Until The September 11th Attacks The Jonestown Massacre Was The Biggest Incident Of Intentional Civilian Death In American History. This Is The Story Of How Cult Leader Jim jones Brainwashed 918 People Into killing Themselves In The Name Of ‘Revolutionary Suicide’.
On the 18th of November 1978 Jim Jones, The Peoples Temple cult leader, ordered his followers to murder a US congressman and several Journalists. He then went on to order his followers to all join together and a drink cyanide-laced cocktail which would go on to be one of the biggest massacres in history with 918 people dying, one third of this number were children. What made this such a significant crime was how one man, Jim Jones, had managed to manipulate and grasp the control over the minds of such a high number of people. This is the story of one of Americas biggest and most bizarre massacres to date. This is the Jonestown Massacre…
Jim Jones, the self proclaimed messiah of The Peoples Temple, was born on the 31st May 1931 in Crete, Indiana. His father, James Thurman Jones, was a disabled World War One veteran and his mother, Lynetta Jones, worked a handful of different jobs. Jim Jones spent much of his childhood alone as his Father was an alcoholic who often ignored him and his mother was always too busy working to spend any real time with him. He was described as a ‘really weird kid’ whilst growing up and was obsessed with the fundamental concept of death. This was probably brought about by the isolation he endured whilst growing up. His fascination of death was so strong that it was reported that he had once stabbed a cat to death as a child. He started to attend church with his neighbours at a young age and would gradually become obsessed with religion and by the time he had turned 10 years old had begun his religious ‘quest’.
Jim Jones visited many small churches in the town Lynn where he lived with his family and he had befriended a Pentecostal Minister. He would embrace all the teachings that he had seen at the church gatherings and preach them to children around his age. He was very strong at public speaking but had very few friends. His overpowering religious presence had put off many people from being associated with him. When his parents got a divorce in 1948, it gave Jim a chance to re-invent himself as a person. He moved with his mother to Richmond , Indiana where would find work as an orderly where he met Marceline Baldwin, an older nursing student. Jones would go on to graduate at Richmond High School in December 1948. He would then go on to study at India University in 1949 and in the same year would marry Marceline Baldwin.
In 1952 Jones became a student pastor in the Somerset Southside Methodist Church in a poor and predominantly white neighbourhood. Whilst there he observed that people with money tended to be attracted to faith healing services and saw this as an opportunity for achieving his goals. However, he was eventually barred from the church for wanting to have racially integrated church services, something the church at the time strongly disagreed with. Soon after this Jones branched off into his own church in 1955 called ‘The Wings Of Deliverance’, this would soon go on to be called ‘The Peoples Temple’. In order to spread his message out about his church he paid to go onto radio shows in order to reel more people in.
The Peoples Temple.
During the early years of ‘The Peoples Temple’ Jones set up countless numbers of soup kitchens to feed the homeless. He organised employment assistant services in which members of his church would provide homeless people with nice clean clothes and help them on their way to finding a job. The church was also very embracing of all ethnicity’s which wasn’t so common at the time due to the racial tension occurring in the US. Jones built himself up such a good reputation that in 1961 he was appointed director of Human Rights Commission by Indianapolis Mayor , Charles Boswell. His role would be to try to put a stop to racial discrimination in Indianapolis and bring whites and blacks together in the community. He began to integrate police stations hospitals and church’s but received a heavy backlash from white business owners. His wife would encounter a lot of abuse and they even had a dead cat thrown into their home.
In the early 1960’s Jones began to host public ‘healing’ services. At first these services would consist of him empowering and motivating people through his speeches. But it eventually turned into fake public shows where Jones would pull ‘cancerous’ tumours from peoples mouths and claimed he was a miracle worker. A former member of The Peoples Temple stated that these were in fact chicken livers, this is where we begin to see Jones lose sight of shat he had originally been working for.
In the mid 1960’s Jones moved The Peoples Temple from Indianapolis to Northern California in the town Ukiah due to his paranoia of a nuclear war occurring. He was accompanied by 140 of his followers during the move. The group continued to grow and grow and by 1968 it was granted official standing by the Christian Church, Disciples of Christ, Northern-California- Nevada region.
