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Hurray USA!

Brooks is congratulated after scoring the winning goal (USA Today)

Congratulations to the U.S. for defeating Ghana 2-1 in their opening World Cup appearance!

Like many Americans, I watched the game with excitement, anticipation and—most of all—worry. Granted, Clint Dempsey’s goal in the first 30 seconds gave us some early breathing room—and represented the sixth fastest goal scored in World Cup history—but nearly the entire game passed before another goal was scored.

Sadly, it was scored by the opposing team in the 82nd minute, but it wouldn’t last for long.

Plagued with injuries—including a bloody nose for Dempsey, a hamstring injury for Jozy Altidore and several others—and dominated in time of possession by the Ghanaian team, the Americans pressed on and never lost hope.

Jones, Bradley and Beckerman kept the midfield in check, while Beasley, Besler and company held Ghana to only one goal, a rare slip past outstanding keeper Tim Howard, who otherwise played a near-perfect game.

Dempsey strikes early to put America on top (CBS Local-Baltimore)

Substitutions were the name of the game for America, given all the injuries on the pitch. Fortunately, the addition of Graham Zusi in the 77th minute brought fresh legs to the team. And it was substitute John Brooks who helped anchor the defense and eventually scored the winning goal off a Zusi corner kick in the 86th minute.

Yes, it was a game for the ages—from an American perspective, at least—as well as the best World Cup start for the U.S. team since its 2002 victory over Portugal. Ghana was clearly the better team—controlling 59% of possession, completing 445 passes and posting 65 dangerous attacks to America’s 22—but the U.S. had one important advantage: heart.

Of course, the World Cup has just begun and the road ahead will be long and difficult for the U.S. They still have some big games remaining in the group stage—including matches against powerhouses Germany and Portugal—but you couldn’t ask for a better start to their run.

So congratulations, U.S. men! And keep this train rolling, okay? We’re pulling for you!

Deadly New Year

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed 20-year-old named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in their Newtown, Connecticut home, traveled to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded to gun down 20 children and 6 staff members before taking his own life. This tragic event ushered in a new year that many hoped would be less violent than the last, but sadly, this was not the case.

By the time 2013 reached its halfway point—somewhere around May 31st—the number of people killed by guns in the United States had already surpassed the number of American troops killed during the entire Iraq War, according to ThinkProgress. In March, a college student in Florida pulled a dorm fire alarm and tried to slaughter his classmates as they poured into the hallways. In September, a defense contract employee marched into the Washington Navy Yard and gunned down 12 people. And these are only a few examples of what became an extremely violent year.

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

I was hoping things would improve in 2014, but that obviously isn’t going to happen given some of the shootings we’ve seen in only a few weeks’ time. And this week has been especially deadly thanks to guns and the people who use them for evil.

First it was Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old retired police officer who shot and killed a 43-year-old man on Monday for sending text messages to his 3-year-old daughter in a Florida movie theater last Monday. That day also saw 48-year-old Jennifer Berman of Florida murder her children—16-year-old Alex and 15-year-old Jacqueline, both promising musicians—before turning the gun on herself.

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Tuesday morning came and it was a 12-year-old who decided to inflict more gun violence, this time with a sawed-off shotgun. He walked into Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, New Mexico with three shells, fired them all and injured two students before being detained and arrested. Now a child too young to see a PG-13 movie faces three counts of aggravated battery.

On Wednesday evening, a man walked into a grocery store in Elkhart, Indiana with an automatic handgun and murdered two women before police shot him to death a short time later. Police still have no idea what prompted his attack.

No matter how bad things get in this country and how many people die as a result of gun-related violence, it still seems as if very little is being done to prevent future shootings. Universal background checks for all gun purchases got shot down—pun intended—yet we still face mass shootings every year. And from the look of it, 2014 will be just as deadly as the last few years.

When will it ever end?

Mongrel Mindreading

I'm thinking that this thought reader makes me look ridiculous (No More Woof)

I’m thinking that this thought reader makes me look ridiculous (No More Woof)

In the 2009 Disney/Pixar animated film Up, a 78-year-old widower named Carl uses thousands of helium-filled balloons to transport himself, his home and a young stowaway and wilderness explorer named Russell to Paradise Falls in South America—a destination his wife once dreamed of them visiting together.

Once they arrive, Carl and Russell meet a dog with the appropriate name of Dug. Only this is no ordinary dog because attached to his collar is a device that allows him to speak (i.e. it translates his thoughts into words and projects them verbally using a computerized voice system). I won’t spoil the film for those of you who haven’t seen it, but suffice it to say that the device comes in pretty handy.

