Boisean who survived Jonestown recalls the massacre
Clifford Gieg, who lost his brother at the cult's Guyana compound,
talks about it publicly for the first time.
BY KATHLEEN KRELLER - email@example.com
Edition Date: 11/18/08
For 30 years, the world has watched the last images of Stanley Gieg.
A newsman's blurry footage shows the blond 19-year-old behind the
wheel of a tractor that carried Jim Jones' gunmen to a Guyanese
airstrip on Nov. 18, 1978.
The attack that soon followed killed a congressman and several others
and marked the bloody start of a massacre that left more than 900
people dead in Jonestown.
But Stanley's brother, Clifford Gieg, believes - he knows - there is
more to Stanley's story.
Clifford Gieg last saw his brother alive just hours before the
shootings. Clifford would live through the day. Stanley would not.
Now, in a bid to honor his brother, the Boise cabinet-maker is
talking publicly about his experiences for the first time.
"He died. He was murdered," Gieg said. "I know he was murdered. He
was shot. And he was a victim. And I want him recognized as a victim
and not as part of it."
Gieg calls himself a true believer who was duped by Jones until the
end. His life and loss in Jonestown aren't so much a secret as
something he just doesn't discuss. He doesn't need to talk about it,
Gieg says, because he lives it every day, especially in his nightmares.
Gieg's wife of four years, Norma, learned many details for the first
time as she listened to his interview with the Statesman.
Gieg couldn't come right out and talk about Stanley, or what
happened. He started with a photo, taken just feet away from where
Jones' mother was buried in the Guyanese jungle. Clifford is 18,
Stanley 19. Stanley has a shock of almost white-blonde hair. Clifford
is darker. There is no clue in the photo of what is to come.
"It was what it was," Gieg said. And then he launched into the tale.
CHILDREN OF THE TEMPLE
Gieg's mother joined the People's Temple Disciple of Christ in
California in 1968, when he was 8 and Stanley 9. She's still living -
she never went to Jonestown - and he won't share her name. She was
attracted by the church's cathartic therapy-like sessions and by
Jones' teachings of racial and class equality.
"It was all about the people," Gieg said. "He would welcome anybody.
People on drugs - help them get off drugs. Losers all over the place."
Gieg's parents divorced when he was 11, about the time he started
playing drums in the People's Temple band.
"My mother basically could not take care us. So the church took my
brother and myself in, and we were put in a foster home I think my
mother was forced to give us up because we were living in poor
conditions," Gieg said. "Financially my mother couldn't handle it,
and emotionally ... and the church basically took in the two youngest ones."
To be a member of the People's Temple meant being "very involved," Gieg said.
At first, it was fun and loving, Gieg said. There were the sleepovers
with Jones' children, and long bus trips crisscrossing the country
from Niagara Falls to Philadelphia, to Indianapolis, to San Francisco.
"We would call him Uncle Jim," Gieg said. "I remember sitting on his
lap at Easter and getting a chocolate Easter egg from him. That's a
true story ... He was definitely a father figure to me. He became a monster."
FROM FAVOR TO EXILE
Jones' charisma attracted more people to the People's Temple and
garnered him powerful political allies.
Gieg recalls meeting Rosalynn Carter and hearing from revolutionary
speakers like the Black Panther-connected Angela Davis and Huey
Newton. Gieg remembers Jones' political connections and
quasi-celebrity after the church moved to San Francisco in 1971.
Eventually, Jones and the People's Temple came under fire, and talk
turned to building an egalitarian, socialist society in Guyana.
A year after the first Jonestown settlers left for South America,
Gieg followed. Stanley, now 17, was already there. Their cousin would
come as well.
"I was a kid. I was 16 at the time and it just sounded like an
adventure. We are going to build a community, a town in the middle of
the jungle. And it's a promised land," Gieg said. "There will be no
monetary system ... it will be heaven on Earth. That was the big
promotion. It was like heaven on Earth."
But the thick Guyanese jungle was anything but heaven, Gieg said. He
and other church members worked 12-hour days, six days a week. Gieg,
a talented carpenter, worked "like a slave" to build 12-by-24-foot
houses for church members.
"At first there was plenty of food, chicken and regular meals. But as
soon as more and more people started showing up, it was like things
were getting rationed. There were no more pops. No more Pepsi. No
more goodies," Gieg said. "I constructed a template, or a jig, to
build the houses - 52 houses that were built there to house this
thousand people. That was fulfilling. Of course, it was a lot of work."
