People’s Temple Christian Church, Jim Jones, Jonestown, Guyana: Jones, influenced by Unitarian Humanism, Father Divine, and Marxism, founded his church in 1977. He later claimed at various times to be God, Buddha, and Lenin. In 1978 at Jones’ command, 914 people (including Jones) committed suicide or were murdered. The group is now defunct.
On Nov. 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple cult, led by Rev. Jim Jones, an American, committed suicide by drinking poisoned punch. The mass suicide immediately followed the murder of Rep. Leo J. Ryan (D-Calif.), who was visiting Guyana to investigate Jonestown and was ambushed along with several others at the Port Kaituma airstrip.
Source: Associated Press, Aug. 7, 1985
What happened at Jonestown was beyond imagination. Jones, who had founded the Peoples Temple near Ukiah and later moved to San Francisco, had promised to create a utopia, where people of different races, education and skills could work together for the common good.
His social service programs for the poor and elderly won him praise. He was well-connected with some of the region's prominent political figures, even winning appointment to the San Francisco Housing Authority. But in the 1970s, with the Peoples Temple coming under growing scrutiny for abusing its members, Jones and many of his followers moved to an isolated settlement they had carved out of the jungle of Guyana.
In 1978, prompted by the concerns of relatives that Jones was holding people there against their will, [Rep. Leo] Ryan traveled to Jonestown to see for himself and to take out anyone who wished to leave. Ryan was about to board his plane with a handful of defectors when gunmen dispatched by Jones opened fire, killing the congressman, three newsmen and one of the defectors and wounding 11 others.
Back at the compound, Jones announced that the community would soon be under attack and put into effect a plan of mass suicide that his followers had rehearsed many times. The children were the first to die.
Grape-flavored punch laced with cyanide was squirted into the mouths of infants and given to children to drink. As the small bodies piled up, adults drank the punch or were shot by gunmen who enforced the order of mass suicide.
Only 85 people escaped, including a few who managed to flee into the jungle. Others, like three of Jones' sons, survived because they were not at Jonestown that day. Others [...] survived because they were not at Jonestown that day.
Source: Jonestown Lives On as a Reminder of Cults' Dangers, Los Angeles Times, Nov. 19, 1993
Close to one thousand people died at Jonestown. The members of the Peoples Temple settlement in Guyana, under the direction of the Reverend Jim Jones, fed a poison-laced drink to their children, administered the potion to their infants, and drank it themselves. Their bodies were found lying together, arm in arm; over 900 perished.
How could such a tragedy occur? The images of an entire community destroying itself, of parents killing their own children, appears incredible. The media stories about the event and full-color pictures of the scene documented some of its horror but did little to illuminate the causes or to explain the processes that led to the deaths. Even a year afterwards, a CBS Evening News broadcast asserted that it was widely assumed that time would offer some explanation for the ritualistic suicide/murder of over 900 people... One year later, it does not appear that any lessons have been uncovered (CBS News, 1979).
The story of the Peoples Temple is not enshrouded in mystery, however. Jim Jones had founded his church over twenty years before, in Indiana. His preaching stressed the need for racial brotherhood and integration, and his group helped feed the poor and find them jobs. As his congregation grew, Jim Jones gradually increased the discipline and dedication that he required from the members. In 1965, he moved to northern California; about 100 of his faithful relocated with him. The membership began to multiply, new congregations were formed, and the headquarters was established in San Francisco.
Behind his public image as a beloved leader espousing interracial harmony, "Father," as Jones was called, assumed a messiah-like presence in the Peoples Temple. Increasingly, he became the personal object of the members devotion, and he used their numbers and obedience to gain political influence and power. Within the Temple, Jones demanded absolute loyalty, enforced a taxing regimen, and delivered sermons forecasting nuclear holocaust and an apocalyptic destruction of the world, promising his followers that they alone would emerge as survivors. Many of his harangues attacked racism and capitalism, but his most vehement anger focused on the "enemies" of the Peoples Temple - its detractors and especially its defectors. In mid-1977, publication of unfavorable magazine articles, coupled with the impending custody battle over a six-year-old Jones claimed as a "son," prompted emigration of the bulk of Temple membership to a jungle outpost in Guyana.