When Dug isn’t distracted by what he thinks is a squirrel, that is.

At first, the concept of translating animals’ thoughts into words seemed—as it did in Up—completely far-fetched and much more appropriate for cartoons, science and technology magazines, and the like. But as unlikely as this technology seems, the truth is that it already exists!

Apparently, researchers at a small Scandinavian lab known as the Nordic Society for Invention and Discovery have developed something called No More Woof, described on their website as “a small gadget that uses the latest technology in micro computing and EEG to analyze animal thought patterns and spell them out in Human Language using a loudspeaker.”

Dug, the talking dog (Disney/Pixar)

Dug, the talking dog (Disney/Pixar)

To date, the device can communicate only basic thoughts like “I’m hungry” and “I’m tired,” but more patterns are being translated every day. Unfortunately, the innate complexity of this task costs money to sustain, so researchers have started a campaign on the fundraising site Indiegogo to try to raise the $10,000 needed to continue. Anyone interested in contributing can go HERE to do so—just a $65 donation will get you a simple, one-sensor device capable of reading a few basic thoughts like curiosity, hunger and exhaustion.

I’m not sure about shipping costs and arrival times this close to Christmas, but you may still be able to have one shipped overnight. It could make for a pretty cool stocking stuffer, if nothing else.

Personally, I find this technology to be incredibly cool and can’t help thinking about some of its potential uses. Instead of dog shows where canines simply prance around, do some tricks and try to illustrate how obedient they are, there could also be a question-and-answer session: “To bring peace to the world, I would work tirelessly to ensure cats and dogs everywhere learned to get along.”

Police could even use these devices to guarantee that abusive pet owners pay for their crimes: “Yes, your honor. We have a detailed statement from the dog, as well as witness testimony from two cats and a goldfish. It’s a pretty cut-and-dry case.”

This technology could also prevent tragedy, especially with regard to dog-on-human crime. Last year, there were 38 fatal dog attacks in the United States, most of them committed by pit bulls and Rottweilers. If these dogs had been wearing translation devices, though, it’s possible these deaths could have been prevented. Someone may have overheard the dogs plotting against their owners or expressing thoughts disturbing enough to warrant suspicion: “If she tells me to sit down again, I swear I’ll eat her face off while she sleeps!”

Good advice for anyone, but steak is so delicious! (Chick-fil-A)

Good advice for anyone, but steak is so delicious! (Chick-fil-A)

That would certainly be enough for me to place a call to animal control!

Of course, there is also a downside to having technology capable of translating animals’ thoughts into words. I hate to say it, but some humans bore the shit out of me, so tossing animals into the mix doesn’t sound very appealing. And if so-called “motor mouths” exist in the animal kingdom, then I’d just as soon let them bark, meow, growl and roar. Give them all the power of speech and before you know it, animals will have their own Facebook pages and Twitter accounts!

And before you point out how most animal species are incapable of using a keyboard, let me remind you that most devices—if not all of them—now feature voice recognition. In other words, there will be no stopping the social media stampede and pretty soon, “trolling” may include pissed off cows insulting meat eaters or urging everyone to “Eat Mor Chikin,” as they do in Chick-fil-A’s advertising campaigns.

Either way, I say bring it on. I would love to know what animals are thinking because that’s Step One in creating a more harmonious existence among all the creatures of the world. Want to know if the animals in the zoo are really happy? Or if the killer whales at Sea World are being neglected? Ask them yourself!

Just imagine the possibilities!

Suffer the Little Children, Part Six

How could anyone hurt a defenseless child? (Home Helpers)

How could anyone hurt a defenseless child? (Home Helpers)

By now, you have probably heard about the arrest and sentencing of disgraced British rock star Ian Watkins. Just the other day, the former lead singer of the group Lostprophets was sent to prison for 35 years for a host of child sex offenses, including child sex abuse and attempted rape of a baby.

Watkins confessed to 13 offenses in Wales last month and received his sentence on Wednesday. Also sentenced were two co-defendants identified only as Mother A and Mother B. They received sentences of 14 and 17 years, respectively.

Details from this horrifying case are still emerging, but if two mothers were also punished, then I can only assume they were allowing the abuse to happen—or maybe even exchanging sexual rights to their children for money. You just never know. This was simply a terrible crime and, honestly, one that shocked even some veteran police officers.

