The Jonestown Massacre

Categories: DeathHistorySociety

When the world first heard about the events of "Jonestown," there were constant cries of many families pleading for their relatives. The media flooded with the over-publication of videos and images of the massacre. The whole event came as a surprise, and the willing suicide of the members came as even a larger shock. The Jonestown massacre is hard to accept in many people's mind. Jonestown was supposed to be a perfect place; everything about it portrayed a picture of the perfect society.

When everyone saw pictures of numerous dead bodies, they realized Jonestown was not a perfect place.

With all of the grieving, our nation tries to figure out if it could have been prevented. The truth is that it could have been prevented and it should have been. If everyone had not been so brainwashed by Jones and paid attention to the overuse of abuse and drugs by Jones, it would have been possible for the nation as a whole to stop a tyrant.

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In the society of Jonestown, abuse and punishment was a regular action. Beatings were regularly dealt out to keep control of the society. In the book the Children of Jonestown, Kenneth Wooden explains how Tracy Arterberry, a five year old girl, gets punished at Jonestown.

The reason why she was punished was because she misbehaved in one of her classes. Since she misbehaved, Jones blindfolded her in the middle of the night and took her to a remote location away from the society. He then lowered Tracy deep into a well, so no living signs could be established by the young child.

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Once she was in the well, Jones would lower a wet rope onto her shoulder. This was to be the monster that would haunt her for the rest of her life. After Tracy was already scared, Jones would have elder members of the society hide in bushes around the well and make monster noises.

This was to make Tracy think that the rope being lowered onto her shoulder was a "monster. " In the story, Tracy's screams were said to be heard back at the camp . This was one of the ways for Jones to implant fear into his victims' minds. There was no way that anyone could have any freedom in his society. He instilled the fact that he was Father Divine and make sure that every adult, child, or elder would follow his guidance. Other punishments that Jones used included regular beatings, the stretching of limbs, and being contained in a 6x3x4 foot box for weeks.

Children or adults would be held in a box and only have a bucket for a toilet. They would go without food or water for days (Wooden 7-8). Jones wanted all of this pain to be inflicted on his members. Torture was his punishment; he wanted discipline for all. When the children were being abused, many people asked why the parents of the children allowed Jones to do all of the abusing. "Parent's or guardians of children under eighteen were forced to sign a notarized release, prepared by Temple lawyers, which gave Jones legal permission to punish and terrorize their children or wards" .

Since Jones was the leader of their church, people went to extremes to please him. This act was one that he demanded. Once the children were in the custody of Jones, he was able to do anything to them that he wanted. The parents no longer had any say on what happened to their children. Once they signed the forms, they were forced to deal with the agony of what would happen to their children. The only hope left for the parents would be the possibility that their child would not be consistently abused or raped. One way that Jones was able to distance his society from the world was by distancing members from their families.

Jones told every member of his society, "It's time for you to cut your family ties. This church is your family now. Blood ties are dangerous because they prevent people from being totally dedicated to the cause" . He wanted them to believe that their parents or relatives did not love them anymore. He wanted himself to be their only family. "Families are a part of the enemy system. They do not love you. If you were in trouble, only Jim and his church family would be there to help you. Your family would turn their backs on you if you needed something that might cause them inconvenience.

They don't understand this cause, and therefore you cannot trust them" . He did not want people being interactive with their families. Jones knew, along with everybody else, that if the People's Temple members had access to family ties it was very likely for all of them to revert away from the society. This is why Jones tried so hard to keep every member away from his or her family. Why didn't the government intervene with Jones’ plans and actions? The way Jim Jones was able to keep his society under the radar from the government was by his manipulation of the government. "Without question, Jones hoodwinked the politicians.

In keeping with the ritual of American politics, the power moguls, including Governor Jerry Brown and Mrs. Jimmy Carter, heaped praise on this man of whom they knew literally only one thing--that he could provide a host of dedicated, tireless campaign workers" (Wooden 92). This was the way that Jones knew how to manipulate the government. He was able to elect the person of his choice. All he would do is have his followers' vote for who he thought should win the election. He had complete and total control of the government and his society. All of his followers had trust in him, and in their minds it was hard to believe that he was not right.