In November, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan responded to charges that the Peoples Temple was holding people against their will at Jonestown. He organized a trip to the South American settlement; a small party of journalists and "Concerned Relatives" of Peoples Temple members accompanied him on his investigation. They were in Jonestown for one evening and part of the following day. They heard most residents praise the settlement, expressing their joy at being there and indicating their desire to stay. Two families, however, slipped messages to Ryan that they wanted to leave with him. After the visit, as Ryan's party and these defectors tried to board planes to depart, the group was ambushed and fired upon by Temple gunmen - five people, including Ryan, were murdered.
As the shootings were taking place at the jungle airstrip, Jim Jones gathered the community at Jonestown. He informed them that the Congressman's party would be killed and then initiated the final ritual; the "revolutionary suicide" that the membership rehearsed on prior occasions. The poison was brought out. It was taken.
Dr. J. Gordon Melton, so notorious for his defense of cults that he has been referred to as the 'father of cult apologists,' has claimed that the People's Temple was not a cult:
Defense lawyers referred to the mass suicide of 912 followers of cult leader Reverend Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana, to attack the evidence of the expert witness of the Central Christian Church.
Lawyer Daniel John noted that Dr. J. Gordon Melton when interviewed by an American newspaper in 1988, had defended groups such as the Peoples Temple which was involved in the Jonestown mass suicide in 1978.
In the Milwaukee Journal report at the time, Dr Melton had said that the mass suicide had been transformed into a "definitive cult horror story" by the media and anti-cult groups.
He was quoted as having said of the Peoples Temple: "This wasn't a cult. This was a respectable, mainline Christian group."
When questioned in court yesterday, he said that he had been quoted correctly.
He also replied that another US-based group, Children of God, was not a cult, although he found the group's teachings of encouraging sexual intercourse and masturbation as forms of worshipping God to be "immoral and distasteful".
He was also reported by the US paper as describing the Peoples Temple as "a congregation in a Christian denomination recognized by the National Council of Churches".
He also said at the time: "Overwhelmingly, so-called cults have a positive impact on people's lives. The worst thing that most of these groups can do is waste your time."
Counsel for the defense noted that Dr Melton had been criticized for being a "cult apologist who has a long association of defending the practices of destructive cults" by another expert quoted in the Milwaukee report.
Dr. Melton also told the court that that Jehovah's Witnesses, a religious group that is banned in Singapore, was not a cult.
He said: "They are obnoxious people, but they are not dangerous. They will not kill anybody."
Source: Evidence of expert witness attacked, The Straits Times (Singapore), July 17, 1997.
"Jones became a cult leader and the Peoples Temple became a cult, literally overnight. And what was forgotten was that this was actually a church in a mainstream religion.... He was about as mainstream as you could get."
As those who are familiar with ex-member reports know, while Peoples Temple may have started out as a "respectable, mainline Christian group," it certainly did not become a cult "literally overnight." But Melton, - who defends many cults, while he considers ex-members to be liars - can not afford to admit his assessment is wrong.
Here is one look at what Melton considers to be a "respectable, mainline Christian group:"
As many accounts have attested, by the early 1970s the members of the Peoples Temple lived in constant fear of severe punishment and brutal beatings coupled with public humiliation for committing trivial or even inadvertent offenses. But the power of an authority need not be so explicitly threatening in order to induce compliance with its demands, as demonstrated by social psychological research. In Milgram's experiments (1963), a surprisingly high proportion of subjects obeyed the instructions of an experimenter to administer what they thought were very strong electric shocks to another person. Nor does the consensus of a group need be so blatantly coercive to induce agreement with its opinion, as Asch's experiments (1955) on conformity to the incorrect judgments of a majority indicate.
Jim Jones utilized the threat of severe punishment to impose the strict discipline and absolute devotion that he demanded, and he also took measures to eliminate those factors that might encourage resistance or rebellion among his followers. Research showed that the presence of a "disobedient" partner greatly reduced the extent o which most subjects in the Milgram situation (1965) obeyed the instructions to shock the person designated the "learner." Similarly, by including just one confederate who expressed an opinion different from the majority's, Asch (1955) showed that the subject would also agree far less, even when the "other dissenters" judgment was also incorrect and differed from the subjects. In the Peoples Temple, Jones tolerated no dissent, made sure that members had no allegiance more powerful than to himself, and tried to make the alternative of leaving the Temple an unthinkable option.
