Author Archives: CharlieClaywell

About CharlieClaywell

I have been a writer for years, mainly as a reporter, but I have always enjoyed history, especially non-mainstream stories buried inside old documents. My blog mostly centers around those stories. On occasion, though, I deviate and talk about my dog, vintage toys and what it's like to be middle-aged.

‘Seductive Poison’ Shows Stages Of Indoctrination, Cult Acceptance

2008 Palladium-Item (Richmond, IN) newspaper clipping — remembering the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre.

It was about 15 years after the Jonestown Massacre when I learned Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones attended Richmond High School about 20 minutes from my hometown. I would later learn that he also spent part of his childhood in Lynn, IN — a very small town I was familiar with because some of my cousins lived there.

But I had never really wanted to delve into any books about him until I read an online review about another Jonestown book that piqued my interest.

Seductive Poison

Debbie Layton was a rising star and confidante of Jim Jones. About two months before the Jonestown Massacre, though, the mid-20s woman knew she needed to get out. This was accomplished with the help of a sister and some government officials in Guyana. She details this, and the slow indoctrination, that led her to put her faith in Jones in her memoir Seductive Poison: A Jonestown Survivor’s Story of Life and Death in the People’s Temple.

Like many readers, I presume, Jonestown always prompted an image of gullible people who, although they did not deserve to die, kind of brought it all on themselves. That is one reason I’m glad I read the book. It is easier now, for me, to understand that good people, seeking a sense of justice and community, can be pulled into a very bad situation. Many of us (myself included) forget that Jones was highly respected just a few years before the massacre. As the book notes in 1976,

“The Temple was becoming a reputable and widely recognized organization. San Francisco Mayor George Moscone welcomed Jim (who controlled a large voting bloc) and rewarded Pastor Jones’s good deeds with several prominent positions. In March 1976, Jim was honored with a mayoral appointment to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Seven months later, he was appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority.”

In a 1976 event honoring Jones, then-California State Assembly Speaker Willie Brown introduced Jones as a “combination of Martin Luther King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein, and Chairman Mao.”

Even president Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, visits with Jones during this era.

True Believers

But, underneath the public persona that was capable of duping powerful enablers was a sinister, and unstable, side of Jones that Layton effectively reveals. From the first time he sexually assaults her — to the day he confiscates her mother’s pain medication (she would die of cancer just weeks before the mass suicide) — Layton paints the image of a very troubled man.

Another side of the story she tells extremely well is the paranoia and persecution complex that riddled the religious community as they became convinced the ‘outside world’ was intent on destroying them.

Jonestown, Guyana

Because of her high role in the church, Layton stays in San Francisco, and is a late arriver to Guyana. When she arrives, after months of hearing how great Jonestown was looking, she is shocked to see that the paradise she had been promised was little more than an ‘army camp.’ Once there, her days, like other members were long filled with hard, manual labor and deprivation. As she is working in the fields one day — a 12-hour task in a jungle environment — she daydreams of simpler things,

“When I didn’t dream of food, I fantasized about my shower… Planning ones shower was important because showers also had restrictions. Anyone reported to have allowed the water to run longer than two minutes was assigned to the Learning Crew for a day.”

The Learning Crew was a chain-gang type punishment with harder labor and no talking. The crew was also escorted by armed guards.

For Her Daughter

Even though Layton wrote the book for her daughter in a way to ‘set the record straight,’ it is just a heavy, unhappy story for her family. Layton’s family was deeply impacted by the tragedy. Besides losing her mother — buried in an unmarked grave — Layton’s brother was one of the gunmen involved in the attack on U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan.

He was the only individual imprisoned over Jonestown.

Rating: 5 out of 5. This is an important read and it’s written in a way that you understand how Layton was pulled in. Even though she is empathic to the victims, she does not sugarcoat anything — not even her own errors.


Afterthought

As I was researching for this post, I came across a Rolling Stones piece which, of course, sheds more light on the topic. And, it includes the story of a elderly survivor who slept through the ordeal and published her story in 1995. The book is currently out of print.

I also researched the Richmond, IN newspaper and found a piece they did on the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre. You can view it here: Page 1 | Page 2

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Categories: American History, Books I have read, My America, Religion | Tags: , | 2 Comments

‘American Prophecies’ And The Vision Of A God-Ordained U.S.

We have lots of Stand With Israel signs in Preble County. One can only speculate what the signs would say if the Shepherd of Hermes, instead of The Revelation of John, had been included in the Bible as originally planned. This sign is attached to a Baptist Church in Camden, Ohio.