Jones and the Peoples Temple gained a lot of attention following their move. By 1972 Jones ordered his followers to refer to him as ‘ The Prophet ‘. Journalist Carolyn Pickering soon heard about this from a family that were previously members of The Peoples Temple and she began to look deeper into the group and its activities. She then went on to publish an article based on her findings. The article made serious claims of brainwashing, extortion and intimidation on behalf of Jim Jones. She also found out that he owned numerous properties held under various different names and was pocketing the donations for himself. Following this numerous of other newspapers began throwing even more serious accusations at Jones’ way. However this did not seem to affect Jim Jones that much at all. In fact Jones had gained so much influence over people that these newspapers received backlash for posting these stories about the group saying it was all lies.
Jim Jones had even acquired a sense of political influence. He had become that good at deceiving and controlling people he managed to wave his influence into the local government at Ukiah. He showed the local lawman and politicians that he could draw a huge angry crowd of protesters with ease and used this as leverage. However, he gradually became more paranoid and disturbed as time went on. Eventually in 1974 he bought a patch of land in Guyana, South America where he would move his group of 1,000 followers to create what he described as a ‘ Socialist Paradise’ when in fact what he created was the complete opposite.
Jones re-named the compound to ‘Jonestown’ and he ran it like a prison camp. No one was aloud to leave, his followers received very little food rations, he employed his own armed guards to patrol the compound and were ordered to shoot on sight if anyone tried to escape. It was reported by survivors of the massacre that men and woman were victims of unforetold amounts of sexual abuse and exploitation. Jones would rape members and then proceeded to humiliate them in front of the entire compound. It was also reported that one woman was forced to strip in front of everyone and was repeatedly poked with a stick by Jones . Children were also tortured with electric shocks and forced to eat their own faeces and vomit. If people didn’t cooperate with Jones demands they would be killed on sight . All this abuse would only be detrimental to the minds of Jones’ followers making it easier for Jones to manipulate them.
Over time Jones’ paranoia would only get worse as he was always fearful of a plot to overthrow his power. As a result of this he would conduct ‘suicide drills’ in which all the residents of the compound would be woken up in the middle of the night and were each given a cup that contained a red substance that they were told was poison. They would all be told to drink it in order to showcase their loyalty to Jim Jones. After 45 minutes they would be told that they have passed the loyalty test.
Things started to get more chaotic than normal at Jonestown following former Peoples temple member Grace Stoen pleading the Guyanese government to help re gain custody of her son John Victor. In 1972 Grace Stoen signed an affidavit stating that Jim Jones was now the Childs father and could have full custody over the child. Grace Stoen left the group in 1976 and then started her fight to get custody of her child back. In response to this Jim Jones in 1977 threatened mass suicide in order to make the Guyanese government back off. At the same time former member Deborah Layton Blakely had been speaking out publicly against Jim Jones in America causing up quite a stir against the cult leader. As a result of this in November 1978, Leo J. Ryan, a congressman from California, decided to investigate Jonestown for himself.
The Jones Town Massacre November 1978. Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid.
Upon arrival Leo. J. Ryan stated that anyone in the compound could freely leave and accompany him on his journey back to the US. Many took Ryan’s offer and left the compound in his company. But disaster struck when they reached the airstrip where their plane home was waiting for them. Shots were fired from Jones’ men leaving Ryan and several others dead. Jim Jones had ordered the killing of a US congressman, there was no going back after this and he knew it . Shortly after the attack Jones rallied together all of his followers at the compound to commit what at the time was the biggest incident of intentional civilian death in American history. It was just like all the suicide tests they had been practicing so often but only this time it was no test. Those who tried to escape were mowed down viciously by Jones’ men
Jones had took the lives of 918 people that day. Some of which were only children. As for Jim Jones himself he shot his wife and his child to death and then proceeded to end his own life. He would go down in history as one of the most manipulative psychotic cult leaders of all time.
When the Guyanese government stormed the compound it was like the scene of a horror film. Dead bodies lay motionless everywhere you looked and the haunting smell of death lingered amongst the compound. Some of those first responders at the scene say they are still disturbed to this day at what they stumbled across that day. Huge quantities of drugs were also founds the compound. 11,00 doses of Thorazine, a highly dangerous tranquilliser was found in one lockers which paints the picture of the abuse the poor victims of Jim Jones endured. When news broke out to America about the massacre it shook the country. There hadn’t been an event quite like it in the history of the US. The US airforce flew the bodies back to the US and many started to question, how could this happen?
To this day the Jonestown massacre lays light on what horrible atrocities the human mind can commit.