The Story of...The Jonestown Massacre

On November 18, 1978, 909 followers of the Reverend Jim Jones committed mass suicide in Guyana by drinking Flavour-Aid laced with cyanide.

41 years later, it remains a shocking event - how did so many people willingly 'drink the Kool Aid' (a phrase the came out of the tragedy), convinced that Jim Jones was God and this was the only way they would be able to get their message across?

Jim Jones first set up his People's Temple in the late 1940s - his became one of the first major mixed-race churches in the midwest. His brand of enlightened radicalism was instrumental in integrating Indianapolis, until then one of the US's most segregated cities.

 

Jones railed against racism, poverty, injustice and organised religion. He told his members he was saving them from the sin of capitalism, and that their salvation was at hand. He convinced the members that they would become dangerous, and therefore important. 

TSO...Jonestown Massacre
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Jones and his church were initially seen as positive force of social activism, agitating on behalf of the poor, against racism and inequality. In 1975 Jones was even appointed chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority, after the temple was instrumental in the election of the new mayor. Even presidential candidate Walter Mondale had good things to say about Jones during the 1976 campaign.

 

His move to Guyana came on the back of some negative press about the goings on inside his church, which maintained a kind of oppressive secrecy.

 

By then, Jones shifted his view of himself. He was no longer the pastor of a flock, but God himself. His followers surrendered completely to him, and in the jungle of Guyana, there was nobody to contradict him or to suggest a different point of view.

 

Jones' paranoia, fuelled by increased drug use, convinced him that he had enemies everywhere. He passed this paranoia on to his followers, with deadly consequences.