Two men walking up the hill, one disappears and one’s left standing stillI Wish We’d All Been Ready, Larry Norman, Upon This Rock, 1969. This song, which includes the phrase, ‘the Son has come and you’ve been left behind,’ was a conservative Christian anthem in the late 60s and early 70s. It may have been the inspiration for the Left Behind series penned by Tim LeHaye and Jerry Jenkins. More than 65 million of the books have sold worldwide. The song has been recorded by Pat Boone, Cliff Richards and a slew of CCM artists.


Let me begin by saying, I don’t believe it.

I don’t believe in the Rapture. I don’t believe in Armageddon and I certainly don’t believe that Israel is part of God’s plan. It’s about politics and exploiting fear.

But I wanted to learn about the Israel movement because of the overwhelming number of ‘Stand with Israel’ signs in my county. When I first noticed them years ago, I mocked them, not grasping what they really meant — that a regressive, apocalyptic worldview was invading my community. It’s a worldview that believes the end of time will occur with Armageddon in Israel.

Growing up in an evangelical church whose brand had a muddy view of the end times, I was never overly interested in Armageddon — or its common partner — the rapture. The rapture is a worldview that asserts the righteous will be ‘taken away’ into paradise while the rest of us are left on earth to learn a hard lesson.

This worldview was told (and sold) in exhausting detail via the Left Behind book series.

The Fearful Faithful

Fundamentalism is the preferred form of Christianity in my part of America. Literal signs of this belief structure are everywhere — from the ‘If you die tonight, will you go to Heaven or Hell?’ billboards along I-70 to the ‘repent and be baptized’ sign as you enter Camden, Ohio. In the past several decades, despite a declining population, we have seen the number of our churches grow — with an increasing move toward stricter interpretations of what the ‘Bible really means.’

Despite our growing number of churches, fear is pervasive, with many local churches compelled to remind citizens that we are a ‘Christian nation’ under siege by the forces of evil. In a recent letter to the editor the minister of the Eaton Church of Christ explains the presence of small white crosses starting to pop up throughout Preble County.

“We have decided that if our local, state, and federal governments are going to bow to the demands of those who would see all the symbols of the Christian foundation of this nation removed, then we will do our best to remind them…They (the white crosses) are a way to remind those around us that this nation became the greatest nation in the world because of its Christian foundations: true morality, Christian principles and the providence of the one true God and creator.”

This approach to interpreting America’s history is common among fundamentalist who have decided that, just like with the Bible, they are the only ones to be trusted with understanding our country’s nuanced beginnings.

God Knows Best

Fundamentalism exploits the simple faith of many, and few do it better than bestselling author Michael D. Evans. In American Prophecies: Ancient Scriptures Reveal Our Nation’s Future, Evans details how America is in the path of prophecy as he analyzes current and past U.S. events surrounding the Nation of Israel. According to Evans, the U.S. and Israel were chosen by god as part of a divine plan to save (most of) the world.

The book is worth reading to better understand the reasoning behind the Stand with Israel movement. This peculiar, fundamentalist movement has believers sadistically waiting for a nuclear war to prove their interpretation of the Bible is correct.

Evans builds his case for Israel’s holy role in America (and vice versa) by relying on Old Testament verses that, he says, prove America is part of the ‘prophecy stream.’ He details the various times in American history when presidents succeeded, or failed, to follow God’s will concerning the Jews. Overall, it appears that the GOP has been better at understanding God’s will than the Democrats, as one would expect based on the author’s political affiliations. But, politics aside, Evans does appear to truly believe that we have divine protection as a country.

God’s Protection

One example Evans gives is General George Washington.

According to Evans, on the battlefield bullets tore through Washington’s coat, but did not pierce his flesh. This, and other events like it, are proof to Evans that that God’s hand was working as a shield for Washington as God guided the country’s inception. But, as anyone who has read war accounts know, these type of ‘miracles’ are fairly common throughout history.

By Evans’ logic Dick Winters (Band of Brothers) or a Preble County WWII vet I met years ago were protected by God. This local soldier’s story of survival includes many ‘intuitions’ that saved his life (‘move away from that tree’) and in one incident, as an 18-year-old soldier, he was one of only two to survive a SS ambush. This man, who detailed other unexplainable events, said he struggled with understanding how he was saved in battle when the guy next to him was killed.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as survivor’s guilt, but for Evans, in the case of Washington, it was part of a master plan.

What Were They Thinking?

The book employs a retelling — or a ‘getting inside the head’ — of past president’s action and in Evans’ defense his life has intertwined with a lot of high-ranking political figures so he would be privy to some of their thought processes. The book was published in 2004 so 9/11 and the president all conservatives love to hate — Bill Clinton — was still fresh on Evans’ mind.

So, as expected, throughout the book Evans political leanings often influence his spiritual insights. But, at times, his reasoning feel insane.

