Many people have beliefs that can sustain them through the highs and lows of their lives. They may revere their belief system so much that they convince others to believe it too. While many of the world’s religions inspire people to lead lives of kindness and goodness, others do not. In the history of the world, there have been many religious sects and cults that do not espouse positive beliefs, beliefs that focus on kindness.
Often, the leaders of these cults use their powerful influence to lead others down a path of wrong-doing and destruction. Jim Jones was such a leader. Although he told his followers he was leading them down a path of righteousness, he was really immersed in corruption, greed, and power. He led his flock toward darkness—not light.
Jim Jones was from Crete, Indiana, a rural community. As a child, Jones found it difficult to make friends. Others have noted that his social problems may have led him to focus intensely on religion at a young age.
Instead of hanging out with friends, Jones spent a substantial part of his childhood reading. He read intently about many of the world’s most notorious leaders like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong.
Other school kids thought that Jones displayed strange behaviors. They found it odd the way he was so focused on religion and death.
It’s been reported that Jones would have funerals for animals when he was a child and even stabbed a cat in his youth.
Jones was the son of a WWI veteran. His family was extremely religious and viewed themselves as religious fundamentalists.
Jones attended both the University of Indiana at Bloomington and Butler University in Indianapolis.
At some point in his 20s, Jones became a self-ordained minister. His goal was to raise enough money to start his own church. He continued to attend night school and he earned a degree in secondary education.
In the 1950s, Jones managed to receive enough money to start his church, The People’s Temple. His Indianapolis church was unusually tolerant of racial integration, an uncommon trait in those times and in that part of the country.
Indianapolis was not progressive enough for Jones. He began to lament that his message for social equality wasn’t making any new inroads there. So, he moved his small congregation out west to Northern California.
Jones first established his new temple in the Redwood Valley. Then he moved to Los Angeles where the People’s Temple began to thrive and attract many to his message.
In the early days of his church, Jones and his followers did establish programs to help the poor. They provided free food, medical care, and even a drug rehab.
As Jones continued to attract idealistic followers with his message of tolerance and social equality, he became more influential within the community at large. His renown even led him to have impact on elections.
About the time Jones’s church hit the 20,000-mark, it started to receive negative press. There was concern that Jones’s followers referred to him as “Father.” There were also reports of strange church policies and practices.
Other reports suggested that Jones coerced members to give up their homes to the church. Members of the cult who left reported that Jones even forced some to relinquish their custody of their children to the cult.
As more reports of beatings and strange practices leaked into the mainstream, Jones became a more reviled figure in the community. He became paranoid and believed that moving out of the U.S. was the best option.
In 1974, he moved his church to Guyana, a nation located on the South American continent and is situated on the Atlantic coast.
In his move to Guyana, Jones brought along a group of 1,000 members to found his utopia.
The Jones group planned to farm to support their utopian dreams. His followers had to toil for long hours in the hot South American sun. In the meantime, Jones continued to display paranoia, and his increasing need for power and authority reached terrifying new levels.
Although Jones preached that his followers must not practice sex outside of marriage, Jones, married himself, is said to have engaged in sex with many of his followers with reports of abuse.
Jones took the passports of his followers so they could not leave. He even took medicine from them, which left them vulnerable to tropical diseases.
Jones must have known that many followers had second thoughts about building a utopia. So, he had armed guards patrol the jungle around his colony to prevent anyone from leaving.
Jones forced his congregation to attend his all-night meetings that have been reported to be little more than exercises in brain washing.
Jones was addicted to drugs, which may have help fuel his paranoia and megalomaniac tendencies. He actually had a throne built for himself from which he would deliver his “sermons.”
Jones believed that the U.S. government, who had opened an investigation on him, and the media were out to get him.
Having heard from family members concerned for their loved ones with Jones in Guyana, Congressman Leo Ryan decided to go to the Jones settlement to investigate.
Jones had his armed guards ambush Ryan and the reporters and photographers he brought with him. The congressmen and his team were then murdered.
Jones knew that the murder of the congressmen was the beginning of the end for him. Jones warned his group that soldiers would now be coming for them all at Jonestown and that they would torture them.
Jones decreed that the group should kill the youngest to spare them from the soldiers. They were given syringes filled with poison that contained fruit juice, sedatives, and cyanide.
After murdering the children, the adults lined up to drink the kool-aid, which was laced with the same poison. There was little choice as there were armed guards surrounding the pavilion where they were being held.
When soldiers entered the camp, they found Jones with what appeared to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his head. They also found the groups dead members strewn throughout the pavilion. Jones would go down in history as one of the most notorious cult leaders that ever was.
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