“The investigation uncovered the most disturbing child abuse evidence I have seen in my 28 years as a police officer,” Detective Chief Inspector Peter Doyle said later. And at his sentencing hearing, Watkins got an earful from Judge Roger John Royce.

Watkins' perversions land him in prison (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

Watkins’ perversions land him in prison (Ian Gavan/Getty Images)

“I am satisfied that you are a deeply corrupting influence, you are highly manipulative, you are a sexual predator, you are dangerous,” Royce told him. “The public and, in particular, young females need protection from you.”

Indeed they do, but what about all the sexual predators still lurking around out there? As much as I hate to admit it, they are everywhere—even within a mile or two of my home. Granted, my “neighbor” is only a registered sex offender—meaning he served his time for whatever crime he committed—but to me there is little difference.

A sicko is a sicko, after all—and sometimes even the most intensive judicial, psychological or medical treatment can’t change that.

Fortunately, there are good people all over the world trying to protect children and their interests… as well as some bad people, like the Spanish burglar who made the news recently.

Last Thursday, Spanish national police arrested a 64-year-old man in the southern provincial capital of Jaen who is suspected of being a child molester.  True to form, the alleged pedophile and rapist worked as a youth soccer coach—where he had easy access to young players—and lured some of them home to watch dirty movies with him. The sexual abuse would obviously occur soon after.

To date, police have identified at least four young victims of this sick individual, including a 16-year-old who may have been abused for more than five years. How were they finally able to find this man and to put a stop to his crimes, you ask? That’s right—it was all thanks to that burglar I mentioned.

A vintage Super 8 sealed one child molester's fate (Lights in the Attic)

A vintage Super 8 sealed one child molester’s fate (Lights in the Attic)

As it turns out, the burglar robbed this particular child molester, stole a video camera and some tapes—along with some other valuables—and then made a horrible discovery: on one of the tapes was graphic video of his “victim” sexually abusing young boys!

In an amazing act of conscience—especially from a burglar risking capture—he packed the tapes into a brown envelope, left them under a car and made an anonymous call to police to tell them where they could be found. Inside the envelope were the home address of the suspected pedophile and a note that read: “I’ve had the misfortune that these tapes have fallen into my hands and I feel obligated to turn them in so that you can do your job and put that (expletive) in prison for life.”

Some might say the burglar was simply trying to throw police off his trail—and they may be at least partially right—but officers did find even more graphic child sex abuse footage in the pedophile’s home. And thanks to the “burglar with a conscience,” it looks as if there will be one less sexual predator running free in southern Spain, which is always a good thing.

Police are still searching for the good-hearted thief—who currently remains at large—but when they finally catch him, I hope his kind deed will equate to some sort of leniency.  He may be a criminal, but at least he took the time to help the children and to prove that there is indeed honor among thieves… at least to an extent.

Stay safe and be good to each other!

Merry Crime-mas!

I sure hope that this never happens! (Getty Images)

I sure hope that this never happens! (Getty Images)

Christmas is the season of giving and a time for love and fellowship. As the special day approaches, millions of people take to the streets to seek out the perfect gifts for their friends and family. Colorful lights abound and—in colder climes—people snuggle by the fire as they watch snow drift lazily to the ground. It’s a magical time and one that brings joy to children and parents all over the world.

Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst society has to offer, namely criminals intent on ruining the holiday season for innocent people everywhere. What’s worse is that sometimes the perpetrators of Christmas crimes aren’t even convicted felons, but angry shoppers who finally reach their breaking points. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for certain: Christmas can be dangerous, and this year is certainly no exception.

Here are some examples of just how extreme these “scrooges” can be—and how their evildoing can taint an otherwise festive season.

Police break up the fight (KTLA)

Police break up the fight (KTLA)

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Early Monday morning, violence erupted at a holiday toy drive and Christmas party sponsored by the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity from Cal State Long Beach. The event took place at the Radisson Hotel in Westchester and anyone who brought a toy to donate was given a discount on their admission. Around 1 a.m., however, something went horribly wrong. A number of people decided to forgo the admission charge and simply walked into the party. They were asked to leave and when they refused, someone produced a can of pepper spray and blanketed the area with it. Fistfights broke out, chairs and tables were thrown, and more than 40 LAPD officers were dispatched to break up the fracas. No one was seriously injured and no arrests were made, but the charitable event was shut down a short time later. Too bad these party crashers forgot to bring some Christmas spirit with them, huh?

