Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
- Alternate uses: See Jonestown (disambiguation)
Jonestown was a town in Guyana established by Peoples Temple cult leader Jim Jones. It was located about six to eight miles (10 to 12 km) from Port Kaituma (). At Jones' directions, the inhabitants committed mass suicide in 1978.
The beginning of Jonestown
Jim Jones' the Peoples Temple was formed in Indianapolis, Indiana during the late 1950s. Jones and his 140 followers then moved to Redwood Valley in Mendocino County, California, as they believed that they would be safe from nuclear fallout in case of a nuclear attack on the United States. In the late 1960s, members of Jones' congregation had dwindled to less than a hundred and were on the verge of collapse but Jones managed to secure an affiliation with the Disciples of Christ and in turn kept the survival of the Temple. Jones' affiliation with the church boosted the Temple's reputation and spread his influence in the West Coast area. Jones then moved his congregation again to his main church in San Francisco in 1971 and opened another one in Los Angeles.
After several scandals and investigations in San Francisco, Jones decided that by creating a utopian community in Guyana, he could further cement his absolute power over his members far away from the intervention of US authorities or worried members' relatives. In 1974, he leased 300 acres (1.21 km²) of land from the Guyanese government and members of the People's Temple started the construction of Jonestown, under the supervision of senior members who were assigned by Jones to oversee the construction. Jones then went back to California before he encouraged all his followers to move to Jonestown in 1977. Jonestown's population increased greatly from 50 members in 1977 to over 900 at its peak in 1978.
Life in Jonestown
Many of the Peoples Temple members believed that Guyana would be, as Jones promised, a paradise. Instead, everyone (including children) ended up raising food and animals for the "People's Temple Agricultural Project" six days a week from seven in the morning to six in the evening, often when the temperature was as hot as 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
Meals for the members consisted of nothing more than rice and beans while Jones ate meat and other refrigerated foods separated from the others. Medical problems such as severe diarrhea and high fevers struck half the community in February 1978.
Members considered to be serious disciplinary problems were imprisoned in a 6 by 4 by 3 foot (2 by 1.2 by 1 m) plywood box. Members who attempted to run away were drugged to the point of incapacitation. Armed guards patrolled the compound day and night to ensure that Jones' orders were followed.
Children, surrendered to communal care, were made to address Jones as "Dad" and were only allowed to see their parents briefly at night. Jones was called "Father" or "Dad" by the adults as well.
Local Guyanese, including a police official, related horror stories about harsh beatings and a "torture hole," a well into which Jones had "misbehaving" children thrown in the middle of the night. Jones had terrifed the children by making them believe that there was a monster living at the bottom of the well, where in fact it was Jones' henchman who pulled and tugged their legs as they descended into the well.
Older children were said to have been tied naked and electrical shocks would be administered to their genitalia. Guyanese officials had attempted to investigate these allegations but they were denied entry to the compound.
The mass suicides that were to make Jonestown notorious were practiced during so called white nights. In an affidavit defector Deborah Layton wrote that during one of those white nights people were told that they would die and drank unsweetened Flavor Aid that they thought contained poison. The few who were hesitant to drink were engaged in a debate and quickly complied. Only after everyone drank the Flavor Aid did Jones inform them that there was no poison and it was all just a test of loyalty and faith in Jones. 
On Tuesday November 14, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan, a Democrat from San Francisco, California, flew to Georgetown, Guyana, along with a team of 18 (officials, media representatives and members of Concerned Relatives ) to investigate charges by relatives of the members and escaped members allegation that human rights were being violated daily, people were being held against their free will, had all their money and passport taken and held, and, most disturbingly, rehearsals of mass suicide were being conducted.
From the time they arrived in Georgetown, at midnight, before Wednesday the 15th, there were signs that things would not run smoothly. Booked hotel rooms were mysteriously occupied and most had to sleep in the lobby. In the days that followed Mr. Lane and Mr. Garry (Jones' representatives in Georgetown) refused to allow Ryan's party access to Jonestown. Finally, by late Friday morning Mr. Ryan advised Lane and Garry that he was leaving for Jonestown at 2:30 p.m., regardless of Jones' willingness to allow him access or not. They left (including Lane and Garry) for Jonestown at approximately that time, Friday, November 17, Guyana time (12:30 p.m., e.s.t., Washington, D.C.) and came to Port Kaituma airstrip, 10 km. from Jonestown, some hours later. After more trouble, where only Ryan and 3 others were initially accepted, they finally all got into Jonestown, after dark.
It was later reported that Jones had run rehearsals in how to receive Ryan's delegation, to convince them that everyone was happy and in good spirit. On the night before Ryan's arrival Jones warned everyone, with the exception of a few trusted people, not to speak to Ryan's party. Some were angry and saw the Congressman's visit as trouble brought in from outside. Few quietly complained of the dire situation within the compound.
When Jones learned about some of his followers' reactions and that some of them wished to leave, he was angry and believed that those who wanted to leave the community would "lie" and destroy Jonestown. Jones and many other members of the Peoples Temple saw themselves as a family that had the right and the duty to stay together. Like most families they felt that they had the duty to defend themselves against people who tried to take away their members. At first Jones was angry, but then was reassured when other members told him it was actually a compliment that out of over 1,000 people only a few dozen wished to leave. Jones then gave them permission to leave, some money and their passports. Jones also told them they would be welcome to come back at any time.
