This week, CNN commemorated the 32nd anniversary of the end of Jonestown (November 18, 1978) with a documentary entitled “Escape from Jonestown”. It includes astonishing television footage taken by NBC right up to the death of its cameraman at Port Kaituma airstrip in northwest Guyana.
In the mid-1990s, I was involved in gold exploration in northwest Guyana. I’ve flown out of both Port Kaituma and Mathews Ridge, the other jungle airport shown in the documentary. I’ve walked along the narrow-gauge railroad tracks shown in the documentary and seen the bridge over the Barima River used by Jonestown escapers. I once drove by the turn-off to Jonestown on the road from Arakaka to Port Kaituma. At the time, I hadn’t realized that it was so close (or would have stopped to look). We didn’t have time to stop that day if we were to meet our flight out and I didn’t pass by again. A day or so before we drove by Jonestown, I had my own interesting trek through the jungle, which I’ll describe some time.
The Jonestown movement originated in Indiana in the mid-1950s, but moved to San Francisco in the mid-1970s. Wikipedia reports:
After Peoples Temple participation proved instrumental in the mayoral election victory of George Moscone in 1975, Moscone appointed Jones as the Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. Unlike other figures considered as cult leaders, Jones enjoyed public support and contact with some of the highest level politicians in the United States. For example, Jones met with Vice Presidential Candidate Walter Mondale and Rosalynn Carter several times. Governor Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, and Assemblyman Willie Brown, among others, attended a large testimonial dinner in honor of Jones in September 1976
Just after midnight (Eastern) on November 18, 2009, thirty-one years to the day of the Jonestown massacre, I learned of the Climategate dossier, in which another Jones came to international attention. (Please no jokes comparing the Jonestown movement to the Team. Any comments saying things like “One was an apocalyptic cult that enjoyed high-level political patronage and tolerated no dissent; the other died in the Guyanese jungle” will be deleted.)
By coincidence, Phil Jones’ first public appearance in the climate community since Climategate will be in San Francisco at the Moscone Center, named after the mayor who had been a patron of Jones et al in the 1970s. Jones will be honoured as an Invited Speaker at an AGU session on Proxy Uncertainty.
I planned to write a one-year anniversary piece on Climategate, but have found it difficult to capture the right tone. I had thought about events and had spent a fair bit of time answering questions for David Adam of Nature, none of which were reflected in Adam’s recent panegyric to Phil Jones. (Adam said today that he had used some of my answers in his article but they had been deleted by Nature editors.)
While I was working through writer’s block, a friend of mine asked me to help with some mining business last week. Here I am, visiting an underground face. So I at least had a temporary escape from Jonestown, while remembering what it’s like to make some money. l will try to finish my reflections on Climategate on another occasion.