Hitler-Obsessed Cult Leader Drives Followers to Commit Suicide by Drinking Cyanide-Laced Punch
A devout socialist and communist, Jim Jones led over 900 people to commit suicide in the name of the Peoples Temple.
The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, or ‘Jonestown,’ was a settlement founded by cult leader Jim Jones. This settlement, a sector of the Peoples Temple in San Francisco, started a settlement in Guyana, because of the police and media’s crackdowns on the Temple. Jonestown was considered to be affiliated with socialism and communism, and the commune is often thought of as an easy leeway for Jones to obtain power over a smaller, less affluent country.
Jones regularly mentioned that he looked up to leaders such as Adolf Hitler, Father Divine, and Joseph Stalin as role models in leadership. He also used their teachings to manipulate those within the cult. Jones put on events, such as ‘White Nights,’ for the members to prove their loyalty. With external investigations arising, Jones gave the community four options in case of an emergency: flee to the Soviet Union, commit ‘revolutionary suicide,’ stay in Jonestown and fight, or escape into the jungle of Guyana. The members chose revolutionary suicide. He then handed out cups filled with red liquid for the members to drink. He told them the liquid contained poison, and that it would kill them. After they drank the cup’s containments, he told them that there wasn’t actually any poison, and that was a test of loyalty. But, there would soon come a time when there will be poison in the cups.
Jones began as a preacher in Indiana who advocated for racial integration. He founded a Pentecostal church called the Wings of Deliverance, which evolved into the Peoples Temple. People adored him, calling him The Prophet, as he claimed he could tell the foreseeable future and heal the sick. As Jones led The Peoples Temple to be involved in humanitarian causes, he gained influence among the San Francisco community and even met with U.S. Congressmen to discuss progressive legislation plans. He gained the trust of Congress and used it to deceive his followers and the rest of America.
Drinking the Kool-Aid
While the cult exemplified racial equality, selflessness, and living in harmony, widespread concern surrounded the cult members. U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan and worried relatives of various members traveled to Guyana to visit the settlement. Jones was suspicious and allowed only Ryan to enter. He did not find anything particularly alarming, and as he was leaving he and four other visitors were shot and killed.
Paranoid and frightened of a U.S. government invasion, Jones ordered Jonestown members to drink punch containing cyanide. 900 people committed suicide that day. Jones was found dead, with a gunshot wound to the head. It is still unknown whether a U.S. official shot him, a cult member, or if it was a self-inflicted wound.
Pictured Above: 900 dead after voluntarily drinking punch laced with cyanide at the Jonestown settlement in Guyana.
After the massacre and mass suicide, U.S. officials discovered the Temple’s possession of firearms, passports belonging to the late members, and $500,000. The community had previously been accused of fraud and mistreatment of its members, including children. The Peoples Temple declared bankruptcy soon after the killings and disbanded.
In the investigation after the killings, it was revealed that three settlement members were given a special assignment during the collective cyanide poisoning. Three young men, Tim and Mike Carter, ages 30 and 20, and Mike Prokes, age 31, were to deliver a total of $680,000 in Guyanese and U.S. currency to the Soviet embassy in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. In total, Jones sent $7.3 million to the Communist Party in the Soviet Union.
After being alerted about the deaths via radio, Temple official in Georgetown Sharon Amos collected her three children and stabbed and killed them with a knife, after which she did the same to herself.
Even 44 years after the incident, experts are still trying to piece together the missing information that explains the circumstances. Fielding McGehee, the principal researcher for San Diego State’s “Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple” website, seeks to uncover what the government knew and is still hiding about the Jonestown settlement. They are currently researching the government investigations through documentation released under the Freedom of Information Act. McGehee and his wife, Rebecca Moore, have a personal tie to the Jonestown Massacre, as two of Rebecca’s sisters died by drinking the cyanide-laced punch, one of whom being Jones’ personal nurse. She is speculated to have shot Jones in one conspiracy theory.
After the Jonestown incident, the Peoples Temple was the first community to be labeled as a ‘cult,’ and Jones as an evil cult leader.