Because more people were leaving than was expected and the limited amount of seats available on the Cessna, Ryan was going to send the first group to Georgetown and stay behind with the rest when Don Sly , a member of the Temple, possibly acting directly under Jones' orders, attacked the congressman with a knife. Although he wasn't hurt in the attack, he realised that the visiting party and the defectors were in danger. Ryan's party and 16 ex-Temple members left Jonestown and reached the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip at 4:30pm, where they planned to use two planes, a six-passenger Cessna and a twin-engine Otter, to fly to Georgetown, the capital of Guyana. At the last minute, Larry Layton, a fanatic follower demanded to join the group. The rest of the defectors voiced their suspicions about the motive for Larry joining the group but Ryan insisted that anyone who wanted to go would go.
Before the Cessna took off, Layton took out a gun and started shooting at the passengers. He killed two people, including defector Monica Bagby before his gun was taken away by another defector. Jones' armed guards, or "Red Brigade," then emerged in a tractor pulling a wagon, pulled up within 30 feet of the Otter, and proceeded to open fire while circling the plane. Leo Ryan, three journalists, and one 18-year-old Jonestown defector were killed in the five minute shooting, which was captured on camera. Camera operator Robert Brown was among the dead while Jackie Speier was injured. The Cessna was able to take off and fly to Georgetown, leaving behind the gunfire-damaged Otter. They carried with them a filmed footage of the surprise attack, a first glimpse of Jonestown for the outside world.
Shortly after the shootings, Jones decided to start the mass suicide, as he knew that the Guyanese Defence Force would be coming for him once they got word of the shootout at the airstrip. Jones had the mass suicide recorded on a cassette tape in which it would seem there were only a few people who were reluctant to go through with the suicide, but they were convinced otherwise by other members and Jones himself.
Two metal buckets of grape Flavor Aid laced with Valium and cyanide were brought into the assembly hall and the mixture was dispensed in small paper cups. Babies and children were the first ones to ingest the mixture as it was squirted into their throats with a syringe. The elderly followed, and then the adults. Many blindly drank it even after watching their children die. The rest had the mixture poured down their throats after resisting drinking.
Bodies also bore the marks of hypodermic needles with which the poison was injected. Some sources assert there were injections into unwilling victims (, , , ), although the numbers vary widely. The precise circumstances are the focus of a number of conspiracy theories (see, for example, ).
Those who tried to hide were tracked down and killed by Jones' armed guards but some survivors did manage to escape into the jungle. Jones' only natural son, Stephan Jones, who happened to be away during the suicide asserted in an interview that people were probably not coerced but wanted to remain loyal to the group, its ideals and did not want to be seen as a traitor.
Jones himself was killed by a self-inflicted gunshot to his head while sitting in a deckchair. Some maintain that he may have been killed by an escaping cult member.
Hours after news of the mass suicide got out, local authorities found 913 of the 1,110 inhabitants dead, including 276 children. One of the survivors, Laura Johnston Kohl, escaped the mass suicide as she was away from Jonestown at that time.
Jonestown itself became a "ghost town" after 1978 and was mostly destroyed by a fire in the mid-1980s, after which the ruins were left to decay; as of 2004 there is little to mark the site of one of the most notorious mass suicides in history.
Various conspiracy theories exist that offer alternative explanations as to what actually happened at Jonestown. One popular one suggests that Jones himself was a CIA agent and that Jonestown was a mind control experiment gone wrong. Drugs found at the premises, such as Quaaludes, Valium, morphine, Demerol, and chloral hydrate, have been offered as evidence for this theory.
Another conspiracy theory suggests that the CIA used this opportunity to assassinate Leo Ryan, as he was a harsh critic of the CIA and had authored the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, which if passed would have required the CIA to report its planned covert missions to Congress for approval. Under this theory, the murder of the Jonestown members was to cover up the real reason for Leo Ryan's muder. Some claim it is too far-fetched to believe that the CIA would want to go through all the trouble of killing almost a thousand people just to cover up a single person's assassination. A theory that combines the mind control theory with this one has also been suggested by some, as sort of a "killing two birds with one stone" version.
In 1980, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence investigated the Jonestown mass suicide and announced that there was no evidence of CIA involvement at Jonestown. The fact that all government documents relating to Jonestown remain classified has helped keep conspiracy theories and rumours about Jonestown alive .
- Troubled Society (series): Cults by Renardo Barden
- The Need to Know Library (series): Everything You Need to Know About Cults by Sean Dolan
- Existence of cults, what it is and what it does, understanding cults, process of joining and leaving cults, glossary, where to go for help, and recommended further readings.
- True Crime (series): Death Cults by various authors, edited by Jack Sargent
- Jonestown Carnage: A CIA Crime - S.F.Alinin, B.G.Antonov, A.N.Itskov
- Gives USSR version of the Jonestown massacre, that it was a crime committed by CIA.
- 'Audio recording of mass suicide' - Real Audio of last tape from Jonestown taped when mass suicides were taking place
- Remembering Jonestown - NPR interview with mass suicide survivor, Laura Johnston Kohl.
- Alternative considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, San Diego State University, documented fruitless attempts to gain U.S. government information, personal recollections, and essays.
- The Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy - The contents of US Government archives on the subject obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. The original website has disappeared, so this link is via web.archive.org; unfortunately the scanned pages are missing.
- Transcript of Jim Jones' final speech in which he announces that suicide is now the best solution.
- Crime Library - The Jonestown Massacre
- CNN.com - Jonestown massacre + 20: Questions linger - Touches on the alleged involvement of the CIA.
- CNN.com - Jonestown survivors recall fateful day
- CNN.com - Jonestown survivor: 'Wrong from every point of view'
- CNN.com - Timeline: Road to tragedy in Jonestown
- BBC On This Day - 1978: Mass suicide leaves 900 dead
- Jim Jones inspiration for his ideology and cult control techniques
- Report to the committee on Foriegn Affairs, May 79
- The video of the shootout (poor quality)
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