The Friedlands were attacked at the mall (Facebook)

The Friedlands were attacked at the mall (Facebook)

SHORT HILLS, NEW JERSEY

This story has been all over the news recently because it’s so terrible and so anti-Christmas. It happened in the parking garage of a crowded, upscale mall this Sunday as a young attorney and his wife were returning to their car after shopping. Dustin Friedland opened the passenger door for his wife and was walking around the back of the car towards the driver’s side when he was attacked by two men. A struggle ensued and as his wife was fleeing the SUV—which was subsequently stolen by their attackers—Friedman was shot. He was pronounced dead at a Morristown hospital a short time later. The couple’s abandoned Range Rover was discovered by police in Newark, but the killers remain at large. Please watch your back if you live in the area—and in general, since Christmas obviously brings out the crazies.

Brock and the Grinch: Separated at birth? (Capital Bay)

Brock and the Grinch: Separated at birth? (Capital Bay)

PARKER COUNTY, TEXAS

Last Christmas, 44-year-old Dana Brock was caught by surveillance video stealing holiday lights from a family’s home while they slept. A few months later, she was seen in another surveillance video, only this time Brock was stealing power tools from a different family’s garage. Unfortunately for her, she has a criminal record dating back to when she was 17 years old—it contains crimes ranging from credit card abuse and theft to assault and solicitation to commit murder. Since Texas has a “three strikes law” and Brock has far surpassed this limit, the jury gave her a very special Christmas gift this year: 70 years in prison. It’s been said that crime doesn’t pay and—in the case of this “Christmas Grinch”—this could not be more accurate. I hope she enjoys her next 70 Christmases behind bars!

PHOENIX, ARIZONA

Ring the bell, get punched in the face (Salvation Army)

Ring the bell, get punched in the face (Salvation Army)

Every year, thousands of people around the nation volunteer their time as bell ringers outside local businesses. They basically greet people, wish them a merry Christmas and solicit donations for charities like the Salvation Army and the United Way. One such person is Kristina Vindiola, who stationed herself outside a Walmart in Phoenix recently. A woman approached and in her usual warm way, Vindiola wished her “Happy Holidays.” Then a strange thing happened. The woman asked Vindiola if she believed in God, told her a more appropriate greeting would be “Merry Christmas” and then punched her! And she didn’t even make a donation, either!

Christmas safety via LEGO (The Mirror UK/West Midlands PD)

Christmas safety via LEGO (The Mirror UK/West Midlands PD)

WEST MIDLANDS, ENGLAND

Although the stories I share come largely from the United States, our final Christmas crime story “crosses the pond” to merry old England and the officers of the West Midlands Police Department. In an effort to raise awareness about holiday crime and the damper it can put on people’s festivities, the WMPD created a LEGO video about Christmas crime prevention that I highly suggest you watch. It’s pretty creative and can be found by going HERE. I only hope it works so Christmas can be pleasant and crime-free for everyone, including our brothers and sisters in the U.K.

Yes, Christmas is a wonderful holiday for a multitude of reasons, but it also has a dark side thanks to people less interested in giving and more interested in taking. This year, please take whatever steps necessary to ensure you and yours don’t fall victim to these grinches and scrooges. As much as I hate to say it, they are all around us.

Have a merry—and safe—Christmas, everybody!

For the Love of Katy

I “roar” every time I see Katy! (Taringa)

These days, few performers are as hot as Katy Perry. And where this California girl is concerned, the word “hot” applies in more ways than one.

I am absolutely in love with this gorgeous young woman. And despite liking Russell Brand, I have no idea what his problem is. He was lucky enough to marry Katy in 2010, but filed for divorce from her a mere 14 months later. Apparently they argued over starting a family and, as I understand it, he left because he didn’t want her “being the boss” of things.

What a dumb ass. She can boss me around any time!

Fortunately, this just means that Katy is available for smarter men to date—like singer/songwriter John Mayer, who’s had an on-again-off-again relationship with her since 2012.

He’s obviously no dumb ass. What happened to you, Russell?

At any rate, I decided to feature the lovely and talented Katy Perry in today’s post because, in my dreams, she happens across my article, loves it and immediately reaches out to me so we can start a friendship. Since I have a better chance of being appointed as the next Pope, though, I suppose I should be happy to have so many beautiful pictures of Katy to enjoy. Here are a few of my favorites, which I hope you appreciate as much as I do.

And if you are reading this, Katy, hit me up sometime. I’m no John Mayer, but I’m also no Russell Brand. Believe me.

