November 18th in the year 1978 saw the largest mass suicide the world has ever seen, more than 900 people, including 287 children, were convinced that taking their own lives ans there childrens lives would somehow set them free, that dying was better than living. The man responsible for this tragedy is Jim Jones, one of the most notorious cult leaders ever. Jim Jones was born May 13th, 1931 in Indiana USA. He was a regular church goer as a child and after graduating college he decided to go into the ministry, in the 50s and 60s, Jones became popular In Indiana as a charismatic young priest who spoke about issues such as racial integration which made him different from church elders. In 1955 he set up his own Pentecostal church called the ‘Wings of Deliverance’ which eventually became ‘the Peoples Temple’. During this time, he gained a reputation for his work with the homeless and in the early 1960s he served as director of Indianapolis’s Human Rights Commission. Jones moved his church to Northern California and eventually settled in San Francisco in 1973. As his church was growing and becoming more popular, Jones adopted the name ‘the prophet’ and became increasingly obsessed with power. He began to make friends among politicians and the press in California and became a respected churchman. Most of the members of ‘the Peoples Temple’ were African-Americans because of Jones outspokenness of racial issues and his vision of an integrated congregation. With the growth of Jim Jones church, Scandals began to come out and the church was accused in the press of physical mistreatment of members, abuse of children in its care and most notably that he was illegally diverting the income of cult members to his own use. Jones’s treatment of his followers was often less than humane. Temple members were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed, and many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions—including their homes—to the church. Amid the mounting accusations, Jones and hundreds of his followers emigrated to Guyana and set up an agricultural commune he had been building for three to four years called Jonestown in 1978. Jones promised his people that the move will give them freedom and meaning. After some months in Jonestown, many members wanted to leave as it was not the life they were promised as it was overpopulated and there was not enough food and beds for everyone. Temple members worked long days in the fields and were subjected to harsh punishments if they questioned Jones’ authority. Their passports and medications were confiscated, and they were plagued by mosquitoes and tropical diseases. Armed guards patrolled the jungle compound. Members were encouraged to inform on one another and were forced to attend lengthy, late-night meetings. Their letters and phone calls were censored. Jones, who by then was in declining mental health and addicted to drugs, had his own throne in the compound’s main pavilion and compared himself to Vladimir Lenin and Jesus Christ. His paranoia got so severe that he would sometimes demand Peoples Temple members to participate in mock suicide drills in the middle of the night. In November 1978, U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan travelled to Guyana to inspect the Peoples Temple’s activities and the Jonestown compound. Ryan arrived with a delegation that included news reporters and photographers, along with concerned relatives of some of the Peoples Temple members. He was investigating talk that some followers of Jim Jones were being held against their will and that some were being exposed to physical and psychological abuse. After traveling to Guyana’s capital, Georgetown, on November 14, he arrived at Jonestown on November 17. That evening the congressman and reporters were welcomed to the Jonestown compound, to their surprise, with a dinner and evening of entertainment. Jones even agreed to meet with reporters. However, during the visit, some Peoples Temple members asked Ryan’s group to help them get out of Jonestown. Ryan agreed to take a handful of members with him back to California. While waiting at a nearby airstrip, Port Kaituma, to leave, Ryan and his team as well as the Cult members he had taken, were subjected to an ambush planned by Jim Jones. Ryan was killed, along with a reporter and cameraman from NBC, a photographer from the San Francisco Examiner and a female Peoples Temple member who was attempting to leave. Back at the Jonestown compound, Jones went on the radio and gathered his followers and made a speech to his people. In the speech, he reminds of them of how much of a good leader he had been to them and from that moment on dying would be better than living and he forced them to participate in “revolutionary suicide”. He had earlier obtained a jeweller’s licence in the nearby town Georgetown, which enabled him to stockpile the lethal poison cyanide. He mixed this cyanide with sedatives and powdered fruit juice which was first given to the children by parents and nurses using syringes. The adults then lined up to take the deadly concoction and those who refused were either forced or shot by the armed guards. The poison took only five minutes to cause death after consumption. It wasn’t until the next day that Guyanese officials found the Jonestown compound covered in the dead bodies of men, women and children. Jim Jones was found on his ‘throne’ with a gunshot wound to the head which was most likely to be self-inflicted. The death toll of Jonestown was 913 people, including the deaths of member Sharon Amos and her three children who were at the temples headquarters in Georgetown when Sharon got a radio communication from Jonestown instructing her to commit ‘revolutionary suicide’, she then took her children into the bathroom and using a kitchen knife killed her two younger children, then her oldest child assisted Sharon on killing herself, then that child turned the knife on herself. One third of the deaths at Jonestown were children. A small number of members were lucky enough to escape Jonestown that day, while many more, including several of Jim Jones sons, were in the nearby town of Georgetown, all of which were brought back to the US and questioned by investigators. The bodies of Jonestown dead airlifted to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware for identification. The bodies of over 400 of those who died are buried in a mass grave at Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, California. The Peoples Temple effectively disbanded after the incident and declared bankruptcy at the end of 1978. Only one man, Temple member Larry Layton, was tried in the United States for his involvement in the November 18 events. He was found guilty of conspiracy and aiding and abetting in the murder of Ryan and the attempted murder of U.S. embassy official Richard Dwyer and was sentenced to life in prison, though he was released in 2002.
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