A FUN JOB AND FREEDOM
When the pilot of the church's boat got it stuck in the mud in
Venezuela - for which he was beaten - Gieg got a new assignment. He
was the new, 18-year-old pilot of the Temple's 80-foot, wooden-hulled
vessel, the "Cudjo." Gieg would ferry people and cargo to and from
the boat launch at Port Kaituma and other sites in Georgetown and
Morowana. It was an assignment he relished.
Like most teen-age boys, Gieg thought with his stomach. The residents
in Jonestown ate "rice and gravy" for three meals a day. For
breakfast, they'd get brown sugar with their rice. The river gave
Gieg more freedom, more adventure and a more varied diet. He'd eat
curried fish and crab cooked on the boat with the Guyanese people he
would ferry for $1 a ride.
As he talked about these happier days, Gieg grabbed a pen and mapped
out that area of Guyana, drawing the ocean and interconnecting rivers
and the location of ports. He once took a speedboat across the border
into Venezuela to buy Vienna sausage and Irish potatoes, he recalled.
He once sold a calculator at a store for a package of cookies. For
that infraction, "I got a slap on the wrist," he said.
He'd fish with the local children; he fondly remembers a boy named
Rennie. He'd catch piranhas. He'd swim in the "root beer"-colored river.
"I was on the boat; I was out, kind of free," Gieg said. "That was
kind of fun."
But while Gieg was a true believer, quietly obedient, Stanley was
"always in trouble," he said.
Stanley worked as a mechanic and drove the church's World War II-era
Army truck. Stanley didn't like it, and for him life was far from ideal.
CRACKS IN THE VENEER
"To be honest with you, my brother and I didn't really see eye to eye
on much," Gieg said. "We were kind of 'discommunicated.' In fact, we
were put in separate foster homes. And that's probably where it
started the most. Stanley was always rebellious."
Stanley was part of the "hard hat brigade," forced to wear yellow
hats and run everywhere inside Jonestown after committing minor
infractions like stealing food or cursing. With his golden good
looks, Stanley was "popular with the ladies," Gieg said.
Gieg's father wanted his boys home, and Gieg was still under age.
Gieg remembers a short-wave radio conversation with his father, who
had come to the temple in San Francisco.
"We talked to him. Said, 'Yeah, everything is great. We fish. We're
great,'" Gieg said before a sarcastic chuckle. "Yeah."
To keep Gieg in Guyana, Jones found him a wife named Joan. He didn't
spend time with the woman. She survived Jonestown, but Gieg later had
the marriage annulled when he came back to the States.
As Gieg delivered more residents to Jonestown, they quickly learned
the truth; it was no utopia, Gieg said.
Everyone, including ailing senior citizens, worked like "slaves,"
after surrendering all their money and possessions to Jones, Gieg
said. Jones would sell the possessions at a store in a nearby town.
"There is such a fine line between socialism and fascism. It can go
either way at any time," Gieg said. "Yes, it was ideal. We have no
worries, no responsibilities. We don't have to worry about paying
bills. We can look at the monkeys in the jungle. But as more and more
people got there and more and more pressure got on Jones, it became
he was on the loud speaker all the time, telling people, reading
stories about all this terrible stuff that's going on in the world
... It was a total brainwashing operation, and he was an expert at
it. And it worked."
But no one could leave. People who tried were rounded up, brought
back and beaten, Gieg said. The rest stayed through brainwashing and
threats, he said.
"We had a lot of meetings in the pavilion where, hell, everything was
going on. Beatings ... Fisticuffs. Someone would come up and just
beat them as a discipline for disrespecting. One guy come up, a guy
named Tom Grubbs. He was a teacher, and he complained to Jones that
there was not enough nourishment in rice and gravy to educate - he
was a teacher - to educate children. And he got beat for complaining.
"There was dunkings, where they had this huge well, an open pit well,
where they had like the old witch days. They would take someone and
just dunk them in, whoosh, and pull them up. Dunk them in, whoosh,
and pull them up. And you never hear about that on TV, but it's true."
Jones became paranoid that people who left the church had hired
mercenaries to kidnap family members and attack Jonestown. He held
"White Nights," or practice drills for ritualistic suicide and taking
poison, Gieg said.
"It started to hit me, like, what's going on here," Gieg said. "This
is falling apart here. And then you'd never see him either. All you
did is hear him."
AN ESCAPE ROUTE, CUT OFF
In November 1978, after hearing rumors of abuse and theft, U.S. Rep.
Leo Ryan of California arrived in Guyana with an entourage of media
and relatives of People's Temple members. At first, Jones blocked the
road to Jonestown. But Ryan and the media were eventually allowed
into the settlement.
