Even the Guardian was taken in by the Peoples Temple, reporting on its progressive humanitarian efforts in a March 31, 1977, article titled "Peoples Temple: Where Activist Politics Meets Old-Fashioned Charity." Read with the benefit of hindsight, the piece is often chilling, as when Jones arrives late to a church service because he had to stop and console a woman "who was talking suicide." Jones's distrust of government is already in full force ("I have a lot of guilt to know my taxes go to the shah of Iran and Chile"); his hatred of the press (as the film explains, inflammatory coverage hastened his expatriation) less so.
A good chunk of Jonestown is devoted to November 18, 1978, aided with startling footage of doomed congressman Leo Ryan's Guyana visit and the chaos that erupted in its wake. Two of the men who lived through "White Night" but saw family members (including young children) die before their eyes share their stories, and the emotional impact is undeniable. And then there's that audiotape, which is even more frightening when replayed. As Jonestown reveals, the line between suicide and murder could not be more distorted: Deceived by promises of paradise, hundreds of people joined a church that championed equal rights — then found themselves living in an isolated world where even the most basic rights were denied.
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