Jonestown Massacre Essay

Hello everyone,

I am working on an essay about the Jonestown massacre, and whether it should be considered a mass suicide or a mass murder. I have looked over the paper many times, however, because I wrote it, I unfortunately have a hard time picking out areas that need to be worked on, which I am sure there are plenty of! Two files for Open Office as well as Microsoft office users are attached

Thank you very much for your time and feedback!

Mike Johnson

(Unfortunately I seem to be having problems uploading the files for it may be to big, I shall post the essay below)

The Jonestown Massacre:
Suicide or Mass Murder?

Michael Johnson
Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg
Heidelberg Center for American Studies
Seminar Course: Introduction to the History of Christianity
WS 2013/2014
Lecturer: Daniel Silliman

On November 18th, 1978 in the area of the small town of Port Kaituma in Guyana a horrid scene was taking place that would shock the world, and forever change the view of religion. Meant to be a paradise for the poor, the abused, the needy, and those wanting to change the world, Jonestown, founded by Jim Jones, leader of The Peoples Temple, was the location of a mass murder-suicide taking the lives of more than 900 people including countless children. "And, the way the children are, laying dead now, I'd rather see them lay like that than to see them have to die like the Jews did, which was pitiful anyhow. And I'd just like to thank Dad for giving us life and also death, and I appreciate the fact the way our children are going because, like Dad said, when they came in, what they're going to do to our children, they're going to massacre our children. And also the ones they take, captive, they're gonna just let them grow up and be dummies like they want them to be and not grow up to be Socialist like the one and only Jim Jones. So I'd like to thank Dad for the opportunity for letting Jonestown be, not what it could be, but what Jonestown is. Thank you, Dad."1

Did mothers willingly inject their children with cyanide, and did whole families willingly drink the poisoned Kool-Aid? Were the members of The People's Temple able to make their own decision to die? Is the case of Jonestown a mass suicide or a mass murder? Not only through fear and manipulation, much like that of Nazi-era Germany, Jim Jones was able to manipulate his followers into an unquestioning commitment so deep, that they were forced to commit suicide without any option to live, and therefore the case of Jonestown was a mass murder and not a voluntary mass suicide.

The members of The People's Temple were brainwashed, abused, and scared for their lives. Jim Jones kept his members constantly working and exhausted. His followers would work in the fields of Jamestown from eight in the morning till six at night, and afterward would hold meetings sometimes lasting till the early hours of the next morning.

"We would always try to let each other know the next day, "Well, how long did you sleep?" "Oh, I slept two hours." "You only slept two? Well, I slept an hour-and-a-half."2

Suffering form sleep deprivation, malnutrition, the members of Jim Jones' church could not rationally make their own choices or think freely. Living in such conditions had forced them to look for leadership, which they found in Jim Jones, and to give up their own wills on the hope that their leader would come through with his promises that Jonestown would be paradise on Earth. Jones also installed armed guard towers fitted loudspeakers within the encampment that constantly played live and prerecorded sermons. " Jones used this idea to gain the loyalty of his followers. He required followers to spy on one another and blasted messages from loudspeakers so that his voice was always present while they worked, slept and ate."3 Jones considered sleep a luxury and not a right. Falling asleep during prayer meetings, or work hours was met with punishment. Jones praised those who worked hard and showed them better treatment than those who could not keep up. This created jealousy among the members, and drew the congregation nearer to Jones creating a competition for his praise.

Jim Jones isolated his congregation from their families, friends, and American society. Soon after his start in Lynn, Indiana. A paranoid Jim Jones, who was afraid of a nuclear attack, moved his congregation to Redwood Valley, California. A rural area, proven to be safe from an atomic attack, where his congregation could live secluded from everyday society. This was instrumental in cutting off his followers from their friends and families, and shrinking their world to only include the church and its followers. Without any outside influence it was easy for Jim Jones, and his newly established inner-circle of leaders to manipulate his congregation with false information, leading to the belief among the congregation that the United States government would attack and massacre the members of the People's Temple for their beliefs in socialism. "Peoples Temple's basic doctrine was fairly simple: it was "not really a church, but a socialist organization"4

From the outside the People's Temple looked like a church, however on the inside it was clear that Jones and his inner-circle had a political agenda. " Jim Jones represented the Peoples Temple as a progressive movement that was threatened. That there were outside forces who didn't want us to do what we were doing. And it was the government. The government was infiltrating and wiretapping and trying to kill people or assassinate people. That's what was happening."5

Jones decided that a future for his church would not be possible in America, and had procured land in Guyana where the church could create their first settlement, cut off from all of American society, where all of his congregation was solely in his control, later known as Jonestown.

The members of The People's Temple lived not only in constant fear of their leader Jim Jones, but also in fear of other members in the community. Punishment of the pettiest sins, included severe beatings, public humiliation in front of the congregation, verbal harassment from congregation members, and sometimes even sexual assault from Jones himself. The confession of sins were forcefully extracted in which one member of the church was called forward to the front of the congregation to admit his sins, even if they had not committed any. The congregation would verbally harass that member, and pressure would build until he or she admitted to some type of wrong doing. This then resulted in immediate and severe beatings at the front of the church in which people were have known to be knocked out from, revived with a bucket of water, and beaten again, which Jones had referred to as therapy.

