Jonestown … 44 years ago

November 18, 1978…A  man who was a complete waste of oxygen started one of the most terrible tragedies in history. What I hate is that some of the media described it as a mass suicide which it was not.

When I think of evil human beings…Jim Jones checks off every box. When people think of Jonestown or the Peoples Temple they probably remember the horrible images and disbelief that blanketed the news from Guyana. Interviews with people who happened to be out of Jonestown that afternoon or one of the very few who escaped (36) who started their day there.

The death toll kept rising daily on the news…200, 400, and then 800 or more. The reason was that the bodies were on top of each other and the more they were moved the more they realized some were 3 deep. There seems to be a misconception that all of these people committed suicide which is not true.

918 children and adults died on November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, and most were murdered not suicide. It was either drink the poisoned Flavor-Aid or get shot by the guards or injected right after watching the kids poisoned. According to the Guyanese court which had jurisdiction in the matter, all but three of the deaths in Jonestown were ruled to be the result of murder, not suicide. Source: The New York Times, 12/12/78

The Peoples Temple was a microcosm of society.  Some people joined for socialism, religion (ironic since Jones was a non-believer), or just to belong somewhere. There were young naive members, elderly vulnerable members, drug addicts, drunks, lawyers, doctors, rich, middle class, poor, black and white. Like many organizations…it started off good in the 50s but soon he got too much power. They did good things for people but it soon fell off a cliff. It started before the move to Guyana.

They were kept hungry with no sleep with Jones waking the entire compound in the middle of the night. He had everyone’s passport locked up so if they escaped it would be hard to get out anywhere.

I always wanted to know more about what happened. There are some good books on this. The best one I’ve read is Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People by Tim Reiterman (I just provided the link…I get no money if you buy it). Tim was there for two days including the last day when Congressman Leo Ryan was killed…Reiterman was also shot but survived.

The event, of course,  inspired the phrase “Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid”…although it was really a cheap knockoff…Flavor-Aid.

The more I read the more I was imagining being held prisoner in that jungle under his totalitarian rule…what a helpless feeling…and I was wanting the impossible to happen…a different ending. It’s so puzzling that today with all the info we have there are still cult leaders out there playing by the Jim Jones playbook.

If Jones would have allowed the people to come and go they could have made a good go of it in Guyana. The people developed a town that had a post office, daycare, a cafeteria, and everyone had a job. When it started Jones wasn’t down there all of the time and people were working hard and for the most part happy. When he settled in…that was over. He took control and it all went to hell.

Jones didn’t drink the flavor aid… he had one of his helpers shoot him…something I wish would have happened a day earlier.

A good abbreviated version of Jonestown and Jim Jones can be found here on the History Channel website.

A documentary of Jonestown and Peoples Temple.