(Salon) “Season of the Witch,” the new book by Salonfounder David Talbot, tells the story of the wild and bloody birth of “San Francisco values.” The following excerpt – Part 1 in a three-part series -- recounts one of the darker dramas before the ultimate triumph of those values.
Jim Jones, the strange and charismatic leader of Peoples Temple, proved a master at politically wiring San Francisco in the mid-1970s...
Political leaders, aware of Jones’s ability to deliver — or manufacture — votes, lined up to pay tribute to the preacher. He worked his way into the good graces of officials high and low — most of them Democrats, since that was the party in power in California and San Francisco in the mid-1970s. But Jones was also happy to exchange mutually complimentary correspondence with the offices of Ronald Reagan and statesman Henry Kissinger.
During the 1976 presidential campaign, Jones wangled a private meeting with Jimmy Carter’s wife, Rosalynn, at the elegant Stanford Court Hotel on Nob Hill, arriving with a security contingent that was larger than her Secret Service squad. Later Jones accompanied Moscone and a group of Democratic dignitaries who climbed aboard vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale’s private jet when it touched down at San Francisco International Airport.
Governor Jerry Brown sang the preacher’s praises. Congressman John Burton, Phil’s brother, lobbied the governor to appoint Jones to the high-profile board of regents, which oversaw California’s sprawling public university system. San Francisco Supervisor – now U.S. Senator — Dianne Feinstein accepted an invitation to lunch with Jones and to tour Peoples Temple.
But no political figures were more gushing in their praise of Jones than Willie Brown and Harvey Milk, San Francisco’s rising tribune of gay freedom. Milk, a perennial candidate for office until he finally won a supervisor’s seat in 1977, aggressively sought Jones’s political blessing. “Our paths have crossed,” Milk wrote Jones during an earlier campaign for supervisor, in a letter filled with the kind of awed reverence that the cult leader demanded from his followers. “They will stay crossed. It is a fight that I will walk with you into . . . The first time I heard you, you made a statement: ‘Take one of us, and you must take all of us.’ Please add my name.”
Not content to hear dignitaries whisper flatteries into his ear, Jones staged a testimonial banquet in his own honor and demanded that politicians in his debt offer him public tribute. On the evening of September 25, 1976, the Peoples Temple headquarters on Geary Boulevard was converted into a formal dining hall with linen tablecloths and floral arrangements. At the head table sat Mayor Moscone, District Attorney Freitas, and Assemblyman Willie Brown, who acted as the evening’s exuberant master of ceremonies. As he introduced the man of the hour to the overflow audience, Brown reached new heights of shameless, ass-kissing puffery. “Let me present to you,” Brown roared, “a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein . . . Chairman Mao.” By the time Jones rose to tumultuous applause, he seemed likely to walk on water... (continued)