18th November 1978.
It has been an exceptionally long day. You could smell the exhaust and defeat in the air. Congressman Ryan came today to the compound. People wanted to leave with him. The impending sense of doom is ever so present.
“White Night! White Night! Your lives are in danger.” The announcement is being made. “You must run to the pavilion to save yourself. Do not dare to run out towards the jungle, because a bullet will come and hit you before you know it.”
Shush! Jim Jones is speaking. He has loved you and tried his best to give you the good life. But he is standing here today talking about your children being stolen. A catastrophe waiting to happen, a plane coming down in the jungle and killing you. He cannot save you today. But he has a way out. A revolutionary act. One last act of courage can save you.
“It is all over, all over, get moving, get moving.”
People are saying their pieces, reminiscing.
Children are crying.
Do not panic. Do not panic.
Just drink the juice. Let us be done with the agony of it. Let us be done with the agony of this world.
You are going to rest now.
The dream is over.
Jim Jones was its architect. The first to found a racially integrated Christian Church, the only White to adopt a Black child in Indianapolis in the 1960s, only to walk into the neighbourhood with a multi-racial family, a civil rights leader, an incredible spiritual healer, and cement of a tight-knit community, Jim Jones was all that could go right. Until he became all that could go wrong.
He came to create an integrated, socialist, Christian space called “People’s Temple,” a place that offered a community, food, and shelter regardless of who you were. If you wanted help, you would get help and if you wanted to help, you had the avenue. This is why, most members of the Church were African American, homeless, or recovering addicts. People’s Temple gave you a purpose, one that was bigger than you. There was no reason for you to not believe in the cause.
However, the goods did not last long.
As time progressed, Jim Jones tightened the leash of control over the believers of the People’s Temple as beatings, blackmailing, and misconduct slowly became regular practices. To understand why people didn’t begin leaving at this point, It must be acknowledged that punishment for “wrongdoers” has been a cardinal pillar of every religion ever to exist which is why it made sense to a Jim Jones follower that obedience and fear were being instilled. For even those who had the epiphany about things going wrong, leaving the church was out of the question because it was incredibly difficult to survive outside of the church without the community, connections, support, and sustenance Jim Jones offered.
Perhaps deep down, even Jim Jones was aware that he was leading his people to trenches and was afraid of being exposed and scrutinized. The testament to this is his increasing paranoia about people betraying or abandoning him and even becoming convinced of a forthcoming nuclear apocalypse. In attempts to paint an “us versus them” narrative, he moved the Church multiple times on grounds of “conspiracies” against him before eventually ordering a move to Guyana, Southern America in 1974 and the people followed.
It is again crucial to understand why a thousand people felt the need to leave their lives in America behind and pick up their bags and move to a jungle in a country they had never been to. At an incredibly divisive time in America, Jones was saying, “Do I have the place for you? For us. Away from this hatred and aggression.” It is easy to imagine them as impressionable people fooled by someone who owned a degree of eloquence. But they were one of us. They were people who believed in Jones’ progressive ideals that were ahead of their time.
The makeshift settlement of Jonestown in Guyana turned out to be a lot more different than a socialist dream. In its four years, Jonestown residents were cut off from the world, restricted from movement with their passports being confiscated and shooters on posts ordered to kill anyone that tried to defect, overworked from manual labour, and malnourished due to food shortages while Jones’ sermons played on a loop over the speaker all day and suicide drills were conducted at night.
During this time, defected members of the Church in the United States began to demand an investigation into Johnstown and claimed their relatives in Jonestown were being held against their will. As Jones became increasingly erratic every day, Congressman Leo Ryan decided to visit Jonestown to investigate the allegations of abuse of human rights. Within 24 hours of his arrival, an act of cruelty unspeakable was going to happen.
When the US party arrived in Jonestown, a few members of the Church requested their aid in leaving, and news spread through the community. Jones was convinced that it was all ending and he frantically ordered for the entire US delegation to be killed at the airstrip just as they were about to leave. However, later that day when he was informed that a few out of the delegation managed to escape, Jones knew that his tales of horror will soon leave the isolated jungle in Guyana and reach the United States.
Soon after on the same day, the entire community of Jonestown was assembled and Jim Jones went on to deliver a sermon about the end of the times. He was convinced a US plane was going to take out everyone in the jungle and his solution was to die first. It must be understood that people did not just march towards their deaths because Jim Jones said so, they were not given a choice.
304 children were injected forcibly while their mothers wailed on the side watching their kids die a slow and painful death.
613 adults drank the cyanide-laced punch and if any tried to refuse or run, they were murdered.
Out of the 918 dead bodies recovered after days of operation, only one had a gunshot.
Jim Jones, the man himself, was too much of a coward to die the same stinging death he pushed others into.