“There’s no question that you could compare Jim Jones as a charismatic leader who would bring his congregation together, force them to do things that were illegal, and then took 900 of them into the jungles of Guyana where, over the course of time, he then convinced them that they should die. I’ve never been able to say they committed suicide because I don’t think they were in control of their faculties, to be quite honest with you,” Speier told CNN’s Brian Stelter. “So you look at Donald Trump, charismatic leader, who was able to continue to talk in terms that appeal to those who are disaffected, disillusioned, and who were looking for something.”
Speier called both men “merchants of deceit.”
Just as Jones once did, Trump steers people away from facts and spins “destructive” narratives, she said.
Trump’s extreme supporters, like those who attacked the U.S. Capitol and were looking to assassinate the vice president and the speaker of the House, are members of a cult, Speier said.
“They have embraced Donald Trump, and they will do anything he wants, even if it is wrong, illegal and harmful to themselves,” she said.
But, she emphasized: “I don’t put every Trump supporter in that category.”
In 1978, more than 900 members of Jones’s Peoples Temple cult died after drinking, or being forced to drink, or injected with a grape-flavored beverage laced with cyanide. A third of the victims were children.
Days before the mass suicide, Jones ordered cult members to fire on an American delegation led by California Rep. Leo Ryan. The group included several journalists, concerned relatives, an American embassy official and Speier, Ryan’s legal adviser. Five people were killed in the shootings at the airstrip near Jonestown, including Ryan. Speier was also seriously injured.
She was not the first person to compare Trump to Jones.
“The people who fell in love with [cult leader] Jim Jones and went down to Guyana, they had husbands and wives and lives. And then they drank the Kool-Aid,” Watkins said.