By Greg Tucker
Kool-Aid is a popular beverage, often associated with a high sun and a high temperature outside. Guyana is a place known for its jungles and tropical climate that makes it so that most days have these weather conditions. Americans are known for their freedom, especially of religion. So, who would have thought that in 1978 a mixture of Kool-Aid (laced with cyanide), gorgeous Guyana, and religious freedom would lead to the death of 900+ American citizens?
Founded in Indiana in the 1950s, The People’s Temple, a Pentecostal church, originally called The Wings of Deliverance, was formed. A man by the name of Jim Jones, who was a preacher with an evangelical style, was its founder. Britannica reports that Jones was known to be charismatic and claimed to have had psychic powers that included future vision and healing abilities. Jones was also known for aiding the homeless and promoting racial integration, something looked down upon by his white contemporaries. All of these alluring elements allowed for Jones to amass a large following of desperate and marginalized peoples. By promising his followers a utopia, James Jones was able to convince his congregation to relocate with him to Guyana, a country in South America.
Once in Guyana, James Jones, established Jonestown: the promised utopia. However, the compound secluded in the Guyanese forest was anything but. History says, “Temple members worked long days in the fields and were subjected to harsh punishments if they questioned Jones’ authority. Their passports and medications were confiscated and they were plagued by mosquitoes and tropical diseases. Armed guards patrolled the jungle compound.” This information reached Congressman Leo Ryan which prompted him to visit the compound from California. When he arrived on November 14, 1978, he was met with the illusion of the utopia that was promised to the congregation. November 17, 1978, a jubilant dinner party was held but, by the end of the night, many scared members asked Ryan to return to the US with him.
On November 18, 1978, Jim Jones ordered his henchmen to ambush Congressman Leo Ryan and his crew as they readied for departure back to America. Rolling Stone suggests that Jim Jones ordered his followers to drink a cyanide-laced fruit punch after convincing them that the Guyanese forces would take their children away. Those who did not drink the punch, were injected with the poison or shot.
Time magazine reported that the massacre held the highest number of American civilian casualties until 9/11; about ⅓ of these casualties were children. These are all real events, which goes to show that sometimes the most terrifying stories are true stories.