What was the Jonestown Massacre 1

1978 Jonestown Massacre: The Horror of Guyana

Preacher Jim Jones and around 1,000 of his followers have retired to the jungles of Guyana to live in peace. But the sect leader thinks his empire is threatened by apostates - and dies in Jonestown with more than 900 people

Jonestown massacre: cult leader Jim Jones calls for the death ceremony

THE WOW OF THE SIRENS wakes Deborah Layton from sleep in the middle of the night. Guards knock on the door of their wooden hut and urge them to hurry. She rushes out into the darkness, past adults and children who run to a brightly lit pavilion in the middle of the camp.

Shots can be heard from the jungle. A familiar voice can be heard over the loudspeaker. “White Night!” Shouts Jim Jones, the religious leader whom his followers revere as a prophet. Whom they call "Father" and whose words they trust as if they were incontrovertible truths.

“White Night”: This is the signal for the around 1000 disciples in the camp to crouch on the pounded clay floor around the open pavilion and some wooden benches. Many are still exhausted from their work in the sugar cane fields and numb with fatigue.

“We are under siege,” Jones calls into the microphone. The founder of the "People’s Temple" is enthroned in a high armchair above his community. Spotlights illuminate the pavilion, which is little more than a large tin roof supported by wooden posts. A sign is posted on one of these bars: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."

How often did Father warn his followers that they could face a fate similar to that of the Jews of Europe. Now he begins: “The United States government doesn't want us to survive. She threatens to surround us, attack us, torture us and put us in jail. "

Then Jones takes off for a long speech about apostates who betrayed the movement. Everything is lost. “You, my good followers, have been sentenced to death for their infidelity and capitalist selfishness. We have to die because of them and what they said about us. "

As he speaks, guards with rifles roam the camp's buildings and tents, checking to see if anyone is hiding. Others patrol the pavilion, counting those gathered.

Jim Jones: "It tastes like fruit juice, kids. It will be easy to swallow"

THE SHOTS ARE BEING AGAIN from the jungle. “Do you hear that?” Asks the father. “The mercenaries are coming. The end is at hand. The time has expired. Children, stand in two rows on my sides. "Helpers bring a large aluminum tub filled with a brown brew:" It tastes like fruit juice, children. It will be easy to swallow, ”Jones soothes his followers.

Deborah Layton also joins the long line to receive the poison. The fear of punishment, the isolation in the jungle camp, the entanglement in the belief system of Jim Jones made her ready to die. And would it even be possible to escape? The guards threaten to shoot anyone who refuses to drink their mug.

But suddenly she sees a woman running from the radio station in the camp and whispering a message to Jones. He bows his head towards her and then bends back over the microphone: “The crisis has been averted. You can go back to your huts. "

Jim Jones orders a day off, no one should go out to the fields today. The pavilion empties. Deborah Layton also returns to her hut in a daze. The death ceremony lasted over six hours. In the meantime morning is dawning.

IT WAS YOUR FIRST "WHITE NIGHT" in Jonestown, the People’s Temple colony in the jungles of Guyana. For the first time she herself experienced the ritual with which Jim Jones repeatedly tests the willingness of his followers to make sacrifices.

She later learns that the cult leader sent his own people into the woods to fire the shots. There were no mercenaries. Nobody besieged the settlement.

A few days earlier, in mid-December 1977, Deborah traveled to Guyana from San Francisco. She had hoped to come to an ideal commune. A kind of paradise in the midst of tropical vegetation - just as Father had promised her and the others: a refuge in which people of all skin colors live together peacefully, united by their belief in Jim Jones and his teachings.

The journey from Georgetown, the capital of the small South American country, to the colony alone took more than 28 hours; first by ship and then on a truck it went deeper and deeper inland. At some point, it was already night, Deborah saw a sign above the muddy dirt road: "Welcome to Jonestown - People's Temple Agricultural Project". A few lightbulbs dangled from masts, and she saw simple wooden huts and green tents scattered across the grounds.

THE MORNING AFTER showed how crowded Jonestown is. There is no hot water, a lot has been improvised. The people in the model estate seem tense. You have to work ten hours in the fields every day. The food portions are meager, usually some rice; there are punishment companies and armed guards who march around the camp to protect against invasion, as Jones says.

