Jim Jones Drinks the Red Kool-Aid


Jim Jones was a very charismatic fellow. His dedication to fundamental Christianity and Communism led to a large following of dedicated zealots. He founded a cult called the People’s Temple that grew to indoctrinate over 3,000 members in Jones’ brand of “Apostolic Socialism”.

Other than the whole Communist thing, Jones initially was having a positive effect on the community. He was a strong advocate for desegregation and ending racism. He adopted several children from poor communities. But then things started getting weird. He had affairs with members of the church and claimed he had healing powers. He started using drugs and became paranoid about nuclear war.

By 1974 decided to move the People’s Temple to the self-created community of Jonestown, Guyana to avoid the imminent nuclear war and the many questions he was getting about the controlling nature of his church on its members. Things didn’t get more normal down there.

By 1978, rumors about the strange goings-on in Jonestown caused California Congressman Leo Ryan to take a fact-finding trip to Jonestown. Several of the cult members secretly told Ryan that they wanted to leave, and that Jones was unhinged. He attempted to take some of these people with him, but Jones would not accept any dissenters. He secretly arranged to have the Congressman’s group executed. He partially succeeded, killing the Congressman and many of his entourage, but some escaped and were able to fly out of Guyana.

Jones now knew that the gig was up. He initially tried to arrange for his congregation to flee to the Soviet Union, but that was a non-started after he learned that everyone in the Soviet Union was looking to flee to Guyana. On November 18, 1977, decided instead that everyone should commit “revolutionary suicide”. He demanded, and in some cases, forced the members of his church to drink Flavor Aid mixed with cyanide. By the end of the day 909 people were dead. There were about 85 people who survived by various means. Jones left a will that requested all of his assets be given to the people of the Soviet Union.

The FBI soon launched an extensive investigation. Working with authorities in Guyana, agents interviewed survivors of the horrific incident, while fingerprint and forensic experts identified the many victims and Jones himself. Agents across the nation also searched out and talked with members of the Peoples Temple in the U.S. for further insights. The FBI was able to bring a criminal case against Larry Layton. Layton was involved in the murder of Congressman Ryan and had not been present at the mass suicide. Layton, the only member of the Peoples Temple tried in the U.S. for criminal acts at Jonestown, was ultimately extradited, convicted, and sentenced to life in prison.

Christopher Flanagan


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