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Today Marks 30-Year Anniversary of Jonestown Mass Suicide

On Nov. 18, 1978, more than 900 people living in the intentional community (a polite way of saying commune) Jonestown committed suicide. Their weapon of choice? A grape-flavored drink mixed with cyanide. While it wasn't Kool-Aid (generic — they were socialists!), it is where the phrase "drinking the Kool-Aid" originated.

Before Jonestown became a full-blown commune in the jungle, it was a church called the Peoples Temple. Jim Jones was its founder and powerful leader, though he also went by "Dad." Not a sign at all! With a congregation heavily dominated by African-Americans from poor communities in San Francisco, his goal was to care for parishioners. And in many ways, he did. Social programs were created; sexism was preached against; and racial integration was supported.

Nobody saw it as a cult, though. Nobody wanted to. To find out why,


Jim Jones, who was head of San Francisco's Housing Authority, was active in San Francisco politics and, unlike other cult leaders, in touch with the outside world. But when reports of sexual abuse, public beatings, and staged healings emerged, Jones moved the group to Guyana, a former British Colony in South America.

California congressman Leo Ryan visited the commune with reporters after concern from family members at home arose. It was a tense trip. Dozens of members pleaded to leave with him and several did. Jones's men followed them to the airport and shot at their plane. The congressman was killed along with several reporters and escapees.

Later that day Jones told the 900 remaining members that they had no choice but to commit "revolutionary suicide." And all but a few, who pretended to be dead, did. Until 9/11, it was the greatest single, non-natural disaster loss of American life.