Hands Down

It's all in the hands (Ben Towle)

It’s all in the hands (Ben Towle)

On Tuesday, a huge memorial service for former South African president Nelson Mandela took place at FNB stadium in Johannesburg. Among those in attendance were celebrities—most notably actress Charlize Theron and U2 front man Bono—as well as nearly 100 heads of state and government from all over the world. President Obama was there, of course, and delivered an incredible eulogy. Also there was Cuban President Raul Castro, who assumed control of the Communist nation after his brother Fidel retired in 2008.

As we all likely know, America and Cuba do not get along. Ever since the Bay of Pigs fiasco and Fidel Castro’s attempts to have Russian missiles shipped over in the 1960s, the U.S. has imposed a trade embargo on the island nation. And despite some diplomatic progress in the decades that followed, there is still plenty of “bad blood” between the two countries.

Mandela’s memorial was amazing—and I wish that I had the means to attend, as well as an invitation, I suppose—but the media seems less focused on this and more interested in what occurred between Obama and Raul Castro. Just before delivering his eulogy, as he was greeting a procession of world leaders, the U.S. president did the unthinkable: he shook hands with Castro.

Obama shakes Castro's hand... a big no-no (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Obama shakes Castro’s hand… a big no-no (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Well, this one innocent—and courteous—act has sparked all sorts of controversy, and the media has certainly run with it. Some are condemning Obama for his actions and fear the Cuban leader may somehow twist and contort this for his own evil purposes. While this may be true, I offer my own reaction in the form of a question: Who the hell cares?

Yes, things have been tense between the United States and Cuba for a long time, but is a handshake really that big a deal? Isn’t it possible this could be the first step towards these two nations finally resolving their problems and working together in a positive and more collaborative manner?

Honestly, people get upset over some of the strangest things. Just imagine the headlines if Obama had snubbed Castro!

Of course, some controversies related to Mandela’s memorial seem more justified. And once again, hands played a major role.

The “issue” involved an alleged sign language interpreter who stood beside every speaker who took the stage, including President Obama. Following the memorial, social media exploded with criticism from deaf people all over the world, who indicated that the interpreter’s gestures were “fake” and “unintelligible.”

“We are shocked by the quality of sign language interpretation at Nelson Mandela’s memorial,” Paul Breckell of the charity Action on Hearing Loss told NBC News later. “If it could be called interpretation at all.”

I think this is the sign for "I don't know jack about sign language" (Matt Dunham/AP)

I think this is the sign for “I don’t know jack about sign language” (Matt Dunham/AP)

David Buxton from the British Deaf Association called the interpreter “a total fake” and even urged South African authorities to “name and shame that gentleman.”

I can’t say for sure whether this has actually happened or not, but it certainly would not surprise me. After all, this jackass basically deprived deaf people of enjoying the memorial and paying proper tribute to Madiba.

In other words, he is a great candidate for Jackass of the Week… hands down!

Parental Guidance

Too bad this is so often the case... for some fathers, too (Pyzam.com)

Too bad this is so often the case… for some fathers, too (Pyzam.com)

There was a time when I worried a great deal about America’s youth. To me, they seemed apathetic, lazy, entitled, annoying… the list goes on and on. And I can only imagine how some of them viewed me.

Over time—and thanks to some outstanding young people who proved me wrong—I began to worry less about our nation’s youth and more about the people responsible for many of their issues: PARENTS.

Trust me when I say that I am not a perfect parent and would never criticize other parents without having a very good reason to do so. And I also know that parents aren’t the so-called “root of all evil” when it comes to kids-gone-bad, at least not always.

The lovely and deranged Cheryl Keele (Rockdale County Sheriff's Department)

The lovely and deranged Cheryl Keele (Rockdale County Sheriff’s Department)

However, we all know there are parents out there who do unspeakable, idiotic and shocking things to their kids… parents who make you wonder why more contraception isn’t available or why our government couldn’t have neutered them before they had the chance to multiply. Take 25-year-old Cheryl Keele of Rockdale County, Georgia, for instance.

Deputies arrested Keele on December 4th and charged her with burglary. Apparently, items continued to turn up missing from her neighbor’s home, including cash, prescription medication and even a gun. The neighbor always locked up nice and tight, but would often find the back door unlocked upon returning home from work. So she set up a motion-activated video camera in an attempt to catch the culprit in the act.

The next time she returned home to find her back door unlocked, Keele’s neighbor immediately checked the video footage. Unfortunately, she couldn’t load it because her camera was also missing!

