True Crime – The Jonestown Massacre

True Crime - The Jonestown Massacre

Jacob Agashe, Staff Writer

When thinking about tragedies that shaped American culture, one might not think about the “Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ”, originally known as the “Peoples Temple Full Gospel Church”. Shorten the name down to “Peoples Temple”, and suddenly the name becomes a lot more familiar.

Founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, by Reverend Jim Jones, this was a church that had the elements of Christianity but also combined communist and socialist ideologies, and a focus on racial equality. Although this started out as a church, this would eventually dissolve into a cult and later lead to the “Jonestown Massacre”. It’s impossible to understand the damage that Jonestown caused, as there were 918 lives lost. This was the largest non-natural loss of life in American history until 9/11.

Although there’s written evidence and speculation into the life of Jim Jones, it doesn’t make sense to bring political ideologies into an article about the lives lost, 276 being children. Although there was a political motive to the founding and eventual demise of the church, it would be disrespectful to focus on the political aspects of the case rather than the horrific tragedy that occurred and the lives lost.

The church started as a racially integrated congregation in the 1950s Midwest, although in the mid-1960s, he would move to Northern California, and in the 70s, San Francisco and Los Angeles. As his popularity grew, so did the divide. On one hand, Jones had political power, and he was helping those in his community, with things such as legal aid and a free dining hall. This helped to cover up the abuse rampant within his church, and harmful behaviors, such as beatings and fake “cancer healing”. This led to Jones becoming increasingly paranoid, to the point where he decided to move to Guyana along with his congregation, in order to build a socialist utopia.

As Jones became more and more paranoid, the living conditions of Jonestown got worse. The members were essentially held captive and were subject to harsh punishments if they were not completely obedient. Jonestown got so bad that he would require the members of his church to participate in mock suicide drills in the middle of the night.

When Californian U.S. Representative Leo Ryan heard news about his constituents’ family being held against their will, he decided to go to investigate, along with a group of others, including family members and news journalists. At first, on November 17, they were invited and welcomed. The next day, when they were leaving, they were ambushed by gunmen sent by Jones. Ryan was killed, along with a reporter and cameraman from NBC, a photographer, and a member who tried to leave.

That very day, Jones told his congregation that soldiers were going to come and torture them. The children were the first to die, with parents and nurses using syringes to mix cyanide, sedatives, and powdered fruit juice and pour in into the children’s throats, coining the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid”. The adults then drank the poison. By the time the Guyanese officials found them the next day, hundreds had died, and Jones was found with a self-inflicted bullet wound. There were 33 survivors.

It’s impossible to truly understand the damage that Jonestown had caused those involved, how it affected America, but if I know anything, it’s that these victims deserve our respect. They deserve to be remembered, and they deserve to be more than a passing internet trend.,_Guyana