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This Happened

This Happened—November 18: Jim Jones' Deadly Cult

Updated Nov. 18, 2023 at 4:10 p.m.

During a time filled with a myriad of cults, the People's Temple massacre became the largest cult mass killing as Jim Jones led 918 people to death by cyanide poisoning.

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What was Jonestown?

Jim Jones established Jonestown in 1974 and began a mass exodus of his cult, the Peoples Temple, to a fertile patch of land in the country of Guyana. Jones was a Christian Socialist from Indiana with political ties in the U.S. who admired the likes of Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, as well as Mahatma Gandhi.

In Jonestown, Jones hoped to avoid American investigations into his affairs as a cult leader and a Soviet sympathizer.

What caused the Jonestown massacre?

Jones’ mental and physical health rapidly declined after moving to Jonestown, where he began abusing different hard drugs and told his supporters that he had lung cancer. Increasingly fearful of a fascist insurrection, Jones began preparing the members of the Peoples Temple to commit mass suicide, even running drills called White Nights.

With Jonestown’s resident doctor, Jones began stockpiling mass quantities of cyanide poison, waiting for the right moment to come. While many committed suicide, there is no way of knowing how many people were forced to ingest cyanide at Jonestown. In the end, 918 people died, including Jones with a self-inflicted gunshot. The 304 children among the victims, forced to take the poison, were no doubt murder victims.

What happened Jonestown after the massacre?

The area where Jonestown was located has seen some development since the massacre, but it remains difficult to access. There are no roads to Jonestown from Guyana's capital of Georgetown, and commercial air travel is available only on a limited schedule.

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Disney's new movie "Wish" is being touted as a new children's blockbuster to celebrate the company's 100th anniversary. But some Christians may see the portrayal of the villain as God-like and turning wishes into prayers as the ultimate denial of the true message of Christmas.

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