“A deeply disturbing account of the destructive potential of belief.”
– Ammar Kalia, reviewing BBC Four’s Storyville: Jonestown – Terror in the Jungle.
When it’s not trying to overturn legitimate plebiscites or shoving woke propaganda down the throats of its reluctant viewers, the BBC is still capable of showing half-decent documentaries. This correspondent recently caught the tail end of one such piece, Storyville: Jonestown – Terror in the Jungle. Being nine at the time of the original atrocity, we don’t remember any coverage of the story being aired, but 1978 was a different age, and wary parents might well have suppressed the news in any case.
Here are the facts. In 1974, the cult leader Jim Jones established the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (“Jonestown”) in northwestern Guyana. The organisation purported to practise what it termed “apostolic socialism”. What became known as Jonestown would represent, to its believers, a socialist paradise and a haven from media scrutiny.
Temple members were originally worked six days a week, between 6:30 a.m. and 6:00 p.m., but after Jones’ health began to deteriorate, the schedule was relaxed to eight hours a day for five days a week – a regime adopted from North Korea. The settlers’ Hollywood movies were replaced by Soviet propaganda and documentaries about American social problems. Jones himself would often read to his parishioners news items from Radio Moscow and Radio Havana. Temple staff would “interpret” other material and help the congregation to “appreciate” Marxist-Leninist messages. Parishioners who misbehaved would be consigned to a 6 x 4 x