James Warren Jones, better known as Jim Jones was a religious and cult leader responsible for the mass suicides and death of 918 people in 1978, Jonestown, Guyana. More than 300 of the victims were children.
Jones’ dream was to create a quasi-socialist spiritual utopia. He was a racial integrationist, advocating for racially integrating churches, restaurants, the telephone department, the police department, etc. His beliefs culminated in the formation of a cult in the 1950’s called the People’s Temple. He also adopted children of Korean and African-American descent which he called the ‘rainbow family’. Unlike most other cult leaders, Jones had political influence and public support possibly owing to his apparently progressive ideals.
The Government became suspicious of the cult’s activities only in the 1970s. Several former temple members accused the cult and Jones of physical, sexual and emotional abuse in an article that was published. In 1977, he and hundreds of his followers abruptly left US soil and moved to a commune in Guyana before his crimes were published. He called it Jonestown, after himself of course. Several members of the cult were held against their will. 68% of his followers in Jonestown were black.
Murder of Leo Ryan
In 1978, US Congressman Leo Ryan along with members of the media visited Jonestown to ascertain whether the accusations made against Jones were true. Ryan was attacked by a cult member with a knife. The attack was thwarted and the visit was abruptly ended. The delegation hurriedly left for an airstrip along with 15 cult members who had expressed a wish to leave. This triggered a violent response from Jones’s bodyguards. The guards, called the ‘Red Brigade’, arrived at the airstrip and began shooting at the planes, killing Ryan and 4 others. At the same time, Larry Layton, one of the supposed defectors drew out a gun and began shooting at the members that had already boarded one of the planes. Among the survivors on that plane was future Congresswoman Jackie Spicer.
The Jonestown Mass Suicide
After this standoff took place, Jones then ordered everyone in the commune to commit ‘revolutionary’ suicide. He spiked a flavored drink (Flavor-Aid) with cyanide and had it served to the cult members. This fatal concoction resulted in 909 deaths, with 304 of the victims being children. What makes this event more tragic is that most of the group members were children or old people. Until 9/11, it was recorded as the greatest loss of American life by a deliberate act. Among the survivors are Stephan, Jim Jr., and Tim Jones; Jones’s sons.
Theorists have alleged that Jones worked with the CIA in a follow-up to project MKUltra. Congressman Leo Ryan’s daughter tried to sue the CIA following her father’s death. The case was never looked into because of some technicality. According to an eyewitness (Mr.Clayton), over 700 of the cult members that committed suicide were forced by cyanide injections under the supervision of armed guards. The injections were injected in the back of the victims, at a point they themselves could not reach. Several others were shot or strangled by the same guards. The guards were armed with rifles, shotguns, and crossbows.
The FBI recovered a 45-minute audio recording of the mass suicide in progress. Jones can be heard saying, “Don’t be afraid to die”, that death is “just stepping over into another plane” and that it’s “a friend”. At the end of the tape, Jones concludes: “We didn’t commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”
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