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Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple Revisited

One most publicized mass suicides in the American History was the massacre at Jim Jones Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.

Continuing with the series on doomsday predictions is the Reverend Jim Jones.  Younger people may not remember his insanity and mass murder but baby boomers such as me will never forget.   Reverend Jim Jones was born in 1931 and died on November 18, 1978 at his commune called the Peoples Temple.  The mass murder of the temples members on that infamous day made international news.  There were 909 temple members who died on that day, 303 were children, and five other people outside the compound was murdered at the airstrip in Jonestown, Guyana.   The temple following was lied to and deceived and forced to drink cyanide to end their own lives by the higher echelon of the movement.

This incident has been noted as one of the largest mass suicides/murders in history and was the event that took more American lives outside of a natural disaster prior to 911.

The massacre at Jonestown also produced the death of the only American congressman killed in action. Congressman Leo Ryan lost his life that infamous day.

How did Jim Jones become such a lunatic and monster, who could he commit such a vile and heinous act?

Brief history of Jim Jones

Jim Jones was born in Crete, Indiana.  His father was a World War II veteran.  The family fell upon hard times during the Great Depression and relocated a few times.  Jim was a weird kid according to testimonials from neighbors and friends of the family.  He was obsessed with religion and morbidly obsessed with death.  He held funerals for animals and was reported to have killed a cat by stabbing it to death.

He read a lot as a child and noted the characteristic pertaining to weakness and strengths of world leaders such as Joseph Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, Karl Marx, and Adolf Hitler.

As an adult Jones became a communist in 1951 and no doubt was harassed during the McCarthy era. McCarthy_Hearings .  He was annoyed and frustrated with the demonization of communists in America and decided to create church doctrine that would incorporate the philosophy of communism.

Jones joined the Sommerset Southside Methodist Church but left because they would not accepts Blacks into the church.   He then went to the Seventh Day Baptist Church so see a faith healing service and saw the money flowing freely which excited him.  This is when he decided to start his own church;  Peoples Temple Christian Church Full Gospel.

At the same time he moved away from the communist movement due to criticism of some of Stalin’s policies made by the Mao Tse-tung.

By 1960, Jones became the Human Rights Commission director.  He was advised to keep a low profile and Jones did the exact opposite.  He showboated all the way.  He did champion the end to racism in America, which was one good thing to say about him. He did a lot to help the Blacks of his generation. Because of his tactics, hospitals began to abolish separate wards for Blacks and Whites.  He also set up traps to fish out restaurants that refused to serve Blacks.  As a result, Jones came under attack by white people, who painted a swastika on his temple and it is said that a dead cat was thrown at his house.

Jim and his wife adapted bi-racial children from Korea, a part Native American Child, a Black child, white child, and they had their own biological child.  This was his rainbow family and he encouraged his congregation to adopt as well.

Jim Jones predicted a nuclear apocalypse in 1961.  He made a speech at his temple and wrote an article for Esquire Magazine stating the safest place to survive the nuclear apocalypse was Belo Horizonte, Brazil. He moved there to see about setting up his temple.  He then moved to Rio and worked in the slums. 

Jim Jones came back to Indiana in 1965 to save his Temple there from failing.  At that time he predicted the world would experience a nuclear war on July 15, 1967 after which a new communist Eden would be created in California and so he moved his Temple to Redwood Valley, California.

By 1970, Jones was denouncing Christianity, the King James Version of the Bible and claiming he was, Gandhi, Vladimir Lenin, Jesus and Father Divine. In 1976 he admitted he was an Atheist.

In 1975 Jones became the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission’s chairman.  Even though Jones was a cult leader he had a charisma about him that allowed him to win favor with the government leaders of the time.

Jones began building his compound in Jonestown in 1970 and he prophesied his belief of "Translation", where everyone would die and then begin life again on another planet.  However, things began to deteriorate and former Temple members testified against wrongs doings and abuse at the Temple.  This sparked a USA investigation.

Leo Ryan went to Jonestown to investigate Human Rights Abuse, and was attacked with a knife by a Temple member, on November 1978.  He thought he would be able to bring back 25 Temple members who wanted out from the cult. However, before departed, Jones’s  Red Brigade came out and opened fired.  The congressman, a reporter, camera man, photographer and defecting temple member were killed.

Jones forced 909 people to commit suicide ignoring their fear and their cries.  He told them it was a revolutionary suicide and they must die in dignity.  He was found dead at his desk from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  The assets from the temple were left to the Communist Party of Russia.

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Comments (14)

That is the official version, conspiracy theorists tell a much more frightening tale...

Crazy is all I can say. I've seen reports on discovery about this senseless killing.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

I don't put much thought into conspiracy theories though, Brenda, I remember well when it happened Charlene

This is the story of the past history, and a comparison of the life

What could be more frightening than over 900 people dying that day in a mass suicide/slaughter? Occam's razor, to paraphrase: The simplest explanation is often the correct one. What's next: crazy Marshall Applewhite and Heaven's Gate? Yep, Marshall and his followers caught an early flight via the Hale-Bopp comet...

Ranked #2 in Psychology

I might get around to them but the new plagiarism detector doesn't seem to like that I am doing this series and my bonuses are going down because of it.

A truly fascinating analysis of this terrible event and the man who orchestrated it. It seems he was a more complex figure than I realised. Thanks, Carol.

Another fascinating individual and one of personal interest. My sister's best friend lost a sister at Jonestown. After reading pages of her diary, which she had smuggled out, I don't think we know the true story at all.

Ranked #23 in Psychology

I don't hold with the conspiracy theories either, Brenda. Too many people form conspiracy theories because they do not want to accept the truth about some event. Good work, Carol.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

thanks Michael and Jerry, Oh I know James, the truth story is buried with the dead

The history of Jim Jones is strange and the suicides of 909 people really pathetic.Thanks.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

yes Rama it was really horrible

Ranked #3 in Psychology

People continually get detoured as they did with this man.A very sad account.Thank you for presenting this so well.

Ranked #2 in Psychology

yep he certainly was something else that one