The good news is that the police could review the footage. In it, they saw Keele’s small child sneak in through the doggie door, unlock the back door and allow his mother to come in and clean the place out. Needless to say, this led police to Keele’s home, where they obviously located the neighbor’s stolen camera.

I would claim to be amazed by Keele’s irresponsible, criminal and just-plain-stupid behavior—teaching her child to be a thief with no regard for his safety or even his future—but honestly, nothing surprises me anymore. Not even this final “Parent of the Year” candidate from Union County, South Carolina—and he could be a front-runner.

The drunk and disorderly Ty Ray Jones (Union County Sheriff's Department)

The drunk and disorderly Ty Ray Jones (Union County Sheriff’s Department)

Deputies were called recently to a home on Jonesville-Lockhart Highway after family members reported 36-year-old Ty Ray Jones assaulting them and threatening them… and their pets. They told officers that Jones was drunk on the same moonshine he manufactured himself, right there on the property.

With probable cause firmly in hand, deputies searched the home and discovered a homemade distillery. They also encountered Jones’ child, who told them he was forced to make moonshine against his will and often feared for his safety. The poor kid even described the moonshine-making process in detail to the officers.

Jones was obviously arrested and has been charged with unlawful neglect of a child, unlawful possession of a distillery, criminal domestic violence and unlawful manufacturing of liquor. He is currently spending his nights in the Union County Jail.

One parent wants her kid to steal and the other wants his to bootleg.

Talk about having some messed up family traditions!

Gobble, Gobble!

An unlucky turkey (Getty Images)

An unlucky turkey (Getty Images)

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

As you sit down with family and friends to celebrate this wonderful, food-filled holiday, please remember those who fear Thanksgiving more than any other day of the year: turkeys!

Yes, our delicious fall feast is the end result of the fowl massacre that precedes it. Each year, Americans raise and kill roughly 300 million “gobblers,” and more than 45 million are slaughtered for Thanksgiving.

He might have a point! (Zazzle)

He might have a point! (Zazzle)

In other words, “giving geese a chance” next year may not be the worst idea—at least where turkeys are concerned.

For now, though, I plan to gobble up some tasty turkey and to initiate the food coma that is destined to arrive later. Here’s wishing the same for you and yours!

Happy Turkey Day, folks!

Do Not Drink the Kool-Aid!

Welcome to Jonestown (NBC/Getty Images)

This week marks the anniversaries of two very tragic events in America’s history, both of which have fascinated me—and others—for decades: the Jonestown massacre and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.

Although I still believe JFK’s murder was part of a larger conspiracy—and that Lee Harvey Oswald was likely just a “patsy,” as he claimed shortly before being gunned down by nightclub owner Jack Ruby—the truth may never be revealed to the American public, especially given their recent distrust in elected officials and all the partisan politics in Washington.

Jonestown, on the other hand, is well established in fact. And honestly, it’s too freaky a story for me to ignore, which is why this is the anniversary I will commemorate—for lack of a better word—today.

Jonestown—which was actually called the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project—was a community established in Guyana by Reverend Jim Jones, a controversial religious leader in the 1960s known for his integrationist views and his strong belief in apostolic socialism—the basic concept being that “those who remained drugged with the opiate of religion had to be brought to enlightenment—socialism.”

In his early career—and despite harboring great sympathy and respect for Communism, which was a big “no-no” at the time—Jones seemed intent on fighting for civil rights, love and understanding. He and his wife Marceline adopted children of Korean descent to create a “rainbow family” and later became the first white couple in Indiana to adopt a black child. Jones also fought to integrate churches, restaurants and a host of other Indiana businesses, which resulted in harsh criticism, threats and even a bomb scare—a stick of dynamite was once discovered in the coal pile of his church, the Peoples Temple.

In 1961, Jones heard mention of a possible nuclear holocaust—which he believed would occur in 1967—and started visiting South America in an effort to find a suitable location upon which to establish a utopian society. He read in Esquire magazine that Brazil would likely be safe from nuclear fallout and decided to visit, stopping in the British colony of Guyana along the way. When he returned from Brazil in 1965, he immediately moved the Peoples Temple to San Francisco for safety, hoping to eventually build and relocate to a “new socialist Eden on earth.”

Jonestown was starting to come into focus.

Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones.

Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones (Bettmann/Corbis)

While in San Francisco, Jones and the Peoples Temple became extremely political and were integral in the 1975 election of Mayor George Moscone, who soon appointed Jones as chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. California assemblyman Willie Brown even described Jones as “a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein and Chairman Mao.” He had friends in high places—including First Lady Rosalyn Carter and vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale—and his church grew exponentially, with branches popping up in San Fernando and Los Angeles.

