About Truth and Lies: Jonestown

In the 1950's Jim Jones founded The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Chris, commonly known as the Peoples Temple. His message was one of social justice and inclusion, and he insisted his congregation be integrated. By 1965, Jones had decided his congregation was no longer welcome in Indiana, and convinced 150 of his followers to move with him to Redwood Valley, CA. In 1971, Jones moved his congregation once again - this time to San Francisco. There, he began to urge his followers to participate in politics in protesting against the government. His ability to mobilize his flock for rallies attracted the attention of the mayor, governor and even Rosalyn Carter. Some say the power he gained during this time increased his desire for power and attention. In 1976, saying he felt isolated and threatened in the U.S., Jones flew around 50 of his followers to Guyana, the only English speaking country in South America. Followers worked long days in hot and humid weather to build the housing, crops and common areas that would form a community. People were living off the land and cooperating to create what they deemed an ideal society. Jones sent movies from Guyana to San Francisco, to show the congregation back home how much everyone loved Jonestown. It was considered "the Promised Land." In reality, there was not enough food to feed the hundreds of people who suddenly populated the encampment Jones was importing food. In 1977, New West magazine published an expose of Jim Jones. Jones responded by telling his followers to obtain passports- he was moving the rest of the Peoples Temple to Guyana. Members boarded buses from different locations across the country in order to avoid suspicion. As soon as they arrived in Jonestown, they were required to forfeit both their money and their passports. Members had no access to phones in Jonestown, no literature, no radios no way to communicate with anyone in the outside world. Jones began enacting "White Night" drills, where he told his congregation they were going to commit suicide by drinking Kool-Aid. His followers, isolated and exhausted, reportedly peer-pressured each other into voting in favor of committing suicide. By 1978, authorities in the U.S. were alerted that Jones was purchasing of cyanide and that a suicide plan was in full swing. Meanwhile, relatives of Peoples Temple members and defectors of Jim Jones were raising their concerns to local government. U.S. Representative Leo Ryan decided to go to Jonestown himself to investigate. On November 14th, 1978, Rep. Ryan arrived with staff, members of the media, and family members of followers. Within a day or two, some members had decided they wanted to leave. On November 18th, 1978, as Ryan and the now-expanded group were boarding two small planes to leave Guyana, Jones loyalists - who had been hiding in a tractor trailer on the tarmac - opened fire on the group with assault rifles. Representative Ryan was shot and killed, as were three journalists and one defector. Meanwhile, Jim Jones gathered everyone left in the pavilion and claimed "This is it if we can't live in peace, we'll die in peace." Reports say armed guards surrounded the pavilion, leaving people with no way out. Either they were to kill themselves, or they would die by bullet. The children were the first to die. Parents were forced to kill their own children with needles, or by drinking cyanide. Audio tapes document Jones ordering parents not tell the children that they were dying, and insisting that everyone move faster. Until the end, Jones claimed that they were "committing an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world." Despite the massive vats of cyanide found at the scene, Jim Jones died of a gunshot wound the medical examiner believed Jones shot himself in the head. In the end, a total of 918 people were found dead in Jonestown, over 180 of them children.

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