You may have heard about the Jonestown murder-suicide of over 900 cult members. But do you know how it started?
Let’s take a look at what led to this unfortunate event.
Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana was a religious church based around unorthodox ideas about the world. Rooted in the beliefs of the old Peoples Temple, it was founded in 1955 and based in Indianapolis. Rev. Jim Jones took over the congregation and was known for his charitable efforts towards the homeless and for his belief in human equality.
A Moving People
Fearing nuclear war, Jones moved his church of 900 members to California in 1965. After his move, Jones became known as a prophet. Jones taught that the Divine equated to love, which, in turn, related to socialism for his church. He also allegedly began siphoning church funds into his own pocketbook.
Due to his ever-increasing paranoia that the temple’s suspicious activity would eventually catch up with him the following year, he uprooted his whole congregation to a small town in Guyana near the Venezuelan border naming it after himself.
Power Hunger Begins To Strike
There, Jones continued preaching until November 1978. He had gotten in the habit of confiscating passports, taking members’ money and offering up deadly threats when necessary. That’s when the U.S. government ordered an investigation to check up on the welfare of Jones’ American followers. The government recruited Congressman Leo Ryan to go down and inspect the site. Once in Guyana, Ryan didn’t even have a chance to look around when he and his party were shot dead by Temple guards.
After the murder, Jones ordered all of his 900+ obedient followers to drink cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The victims knew full well they were essentially ingesting poison, but because no one died immediately, Jones had time to make everyone believe that he didn’t actually put any poison into their drinks.
“This was only a test, but the time for you to die by your own hand is not too far off,” said Temple rebel Deborah Layton in court rehearsing Jones’ words after the cyanide had been consumed.
Within hours, his lies were unmasked as people started dying one by one, falling face down onto the ground. Jones took his own life later that day when his crime was committed. Jones took his own life later that day when his crime was committed.