Therefore, they would willingly give up their right to vote just to please one man. Even though Jones used his power to manipulate and brainwash the minds of his followers and government, there were always views and goals that Jones wanted to achieve. The first goal was explained by Jeff A. Schnepper, "Jones was attempting to create a pseudo-religious empire modeled on the merger of religion and politics" (2). This is exactly what Jones did in his community. He was creating a religious empire, but he placed in the role of politics and government.

This is why he interacted so much in government, he wanted to make it a part of his society. In an article by Paul Vandecarr, this idea is also expressed, "The idea of People's Temple was that you had to be good revolutionary. All your personal desires, including your sexual orientation, were just selfish distractions from the revolutionary calling" (3). Jones would portray this idea as a new world. A revolutionary calling was a term he used a lot. There were also many segments of readings that questioned where Jim Jones got his theories and why they were so over portrayed.

In an article by Larry D. Hatfield, a former Jonestown member explains what Jonestown was supposed to be. "Jonestown was to have been a Utopian dream, free of racism, a haven for justice" (1). He would consecutively state that Jonestown was a perfect society. He wanted people to believe that they were creating a utopian society, but in fact, they were just leading themselves into assisted suicide. Jim Jones was just using everyone in his society. He was able to put his thought in to practice by reading ways of previous "leaders.

This is perfectly representable, because it was said that Jones used a series of books written by Adolf Hitler to help him build the society known as Jonestown . This is why it is believable that Jones could create this type of society. If he had read about the actions of Adolf Hitler, it was possible for him to duplicate what Hitler had done. There was always a lot of questioning about how this church got all of its money. The fact is that even though everything about the deaths and mass suicide were real, all the stories behind Jonestown members were false.

They would portray themselves as a gently giving society. In general, all of these stories were just to cover up the theft of over twenty six million dollars, and a planned mass murder . Jones was able to make the society around him believe his fake intentions. He was doing to the outside world the same thing he was doing to the Jonestown members. As long as he was able to keep the society believing that he was a church leader, he could go behind everyone's back and steal a significant amount of money. Jones would also accumulate money from his members.

According to Fiona Steel, when people were first inducted into the society they were asked to give a very little amount of anything to the church. As each member's commitment grew, the more they had to contribute to the church or the society. Eventually, when the members so called ranking got high enough, the member was giving anything away that they had as money. Items that were included were houses, land, cars, welfare checks, and even family inheritance money (3). All the money given was on the follower's free will, nothing was illegal. This was just one other way that Jones would accumulate the money in his bank account.

The one event that was increasingly overlooked was the multiple practice suicides. However, the suicides did not come as a surprise to the members. There were actually many situations that the society would practice a mass suicide. The practice suicides were known to the society as "White Nights. " In these White Nights, every member of the society would gather together in one hall or meeting area. Then, when every member was situated, and in his or her position, Jones would distribute a cup to every member. These cups would be filled with a red fluid, much like the one used in the actual suicide.

They would then be told that the liquid might or might not be poisoned. They were trained to trust Jones and not question his authority. They would then drink the red fluid without any question . The whole situation shows that this was the way that Jones was able to gain his followers trust for the suicide. He wanted them to be prepared for the day that he would ask them all to commit suicide. There are heroic actions that happened right before the mass suicide that have gone down in history as a part of the Jonestown Massacre.

The story that is being talked about is the Story of Leo Ryan. Leo Ryan was a U. S. congressman. After multiple complaints of abuse and rape, he was sent to investigate Jonestown for the United States. Leo Ryan first met with concerned family members, and they told Leo Ryan their stories and asked him if he would rescue them. The main concern of Ryan was to investigate and not rescue people, but he did what he could when he got there. Before he left to go to Jonestown he had to set up a meeting time and visiting time with Jones’ family. This was where Ryan had a lot of troubles.

Jones was constantly making up excuses to delay Ryan’s visit. Eventually, Jones gave in and said the only way that Ryan could visit was if he followed three standards. The first standard was that the group sent to investigate must at least be equal with people who agreed and disagreed with the society. The second was that there could not be any media coverage during the visit. The last circumstance was that attorney Mark Lane, would have to be apart of the delegation. He would be representing the interests of the temple (Wooden 152-153).

After Ryan had recieved permission to visit the society, he tried to work out a date with attorney Mark Lane. The problem was that they could not seem to work out a time that both of them could attend. Eventually, Ryan told Jones that he was coming whether or not Lane came. He said that the whole situation could not be revolved around Lane’s schedule. When Ryan got to Jonestown, somehow Lane rearranged his plans and was able to attend the same time as Ryan. Once Ryan and his colleague Jackie Speier were in the community, they started to interview many people of the society.

