The History of Jonestown

In 1978, 913 followers of Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple committed a mass suicide in northern Guyana at a site called, Jonestown. The charismatic leader of Jonestown, was Jim Jones, a preacher who set up the Peoples Temple in San Francisco and ultimately moved his followers to a more clandestine site in Guyana. While Jones was preaching in San Francisco, he helped out many local and even national campaigns and was seen as a healer which much power in the community. However, once he had all of his members in Jonestown, his personality changed. Away from the constraints of American soil, Jonestown and its members became very cultish. Jones heightened regulations on his followers and their engagement to the sect. Eventually, Jones began to claim his true divinity. "Jones, for example now claimed to be the reincarnation of Jesus, as well as Ikhnaton, Buddha, Lenin, and Father Divine."(Galanter, 1989) Paranoia and complete control became Jones' personality, once he obtained such a close knit group. Jones began to stage rehearsals of his eventual mass suicide plan that he would eventually enact. These drills, called "white nights" began with sirens going off in the middle of the night and none of the members of Jonestown would know if it was real or not. "A mass meeting would ensue... we would be told that the jungle was swarming with mercenaries... we were given a small glass of red liquid to drink. We were told that the liquid contained poison and that we would die within 45 minutes. We all did as we were told."(Galanter, 1989)

In 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate supposed abuses by the People's Temple onto its members. After staying for a day, Ryan tried to leave, taking four of the cult members who had decided to defect. Realizing this, Jones ordered them killed, as was done. Sensing that his utopia in the jungle would surely come to an end after word got back to the states about Ryan; Jones decide to put his suicide plan into action. Telling his subjects that it was a "revolutionary death," he had a large quantity of fruit punch laced with cyanide prepared. After making all 276 children at Jonestown drink the punch, all the adults proceeded. In the end, after Jones apparently killed himself with a gunshot to the head, 914 people had died.