Jeanne Mills, who spent six years as high-ranking member before becoming one of the few who left the Peoples Temple, writes: "There was an unwritten but perfectly understood law in the church that was very important: No one is to criticize Father, wife, or his children " (Mills, 1979). Deborah Blakey, another long-time member who managed to defect, testified:
Any disagreement with [Jim Jones's] dictates came to be regarded as "treason." ....Although I felt terrible about what was happening, I was afraid to say anything because I knew that anyone with a differing opinion gained the wrath of Jones and other members. [Blakey, June 15, 1978.]
Conditions in the Peoples Temple became so oppressive, the discrepancy between Jim Jones's stated aims and his practices so pronounced, that it is almost inconceivable that members failed to entertain questions about the church. But these doubts were unreinforced. There were no allies to support ones disobedience of the leaders commands and no fellow dissenters to encourage the expression of disagreement with the majority. Public disobedience or dissent was quickly punished. Questioning Jones's word, even in the company of family or friends, was dangerous informers and "counselors" were quick to report indiscretions, even by relatives.
The use of informers went further than to stifle dissent; it also diminished the solidarity and loyalty that individuals felt toward their families and friends. While Jones preached that a spirit of brotherhood should pervade his church, he made it clear that each members personal dedication should be directed to "Father." Families were split: First, children were seated away from parents during services; then, many were assigned to another member's care as they grew up; and ultimately, parents were forced to sign documents surrendering custody rights. "Families are part of the enemy system," Jones stated, because they hurt ones total dedication to the "Cause" (Mills, 1979). Thus, a person called before the membership to be punished could expect his or her family to be among the first and most forceful critics (Cahill, 1979).
Besides splitting parent and child, Jones sought to loosen the bonds between wife and husband. He forced spouses into extramarital sexual relations, which were often of a homosexual or humiliating nature, or with Jones himself. Sexual partnerships and activities not under his direction and control were discouraged and publicly ridiculed.
Thus, expressing any doubts or criticism of Jones even to a friend, child, or partner -- became risky for the individual. As a consequence, such thoughts were kept to oneself, and with the resulting impression that nobody else shared them. In addition to limiting ones access to information, this "fallacy of uniqueness" precluded the sharing of support. It is interesting that among the few who successfully defected from the Peoples Temple were couples such as Jeanne and Al Mills, who kept together, shared their doubts, and gave each other support.
Why didn't more people leave? Once inside the Peoples Temple, getting out was discouraged; defectors were hated. Nothing upset Jim Jones so much; people who left became the targets of his most vitriolic attacks and were blamed for any problems that occurred. One member recalled that after several teen-age members left the Temple, "We hated those eight with such a passion because we knew any day they were going to try bombing us. I mean Jim Jones had us totally convinced of this." (Winfrey, 1979)
Defectors were threatened: Immediately after she left, Grace Stoen headed for the beach at Lake Tahoe, where she found herself looking over her shoulder, checking to make sure that she hadn't been tracked down (Kilduff and Tracy, 1977). Jeanne Mills reports that she and her family were followed by men in cars, their home was burglarized, and they were threatened with the use of confessions they had signed while still members. When a friend from the Temple paid a visit, she quickly examined Mills ears -- Jim Jones had vowed to have one of them cut off (Mills, 1979). He had made ominous predictions concerning other defectors as well: Indeed, several ex-members suffered puzzling deaths or committed very questionable "suicides" shortly after leaving the Peoples Temple (Reiterman, 1977; Tracy, 1978).
Defecting became quite a risky enterprise, and, for most members, the potential benefits were very uncertain. They had little to hope for outside of the Peoples Temple; what they had, they had committed to the church. Jim Jones had vilified previous defectors as "the enemy" and had instilled the fear that, once outside of the Peoples Temple, members stories would not be believed by the "racist, fascist" society, and they would be subjected to torture, concentration camps, and execution. Finally, in Guyana, Jonestown was surrounded by dense jungle, the few trails patrolled by armed security guards (Cahill, 1979). Escape was not a viable option. Resistance was too costly. With no other alternatives apparent, compliance became the most reasonable course of action.
Keep in mind that Melton claims "Jones became a cult leader and the Peoples Temple became a cult, literally overnight."
