On April 17, Stephan Jones, son of cult leader Jim Jones, spoke to the University community in the Formal Living Room of Hunt Hall about life with his father and his experiences in the cult.
Jones began by pointing out that his presence on campus was rare, as he turns down more offers to speak than he accepts. He did stress that he almost always turns down interviews with adults, but never turns down interviews with students doing projects or papers. Jones expressed that he is fascinated by the many different viewpoints on Jonestown that can come from young people.
Jones read a piece he had written on perspective and how that related to the Jonestown cult. He explained how his father was always convinced that there was only one right way to do everything; the entire cult was based off of this idea. Jim Jones convinced himself that his perspective was helping fulfill a greater good and he took all means to achieve it. Despite his father’s lack of open mindedness, Jones firmly expressed that he now believes there can be many perspectives, all of which may be right.
Jones spoke about how he, like most young boys, idolized his father and sought his approval, though he knew his father was extremely manipulative. Many people viewed Jim Jones as a good man who became sick, but Jones counters this by saying that both the compassionate and evil sides of his father were always present.
Jim Jones was very independent for much of his childhood; he even taught himself how to walk since he was alone so often. Despite the many issues Jones had with his father, he said that he always felt loved. Jones said his father was always loving and affectionate.
Jones that his mother never left his father because their generation believed in always making marriages work. He said that his mother would always try to love and forgive his father and said he tries to do the same to this day. Jones discussed that the only way to deal with a father like Jim Jones–and a mother who stayed with him–is to always be forgiving.
After discussing his parents, Jones talked about his experience with his children. Several years ago, Jones wrote a piece called “Like Father, Like Son” for himself and his family. He said that his 10-year-old daughter is beginning to wonder why she doesn’t have grandparents, but he doesn’t think she’s ready for the entire truth yet. Jones hopes that once she’s old enough, “Like Father, Like Son” will explain to her the Jones family’s unconventional past.
Jones then began to discuss Jonestown directly. He said at first there was an amazing sense of integration and tolerance, but at one point, everyone at Jonestown realized that what was occurring wasn’t right. By that point everyone had spent too much time and energy committing themselves to the temple, so they rationalized the situation to themselves and decided to stay in Jonestown.
Jones said that he and his father constantly argued while at Jonestown. In hindsight, Jones believes he should have peacefully confronted his father.
Jones managed to escape Jonestown, but he says he’s not sure whether he would’ve “drank the kool-aid” if he’d been there that day. He stressed that everyone did it, either out of loyalty to each other or out of fear of looking like a coward.
“Jim Jones didn’t do Jonestown himself,” Jones explained, “We didn’t stand up when we should’ve stood up.”