Introvigne's Jonestown

By Miguel Martinez

November 29, 1998.

Massimo Introvigne provides us with a sample of his political agenda in an article on Jonestown, La tragedia di Jonestown. 18.11.1978 - 18.11.1998: a vent'anni dai suicidi-omicidi del "Tempio del Popolo". Curiously, though presented as an article from the Catholic daily, L'Avvenire, it actually appeared two days before on the CESNUR website. At least we did not have to buy the newspaper to read the article.

Many of Introvigne's articles are written both in Italian and English. This time, however, the English version is much shorter than the Italian version, and above all does not include his ideological thesis on Jonestown. Perhaps he realised that the Americans, who were closer to the actual event, would have more problems than Italians in accepting it.

Introvigne's point is quite simple. The People's Temple, the ultimate cult, which led over 900 people to their death in a mass suicide, was not a religious but a political movement, a Communist movement to be exact.

«The basic question however concerns the nature of the People's Temple: 'cult' or religious movement, or an extremist political group? Or both? Professor John R. Hall [] calls Jones' operation 'a deception founded on the use of religion in order to promote socialism' and believes that the many references to God in the speech of the People's Temple were simple metaphors for the Marxist notion of a world evolving towards Communism»

Practically speaking, this means that the blame is shifted from "cults" to "Communism".

Introvigne also quotes Hall as saying that Jones was "frozen into a Leninist-Stalinist orientation" and had a "Stalinist approach towards Bolshevism", a hilarious statement for anybody who has read both Jones' delirious ravings and the theological hair-splitting of Marxist theoreticians.

Of course, Introvigne puts aside the fact that, while church and government are traditionally distinct in the USA, religion and politics are almost as closely blended together as in Iran. The United States has no important tradition of European-style secular ideologies. The Founding Fathers, the abolitionist movement, populism, the temperance movement, the civil rights movement, Malcolm X, Jerry Falwell are all evidence of how every important political event in American history has strong religious undertones. 

«The Scripture says: 'And let us not be weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.' 

From this joyful mountaintop of celebration we hear a call to service in the valley. We have heard the trumpets, we have changed the guard, and now each in our own way, and with God's help, we must answer the call.  

Thank you, and God bless you all.»


From the context, we cannot tell whether this is a preacher or a politician speaking. Actually, these were the closing words of Clinton's inaugural address in 1993.

What Harold Bloom calls the "American Religion" is largely millennialist, being based on the achievement of the Kingdom; which in its turn is a highly political notion, implying a very physical government by the Messiah over a united Mankind. Nearly all utopian aspirations born in the United States, even those publicly founded on Marxist theory, are inspired by this vision. 

Especially in the case of a small millennialist group, only marginally involved in the "real" political agenda, any distinction between "religion" and "politics" in the United States is bound to be purely nominal and not, as Introvigne puts it, "the basic question." 

However, cult critics will say that the issue, whether the group was "Christian" or "Communist", is not the "basic question" at all. What matters is, why did 900 members of the group commit suicide?

The answer most cult critics provide is relatively simple. Sociologist for over a century have been saying that group dynamics, especially in authoritarian groups, can lead individuals to committing the most extraordinary deeds.

Not so for Introvigne, who makes a heroic attempt to throw all social sciences overboard: 

«Ultimately, it is ideology which explains why a group in conflict with society goes as far as committing suicide, while others react in a less tragic fashion.»

The explanation for the Jonestown suicide should apparently be found in the writings of Karl Marx. For this reason, Introvigne's text details a series of "Communist connections" of Reverend Jones. A friend of ours commented jokingly that these connections look almost as impressive as those between Introvigne and organisations of the political Right.

But is Communism a suicidal idea? 

Marxism (and the writings of Marx' more or less legitimate heirs) can be said to have two faces - a sociological one, which certainly does not have any suicidal overtones; and a very optimistic, utopian one, based on a positive view of human life and the future (without an alternative afterlife). One can well image Lenin or Stalin calling on people to kill the enemies of the revolution; but one can hardly imagine them calling on the revolutionaries to kill themselves (the many Communists killed by Stalin were of course thought to be counter-revolutionaries).

I think I can safely challenge Introvigne to find one sentence in any work by Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tze Tung or Gramsci calling on Communists to suppress themselves.

This essay allows Introvigne to play several of his roles at once.

As a lawyer, he condemns (Communism) and acquits ("cults" in general).

As an apologist, he saves such groups as Scientology from the stigma of association with the People's Temple.

As a militant anti-Communist, he adds Reverend Jones to Pol Pot.

However, Introvigne is a leader of Alleanza Cattolica, a right-wing organisation which has much of the ambiguity of the Reverend Jones' movement. It is "Catholic" and hence religious, indeed the group devotes much time to reciting the Rosary. On the other hand, its objective is to set up the "Kingdom of Mary" on earth, defeating Communism and secularism and ushering in a theocratic government. On its way towards this distant goal, Alleanza Cattolica is just as ready as Jim Jones ever was to make political alliances, to interfere in the workings of the government and to raise votes. Indeed, Introvigne himself is a member of the board of the right-wing party CCD. 

Of course Alleanza Cattolica is a very peaceful organisation; however, should it hypothetically be involved one day in some dramatic issue, one wonders whether Introvigne would say that it did so because it was Catholic (religious) or right-wing (political).

One last note. Introvigne, in an essay called "Liar, liar" (*), complained that (for reasons too long to explain here) I mentioned the factthat a person associated with CESNUR was supposed to be a militant homosexual. Listen to Introvigne in his essay on Jim Jones:

«In the 70's, [Jones] in San Francisco belonged to the team of George Moscone, a radical politician - and homosexual - who in 1976 became mayor as the leader of a mixed coalition of minorities.»

For some unfathomable political reason, the words "and homosexual" appear only in the Italian version on the CESNUR website (not in the English version or in the article published in Avvenire).

Introvigne is an expert in double-speak. However weak his reasoning may be, in this essay his words are "scholarly correct." However, writing in Cristianità on the same subject some years ago, here is the rather convoluted manner in which he expressed the same notions. Cristianità is the magazine of Alleanza Cattolica, and a place where Introvigne can take his mask off. In fact he mentions his spiritual and political "master", the self-styled Brazilian "prophet" Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, as the inspiration behind his ideas about "Communism":

«Jonestown however, was the suicide of a Revolution which - to use the words of Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira - we can call the Third Revolution, the socialcommunist Revolution»  
("La tragedia del Tempio Solare: il suicidio di una Rivoluzione", in Cristianità, November 1994, p. 16.)


(*) "Liar, Liar", by Massimo Introvigne, November 10, 1998. See also "The Secret Agents of the Belgian Parliament" - Miguel Martinez replies to Massimo Introvigne, November 19, 1998.

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