Everyone’s talking about how Ma Anand Sheela coerced the people of Rajneeshpuram into committing grave injustices. Well, this man – Pastor Jim Jones – forced over 900 people to commit mass suicide.

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The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, otherwise known as Jonestown, was established in North Guyana in 1974, and members were not permitted to leave without Jones’ permission.

Starting off as an integrationist and socialist utopia where people of all races could live together, the place soon turned into a prison, a labour camp run by a maniacal and mentally embattled overlord.


Instead of entertaining movies, Soviet propaganda and documentaries on American problems began to be screened in Jonestown.

Instead of studying in school, kids were subjected to lectures by Jones about revolution, enemies and Soviet alliances.


Temple members worked six days a week, from 6:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. This was followed by classes in socialism. The entire process made up a system of eight hours of daily work followed by eight hours of study.

The Temple gradually subjected its followers to sophisticated mind control and behavior modification techniques, borrowed directly from North Korea.

Basically, it was human rights abuse masquerading as a transformational experience.


Propaganda and communist news was constantly broadcast through the Jonestown tower speakers, and members were forced to listen to it day and night. 

Jones also heaped glowing praise on dictators like Kim Il-Sung and Joseph Stalin.

There was a severe food shortage, frequent outbreaks of disease and overcrowding in the houses.


Conditions worsened over time, as Jim Jones developed a staggering drug habit.


This included amphetamines, quaaludes, LSD and barbiturates. He became ill, extremely paranoid, and dictatorial.

Punishments against perceived offenders included beatings and imprisonment in a tiny plywood box, and forcing children to spend a night at the bottom of a well, sometimes upside-down. 

Kids were also not allowed to see their parents. Drugs like demerol and valium were administered to members who tried to escape.


After the mutilated body of a member who wanted to escape was found, US Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Jonestown with a delegation of 18 people to investigate the goings-on first-hand.

Apparently, Jones ran rehearsals beforehand to convince Ryan’s delegation that people were happy at Jonestown. However, there were several defectors who wished to leave with the delegation, which finally reached the Port Kaituma airport 5 pm.


However, before they could leave, members of the Jonestown personal army arrived and opened fire. 

Leo Ryan was shot more than 20 times, along with a few others. 

Jim Jones knew that this rang the death knell for his cult, and initiated his final plan.


Jones had, since long, convinced his followers that hostile forces would capture their children and convert them to fascism. 

On November 18, 1978, he urged members to commit ‘revolutionary suicide’. Staffers prepared a large metal tub with Kool-Aid, and mixed in poisons like Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide and Phenergan.


Members proceeded to squirt the poisons into their children’s mouths with a syringe, before ingesting it themselves. Death came within 5 minutes. 

In a 44-minute recording known as the ‘Death Tape’, children can be heard crying and screaming, while Jones is heard saying –

“I tell you, I don’t care how many screams you hear, I don’t care how many anguished cries…death is a million times preferable to 10 more days of this life.”

Jim Jones was himself found lying in a chair with a self-inflicted gunshot wound in his head, and enough drugs in his body to give any normal person an overdose.


By the end of this tragic and surreal saga, 918 people were dead, over 300 of whom were children. It was the largest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act at the time.

In light of this bizarre sequence of events, the establishment of Rajneeshpuram and the Osho religion in Oregon in 1981 was highly controversial. One could even say the Rajneeshees were doomed from the start, as most Americans thought this was just another cult where a situation like Jonestown could occur at any moment.


Another strange little piece of information is that Shannon Jo Ryan, daughter of Congressman Leo Ryan, who was gunned down in Jonestown, actually became a follower of Osho, famously telling the Washington Post –

“What Jones created was a prison and what Bhagwan has created is a way out of the prison of ordinary life. Just total freedom is what he is all about. Jones was trying to control people, while Bhagwan is trying to give people control of themselves.”

The Jonestown Massacre remains a black dot in the history of America, and a tragic example of utopian ideals gone horribly wrong.