Los Angeles-based attorney/journalist Paul Morantz is famous for his work against cults — most notably, Synanon, which tried to kill him in 1978 by placing a rattlesnake in his mailbox. And in a scathing op-ed for his website, Morantz compares President Donald Trump to the infamous cult leader Jim Jones, arguing that Trump, in effect, committed “mass murder” by downplaying the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and encouraging large gatherings despite the dangers.
In 1978, the same year in which Morantz survived a rattlesnake bite, Jones was responsible for a mass killing in a remote area of Guyana — where the leader of the People’s Temple ordered his followers to drink Kool-Aid that was laced with cyanide. More than 900 cult members died at the Jonestown settlement on November 18, 1978, and in 2020, the slang expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” is still used to criticize people who blindly accept bad information.
Morantz, now 74, believes that Trump’s followers have been “drinking the Kool-Aid” during the coronavirus pandemic — which, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, has killed more than 154,861 people in the United States and over 690,055 people worldwide (as of early Monday morning, August 3). And in his op-ed, Morantz argues that Trump’s mishandling of the pandemic has had much deadlier results than the Jonestown Massacre of 1978.
“On a long ago November 1978 night in the jungle of Guyana, a narcissistic and vicious cult leader played Pied Piper and lead his flock to a mass grave by convincing them it was in the world’s interest that they drink the poisoned Kool-Aid,” Morantz writes on his website. “(Now), an even more evil cult leader is playing Pied Piper and (leading) a greater number willingly to their deaths — but worse than Guyana — by having them take (in) a deadly virus before they die. They will spread and kill thousands of others.”
Referring to Trump’s Fourth of July rally in South Dakota, Morantz slams Trump for holding large gatherings this summer and not mandating the use of face masks at those events. In South Dakota, Morantz writes, the president “gathered somewhere around 7000 of his horribles to shun masks and cuddle as close as they (could) in the plains of South Dakota in worship of Donald Trump. From hell, Jim Jones rejoices.”
Other large events Trump held this summer include rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix. By encouraging mass gatherings during a deadly pandemic, Morantz argues, Trump has made himself “one of the greatest mass murderers of all time.”
In the 1970s, Morantz became famous for his anti-cult activity — and in 1977, he went after Synanon with a vengeance, taking action against the violent cult and its leader, the late Charles E. Dederich (who died in 1997). Morantz, in 1978, won a $300,000 judgement against Synanon on behalf of a married couple, who testified that the wife had been held against her will. Synanon members retaliated against Morantz by placing a rattlesnake in the mailbox of his home in Pacific Palisades, an affluent Los Angeles suburb; Morantz was bitten and spent six days in the hospital but survived.