Underneath it all, though, was a growing sense of fear and paranoia. Jones denounced Christianity, continued to drift closer and closer to Communism, worried the IRS was investigating the tax-exempt status of his church, and faced intense media scrutiny—culminating in the threat of an exposé in New West magazine claiming some Peoples Temple defectors were sexually, physically and emotionally abused.

Rather than living in a society that seemed increasingly critical and wary of he and his followers—and anticipating the publication of that damning exposé, which would undoubtedly bring even more negativity—Jones and his congregation decided to create a society of their own in Guyana, which he affectionately referred to as Jonestown. In the summer of 1976, he and several hundred of his congregation members—most of whom were black—were living in South America. And by its peak in 1978, Jonestown boasted almost 1,000 residents.

Unfortunately, life in Jonestown wasn’t as pleasant as people expected it to be, and it was a far cry from the utopian paradise promised by their beloved leader. Work days were long and tiresome, buildings quickly fell into disrepair, supplies were hard to come by and illnesses spread through the community like a brush fire. To make matters worse, members identified as having disciplinary problems were harshly punished—many were beaten or imprisoned—and anyone who attempted to escape would be detained by armed guards or even “treated” with powerful drugs like Thorazine and sodium pentothal.

Meanwhile, Jones’ fear and paranoia—as well as his descent into madness—seemed to be growing and progressing at an alarming rate. Members were subjected to behavior modification and mind control techniques—which were inspired by common practices in Communist China and North Korea—and recordings of Jones ranting and raving about the evil “capitalist and imperialist villains” in America boomed from loudspeakers throughout the compound. In Jones’ view, the CIA and other “capitalist pigs” intended to harm the Peoples Temple and to destroy Jonestown, so the disillusioned leader instituted White Nights—large group events designed to help plan for the so-called worst case scenario. He gave members four choices in terms of responding to outside—and impending—threats: defect to the Soviet Union, stand and fight, flee into the jungle or—most frightening of all—commit mass, revolutionary suicide.

And since Jones obtained a jeweler’s license in 1976 and had been receiving shipments of cyanide on a regular basis, he had everything he needed to make this final option a reality.

By late 1977 and early 1978—and amidst rumors of abuse, religious and political indoctrination, and imprisonment in Jonestown—friends and relatives of Peoples Temple members started to get very concerned about their loved ones. A group of Temple defectors calling themselves “Concerned Relatives” eventually got the attention of Congressman Leo Ryan from California, who decided to investigate for himself. He and a delegation of 18 people—including reporters, photographers and representatives from the Concerned Relatives group—arranged to visit Jonestown in November of 1978.

Congressman Leo Ryan (Wikipedia)

What Ryan and his group didn’t know was that Jones’ decline into madness and paranoid delusion had grown substantially and his health had even started to deteriorate. He suffered from weight loss, convulsions, temporary blindness, chronic insomnia and a host of other problems, most of which he treated with injectable stimulants and barbiturates. In the months prior to Ryan’s visit, Jones’ persecution complex and megalomania continued to grow and his White Nights events became much more frequent—even to the point of rehearsing mass suicide with his members.

And to say he was suspicious of Congressman Ryan’s visit would be an understatement.

Despite his reservations—and unable to prevent Ryan from visiting once he and his delegation landed in Guyana—Jones reluctantly agreed to let the party enter Jonestown on November 17, 1978. All but four of Ryan’s contingent landed at a small airstrip at Port Kaituma—six miles away from the compound—and arrived just after sunset. Initially, they were accepted with open arms and even invited to a musical celebration that night. Temple members raved about their lives in Guyana and seemed to be in good spirits, but things soon took a much darker turn.

The first Peoples Temple defector to approach Congressman Ryan at the celebration was Vernon Gosney, who mistakenly handed a note intended for Ryan to NBC reporter Don Harris that read, “Dear Congressman Ryan, Vernon Gosney and Monica Bagby. Please help us get out of Jonestown.” The next morning, eleven members fled Jonestown and took a train to nearby Matthew’s Ridge. Among them was Joe Wilson, Jonestown’s head of security.

