25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre

Trista - October 1, 2019

On November 19, 1978, over 900 people died from drinking cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. On this date, parents and children gathered at the compound of the Peoples Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana, knowing the fate that awaited them. An outcome that would leave the world spinning.

Their leader, Reverend Jim Jones asked the parents to give their children the drink. After, they were to take a drink. The group would die together, placing this date in history as one of the most significant losses of civilian life as the result of a deliberate act.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Site of the Jonestown Massacre, climatrwc.

25. The People’s Temple Was A Church That Helped People In Need

Established in 1956 by Jim Jones, the People’s Temple was a church that focused on helping people in need. In fact, this was one of the main ways that Reverend Jim Jones pushed to find members. After all, most people want to feel like they are giving back to their community.

Jones knew that one of the best organizations to accomplish this was a church. It didn’t take the People’s Temple long to start growing. The People’s Temple looked like any other helpful church in the community. Jim Jones and his family seemed like the perfect family to manage a church.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones as a baby, ABC News.

24. Jim Jones Was a Charismatic Monster

History is full of people who have persuaded others to act on horrible deeds. However, there are very few men who were as horrific as Jim Jones. Starting in the 1950s, people begin to see Jones as a charismatic leader. He seemed to want the best for everyone.

In reality, Jim Jones was a manipulative monster, which is precisely what ex-members call him today. With persuasion, Jones influenced almost 1,000 people to move around the world with him in search of the best place to settle. He persuaded 918 people to drink the Kool-Aid that would kill them.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones, wife, and children. ABC News.

23. The People’s Temple Started In The United States, But Jones Always Had Other Dreams

At first, the People’s Temple’s headquarters was in Indianapolis, Indiana. A decade later, the church moved to a more “open-minded” area in Redwood Valley, California. It wouldn’t be long until Jones would open a branch of the church in San Francisco. This branch became the headquarters shortly after.

During the late 1960s, Jones traveled to Guyana and saw land he fell in love with. He felt that his church wouldn’t receive the utmost respect in America. Therefore, he wanted to move his religion elsewhere. In the mid-1970s, Jones persuaded about 900 people to move to Guyana with him.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Map of Jonestown and Guyana, Flickr.

22. Jonestown Becomes an Isolated Settlement in Guyana

It wasn’t easy for Jim Jones to persuade nearly 1,000 of his members to uproot their families and move from California to Guyana. However, once the members moved, Jones quickly worked to make the camp feel like a home.

With nearly 4,000 acres of land, the People’s Temple had a lot of room for its members. Furthermore, the location was perfect for Jones. They were isolated from society, located around 150 miles from the capital of Guyana. The land consisted of muddy roads with the nearest body of water 7 miles away.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Reverend Jim Jones and his wife. Today.

21. The Government of Guyana Didn’t Like Jonestown

Not everyone liked the idea of Jonestown or the People’s Temple. Even though Guyana believed in socialism more than the United States, the government of Guyana did not care for Jim Jones or his ideas. They didn’t see the People’s Temple as a religious organization. They saw it as a cult.

Many people in Guyana’s government thought Jones had other ideas, which would turn into a disaster for the country. In a way, they were right. Jones picked Guyana because he saw the country as weak and thought it to be an area he could obtain a lot of influence over people.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Members of the People’s Temple pick up garbage. PBS/California Historical Society.

20. There Is Still A Lot Of Fact Vs. Fiction When It Comes To The Jonestown Massacre

There are several stories when it comes to the Jonestown Massacre. Over the last few years, many people have come out about being a part of the People’s Temple, but not being on the camp that fateful day in 1978. Because they were not there, they cannot directly state what happened.

Another reason for the fiction is because of all the unanswered questions. Unfortunately, many of these questions will never receive answers. People wonder what was going through the mind of Jim Jones when he told nearly 1,000 people to drink the Kool-Aid.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Stephen Jones on the set of ABC’s “Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost” documentary. ABC News.

19. Jim Jones’ Sons Say Their Dad Didn’t Understand Reality

Jim Jones, Jr. and Stephen Jones both spoke openly about their father during ABC’s “Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost” documentary. They discussed who their father was to them. They spoke about their father as a leader and how he didn’t understand reality like everyone else.

In the documentary, Stephen said, “There was nothing spiritual about my father…he had every bit the loved and juicy soul…that everyone else does, but he had lost complete sight of that. His entire existence was superficial.” According to Stephen, this superficial existence happened over time, as Jones changed with his power.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Black cat urn. Pinterest.

18. Jim Jones Murdered Cats As A Child

Since the Jonestown Massacre, people have studied the life and mind of Jim Jones as much as possible. Psychologists, Criminologists, and other experts have asked what made Jones tick and ask early 1,000 people to kill themselves. On the outside, he seemed like a humbled man, but the inside was a bit different.

One theory is Jones always had the ability to murder inside of him. Classmates and other people who knew Jones as a child said he was strange. He was obsessed with having funerals for dead animals. He was also known to have murdered a cat.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Adolf Hitler. History on the net.

