On November 18, 1978, in a remote settlement of northwestern Guyana, 909 Americans lost their lives in what is considered to be the largest mass suicide of the twentieth century. This compound, informally known as Jonestown, was established by a charismatic preacher named Jim Jones who led his People's Temple to their ultimate demise. In this episode, we welcome Julia Scheeres, author of the book "A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown", to tell us the story of how this story evolved into a tragedy.
The religious organization he established was called People's Temple, and it was shrouded in secrecy and isolation. After drawing some unwanted attention from concerned family of People's Temple members, Jones moved his followers to a 3,800 acre plot of jungle he leased from Guyanese officials. Once there, Temple members were trapped. Late night meetings known as "White Nights" were used as drills to keep residents prepared for an imminent invasion by the CIA or other intelligence agencies which Jones referred to as "capitalist pigs." Temple members were tricked into committing "revolutionary suicide", as Jones called it, for the sake of their cause during staged sessions. Eventually, the paranoia and drug abuse of Jones would lead Jonestown down a dark path to which there was no other alternative but the death of every resident of Jonestown.
If you're familiar with the term "drinking the Kool-Aid", this is where it comes from. However, the derogatory term simply doesn't fit the set of facts. Many of the residents of Jonestown simply didn't have a choice and almost a third of them were children. This mass "suicide", wasn't suicide at all. It was murder.