Reporters and Concerned Relatives members who were unable to take the earlier flight with Ryan arrived at Jonestown that afternoon and were greeted by Marceline Jones, who took them on a tour of the compound. At the same time, even more Peoples Temple members approached Ryan’s delegation and asked to be escorted home. Oddly enough, Jones granted them permission to leave, even after Harris showed him Gosney’s note. Jones, of course, claimed they were lies intended to destroy Jonestown, but nevertheless agreed to let anyone leave who felt they should.

Following a violent rainstorm that afternoon, Ryan’s delegation and a number of defectors—including Temple loyalist Larry Layton, whose presence seemed suspicious to other members—loaded into a dump truck and set out for the airstrip and the long flight home. Congressman Ryan was planning to stay behind, but joined the group after being attacked by a knife-wielding Temple member named Don Sly. He was reluctant to leave—feeling there was still work to be done and other members who may be interested in leaving—but promised to return later.

Ryan and the other victims killed at the Guyana airstrip (AP)

This was obviously a promise he would never keep—more on that in a moment.

The group reached the airstrip but due to their increased size, they had to wait for two planes to arrive: a 19-passenger Twin Otter from Guyana Airways and a 6-passenger Cessna, which was dispatched by the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown. The planes arrived shortly after 5 p.m. and since it was the first to depart, passengers started to board the Cessna first. Among them was Larry Layton, who waited until the plane taxied to the runway before producing a gun and shooting at the passengers. Gosney and Bagby were injured in the attack, but Layton was disarmed by passenger Dale Parks before he could do any further damage.

Around the same time, passengers were boarding the Twin Otter when they suddenly noticed a tractor with a trailer approaching. In the back were members of the Peoples Temple Security Brigade—all of them armed to the teeth—and before anyone knew what was happening, the gunmen opened fire.

NBC cameraman Bob Brown caught the first few seconds of the attack on film, but was killed along with Bob Harris, defector Patricia Parks and Congressman Ryan, who was shot more than twenty times. As many as nine others were injured before the shooting stopped and the Twin Otter was too damaged to fly. Unfortunately, the pilots of the Cessna weren’t taking any chances and immediately took off for Georgetown, leaving everyone else either injured or dead on the isolated airstrip. Some fled into the jungle, but those who survived the deadly attack were eventually rescued by Guyanese soldiers.

Larry Layton was arrested by the Guyanese state police and was later convicted of conspiracy and of aiding and abetting the murder of Ryan and the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer, Deputy Chief of the U.S. Embassy to Guyana. He remains the only person held criminally responsible for the events on that fateful November day.

Meanwhile—back in Jonestown—Reverend Jones assembled his remaining followers in the pavilion and told them that “one of the people on that plane is gonna shoot the pilot” and that they “better not have any of [their] children left when it’s over, because they’ll parachute in here on us.” His threats intensified once the airstrip shooters returned and confirmed Ryan’s death. And in Jones’ view, there was only one solution: revolutionary suicide.

“You can go down in history, saying you chose your own way to go,” the deranged religious leader told his congregation. “It is your commitment to refuse capitalism and in support of socialism.”

The victims of the Jonestown massacre (Getty Images)

Prior to the meeting, Temple members prepared a large vat of Flavor Aid—not Kool-Aid—and laced it with cyanide, Phenergan, Valium and chloral hydrate. According to reports from escaped Temple members, the first to take the deadly concoction were Ruletta Paul and her one-year-old infant. A syringe was used to squirt the poison into the infant’s mouth and within minutes, others were stepping up to take their doses. Jones circulated through the crowd and encouraged people to drink, but many were reluctant once they watched their friends and loved ones drop dead within five minutes of ingesting the poison.

“Die with a degree of dignity,” he told them. “Lay down your life with dignity; don’t lay down with tears and agony… death is a million times preferable to ten more days of this life. If you knew what was ahead of you, you’d be glad to be stepping over tonight.”

One by one, Temple members drank their share of Flavor Aid and used syringes to dose their children. A few people managed to escape, but generally those who refused to take the poison weren’t given a choice. Of course, Jones chose a different method and instead died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. His body was found beside his chair with his head resting comfortably on a pillow.

By the time it was all said and done, the mass suicide at Jonestown—which many considered to be mass murder—claimed 909 lives. The total climbs to 918 once the airstrip victims and a few additional Temple members are included—Jones commanded four of his members in Georgetown to die, which they did obediently. And until the events of September 11, 2001, the Jonestown massacre stood as the single largest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act in our nation’s history.

I certainly hope this is a record we never break again. And my heart goes out to anyone who lost a loved one on that terrible November day in 1978. This is one anniversary that no one should have to experience.

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