"The tragedy at Jonestown ... in spite of having little relationship to nonconventional religions in general, was transformed by the anti-cult movement and the media into the definitive cult horror story."
Although the official explanation of the events at "Jonestown" has been widely accepted by the American people, there are many that question its truth. From the moment the first reports of the massacre were released, various theories of the real events leading to the tragedy began to circulate. The most prevalent of these was that the CIA was somehow involved.
According to one of these theories, "Jonestown" was a continuation of a CIA mind-control program that infiltrated cults, such as The People's Temple, to carry out their experiments. CIA theorists claim that Jim Jones had many questionable associations with the CIA throughout the years he was establishing The People's Temple. The most significant association is Jones's supposed friendship with Dan Mitrione that dated back to their childhood years. Dan Mitrione was the local police chief in the early days of Jones's "ministry" in Indianapolis. Mitrione later entered the International Police Academy, supposedly a CIA front for training in counterinsurgency and torture techniques.
Coincidentally, when Jones left with his wife to live in Brazil, despite his apparent lack of financial resources, Mitrione was already living there. Jones is purported to have made several visits to Belo Horizonte where the CIA's Brazilian headquarters was situated and Mitrione resided. CIA theorists report that Jones's neighbours in Brazil state that Jones had told them that he was employed by the US Office of Naval Intelligence who supplied him with transport, living expenses and a large home in which he "lived like a rich man."
Soon after his return to America, with $10,000, Jones moved the People's Temple to California. Here he began building the People's Temple communal facilities and, without any trained medical personnel or the usual licensing, was able to run a nursing home. During this time Jones allegedly adopted 150 foster children, most of whom were sent to the People's Temple by court order. The Temple had a strong association with the World Vision organisation that many conspiracy theorists believe to be another CIA front, and had as a consultant, a mercenary from the rebel army UNITA, supposedly backed by the CIA.
Other supposed CIA connections with "Jonestown" include the allegations that:
Richard Dwyer's name had appeared in the publication Who's Who In The CIA
US Ambassador John Burke and another embassy official, Richard McCoy, had strong links with the CIA
The Georgetown CIA station was situated in the US Embassy building
Dan Webber, sent to Guyana immediately after the massacre, was with the CIA and
Joseph Blatchford, the officially appointed attorney for the "Jonestown" survivors, was involved in a scandal involving CIA infiltration of the Peace Corps.
The involvement of Larry Layton in the ambush of Ryan and his party also provokes great interest from the CIA theorists because of his family background. Layton's father was Dr Laurence Laird Layton who had been the chief of the army's Chemical Warfare Division during the 1950's. It had also been Larry Layton's brother-in-law, the UNITA link, who had negotiated with the Guayana government, on behalf of Jones, for the establishment of "Jonestown."
Another point, which CIA theorists use to support their beliefs, is the fact that, despite the growing controversy surrounding the People's Temple, Jones's move to "Jonestown" was given full support from the American Embassy in Guyana.
Leo Ryan's murder is seen by many as being much more sinister than the hysterical behaviour of a madman. Leo Ryan had been a strong critic of the CIA and was the author of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, which, if passed, would have required that the CIA report to Congress on all of its covert operations before they commenced. Soon after Ryan's death, the Hughes-Ryan Amendment was quashed in Congress. The question conspiracy theorists ask is whether Ryan was killed in order to reach this objective and the massacre at "Jonestown" merely a smoke screen to distract attention away from Ryan's murder?
Witnesses at the airport, where Ryan and four others were murdered, described the gunmen as being "glassy eyed", "mechanically-walking zombies" who were "devoid of emotion." The question CIA theorists would like answered is who were these people? The official report stated that there were approximately 1100 people at "Jonestown" at the time of the massacre but other reports claim that there were closer to 1200. Of this number there were 913 dead bodies found and 167 survivors. Twenty people, if the 1100 figure is correct, are left unaccounted for. If they were the assassins, where are they now? Also unaccounted for, and never referred to in news reports, are the armed guards who were present in "Jonestown" but were free to come and go from the compound. A congressional aide may have been referring to these men in an Associated Press quote "There are 120 white, brainwashed assassins out from Jonestown, awaiting the trigger word to pick up their hit."
