Jones will forever be famous for the mass suicide in 1978 of 909 cult members including over 200 children at the groups isolated commune of Jonesville, Guyana, South America.
This massacre was, until 9-11, the single biggest loss of civilian life not caused by natural disaster in American history.
Jim Jones was born and raised in Indiana where he first started a church in the 1950s.
In 1962 Jones moved his family to Brazil, believing it to be the only safe place from an impeding nuclear apocalypse, there he spent time learning about the Brazilian’s religious practices.
The Jones’ family moved back to Indiana in the mid-60s
However, still looking for a safe haven from nuclear apocalypse, he moved the People’s Temple to north California.
In the early 1970s Jones began to court the liberal establishment of San Francisco
Before setting up the Temple Headquarters in the city in 1975, 859 Geary Boulevard.
Jones’ attracted a huge following, his San Francisco congregation numbered around 8,000 and was regally host to the Liberal elite of city as well as those in the media.
Whilst in San Francisco Jones became increasingly involved in politics. Part of Jones’ vision was to create a communist utopia.
Jones ability to mobilise his followers was instrumental in the narrow victory of Mayor Mascone in the1975 elections.
His supporters canvased the city and the New York Times later reported that Jones allegedly bused in supporters from Redwood California to vote for Moscone, many of whom were not eligible to vote in the elections.
Jones and the People’s Temple also helped U.S. Representatives Phillip and John Burton, Assemblyman Willie Brown consolidate power; as well as the campaign to elect Harvey Milk, who became the first openly gay man to hold public office in America.
Jones’ efforts did not go unrewarded after his election as Mayor, Mascone, appointed Jim Jones as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Commission.
Masocone, Milk, Willie Brown and then-Governor Jerry Brown were seen at temple services.
Willie Brown was quoted as saying at testimonial dinner in Jones’ honour, “”[l]et me present to you a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein … Chairman Mao.” He later said in his defence, “If we knew then he was mad, clearly we wouldn’t have appeared with him.”
How could the political establishment of California been so deceived by him? Was Jones such a master of deception? Or were there warning signs that things were seriously wrong at the People’s Temple?
Sadly for the hundreds of people who lost loved ones in the Jonestown massacre there were warning signs.
As early as 1972 people were beginning to question whether Jones was who he portrayed himself to be, when an article appeared in the San Francisco Examiner.
Coincidetly a year later Jones handed out grants to 12 Californian newspapers, for the purpose of protecting the medias First Amendment Rights of free speech.
Then again in 1977 more questions were beginning to be raised about Jones.
Slowly stories began to emerge about abuse at the People’s Temple: beatings and sexual abuse.
Later it emerged that Jones had sex with his parishoners- female and male. He told them to be truly part of him they had to have sex with him.
As the pressure on Jones increased Mayor Mascone rejected calls for an investigation into the People’s Temple and Jim Jones.
Temple members would later tell of how Jones’ began to think of himself as the reincarnation of Jesus, Lenin and Buddha.
Jones reportedly preached against the Bible saying, “I’ve got to destroy this paper idol!” and “You’re gonna help yourself, or you’ll get no help! There’s only one hope of glory; that’s within you! Nobody’s gonna come out of the sky! There’s no heaven up there! We’ll have to make heaven down here!”
In August 1977 Jones’ moved permanently to Jonestown, promising his followers a socialist utopia. Jones’ left behind growing speculation as to his financial affairs as well as more allegations of abuse.
Around 1,000 of his congregation moved to Guyana with him.
Let the liberal establishment of San Francisco continued in their admiration, Harvey Milk even wrote to President Carter praising Jones’ character in February 1978.
With mounting concerns Californian Congressman Leo Ryan headed up an investigative team to go to Guyana.
However, on 18th November a delegation from the US, led by San Francisco congressman Leo Ryan, went to Jonestown.
Congressman Leo Ryan had become involved with a concerned relatives group, and became increasingly concerned about the groups activities- his friend and former Temple member’s mutilated body had been discovered in October 1976.
Ryan gathered a group of representatives from the media and the concerned relatives group and went to Guyana in 1978.
Tragically as Ryan and his delegation tried to leave with some of Jones’ followers gunmen opened fire.
Killing Ryan and 4 others in the group. After the shooting Jones and his followers committed mass suicide, or as Jones’ called it in their practise drills “Revolutionary Suicide”.