Jonestown Mass Suicide: What Really Happened?THEORY 

"The largest single loss of American civilian life since 9/11"

In a remote settlement named after Jim Jones, 918 people collectively committed suicide. The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name “Jonestown”, was a remote settlement established by the Peoples Temple, an American cult under the leadership of Reverend Jim Jones, in north Guyana.  These people died in the settlement, at the nearby airstrip in Port Kaituma, and at a Temple-run building in Georgetown, Guyana’s capital city. The name of the settlement became synonymous with the incidents at those locations. In total, 909 settlers died by ‘cyanide poisoning’, some refer to the events in Jonestown as mass suicide. Many others, including Jonestown survivors, regard them as mass murder. 

As many as 70 people may have been injected with poison, and a third of the victims (304) were minors. It was the largest such event in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until September 11, 2001. The People’s Temple was formed in Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1955. Though its roots and teachings shared more biblical church and Christian revival movements than with Marxism, it changed to practice what it called “apostolic socialism”. 

Marxism is a method of socioeconomic analysis that views class relations and social conflict using a materialist interpretation of historical development and takes a dialectical view of social transformation. It originates from the works of 19th-century German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels.

US military personnel remove bags containing bodies of members of the Jim Jones' sect "Temple of people", 23 November 1978, after they arrived from Jonestown, the community's cultural center, where Jim Jones had established the Peoples Temple. More than 900 people died, 18 November 1978, in the largest mass suicide in American history. - AFP/Getty Images.

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Marxism uses a methodology, now known as historical materialism, to analyze and critique the development of capitalism and the role of class struggles in systemic economic change. According to Marxist theory, class conflict arises in capitalist societies due to contradictions between the material interests of the oppressed proletariat—a class of wage labourers employed to produce goods and services—and the bourgeoisie—the ruling class that owns the means of production and extract their wealth through appropriation of the surplus product (profit) produced by the proletariat. 

After Jones received considerable criticism in Indiana for his integrationist views, the Temple moved to Redwood Valley, California in 1965. In the early 1970s, the Temple opened other branches in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and would eventually move its headquarters to San Francisco.

With the move to San Francisco came increasing political involvement by the Temple. After the group’s participation proved instrumental in the mayoral election victory of George Moscone in 1975, Moscone appointed Jones as the Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.

 

US military personnel remove bags containing bodies of members of the Jim Jones’ sect “Temple of people”, 23 November 1978, after they arrived from Jonestown, the community’s cultural center, where Jim Jones had established the Peoples Temple. More than 900 people died, 18 November 1978, in the largest mass suicide in American history.People’s Temple follower Larry Layton (C) stands with police following his arrest November 18, 1978 in the shooting of two people on a remote Guyana airstrip. That same day, precipitated by the shootings, over 900 members of the People’s Temple Cult led by Reverend Jim Jones died in Jonestown, Guyana of mass murder and suicide. Larry Layton was convicted in 1986 by a federal jury in San Francisco of conspiring in the 1978 murder of California congressman Leo Ryan and aiding and abetting in the attempted murder of Richard Dwyer, a U.S. diplomat wounded in the attack. 

Unlike many other figures who are considered cult leaders, Jones enjoyed public support and contact with some of the highest level politicians in the United States. Jones personally met with vice presidential candidate Walter Mondale and First Lady Rosalynn Carter. Guests at a large 1976 testimonial dinner for Jones included Governor Jerry Brown, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, and Assemblyman Willie Brown, among others.

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Author

I'm Kate Pibernik and I love to write! I'm currently studying media and film looking to one day become a full-time media journalist that specializes in short-films and media production. I'm also co-author of an upcoming book.

About The Author

Kate Pibernik I'm Kate Pibernik and I love to write! I'm currently studying media and film looking to one day become a full-time media journalist that specializes in short-films and media production. I'm also co-author of an upcoming book.
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