was just a delusional idea he cooked up in his quest to get more power.
The unprecedented power led to the USA sending a senator to have a look at the commune at the insistence of the members of the family residing in Jonestown. As expected, everything was a facade, and one of the members, through a small note, begged an NBC reporter to save them. Jim Jones was cordial enough to let the discredited members leave the commune. However, he changed his mind and killed the members in an ambush on the senator’s flight, which killed the politician as well. Arrogance of this magnitude would only lead to downfall, and that is exactly what happened. Fearing repercussions from the American government because of this act, Jim Jones convinced his followers in Jonestown about an incoming apocalypse and that only committing revolutionary suicide would save them. This was Jim Jones’ way of not just giving himself an exit but making his followers believe his method was the only way out. As mentioned earlier in the episode, Jim Jones was fascinated by Adolf Hitler; he consumed poison just like his hero did.
Jim Jones’ power only stopped at increasing his followers, and he was further unable to do anything, neither for himself nor the People’s Temple. His legacy was tarnished for good. The man and his final act of salvation are always remembered as a crime, and nothing good came out of it, instead of the loss of innocent lives.