Such a possibility seems to be confirmed for the theorists by a number of unusual deaths that have occurred since the "Jonestown" massacre. The first of these occurred in Georgetown at the People's Temple headquarters at the same time as the "Jonestown" massacre. Charles Beikman, an early Jim Jones follower who had become an "adopted son" was found to be responsible. Apparently, Beikman was also a Green Beret, of which there were over 300 in Guyana at the time on a "training exercise."
Nine days after "Jonestown," San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were killed. Both men had received financial support from Jones while he was in San Francisco and were involved in an ongoing investigation into their involvement in the disappearance of People's Temple funds. Dan White, described as being in a "zombie state" at the time of the killings, murdered them. White's lawyers attempted to defend their client by stating that White had been temporarily insane due to the effects of eating too much sugar, a defence which was mockingly known as the "Twinkie defence."
Some time later, Michael Prokes, a former member of the People's Temple, informed a press conference, held in his motel room, that the CIA and FBI were secretly holding an audiotape of the "Jonestown" massacre and that he was an FBI informant. Immediately following his announcement, Prokes went into the bathroom where he supposedly committed suicide.
Jeanne and Alan Mills, People's Temple members who had defected before the move to Guyana, were found bound and killed in their home almost a year after the "Jonestown" massacre. They had written a book about the People's Temple and had expressed their belief that they would eventually be murdered. Official reports state that the Mills probably knew their murderers, as there were no signs of forced entry or struggle. Their son was at home at the time of the murders but somehow escaped death. The case continues to remain unsolved.
The final area of concern in the "Jonestown" massacre regards the official US decision not to conduct autopsies on the victims of the massacre; the reason given was that the cause of death was readily apparent. The results of pathology examinations conducted by Guyanese coroner Leslie Mootoo however, revealed his belief that as many as 700 of the victims were murders, not suicides. Mootoo claims that in a 32-hour period he, and his assistants, examined the bodies of 137 victims. They had all been injected with cyanide in areas of their bodies, which could not have been reached by their own hand, such as between the shoulder blades; many other victims had been shot. Charles Huff, one of the seven Green Berets who were the first American troops on the scene following the massacre, claimed that "We saw many bullet wounds as well as wounds from crossbow bolts." Those who were shot appeared to have been running toward the jungle, away from the compound, at the time they were shot.
The discrepancy in the numbers of dead in the first reports, and the final figure had led many to speculate that approximately five hundred people had escaped the first spate of killings and escaped into the jungle, but were then hunted down and murdered. The descriptions of witnesses to the layout of the bodies, and the fact that there were obvious signs that many of the bodies had been dragged to their final resting place, tends to contradict the ‘official' explanation that at the first counting five hundred bodies had been concealed by the other 408 bodies.
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Welcome to “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple,” sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. This website is designed to give personal and scholarly perspectives on a major religious event in recent U.S. history. Its primary purpose is to present information about Peoples Temple as accurately and objectively as possible. Being objective means offering as many diverse views and opinions about the Temple and the events in Jonestown as possible.
Jonestown.com Site operated by Jonestown survivor, Laurie Kahalas. She is the author of the book, Snake Dance: Unravelling the Mysteries of Jonestown. Buyer beware: The late Jeffrey K. Hadden, a cult apologist, and Heber C. Jentsch, President, Church of Scientology International, have commented positively on this book.
This site is designed by a survivor from Peoples Temple who rescued the entire archives from the Peoples Temple headquarters in San Francisco immediately following the tragedy in November, 1978. The information is based upon personal knowledge, investigative work, exclusive documentation, and records that have never been explored or placed in context. The site will be periodically revised.
The exposé of evidence relating to the assassination is ongoing. This evidence has never been aired in any public hearing or legal proceeding. Most contradicts the public mythologies on key points.
WWW.JONESTOWN.COM serves the dual purpose as a forum for education, and an exposé of one of the most covered-up and lied about events in modern history. Organizations and individuals across the world are contributing to this venture, with the goal of spurring a new Congressional investigation.
To put things into perspective, it may also be useful to note the following statement at the site's home page:
The Story of "Allegory": Read this unparalleled story of how a survivor-to-be of Peoples Temple was shown the Jonestown Tragedy years in advance, and "given" an extraordinary text which pre-recorded the future in uncanny detail. This moving tour-de-force is finally revealed, and how it altered the author’s views of life and death forever. If you relate to angels or spiritual guidance, this piece is for you.