On many occasions he was told that the living conditions were bad. He knew that something was wrong, because everything the people did was unnaturally animated. When they were in the camp, Ryan and Speier were presented with a musical entertainment. As the conversation continued between the two during the performance, Speier leaned over to Ryan and said, “There is no question in my mind that there is mind control being exercised here. ” Over the period of investigations, Ryan and Speier got names of several people that wanted to leave the community.

They were then arranged to leave with Ryan and Speier back to the U. S. . According to an article by Fiona Steel, as Ryan, his colleagues, and the people from the society were leaving, Ryan had to request for another plane to escort the additional people that were coming back with them. As they waited for their plane to arrive, one of Jone’s guards opened fire on the entire group of people. Unfortunately, Ryan was killed along with four other journalists. Some of the previous cult members were able to escape and eventually seek help.

Soon after the shootings at the airstrip, the suicide started to begin. Jones gathered all the members of the community and explained that Ryan was going to die soon, and in turn the political forces that wanted to destroy Jonestown would have a reason to kill everyone. When the suicide was about to begin, Jones brought out a bucket that was filled with Kool Aid and lined with cyanide. The children were to go through first with the parents proceeding after them. There was a tape recording that was found of the suicide, and only a few women protested the suicide.

Their only point was that the children should not die. They were soon silenced afterward being reminded of the cause. The children proceeded with drinking the cyanide poisoned drink first. Some people tried to ditch the mass suicide, but anyone who tried to escape was shot by some of Jones’ colleagues. At the end, nearly everyone died; even Jones was killed. No one knows how Jones died; it was either him committing suicide or being assassinated by a follower (. In the end of it all, the world was shocked by the event that was being reported on the news in front of all of their faces.

A mass total of 913 people died in the Jonestown massacre. Some people lost their loved ones, but the question of why it happened always remains. There were a few survivors that made it out of the event. One of these people was Vernon Gosney. In an article by Paul Vandecarr, he explains what happened to Gosney, "On November 18, 1978, Gosney was seriously wounded by three bullets that ripped through his body as he tried to escape the utopian communal settlement founded by Jones" (1). Out of the 187 that lived at Jonestown, Gosney was lucky and got to say that he was one that survived

After the event at Jonestown rested, people started to ask how one man could do such a thing, and why people joined his cult. In an article by Tim Stoen, a survivor describes why he went to Jonestown. The answer to everyone’s question is that every person was brainwashed. "When I went to Jonestown with my 5-year-old son, John Victor, in February 1977, I believed I was going to make the world a better place" (1). The answer to everyone’s question is that every person was brainwashed. Not one person in Jonestown knew that they were joining a cult. The whole church and society was an escape from the world for most people.

People join cults in moments of weakness, when they're angry about something in their personal life or in the world around them" (Hatfield 1-2). This statement by Hatfield shows that anyone is susceptible to a cult. Any person anywhere could join a cult for multiple reasons. The way that Jim Jones created such a society is described by Steel in her article. She states the way that Jones acquired his population was through a dynamic and charismatic personality. He was able to manipulate people very easily. Also, to boost his popularity, he would publicize impossible healings.

These would range in places of curing cancer to healing the blind. There was also one more thing that he did; he made people think that he could predict the future. Jones would predict inevitable events, and say that he could help people by predicting the future (3). These are the ways that Jim Jones created his society and, furthermore, lead nine hundred and thirteen people to their deaths. The whole matter was the use of brainwashing and the basic controlling of people. In the end, the events at Jonestown will probably go down in history as one of the most shocking events ever.

The whole event was a tragedy and should have been prevented. There were many factors that we could have looked at to stop Jones. Whether it was to look deeper into the child abuse or to notice his manipulation of government, any of these points could have lead to the demise of Jonestown, and the saving of many lives. However there are still cults out there today. People also have to be careful of what kind of church they are joining and of similar situations as Jonestown. But one never knows when another Jonestown could occur. As Larry D. Hatfield says, "... there probably will be some future Waco's if not future Peoples Temples" (1-2).

Updated: Dec 29, 2020
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The Jonestown Massacre. (2017, Mar 02). Retrieved from

The Jonestown Massacre essay
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