The last night the community existed, Gieg played drums in the
Jonestown band for the visitors.
"In fact, before Leo Ryan was murdered, I actually leaned over my
drum set and shook his hand that night because we had been playing
and everything was great on the surface," Gieg said. "He was a good
man. He was trying to help the people. And I knew it in his tone when
he talked to the congregation that evening."
But some church members wanted out, and Jones' paranoia got the best of him.
At about 5:30 a.m. on Nov. 18, Jones' security guards told Gieg and
his boat-mate to take the Cudjo 50 miles downriver. Now, Gieg
suspects Jones was cutting off all means of escape.
"My brother, Stanley, drove us to the boat in Kamaka and there were
some senior citizens on there, sleeping on the boat, watching the
boat," Gieg said. "So he dropped us off at the boat, myself and
Herbert Newell, who is on the list (of survivors)."
Early the next morning, at about 1:30 a.m., the heavily armed
Guyanese Defense Force descended on the Cudjo. Gieg and Newell were
arrested, interrogated and put in a small "shack" that served as a jail.
"When we first got interrogated by the constable, they said there has
been a mass suicide at Jonestown. We were just crying and carrying
on," Gieg said. "After he told us 'everybody is dead in Jonestown,'
he put us back into the cell and we were bawling like kids, you know.
There were probably 10 people consoling us outside of this jail."
STANLEY'S FATE IS SEALED
With few exceptions, everyone in Jonestown was dead by poison or
bullets - including Gieg's cousin, his wife and their 3-year-old baby.
Leo Ryan and three journalists had been murdered by Jonestown gunmen
at the Port Kaituma airstrip while attempting to leave with
disenchanted church members.
Stanley Gieg had driven a tractor towing the gunmen to the airstrip.
He was among the dead at Jonestown. He'd been shot, Gieg said.
Stanley wouldn't have had a choice, he said, and wouldn't have liked
Gieg has run through the scenario a thousand times in his mind.
"I've lived it so many times and in so many different ways. I wasn't
there. I can only imagine, but knowing my brother forever, I bet you
he was bawling like a school girl. I know he had a sensitive side,
but he always had a hard shell. He was something else," Gieg said.
"After that happened, I'm sure he was crying. After he got back to
Jonestown, he was murdered. He probably tried to run or something. He
had some morals. I bet you he was bawling after realizing what was
going on. Yeah, he was hard-assed, his exoskeleton. But he was like
breaking an egg."
After a couple of days, Gieg and Newell were escorted to a church
compound in Georgetown and kept under house arrest with other
survivors. Weeks later, they were allowed to go to a local hotel,
where Gieg's father had sent money for a ticket home.
He came back to the States on a plane filled with police. An army of
television and newspaper cameras blinded him from inside the airport
terminal. He and other survivors were escorted into waiting
Winnebagos for strip searches and interrogations with federal officials.
They asked about the guns and about Jones.
"Just about the whole involvement. Everything," Gieg said. "I was
just an innocent kid. I was duped. I believed Jones could raise the
dead, heal the sick, you know, make the blind see. Yeah, that he
could see the future. He would say, 'I am the I am,' you know, that
he was God."
Gieg rejoined his father in Reno, wearing only a South American
warm-weather shirt. He remembers a woman loaned him a coat. He was
adrift. His father gave him a job and served as a crutch. For years,
he was afraid that People's Temple members would come to kill him.
The "family" he had known was all but gone.
"It was all we had," Gieg said. "It was everybody I ever knew.
Everybody I had ever communicated with suddenly died."
Stanley's body was brought back to the States, where he was cremated
and buried at sea. The family never held a memorial.
"He's not buried at the mass grave in Oakland," Gieg said. "I've been
hounded to come over there, but I'm not interested. There's a lot of
people I don't want to see. They should be dead, instead of some of
the kids. They deserved a future. Even me at 18, I lived a partial life."
LIFE AFTER DEATH
Gieg came to Boise 19 years ago. He won't discuss the circumstances.
He's worked as a cabinet-maker for years. He's been married twice
more. He lives in a humble, orderly home in Southeast Boise. He
drinks beer. He's in physical and emotional pain, saying he
"destroyed" his body with hard physical labor in Jonestown.
The feds took his passport, and he never got another one. He still likes rice.
Until now, he's kept his past mostly to himself, in part to appease
his mother, who feels guilty about Gieg's suffering and Stanley's
death. He cringes when he hears people joke about "drinking the
Kool-Aid." He's tried, unsuccessfully, to put his past behind him.
