Cult leaders have shared characteristics with each other, at times they are: charismatic, intuitive, narcissistic, articulate, pathological liars, sociopathic in that they don’t feel guilt for their actions, they view people as assets or objects, and they use others to carry out their demands. There are other traits of cult leaders, but you will find they are all usually very similar.
To understand something, it’s best to start at the beginning, and the source. In this case it’s Jim Jones.
Jim was born in May 1931, in Indiana. He loved to read, especially works by: Joseph Stalin, Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, Mahatma Gandhi, and Adolf Hitler. He also has an intense interest in religion.
Jim met and married a nurse named Marceline Baldwin in 1949. They would die together at Jonestown.
In 1951, Jim began attending gatherings of the Communist Party USA. He was harassed for his views and support of other accused communists. He often asked himself, “How can I demonstrate my Marxism?” He felt the answer was, infiltrate the church.
Jim visited faith healing services and observed it attracted people and their money. He knew he could perform these same services, and that he could accomplish his goals with these financial resources. In 1956, he organized a religious convention and arranged to have Rev. William M. Branham share the pulpit with him. During this convention Jim learned how to draw followers by telling people their names, their addresses and then pronouncing them healed. This led people to believe he had supernatural gifts.
Jim Jones was a racial integrationist. But he encouraged people to be more militant about it. Jim and his wife adopted several children who were non-white. This he described as his “rainbow family”
The Peoples Temple was formed in Indianapolis, IN, in 1955. After considerable criticism, they moved the Temple to California in 1965. Eventually the headquarters would be in San Francisco, CA.
In 1973, members of the temple began to leave and immediate action was planned to move to an international location. Guyana was quickly chosen for its economy and extradition treaties with the US. By the end of the year, the directors of the Temple passed a resolution to build an agricultural mission there.
In 1976, Guyana had finally approved the lease for Jonestown. Guyanese immigration procedures were compromised to inhibit the departure of defectors, and curtail the visas of Temple opponents. In 1977 the mass migration to Guyana occurred. In 1978 just under 900 people were living at Jonestown.
After arriving in Jonestown, the promise of utopia slowed changed to revolution and enemies. They practiced White Night rehearsals, preparing for a mass suicide.
Family members who were in the United States became concerned. They felt that there were human rights violations. These accusations and affidavits were forwarded to the members of the press and members of Congress. Including Congressman Leo Ryan.
Investigations and legal proceedings began to affect the health and mental state of Jim. In 1978, he claimed to have high blood pressure, small strokes, weight loss, temporary blindness, convulsions, swelling of the extremities.
November 17, 1976; Congressman Leo Ryan and a delegation of diplomats, media and concerned family members, flew to Jonestown. Due to seating limitations, only a small portion of people were able to go. Some of the members of Peoples Temple attempted to defect that night.
The next day as defectors were given permission to leave, a Temple Loyalist, Larry Layton, demanded to join the group, several people voiced their suspicions. When the plane he was on was taxiing, Larry opened fire, wounding several people on board before being disarmed. The other plane was boarding passengers, when a tractor and a trailer with members from the People’s temple arrived at the airstrip. The first few seconds of the shooting were captured on video from cameraman Bob Brown. Sadly he was killed along with five others.
Only a handful of people escaped on the undamaged plane back to Georgetown. After the attacks at the Port Kaituma airstrip, Marceline Jones broadcast on the P.A. that all was good and that residents needed to return to their homes. At this same time, aides were preparing a large tub of grape Flavor Ade. It was poisoned with diphenhydramine, promethazine, chlorpromazine, chloroquine, chloral hydrate, valium, and cyanide.
There is a 44 minute tape urging member to commit “revolutionary suicide”. White Night rehearsals led to this point. The poison took 5 minutes for children to take effect, less for babies, and 20-30 minutes for adults. When the realized this wasn’t another rehearsal, people showed a “reluctance to die.”
There was hysteria and confusion as parents watched their children die, some waited patiently for their own turn to die. One of the survivors suggested that the lunch they had may have been tainted with sedatives, as people were walking around as if in a trance. Cries and screaming can be heard on the tape. As more members died, the guards too were called to take the poison.
Jim Jones was found dead next to his chair, head cushioned by a pillow. The cause of death was a gun shot wound to the left temple. Consistent with being self-inflicted.
Afterwards, 918 people were dead. Jim Jones and his wife included. The aftermath was overwhelming. US Military cargo planes transported the dead back to the United States to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. The tasks of fingerprinting, identifying and processing the bodies, caused numerous individuals PTSD.
Now deserted, Jonestown was used by the Guyanese government to house refugees of the Hmong population from Laos, it was never used by the Guyanese people due to the association of the mass killing. The ruins were allowed to be reclaimed by the jungle.
This was long. But it doesn’t do it justice for what actually happened, nor the those who were victims. I hope that something like this never happens again, but I know that somewhere it is happening even now.
Be safe, make good choices, be careful