17. Jim Jones Was Obsessed With Adolf Hitler and Stalin

As a child and young adult, Jim Jones became fascinated with death and the “darker side of life.” People saw him as a weird person who liked to talk about tragedies in the world. Jones became captivated by how Hitler persuaded thousands of people to follow him.

Jones would often read about Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Karl Marx, who learned how to manipulate and persuade people. He would mimic the ways Hitler and Stalin spoke in front of a crowd. He formed his personality around their personalities like it was a technique to get people to believe in him.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones and a People’s Temple member. The Democratic Buzzer.

16. The People’s Temple Became More Of A Socialist Movement

The People’s Temple started as a religious organization. While it followed its own agenda, people still considered the Peoples Temple a church. However, its plan also included a lot of values that tied with socialism, which is one reason Jones moved the organization to California and then Guyana.

Jones wanted to take all his followers and live in one location. He told them that he would be their leader, whether they felt he was their father, brother, pastor, or god. He would be whatever they needed him to be, but they had to follow him. People had to listen to him and live near him.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Peoples Temple. Wikimedia.

15. Jim Jones Convinced His Members American Society Is Evil

Jim Jones needed to do a lot of persuading when it came to asking nearly 1,000 people to move to Guyana. While some members would go without much question, many didn’t want to leave their home, job, extended family, and friends. They wanted a good reason why they should go.

Jones persuaded many people by telling his members’ American society is full of evil. The only way they could escape from the evil soaring around them was to move to Guyana. They would purchase land away from any sin, allowing them to survive.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones and other people receiving the Martin Luther King, Jr. Award in January 1977. Wikimedia.

14. Peoples Temple Members Rehearsed the “Revolutionary Suicide” Before the Massacre

Jim Jones planned the Jonestown massacre for a period of time. We know this because of the practice suicide members took part in before the killings. Jones referred to these practices as “white nights“. These rehearsals included recordings of Jones talking over speakers so everyone could hear.

The rules were no one could talk when Jones spoke, and they had to listen for him to call “white night.” Once the members heard “White Night! White Night! Get to the pavilion! Run! Your lives are in danger!” on the speakers, they all had to run to the middle of the camp.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Temple members marching. Wikimedia.

13. Jim Jones Convinced His Members That The United States Killed People

The “white night” warning worked for Jones and the Peoples Temple because he convinced his members the United States put Africans and African Americans in concentration camps. Jones told them people walked up and down the streets with guns. When he yelled, “white night,” people were coming to their camp to take them away.

Jones convinced his members he protected them with this warning. Once everyone came to the middle of the camp, women brought out Kool-Aid in a cup. Everyone had to take a drink, or people forced them to drink it.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Peoples Temple leader Jim Jones pictured with his wife and their children. ABC News.

12. They Murdered Hundreds of Children During The Jonestown Massacre

When people became members of the Peoples Temple, the whole family became members. Adults and children all had to take part in the Peoples Temple activities. They all had to listen to what Jim Jones said in order to maintain their membership.

Nearly 300 children were forced to drink the Kool-Aid during the Jonestown Massacre. Jim Jones and his wife took care of most of these children. In fact, they were wards of the State of California. This also means the children weren’t supposed to leave California. Jones and his wife snuck them into Guyana.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones with his bodyguard in 1977. Wikimedia.

11. The Jones Family Struggled With Jim Jones’ Popularity

During ABC’s “Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost” documentary, Stephen and Jim Jones, Jr. discussed the reality of their situation. While most people saw the Jones family as the “rainbow’ family, this wasn’t true on the inside.

Behind the door, were Jones’ children who felt they didn’t have a father. Many of his kids resented the Peoples Temple because they thought their dad loved the members more than them. Stephen called his father an actor and said he cared more about other people’s perceptions of him than his own family. Jones always needed the most praise.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones Jr. as he appeared on “Truth and Lies: Jonestown – Paradise Lost.” ABC News

10. Peoples Temple Members Who Refused To Drink The Kool-Aid Died In Other Ways

Contrary to popular belief, not everyone drank the Kool-Aid on that fateful day in Guyana. Some of the members refused to drink the potion, especially once they saw people falling to the ground and dying. Frightened children started crying and pleading with their parents to let them go.

Parents started trying to find ways to escape. But, no one could escape from the middle of the compound that day. People walked around with guns, shooting anyone who refused to drink the Kool-Aid. Some people died from knife wounds, while others faced a lethal injection of the drink.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
California Congressman, Leo Ryan. NBC Bay Area News.

9. A California Congressman’s Visit To Jonestown Pushed Play On The Massacre

Not too long before the massacre, several Peoples Temple members reached out to California. They feared for their safety and complained about abuse from Jones. Congressman Leo Ryan went out to Jonestown to meet with the members. After reaching the members, Ryan decided to take the ones with him who wanted to leave the cult.

