Faith has often been touted as a force which empowers human beings and provides a way of life, but when faith turns to fanaticism the results can be catastrophic. When the world is grappling with violence arising from radical interpretations of religion and heightened communal tensions, an incident from the 70s finds relevance.

Jim Jones | Source:

In November 1978, 909 people committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana, and murdered a US congressman, on the orders of one man. Jim Jones is attributed with one of the strangest and most shocking mass murders in history, as he himself committed suicide with his followers on that bloody day.

Born James Warren Jones, Jim was the son of a first world war veteran and carefully studied ideas of Stalin, Marx, Mao, Gandhi and Hitler since an early age. In 1955, Jones founded The Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ, known commonly as the Peoples Temple, a Christian Cult known for a huge support base including that of prominent politicians and the likes of Harvey Milk.

Jonestown mass suicide/murder | Source:

Propogating the belief that change can only be brought by mass mobilisation, the Temple led by Jones also ran into trouble with the Nation of Islam movement and raised suspicion among the authorities. Jim moved to Guyana with his supporters as investigations were ordered into the organisation’s activities, and they set up a headquarter naming it Jonestown.


The turning point came when a congressman from California, Leo Ryan, went to Guyana as a part of the investigation, Jim Jones told his supporters that the temple was under threat and asked them to kill themselves. As 900 people, including 300 children, died by cyanide poisoning, Jones shot himself in the head while Leo Ryan was shot dead by the cult members in Guyana just days earlier.

Although few survivors were left behind to tell the tale, the madness behind 900 people killing themselves on one cult leader’s directions remains a dreadful episode.