Jim Jones was a socialist.
I never knew that. Until reading The Road to Jonestown, I thought he was a cult leader of the religious variety. He was that as well, but what made Jones different from how he'd been portrayed--at least to me--was that his beliefs came more from secular social justice than religious ideology. In a way this made him far more dangerous as he promoted very good things that both religious and secular progressives could get behind.
Desegregation is a good thing. Pressuring the landlord to fix the pipes for their black tenants is a good thing. Feeding people through church charity events, creating scholarship programs for those who would otherwise never go to college, and fostering positive change in poor communities are all good things.
Jones's ego and paranoia--caused by drug abuse--were his undoing, and unfortunately he took with him 909 men, women, and children--mostly children.
It would be easy to dismiss this as an inherent problem with socialism. But the real problem is extremism. Again, the social programs Jones was trying to promote were all good things. But ultimately we saw him, and many of those who believed in him dying, and murdering for an extremist ideology. Socialism to the extreme--impoverished communal living, hero-worship of a very flawed individual, and paranoid ideas of a corrupt government black-bagging and spying on the masses.
Extremism in all forms--religious fanaticism, terrorism, political activism in the form of violent protests ultimately lead down the same path, and certainly did not die was Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.
The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn is a fascinating read. It's scary, insightful and thought provoking, standing as a warning in a time where polarizing ideologies seem to rule the day.