As Ryan and others started to leave, gunmen from the People’s Temple opened fire. Ryan’s staffer escaped from the attack. Ryan, three journalists, and other people did not make it out alive. After this incident, Jones knew he had to follow through with his plan.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Don’t drink the Kool-Aid. Kingston citizens.

8. “Don’t Drink The Kool-Aid” Comes From The Jonestown Massacre

Members from the Peoples Temple who lived to tell the stories we know today, state they didn’t always receive Kool-Aid. In fact, many people believe that it was more of a flavor aid than a Kool-Aid mixture with cyanide, valium, Phenergan, and chloral hydrate on that fateful November day.

Nonetheless, the statement “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” comes from the Jonestown massacre. This statement means that you shouldn’t take part in a particular action or follow the crowd. Survivors of the Peoples Temple cringe when they hear this statement. Many ex-members take offense to the saying.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones in front of a congregation. ABC News.

7. Jim Jones Didn’t Drink The Poisoned Drink

Even though Jim Jones forced most of the Peoples Temple members to drink the poison, he didn’t take part in this. Jones died of a gunshot wound to the head on the day of the massacre. To this day, no one knows if Jones killed himself or if one of the members from the Peoples Temple murdered him. Some members, though extremely difficult, escaped through the jungle next to the compound. Some people believe one of the survivors shot Jones as he still had communication with members.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jone Jones with his wife and children. ABC News.

6. People Looked Up to Jim Jones During the Civil Rights Movement

Jim Jones became an essential part during the early years of the Civil Rights Movement. He believed that American society should fully integrate, allowing African American and white civilians to become equal. Of course, this brought hundreds of African Americans into the Peoples’ Temple. In fact, at its height, over 50% of the group was African American.

Jim Jones and his wife said one way they fought against segregation was through adopting African American children. They would soon come to be known as the “rainbow” family because the couple took children from any background, race, and ethnicity.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones and an elderly lady in 1973. PBS.

5. Most Of The Peoples Temple Members Understood Danger Was Around Them

When you hear about other cult stories similar to the Jonestown Massacre, you hear about how thousands of people became brainwashed. This is not the case for the members of the Peoples Temple. While Jones manipulated and persuaded them to follow him, most understood danger was coming their way.

Starting months before the massacre, members began to find ways to leave the Peoples Temple. Of course, most had to escape in the middle of the night through the jungle because of the watch guards. Another way people showed they understood Jones was dangerous occurred by contacting the California government for help.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones, members of the Peoples Temple, and the mayor of San Francisco. PBS.

4. The Majority Of The Peoples Temple Members Were Not Societal Rejects

Most people assume that the people who followed Jim Jones to Guyana were social rejects. They didn’t have a home, or families to care about them, most runaway, or they felt they didn’t belong in mainstream society. However, the opposite is the truth. Most of the members had families and jobs.

They believed that the temple could be a better place. They thought that Jim Jones would help make the world a better place. They felt he truly wanted unity in the United States and would fight for it. Above all, they wanted to help other people.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
A Peoples Temple Bus. PBS.

3. The “Death Tapes” Give Us The Most Information About That Fateful Day

One of the main reasons people know so much about the Jonestown massacre is because of the audio recordings tapped on that day. These tapes are now known as the “death tapes” and are often the first piece of information people look for when researching the massacre.

On these tapes, you can hear the conversations people had, the cries from the children, the way Jim Jones spoke to the group, and so much more. Psychologists and other professionals continuously analyze these tapes as a way to learn more about Jones and the massacre.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
“Healing” during a Peoples Temple meeting. PBS.

2. Most Members Did Not Want To Die

Listening to the “death tapes” is a challenge. The Jonestown massacre is a tragedy that people still struggle to understand, no matter how much they learn about the people involved. The more research completed from the “death tapes,” the more people realize one factor – most members didn’t want to die.

As you listen to the tapes, you hear several members tell other people that death is not the answer. People tried to find different ways, such as asking Jones if they could leave to try to make peace in the United States. Other people stated the children deserved to live.

25 Unpleasant Facts About the Jonestown Massacre
Jim Jones, his son Stephen, and two other men. PBS.

1. Many People Compare The Peoples Temple To A War Prison

While Jim Jones tried to convince members, he saved them from concentration camps; most survivors compare the Peoples Temple to a war prison. Members could not leave the base, and they received very little food. Guards always watched the camp, making sure people did not escape the grounds.

The working members of the Peoples Temple had to work at least 12 hours a day in the fields. The days were scorching and humid. Members received very little water. Eventually, Jones tried to keep members from communicating with each other for fear of a revolt.


Where did we find this information? Here are our sources:

“Things You Never Knew About The Jonestown Massacre.” Jonathan Sherman. Ranker.

“10 Facts About Jonestown You Didn’t Know.” Makenzie Kennedy. Vocal Criminal. October 2018.

“Jonestown.” Wikipedia.

“The Jonestown Massacre: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.” Beth Heyn. Heavy. February 2018.