"The worst beating I witnessed was when somebody was accused of being a pedophile. Jim took hold of a rubber hose and proceeded, in front of others, to beat this man's private parts to the point where he was bleeding. I know pedophilia is horrible, too, but that was just cruel and totally abusive. There were a number of beatings like that -- -they were really bad."6

Such punishments were everyday occurrences within The Peoples Temple and helped to create a scary, untrustworthy atmosphere among the followers of Jim Jones. One member of the temple remembers " I had welts really bad, one of my employees noticed the welts when I sat down. they talked to me about leaving. [but] I couldn't say goodbye to my son or my husband because at that point, it was like the Gestapo - the families were turning in each other. If I had said goodbye, one of them would have reported me."7

Jones was paranoid of betrayal and encouraged members of his congregation to give away the sins other members had committed starting a witch hunt within the church in which families would turn in other family members, and children would turn in their parents. Whether founded on plausible proof or lies all accusations led to severe punishment such as with the man above. Instilling fear into the members of The People's Temple was one way Jones kept control over his members, however, he also wanted their undying trust and loyalty, so he often staged suicide rehearsals called White Nights where Kool-Aid or Flavor-Aid would be handed out to the congregation. They were then told that the drink was laced with cyanide and that they must drink it and be prepared to die for him.

"Then a couple of women brought out these trays of cups of what they said was cyanide-laced Kool-Aid, or Flavor-Aid -- whichever they had. Everybody drank it. If we didn't drink it, we were forced to drink it. If we ran, thought we'd be shot. At the end of it, we were wondering, Why aren't we dead?"8

These so-called White Nights were to ensure that all members of the congregation were ready to follow Jones' orders, even if it resulted in death. Jones did not just threaten death to his congregation, but gave them the choice between being poisoned or being shot. This shows how fear and lack of choice played a role in the choices of the members of The People's Temple on November 18th, 1978, for had they not have drank the cyanide laced Kool-Aide, they had known that they would have been killed in another manner with almost no possibility of escape.

Jim Jones' followers were made up of the weak and vulnerable. Jones' church welcomed people from all walks of life, emphasizing the importance on integration and equality. He preached that a christian form of socialism was what the world and America needed, and that equality of people was a most important value. This was very appealing to African-Americans, who were looked down upon as lower class citizens, and the poor seeking help. The weak and needy from across America came to join Jones' church for the values of equality that he praised, miracle healings he had, the pentecostal style worship he offered which filled the church with energy, and most of all to make the world a better place. Targeting the vulnerable made it much easier for Jim Jones to keep hold of his followers. A charismatic speaker, they found peace and a sense of use in him. Also riding on the hype of the counter culture movement of the sixties, many easily influenced young people opted to join Jones' church. In Redwood Valley, the members of The People's Temple worked tirelessly doing charity work, farming, and advertising for new members. They were hired out to participate in rallies and protests supporting key political leaders. Through this Jim Jones was able to secure political power within the state of California, and even met with the president's wife Mrs. Carter on several occasions. With so much political power, Jones was able to keep the media quiet about the scandals occurring within the church, and when a condmening article was published, many of his political friends spoke on Jim Jones' behalf leaving his church's members no option to expose the wrong doings of Jim Jones and his inner circle. Jim Jones and his inner-circle were not only able to cut their congregation off from society, but were also able to thwart all attempts of an exposure of the churches abuse paving the way for their final act of mass murder.

Jim Jones and his inner-circle had planned the murder of his congregation years before the events of Jonestown. Jim Jones often spoke of revolutionary suicide with his inner-circle, so much so that they had made several whole congregation revolutionary suicide plans.

Of these plans, one included hi-jacking a commercial jet with some of the churches members on board, and crashing it somewhere in San-Francisco, another plan was to fill a bus with the entire congregation, and driving the buses off the Golden Gate Bridge.

"Jones planned to kill his congregation for years before Guyana, the rank and file didn't know about it. Only the inner circle." 9

It was only after looking into out of country living options for his church, did Jones realize the potential to easily manipulate his whole congregation to commit a revolutionary mass suicide without the risk of being interrupted by outside forces. Jim Jones and his inner-circle had not only already created plans for the mass murder-suicide of his entire congregation years before the events in Jonestown, but they also waited until the circumstances best fit their needs to carry them out without interruption, which in any legal court case would be considered premeditated murder.

The horrific mass murder that took place in Jonestown on November 18th , 1978 was caused by a paranoid Jim Jones, and his inner-circle through manipulation of his congregation, threats of death and ostracization by friends and family members, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. Had Jim Jones and his high ranking leaders not had the power, this mass murder would not have taken place, and therefore, because of the lack of the choice to live, by the individuals involved, the events of Jonestown can only be considered a mass murder and not a suicide.

Essay Jonestown

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Jim still being a youngster was left in the care of a neighbor. Even though Jim and his mother were separated frequently they still kept close ties with each other.
     Jim was brought up as a Methodist. He became quickly fascinated with the pulpit oratory. Vera Price, a childhood playmate remembers, ”He’d always be the preacher, standing up making sermons”(Axthelm 54). Even at the young age of seven Vera, recalls Jim’s speeches encouraging strict discipline. She remembers occasions when Jim was playing with other children and “he’d hit them with a stick and make them cry. He had a power that most boys don’t have”(Axthelm 54). As Jim matured into a young adult this internal power he possessed was not fully matured. In high school Jim was in the popular crowd, but never the leader of the pack. “Only in retrospect does anyone claim to have spotted seeds of the horror to come.’ I had a hunch something bad was going to happen to him,’ says a middle-aged man in Lynn. He was smart as a whip. But he had some strange ideas. He never fit in with the town. He was different”(Axthelm 54).
     Jones graduated from Richmond High School just outside of Lynn, It took him ten years of off and on schooling to receive his Bachelor of Arts degree from Butler University. After graduation he worked for a short time as an orderly at a local hospital where he met

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