"It seems like yesterday. Thirty years is a long time, I know. But
some of the things I see in my mind," Gieg said. "It will never
change. My memory is not going to deteriorate. It's like it happened
yesterday. The good times and the bad times, the people. Oh yeah, I
remember. I was there."
Kathleen Kreller: 377-6418
Don't Drink the Kool-Aid on Jonestown
By Daniel J. Flynn
flynnfiles.com | Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Thirty years ago today more than 900 followers of Jim Jones committed
"revolutionary suicide" by drinking cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid.
"I just want to say something to everyone that I see that is standing
around and are crying. This is nothing to cry about. This is
something we should all rejoice about. We can be happy about this.
They always told us that we should cry when you're coming into this
world, but when we're leaving and we're leaving it peaceful ... I
tell you, you should be happy about this. I was just thinking about
Jim Jones. He just has suffered and suffered and suffered. He is the
only god and he don't even have a chance to enjoy his death here.
(clapping and voices in background)... I wanted to say one more
thing. This is one thing I want to say. That you that've gone and
there's many more here. He's still--the way, that's not all of us,
that's not all yet. There's just a few that have died. A chance to
get ... to the one that they could tell ... their lies to. So and I
say I'm looking at so many people crying, I wish you would not cry,
and just thank Father, just thank him. I tell you about ... (clapping
and shouting) ... I've been here, uh, one year and nine months and I
never felt better in my life. Not in San Francisco, but until I came
to Jonestown. I enjoy this life. I had a beautiful life. I don't see
nothing that I should be crying about. We should be happy. At least I
am. Let's all be the same."
This comes from an unidentified woman on the FBI death recording from
Jonestown, Guyana. Within minutes, she would be dead. For anyone
familiar with the National Socialists' "night of the long knives" or
the Soviet Socialists' show trials, replete as they were with a
socialist dictator's victims professing their love and allegiance for
that dictator in the moment of death, the pathetic hosannas to Jim
Jones by the people of Peoples Temple plays as a disturbing socialist deja vu.
On November 17, 1978, Jim Jones was a hero to American leftists. On
November 18, 1978, Jones orchestrated the killings of 918 people and
strangely morphed in the eyes of American leftists into an
evangelical Christian fanatic. An unfortunately well-worn narrative,
playing out contemporaneously in Pol Pot's Cambodia, of socialist
dreams ending in ghoulish nightmares, then, conveniently shifted to
one about the dangers of organized religion. But as The Nation
magazine reported at the time, "The temple was as much a left-wing
political crusade as a church. In the course of the 1970s, its social
program grew steadily more disaffiliated from what Jim Jones came to
regard as 'Fascist America' and drifted rapidly toward outspoken
Communist sympathies." So much so that the last will and testament of
the Peoples Temple, and its individual members who left notes,
bequeathed millions of dollars in assets to the Soviet Union. As
Jones expressed to a Soviet diplomat upon upon his visit to Jonestown
the month before the smiling suicides took place, "For many years, we
have let our sympathies be quite publicly known, that the United
States government was not our mother, but that the Soviet Union was
our spiritual motherland."
Jim Jones was an evangelical communist who became a minister to
infiltrate the church with the gospel according to Marx and Lenin. He
was an atheist missionary bringing his message of socialist
redemption to the Christian heathen. "I decided, how can I
demonstrate my Marxism?," remembered Jones of his days in 1950s
Indiana. "The thought was, infiltrate the church." So in the forms of
Pentecostal ritual, Jones smuggled socialism into the minds of true
believers--who gradually became true believers of a different sort.
Unless one counts his drug-induced bouts with self-messianism, Jones
didn't believe in God. Get it--a Peoples Temple. He shocked his
parishioners, many of whom certainly did believe in God, by
dramatically tossing the Bible onto the ground during a sermon.
"Nobody's going to come out of the sky!," an excited Jones had once
informed his flock. "There's no heaven up there! We'll have to have
heaven down here!" Like so many efforts to usher in the millenium
before it, Jones's Guyanese road to heaven on earth detoured to a
hotter afterlife destination.
The horrific scene in a Guyanese jungle clearing could have been
avoided. Thousands of miles north, for years leading up to Jonestown,
San Francisco officials and journalists had looked the other way
while Jones acted as a law unto himself. So what if he abused
children, sodomized a follower, tortured and held temple members at
gun point, and defrauded the government and people of welfare and
social security checks? He believes in socialism and so do we. That
was the ends-justifies-the-means attitude that enabled Jim Jones to
commit criminal acts in San Francisco with impunity. The people who
should have stopped him instead encouraged him.
