The Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, is most known for the Jonestown massacre which left over 900 believers dead, including Jones. However, Jones and his Peoples Temple had gained those believers through many years of charitable ministries.
TimelineJones began his ministry in the Midwest in the 1950s before moving to California in the 1960s, with San Francisco eventually housing the church's headquarters. It was only in 1977 that Jones led his followers to the tiny South American country of Guyana where he formed a commune officially known as the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project but more commonly known today as "Jonestown." The massacre occurred on November 18, 1978.
MessagesJones preached egalitarianism, socialism and communism throughout his ministry. He embraced women, African-Americans, the poor, and other disenfranchised people. He operated soup kitchens, retirement homes and foster care services. Within the Peoples Temple, such individuals were respected as equals and were able to positively contribute to their community. He was also an anti-discrimination activist. By the late 70s, the temple legitimately had several thousand members and supporters.
Blackmail, Fraud and Other AllegationsDefectors from the Temple told stories of various illegal and unsavory activities, such as insisting members sign confessions to crimes they didn't commit (to be released should they leave the Temple), and publicly humiliating members who did not live up to the Temple's standards. There were also accusations of savage beatings and even murder of potential defectors.
Authorities were slow to act in part because of the number of influential people Jones had impressed with his humanitarian efforts such as Jimmy Carter, Jesse Jackson and Harvey Milk. Jones also had influence with the local media. Defectors were accused of running smear campaigns to humiliate their former minister through bogus claims.
The general public did not consider the Peoples Temple a dangerous cult until the murder-suicides at Jonestown.
JonestownJones and almost 1000 followers emigrated to Jonestown in 1977-78. Jones promised it would be a communist paradise where all would share in the labor and the rewards of that labor. Their exodus from San Francisco was motivated by increasing investigations into Jones and his church.
The murder-suicide that occurred on November 18, 1978 had been rehearsed several times, but was triggered by the arrival of Congressman Leo Ryan to investigate whether anyone was being held in Jonestown against his or her will. Despite only a handful of members leaving with Ryan, Jones had gunmen mow down the entire group, leaving Ryan, a cameraman, a photographer, a reporter and a defector dead and nine other injured.
Jim JonesJones had been a card-carrying communist even before the formation of the Peoples Temple. He had a background in Christianity, but as the Peoples Temple continued to develop, he pulled more and more away from that message. Like many other communists, he considered traditional religion to be a method of controlling the population. As such, Jones adopted the language of religion in order to facilitate people's escape from religion.
The religion he provided was one of socialism and communism, of a community working together to care for all of its members and of the better off caring for the less fortunate. Members were urged to dress plainly in order to not embarrass the poorer members. He even encouraged believers to turn over their belongings to the Temple and have the Temple care for their physical needs.
Various behaviors attributed to Jones lead many to suspect he suffered from severe schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, or other disorders that produce paranoia and psychosis. He was also known to abuse a variety of drugs, which could have complicated a mental illness or cause a variety of effects on their own.