There are good reasons why Michael Hayden has called out the Republican Party as being extremist and dangerous on an unprecedented level. Unfortunately, many people will remain in total denial of this fact despite Hayden’s credentials and credibility as a retired Air Force four-star general and former director of both the CIA and NSA. As a nation, we have reached the low point where we should no longer refer to the Republican Party as a political party but rather a political cult. As we stop talking around the use of the word cult, do we fully understand why the GOP is a cult and how dangerous any cult can be when it becomes centered on the worship of one individual?
Strong leaders are needed in every American institution: government, business, military, religious and education. We need our leaders to be men and women who based their thoughts, words and actions on having a sound vision, principles and purpose. We need our leaders to understand the value of collaboration and communication which builds trust. We also need them to be men and women of character who are not tempted to pervert their authority for personal gain and admiration. If we find ourselves under the leadership of those who fail to meet these basic standards, how do we respond?
Do we speak truth to power by standing up for what is right? Do we eventually leave after pulling back the curtain and seeing the true motives behind the leader’s fake façade? Do we put our head in the sand and remain silent out of fear and intimidation? Do we become so mesmerized and obsessed because the leader’s lies makes us feel good? Are we so drawn to the leader because we share the same values and beliefs regardless of the danger and damage they may cause? A cult is defined as a group or movement who practice excessive devotion to a person, object or ideology. The leader of the cult is always right. No matter how harmful, the leader’s behavior is always justified. The “truth” is defined only by the cult leader and any criticism of the leader results in persecution. The Peoples Temple and the Jonestown massacre in 1978 shows us that a cult never exists without some form of resistance.
If Donald Trump is the latest version of Jim Jones, then the GOP is the newest version of the People’s Temple. The story of the Jonestown mass murder-suicide is a grim but true story. It illustrates the dangers of a typical cult leader. Like Donald Trump, Jim Jones was a charismatic leader who led a devoted following of people who believed everything they were told. As a pastor, Jones established the People’s Temple in Indianapolis in the 1950’s. In 1965, Jones moved the group to Northern California, eventually settling in San Francisco. In the 1970s, his church was accused by the media of financial fraud, physical abuse of its members and mistreatment of children. In response to the mounting criticism, the increasingly paranoid Jones invited his congregation to move with him to Guyana, where he promised they would build a socialist utopia.
Three years earlier, a small group of his followers traveled to the South American nation to set up a tract of land in what would become known as Jonestown. Jonestown did not turn out to be the paradise their leader had promised. Temple members worked long days in the fields and were subjected to harsh punishments if they dared to question Jones’ authority. The members’ passports were confiscated, their letters sent back home were censored, members were encouraged to inform on one another and forced to attend lengthy late-night meetings. At this time Jones was declining in mental health and addicted to drugs. He was convinced that the U.S. government was out to destroy him. He required Temple members to participate in mock suicide drills in the middle of the night.
It is not often that a member of Congress is assassinated. We were very fortunate all lawmakers were shielded and protected from the armed mob during the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. In 1978, California Congressman Leo Ryan met a different fate. Ryan became involved in the People’s Temple issue after hearing constituents’ concerns that their relatives were possibly being held against their will in Jonestown. He wrote a letter to Jones requesting a visit to the settlement, a move Jones vehemently opposed but later agreed. Ryan traveled to Jonestown accompanied by journalist and relatives of Temple members.
During Ryan’s visit, several members made it known they wanted to leave. An act in which Jones saw as betrayal. As Ryan, the defectors and the journalist were waiting at the airstrip for planes to take them home, a truck arrived carrying Temple gunmen who opened fire on the group. The congressman and four people were killed, while several others were injured. After the attack on Ryan and his party, Jones commanded everyone to gather in the main pavilion and commit what he termed a “revolutionary act”. Many of Jones’ followers willingly took a drink of poison-laced punch while others were forced to do so at gunpoint. The final death toll at Jonestown that day was 909; a third of those were children. A few members were able to escape. Today, too many people have taken Trump’s Kool-Aid and the Republican Party we once knew is now dead. The party of Dwight Eisenhower, Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp no longer exist. The danger is not over. Let’s hope the spread can be exposed and contained thereby saving the future of American democracy.
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization, TRB: The Reconciled Body, and author of the book God Bless Our Divided America. He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com.