The Jonestown Report

Join The Conversation
indielove indielove 8 years
Sorry, based on what you said...I don't see how you came to the conclusion that my comment is half-true. I don't know if you've ever lived in Guyana but I did, for 1/2 my life. My parents are also Guyanese and lived there for over 35 years before my family emigrated to the US(late 90s). I think you need to get some more info about the actual 'ethnic mix' in 2008. I'm not very interested in data from the 60s and 70s.
bibelot bibelot 8 years
Indielove, it's unfortunate that Guyana is only known for Jonestown - my family's from Guyana, and it's a beautiful country. My parents lived in Georgetown and left the country just before the massacre occurred. BTW, your previous comment about the ethnic mix in Guyana is half-true. The percentage of Afro-Guyanese people was much higher in the 1960's and early 1970's, before the mass exodus of educated blacks to the U.S., the U.K. and Canada began. The British handed over power in the late 1960's and different political factions began squabbling over power. Politically motivated assassinations became commonplace. My parents became afraid for their lives after the economy collapsed, and the government started monitoring citizens' travel & preventing people from transferring assets out of the country. That's why I was born in Canada and live in the U.S.
Kelliegrl Kelliegrl 8 years
Listen to the tape (on the Jonestown report website)of him trying to convince people to kill themselves and children. It's truly horrifying.
beavis667 beavis667 8 years
You are correct on my point here...not in the other thread. And, this was partly in jest. Also, I backed it up with real poll/data facts...not some half handed empty insult. Besides the point, I gave the 2% who tested well on statements scandals credit. How fair is that?
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
Your point, again, Beavis, seems to be that Obama supporters are a bunch of ignorant fanatics who didn't know what they had voted for. As I pointed out in that other post.
beavis667 beavis667 8 years
I think statements = issues Jillness. If you need to focus on half my point to rebuke me, then spin it however you need. My point is no big secret, and it's not about sour grapes. It's the simple truth.
Jude-C Jude-C 8 years
Jillness: :notworthy:
kranky kranky 8 years
“Just 2% of voters who supported Barack Obama on Election Day obtained perfect or near-perfect scores on a post election test which gauged their knowledge of STATEMENTS and scandals associated with the presidential tickets during the campaign." [my emphasis added] I disagree Jillness - not that I imagine McCain voters did much better - but giving the full context of beavis' quote shows that the people who took the polls were asked about more than just scandals.
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that I was not, in any way shape or form, referring to the President in my comment. I was referring to all politicians (So yes since Barak is a politician, I guess there is that). I would've made the same comment even if McCain had won. You'll have to take my word for that, since he didn't (Unless there's a recount underway that I don't know about...)
mondaymoos mondaymoos 8 years
:rotfl: Jillness.
Jillness Jillness 8 years
" Of course the 2% who know the issues all post here." Your poll that you posted wasn't about the "issues" it was about scandals! I know that you were eager for something to support your distain of Obama supporters, but suggesting that 98% of them don't know about REAL issues is not accurate. Hope those sour grapes are tasty! You'll be eating them for 4 years! ;)
krae85 krae85 8 years
this whole thing is bizarre. I saw something about it on tv the other day, but the show made it seem like those people volunteered to drink the poison because they were part of the cult. I think boy meets world had an episode about drinking kool-aid..
harmonyfrance harmonyfrance 8 years
Good point Ginger. As always. :)
KadBunny KadBunny 8 years
Lmao PerfectScore :D I've been waiting for someone to throw in the black factor. But same here; I'm a psych major too. We did a section on brainwashing and conformity and this was one of the cases we looked at. It's sickly fascinating, and I hate to say it's almost impressive all this can come out of one man. The human mind does wonders. Certainly one of the darkest days in American history.
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 8 years
I think it is a horrible and disgusting thing to do to people. But I am a psychology major and it fascinates me how people can manipulate and be manipulated in certain situations... This is a case that will forever mystify psychologist b/c no one can truely understand the motives behind actions such as these.
Ginger Ginger 8 years
There was a lot of cultural diversity in Jonestown, with a lot of people having mixed heritage. That was part of the dream he was selling. Koolaid-type drink mixes were inexpensive and could be stored in the humid heat climate. It was a way of disguising the flavor. Would people feel saying "Drank the koolaid" was as neat if a survivor of Jonestown were reading this, or the family member of one who died?
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 8 years
ThePerfectScore ThePerfectScore 8 years
How racist... he put it in the Kool-Aid... you know black people love kool-Aid... it's what we do. But in all honesty how horrible, but people are so easily influenced when they spirits are low.
beavis667 beavis667 8 years
Indielove, one man's tacky is the other man's inability to deal with the truth at all times.
beavis667 beavis667 8 years
If by not newsworthy you mean not reported because CNN, NBC, CBS, and ABC were in the tank for Obama, then yes. Heh, this is another debate...I just thought it would be cute to throw in. Of course the 2% who know the issues all post here. Saying "drank the kool-aid" has become cliche. That's kinda neat and depraved at the same time.
laurelm laurelm 8 years
less newsworthy? I dont think so, just Obama was the news' darling...
indielove indielove 8 years
"I don't think UnDave was comparing Jones to Obama so much as he was comparing some of Obama's supporters to kool-aid drinkers." I think for the sake of this thread, we can refrain from calling other people 'kool-aid drinkers'(it was Flavor-Aid, btw)...don't cha think? It's just a little tacky. Yeah, just a smidgen.
yesteryear yesteryear 8 years
beavis, i read that poll... the simple answer is that the scandals from the obama side were just a lot less newsworthy. i don't think the media was drooling over obama, they were just doing what they always do 'if it bleeds, it leads', and unfortunately, mccain's campaign was hemorrhaging from day one.
beavis667 beavis667 8 years
I don't think UnDave was comparing Jones to Obama so much as he was comparing some of Obama's supporters to kool-aid drinkers. “Just 2% of voters who supported Barack Obama on Election Day obtained perfect or near-perfect scores on a post election test which gauged their knowledge of statements and scandals associated with the presidential tickets during the campaign." Zogby Polls
UnDave35 UnDave35 8 years
It's frightening how much power a person can take from another person through being dynamic and using a little con (faith healing).
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