Mayor George Moscone, who would be assassinated days after the
Jonestown tragedy, appointed Jones to the city's Housing Authority in
1975. Jones quickly became chairman, which proved beneficial to the
enlargement of the pastor's flock--and his coffers, as Jones seized
welfare checks from new members. One of the Peoples Temple's top
officials becoming an assistant district attorney, a man so
thoroughly indoctrinated in the cult that he falsely signed an
affidavit (ultimately his child's death warrant) disavowing paternity
to his own son and ascribed paternity to Jones, similarly enhanced
the cult's power base within the city. How, one wonders, did
victimized Peoples Temple members feel about going to the law in a
city where Jones's henchman was the law?
Going to the Fourth Estate was also a fruitless endeavor, as San
Francisco media institutions, such as columnist Herb Caen, were
boosters of Jones and his Peoples Temple. When veteran journalist Les
Kinsolving penned an eight-part investigative report on Peoples
Temple for the San Francisco Examiner in 1972, his editors buckled
under pressure from Jones and killed the report halfway through.
Kinsolving quipped that the Peoples Temple was the "the best-armed
house of God in the land," detailed the kidnapping and possible
murder of disgruntled members, exposed Jones's phony faith healing,
highlighted Jones's vile school-sanctioned sex talk with children,
and directed attention toward the Peoples Temple's massive welfare
fraud that funded its operations. "But in the Mendocino County
Welfare Dept. there is the key to Prophet Jones' plans to expand the
already massive influx of his followers--and have it supported by tax
money," Kinsolving wrote more than six years before the tragedy in
the Guyanese jungle. "The Examiner has learned that at least five of
the disciples of The Ukiah Messiah are employees of this Welfare
Department, and are therefore of invaluable assistance in
implementing his primary manner of influx: the adoption of large
numbers of children of minority races."
Unfortunately, four of the series' eight articles were jettisoned
after Jones unleashed hundreds of protestors to the San Francisco
Examiner, a programmed letter-writing campaign, and a threatened
lawsuit against the paper. The Examiner promptly issued a laudatory
article on Jones. A few years later, after Jones had moved operations
from Ukiah to San Francisco, California, a writer for the San
Francisco Chronicle penned an expose on the Peoples Temple. A
Chronicle editor sympathetic to Jones spiked that piece, which
ultimately made its way to New West magazine and so alarmed Jones
that he hastily departed San Francisco for his agricultural
experiment in Guyana.
By virtue of producing rent-free rent-a-rallies for liberal
politicians and causes, Jim Jones engendered enormous amounts of good
will from Democratic politicians and activists. They allowed their
political ambitions to derail their governing responsibilities.
Frisco pols like Harvey Milk never seemed to care how Jones could, at
the snap of his fingers, direct hundreds of people to stack a public
meeting or volunteer for a campaign. City Councilman Milk just knew
that he benefitted from that control, and therefore never bothered to
do anything to inhibit the dangerous cult operating in his city.
Instead, he actively aided and abetted a homicidal maniac. It wasn't
just local hacks Jones commanded respect from. He held court with
future First Lady Rosalyn Carter, vice presidential candidate Walter
Mondale, and California Governor Jerry Brown.
A man who killed more African Americans than the Ku Klux Klan was
awarded a local Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award and won the
plaudits of California lieutenant governor Mervyn Dymally, state
assemblyman Willie Brown, radical academic Angela Davis,
preacher/politician Jesse Jackson, Black Panther leader Huey Newton,
and other African American activists. From Newton, whom Jones had
visited in Cuban exhile in 1977, Jones got his lawyer and received
support, such as a phone-to-megaphone address to Jonestown during a
"white night" dry run of mass suicide. This was appropriate, as it
was from Newton whom Jones appropriated the phrase "revolutionary
suicide"--the title of a 1973 Newton book--that he used as a moniker
for the murder-suicides of more than 900 people on November 18, 1978.
"We didn't commit suicide," Jones announced during the administering
of cyanide-laced Flavoraid to his flock, "we committed an act of
revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane
world." Newton's comically idiotic slogan boomeranged on him, as
several of his relatives perished in the Kool-Aid carnage.
It's worth remembering that before the people of Peoples Temple drank
Jim Jones's Kool-Aid, the leftist political establishment of San
Francisco gulped it down. And without the latter, the former would
have never happened.
Daniel J. Flynn is the author of Intellectual Morons: How Ideology
Makes Smart People Fall for Stupid Ideas and A Conservative History
of the American Left. He is also the editor of www.flynnfiles.com.