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Prompted Suicide: Jonestown

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Emily Cattafi

Dr. Blass

US History II Period 6

22 April 2016

Prompted Suicide: Jonestown

The Jonestown Massacre included the death of over 900 people resulting in being known today as the worst cult disaster in modern history (Hutchinson). Jim Jones was the leader and founder of Jonestown and the cult called Peoples Temple. Jones became a pastor at a young age but didn’t meet the standards to be a minister. He moved to California where he started Peoples Temple and began gaining members. Jones wanted more power than he could get in the United States so he was able to get many Peoples Temple member with him to a jungle in Guyana and named it Jonestown. This is when everything began to spiral down. (Latson, Hutchinson, Vandecarr)

As a young boy Jones was very religious and power hungry. When he was a child he would lock his friends in a barn with him and force them to listen to a church service that he would prepare. He opened his own church in Illinois in 1955 but moved to California soon after in order to gain more followers. Jonestown was built from scratch from a jungle in Guyana. Jones was able to convince many of his followers to buy plane tickets and go with him to his new town. He was trying to end racism and wanted to create a Utopia for the people that weren’t treated equally and convinced his members to follow him for these reasons. At the height of Peoples Temple there was a membership of 20,000 (Lofton, 423). He reached out to victims of racism and injustices because they were easily convinced if they thought they had a chance at equality. (Latson, Courteau)

Once the members arrived to Jonestown it didn’t take long for them to realize that this Utopia was more like a prison. Many tried to leave but were forced to stay. The few who did manage to escape vouched that Jonestown was like a prison. People would be punished if Jones thought they didn’t pay enough attention to his sermon. While many thought Jonestown was a prison, there were many who truly believed Jones was able to fix all their problems and heal any disease or injury because he claimed to be a miracle healer. But by others who weren’t fooled by Jones he was described as a dictator. They described as people would be punished if they did even the smallest thing wrong and they saw through his lies and took note of all the promises that he couldn’t pull through with. Witnesses also reported that Jones stated he was the only heterosexuala and claimed everyone else was homosexual. Members were also forced to donate any income they received to the church. This allowed Jones to benefit and the members to have more difficulty leaving Jonestown since they had no money. All of this evidence continues to proves how truly insane Jones was and how it would only get worse as Jones gets more paranoid. (Vandecarr).

The people of Jonestown were easily abused in the remote jungle location and had planted crops in poor soil so they were poorly fed. Meanwhile, Jones feasted on chicken dinners and diet Pepsi. Word spread about the treatment of Peoples Temple members and a California congressman, Leo Ryan, brought several other people with him to check on Jonestown to see the condition of the town and its people. When Ryan and his party got on a plane to leave, Jones began to get extremely paranoid that word would get out about his town and people would find out and come to take over. He had recently lost a child custody battle after a father had left to visit the United States and decided to go back to Jonestown only to retrieve his daughter to bring back to the United States with him. Jones didn’t want anyone to leave and fought for the child and lost which made him more paranoid because this could happen again and more people could leave. He ordered members to shoot down the plane the congressman had just gotten on and the congressman, three journalists, and a member trying to escape all died. This was when things got out of control. Jones wanted to find himself and his followers to find peace in death before authorities would arrive and see that Ryan had been murdered.

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