The Jonestown Mass Suicide

More than 900 people perished in the Jonestown mass suicide of November 18th 1978.

Entrance to JonestownIn 1976 New West Magazine exposed the Reverend Jim Jones of the People’s Temple (with churches established in San Francisco and Los Angeles) as a sadistic sexual predator and drug addict who conducted fake healing ceremonies and cheated the cult’s members of their savings. As a boy, James Warren Jones had been recognized by his mother as a religious Messiah. He cherished the identification and founded his own church in Illinois in 1955, moving to California ten years afterwards. After the magazine exposé he took hundreds of members to Guyana and established a communist-style collective farm on land near Port Kaituma, leased from the government. He greatly admired Joseph Stalin and preached what he called ‘apostolic socialism’. The settlement, unsurprisingly, was called Jonestown.

Back in California, a group of relatives of Temple members accused 'Father' or 'Dad' Jones of acting like a dictator and said that members who wanted to leave were being kept at the settlement against their will. US Congressman Leo J. Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate, accompanied by journalists. When he tried to fly a few disillusioned members away from the nearby airstrip, the plane was sprayed with gunfire and Ryan was killed, along with three journalists and one of the escaping cultists.

Jones now gathered his flock and told them that they must either destroy themselves or be destroyed from without. Preparations for 'revolutionary suicide' had been made months earlier and rehearsed. Soft drink laced with cyanide was ready for the cultists and their children to drink (the phrase 'drinking the Kool-Aid' stems from this episode, although the actual brand of drink used has been debated), while it was squirted into the babies' mouths . Most of the members willingly killed their children and themselves, though a few managed to sneak away. The 47-year old Jones was killed by a gunshot to the head, thought not to be self-inflicted. Altogether more than 900 people perished, including more than 250 children, in a horror that made nightmare headlines.

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