To the editor:
From Thom Hartman: Representative Jackie Spears got it right, and she should know.
Back in 1978, Spears – then a 28-year-old aide to Congressman Leo Ryan – flew down to Guyana to investigate reports that Reverend Jim Jones was stealing money from his parishioners and subjecting them to horrors ranging from rape to beatings and public humiliation to “rehearsals” for mass suicide.
Reverend Jones didn’t take kindly to their showing up and ordered them all killed. Representative Ryan, another aide, and three reporters were all shot dead; Jackie Spears was, for 22 hours, left for dead on the airport tarmac with five bullets in her.
Fearing that the pilot and some disaffected members of his People’s Temple Church who’d escaped would notify authorities, Jones ordered his followers to commit mass suicide by drinking from vats of cyanide-laced Kool Aid. Nobody survived; 913 died, including 304 children, Jones then killing himself with a bullet to the temple.
For those too young to remember, it’s where the phrase “drinking the Kool Aid” came from and it’s appropriate to the bizarre and sad relationship between Donald Trump and his cult followers. As Congresswoman Spears told The Guardian last February:
“Jim Jones was a religious cult leader, Donald Trump is a political cult leader. As a victim of violence and of a cult leader, I am sensitive to conduct that smacks of that. We have got to be wary of anyone who can have such control over people that they lose their ability to think independently.”
Generally, “drinking the Kool Aid” suggests a person who’s been taken in by fantastical ideas or theories. And Trump has certainly promoted his share of those, from taking Putin’s word over U.S. intelligence about how Trump gained the White House to lies about the crowd size at his inaugural, Obamacare, trade policy, Hydroxychloroquine, Sharpie-altered storms and the “very fine people” among Charlottesville neo-Nazis.
But it’s Trump’s lies about Covid that genuinely qualify as Kool Aid in the original context of the saying. His followers, from early days to this very moment, are quite literally willing to commit suicide on his instructions.
I realize how tough that sounds, but this is not hyperbole. Dozens to hundreds of Trump followers died of Covid today. Some are dying as you are reading these words. And soon they begin to die in exponentially larger numbers.
As both the Brookings Institution and Trump’s Coronavirus Response Coordinator Dr. Debra Birx noted, more than 400,000 Americans died unnecessarily in the first big wave because they followed Trump instead of the science.
“I look at it this way,” Dr. Birx told CNN medical reporter Sanjay Gupta. “There were about 100,000 deaths that came from that original surge. All of the rest of them, in my mind, could have been mitigated or decreased substantially.”
At the time she told him that, around 550,000 Americans had died of the disease. More Americans have now died unnecessarily of Covid than died in World War II.
Jim Jones, it turns out, was a piker. In terms of the ability to convince his followers to commit suicide on command, Trump has him totally beat. For every person who listened to Jones and died from cyanide, 438 people died because they listened to Trump and didn’t take Covid seriously.
Jones had his lieutenants, and they all dutifully followed him to his death. While the only one of Trump’s top-tier followers who died following his Covid advice was Herman Cain, several others (most famously Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, but also Trump himself) were only saved from death by extraordinarily expensive just-emerged-and-not-yet-widely-available monoclonal antibody and steroid treatments.
And now, today, all across America, Trump devotees who rely on Fox “News,” right-wing hate radio and Trump-humping private Facebook groups are laying down their lives in obedience to His Orangeness. Tucker Carlson and Charlie Kirk are even getting into the act, actively working to discourage college students from getting vaccinated.
The State of Maryland is reporting that 100% of its Covid deaths have occurred among people who are unvaccinated, an experience replicated in hospitals all across the country. The American pool of unvaccinated people is largely filled with Trump followers, most who don’t even know that Trump and his family were secretly vaccinated in their last weeks in the White House in January.
And the ones who aren’t getting sick or dying from the Covid Delta Variant are lining up to give Trump the last of their money. As Trump told Chuck Todd on Meet The Press in January of 2016, he considered it a compliment to be compared to PT Barnum, the man to whom is often attributed the famous saying, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
— Gar Annable
EDITOR’S NOTE: Gar Annable is a regular contributor to the “Comments” section of Townbroadcast.