For example, Evans quotes an unnamed ‘brilliant and respected scholar whom I have known for decades,’ who gives yet another verification that God is protecting Israel. The scholar says,

“If you look at a satellite image of the city of Jerusalem, you will see the tetragrammaton YHWH. It is clearly visible in the photos.”

YHWH is the Hebrew word for Yahweh — the ‘unspoken name of God,’ Evans says.

Moving The Embassy

As spiritual advisor to 45* Evans was elated when the U.S. Embassy was recently moved to Jerusalem, saying at a December ceremony honoring Trump,

No president in history has ever built such an alliance for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and no president has courageously stood up for the State of Israel on the global stage as you had Mr. President.

The embassy move is a mixed bag of blessings. If you believe in biblical prophecies, we’re one step closer to the end, and if you don’t believe, well a hard lesson is awaiting.

No Rating on Book. If one wishes to understand the ‘end times’ mindset, but does not want to read the 16-part Left Behind series, this succinct work should do the trick. The book I read is a signed edition –and since I bought it at Goodwill it was discarded by the original owner. I’m not sure what that says about the destination of his/her soul.


Afterthought

As Evans explains in the book, 65 million Americans profess to be Christian and he pontificates what would happen if the Rapture occurred today emptying the country of their souls. It was this argument that almost made me a believer since I could not see a downside.

“Realize, also, if that (the Rapture) happened today it would take our president. Who else would it take? How many members of the Senate? The House? How many judges? How many governors? How many mayors and city council members?”

Although I find the belief system superstitious, one part of the book I did find intriguing — and somewhat entertaining — was the list of Bible verses each U.S. president used when sworn in. Some, like Reagan understood the marketing power of a verse while others, like Lincoln, just let the Bible fall open. At least one president, Pierce, chose not to use a Bible at the inauguration.

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3 Shows To Watch During Black History Month

If you don’t want to die, comply — bumper sticker on pickup truck in Middletown, Ohio. As the statement indicates, our whiteness emboldens us — increasing our racial divide.

In honor of Black History Month here are three videos worth watching:

1.) Truth and Power: #BlackLivesMatter. Filmed in 2016, the first episode of the Truth and Power series on Netflix deals with the Black Lives Matter movement. A look at the inception of a movement borne from the frustration of a race historically, and currently, oppressed in a society that loves its whiteness. A lot is packed into this 20-minute episode, including interviews with the movement’s leaders, authors who have written about the country’s systemic racism, and the way the group has been monitored by government agencies.

2.) Spies of Mississippi. When I watched this hour-long piece on Amazon, I learned two things: 1.) Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, my alma mater, trained the 1960s Freedom Riders and 2.) the state of Mississippi created the State Sovereignty Group to systematically undermine the efforts of Civil Right leaders. The episode is journalistic in style (it was journalists who uncovered the documents about the Sovereignty Group) and it reveals government extensive effort to keep blacks ‘in their place.’ The piece looks at the various terror tactics used by police officers, newspaper editors and unscrupulous black leaders who spied on NAACP meetings.

Similarly-themed content about broken systems and the role they place in oppression are:

  • The Naked Truth, S1:E2 Mugged. This episode explores private companies exploiting people who have been arrested (including those with charges dropped). This is accomplished by posting mugshots online and forcing people to pay a fee to have them removed — but, as the episode reveals, finding out who operates these companies is difficult.
  • Truth and Power, S1: E4 Prisoners for Sale. This 20-minute episode explores how the private prison industry is undercutting the concept of justice.

3. I am Not Your Negro. I have mentioned this in a previous post, but this should be required viewing, especially for Whites. We have a tendency to presume we understand the race issue — or more commonly simply do not care because it does not impact us. This film is based on the unfinished work of black author James Baldwin. He set out to write about his three murdered friends: Malcom X, Medgar Evers (assassinated in Mississippi) and Martin Luther King — finishing 30 pages of the project.

The film is a tragic, poignant look at the black experience in America.

Baldwin was an intellectual who did not mince words and his written words, referenced throughout the film, are as applicable today as in the 1950s-1970s when Baldwin wrote them. The film also mixes in his interviews and speeches with current events, like Ferguson, showing not much has changed. I could fill this post with Baldwin’s quotes, but will include just one, which is read by actor Samuel Jackson as the image of a lynch mob is displayed on the screen. As the camera fades away from the dead black man it zeroes in on the white murderers staring at the camera while Jackson reads Baldwin’s words:

You cannot lynch me and keep me in ghettos without becoming something monstrous yourselves. And, furthermore, you give me an terrifying advantage. You never had to look at me. I had to look at you. I know more about you than you know about me. Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

History is not the past. It is the present. We carry our history with us. We are our history. If we pretend otherwise we literally are criminals.

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