On November 18, 1978, Congressman Leo J. Ryan and four others were shot and killed as they attempted to board a plane at Port Kaituma airstrip. At the same time, 913 members of The People's Temple, led by Reverend Jim Jones and located in Guyana, had committed a mass suicide by drinking Koolaid laced with cyanide.

Reverend Jim Jones was born on May 13, 1931, the son of a Ku Klux Klansman in Indiana. Jones was fascinated by church work at a young age and by 1963 had his own congregation: The People's Temple Full Gospel Church. It was a rare thing for its time, being that it was interracial; Jim Jones himself was very concerned with racial equality, and worked tirelessly on behalf of Indianapolis's black community.

Although many people viewed him as a revolutionary, he ran his congregation in strange ways. He suffered from fainting spells and claimed to follow the advice of extraterrestrials. He believed himself to be the reincarnation of both Jesus and Lenin. He also had horrible visions of nuclear holocaust. Jones was certain that the end was on its way, and found the answer to his fears in the January 1962 issue of Esquire magazine. An article in the magazine listed the nine safest places to avoid nuclear confrontation. Brazil was on that list.

After living in Brazil on his own for a short time, he returned to the States shortly after JFK was assassinated, and told his followers that he had been away helping Brazilian orphans. He then moved his cult to Ukiah, California; then to San Francisco; and, finally, to Guyana. He frequently promised his followers that he would relocate them one last time, from Guyana to the Soviet Union.

Former People's Temple members claim the CIA was involved in Jonestown, possibly as a mind-control experiment. The CIA did have operations in Guyana, and did in fact have a mind-control program: MKULTRA. One of Leo Ryan's congressional aides, among several others, suspects the CIA didn't end the program in 1973, as it claims, but instead continued experimenting in places like Jonestown. Jones had several contacts with officials of both the Cuban and Soviet governments and, shortly before the massacre, $500,000 was weasled out of the cult and given to the Soviet embassy. Jones told his followers that the CIA had infiltrated Jonestown. There are several other hints of CIA involvement, such as the presence of U.S. embassy official Richard Dwyer just before the massacre. A tape was recording as the killings began and, reportedly, Jones is heard yelling "Get Dwyer out of here!" Dwyer was a CIA agent.

Joseph Holsinger, Leo Ryan's aide, stated in a 1980 lecture that he believes it is possible that Jonestown was a mind-control experiment, and that the CIA could have found it necessary to wipe out over 900 Americans in order to protect their secret. Holsinger received a paper written by a professor at U.C. Berkeley entitled "The Penal Colony", that detailed how the MKULTRA project had simply been transferred to religious cults. There were enormous amounts of psychoactive drugs on the site of the suicides.

Others believe that Jonestown was a racist plot to exterminate blacks, since most of the cult's leadership was white and most of the followers were black.

Whatever the purpose of Jonestown, it was suspicious enough to lure Leo Ryan, who was concerned with possible human rights violations. He had received several letters from families in his district, saying that their relatives had gone off to Brazil with Jim Jones and hadn't communicated since. Ryan contacted Jones by telegraph to inform him of his visit. When he arrived, he and his party were provided with dinner and entertainment, supplied by members of the congregation. Ryan was informed that a few members had intimated that they wished to leave Jonestown with him. He interviewed several other members, many of which also expressed their desires to leave. Ryan and his party, plus 15 departing members of the People's Temple were attacked by People's Temple members armed with guns as they tried to board planes.

At the same time, back in Jonestown, Jim Jones was ordering his followers to drink cyanide-laced Koolaid. They obeyed, even giving the drink to their children. Jones then shot himself in the head, or was shot by a member of his cult.

At dawn the next morning, Guyanese Army rescue teams arrived in Jonestown and confirmed the mass suicide. The wounded and surviving members were airlifted out.

There was a problem concerning the bodies of the people found at Jonestown. A Guyanese coronor testified that as many as 700 of the dead appeared not to have committed suicide, but instead had been murdered. This may have happened as they tried to escape into the jungle, or if they had refused to drink Jones's koolaid concoction.

No matter what the real story is, we should look at this as a lesson; bad things happen when you blindly obey. Think for yourselves, people.

Six Pivotal Points in the Jim Jones Controversy

The controversy surrounding Jim Jones's religious movement can be best summarized by the actions and reactions surrounding six points in Jim Jones's life.

The first of these points is when Jones moved to Indianapolis. Not only was this a larger audience to find followers, but also this is where Jim Jones began to preach in a more organizational environment. Preaching racial integration, especially by a white man, in a time as turbulent as the 1950s is certainly a way to spread word about yourself. As they say, there is no such thing as bad publicity.

What followed next was Jones's invitation to the Pentecostal Laurel Street Tabernacle and the subsequent forming of the People's Temple. The fervor he created by inviting blacks to a white church was soon quelled by Jones's apparent healing touch and gilded tongue. As a result, many people left the Laurel Street Tabernacle to follow Jim Jones. This eventually led to the formation of the People's Temple.

The collective migration to California is also another important part that ultimately led to the mass suicide/murder in Guyana years later. After a two-year respite in South America, Jones returned to Indianapolis to move the Temple to California, a relative land of tolerance compared to the conservative Midwest.

The government's threat of tax evasion charges, spurred along by Temple defectors and family members of Jones's followers led to the exodus from the United States to the poor South American country of Guyana. While the exodus to Guyana had been a plan for some time, the threat of audit reaffirmed and justified Jones's fear and resentment of the American government.

As sort of an extreme to combat an extreme, the formation of the Concerned Relatives seems to be a major catalyst in the People's Temple controversy. While the Relatives did not have a leader as charismatic as Jones, they, like the People's Temple, manipulated the government to suit their own needs. The Concerned Relatives were also no less fanatical in their views, as shown by the attempted kidnapping1 of a Temple member by her father.

The final pivotal point in the history of the People's Temple was November 18, 1978, the tragic conclusion to Jim Jones and the People's Temple. As sort of a personal note, I am unsure if the murders of Senator Ryan and the NBC news crew were orchestrated before their visit to Jonestown or after Jones witnessed his followers beginning to slip from his grasp, leaving like rats on a sinking ship. Possibly, the threat of negative publicity after Senator Ryan was attacked in the Guyanan capital of Georgetown may have been the deciding factor. Perhaps Jones was acting as a parent, lashing out at those who were taking his "children" away.

There are several points throughout the life of Jim Jones that fueled the fire and eventually led the people of Jonestown to commit murder/suicide2 and murder their accusers. To this day, it is still unclear whether this atrocity would have happened if the media and the American government had not harassed the People's Temple.

1 The kidnapping and subsequent "deprogramming" is particularly extreme because of the complete disregard for basic liberties of adult individuals and because of the physical and emotional abuse employed by deprogrammers. There is a logical comparison of deprogrammers to Spanish Inquisitors.

2 I am not saying that Jim Jones is completely blame free; he was clearly insane as indicated in the recordings of his ramblings. However, I believe brainwashing can be ruled out as a cause because of the large numbers of Jonestown victims who were shot or forcibly injected with cyanide. However, the continued persecution by the government and the Concerned Relatives through legal and illegal means only reinforced Jones's fear and distrust of the rest of the United States.

Sources: http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/Jonestwn.html


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