In the United States, Deborah was a member of the sect's leadership circle, she knows Father well. Now she is surprised: he looks nervous, his face is bloated, he seems sick. Again and again he gives instructions to the warehouse over the loudspeaker. When he rests, tapes of his speeches play.

In the evening he calls his disciples to the central pavilion. Often speaks late into the night, evoking the ever-present danger of siege. He lets individuals step out of the crowd to confront them or punish them with beating.

Jones has some locked up in a narrow hole in the ground for days. Children who steal food from the kitchen or who are homesick hang their guards upside down in a fountain at night, dipping their faces into the water several times. The unteachable come to the infirmary, where they are sedated with medication. Jones seems obsessed with his paranoia.

Soon the sect leader will call his disciples to the “White Night” every two weeks.

JAMES WARREN JONES, Born in 1931 in a small town in the US state of Indiana, comes from a humble background. As a child he is a loner, often left to his own devices. He only finds the feeling of community on Sundays, in church services.

There are six different churches in the village; Jim visits them all and changes denominations several times. He joins the Nazarenes first, then the Pentecostal movement. In their communities the rulership of the Holy Spirit seems to be directly manifest

More than a certain content of faith apparently fascinates Jim religious ceremonies: when the priest speaks as a prophet in vibrating masses or performs healings and the whole congregation suddenly breaks out in tongues. Even as a teenager, Jim preached on the street in front of other children. He's made up his mind to become a clergyman.

And in these years he begins to campaign against racial discrimination. That takes courage in a town where no black person ever strays because it would be too dangerous.

At the age of 18, Jones married and shortly afterwards moved to Indianapolis, where he was pastor of a Methodist church without special consecration. Many believers are openly hostile to him because he preaches racial equality and campaigns for liberal civil rights - but the racist KuKlux Klan has its headquarters in Indianapolis. When the protests continue, the young preacher collects donations. His dream is to found his own integrated church. Blacks should sit next to whites in church services. A revolutionary idea, the houses of worship in Indianapolis still practice strict racial segregation.

1956 JONES HAS ENOUGH MONEYto rent a former synagogue. His church is called "People’s Temple Full Gospel Church". It is not a new religion that he founds, no original theological teaching structure that he formulates. But his appearance is new and unusual: Jones is a kind of Elvis Presley of religion - a white man who says he has a black soul. And who preaches like that too.

Many blacks, but also believers of other skin colors, flock to his services. Because Jones hits their mood. And because he's a charismatic speaker. He has traveled extensively around the country and studied the performances of famous preachers. Like his great role model "Father Divine", a black religious leader, Jones appears as a prophet and healer, proclaiming that he is blessed with divine powers.

Every Sunday the sick and infirm drag themselves to the People’s Temple in the hope of salvation. The hall is filled with jubilation when Jones appears to heal wounds or cure cancer patients of their suffering with a simple touch of his hand.

It is said that he can even bring the dead to life. Jones seems restless in his commitment to the disadvantaged. He founds soup kitchens, distributes clothes to the needy, supports orphans. Together with his wife, he adopts seven children of black, white and Asian origins. With this “rainbow family” he wants to prove that people of all skin colors can live together in peace. As a result, reports Jones, racists repeatedly pelt his house with stones or attack him on the street. Is it these attacks that make him more suspicious over time? Or does Jones use the incidents to demand unconditional loyalty from his followers?

In any case, he founds a survey committee. Here he penetrates his disciples for hours: Do they harbor hostile thoughts against him? Are you planning a conspiracy? It is said that Jones once angrily threw the Bible to the ground: "Too many people look at this instead of me." Father demands unconditional love. Jones leaves Indianapolis when newspaper articles mock him as a fraud and a charlatan. Because it's too racist.

IT'S 1965, the time of the arms race between the superpowers, the Cuba crisis was only three years ago. Jim Jones reminds his followers of one of his prophecies: a "nuclear holocaust" will one day destroy the American Midwest. But he could save her.

A good 140 of his most loyal disciples follow him to California, to the Redwood Valley, about 200 kilometers north of San Francisco - one of the few places that are supposedly safe from nuclear extinction. There, in the midst of vineyards and meadows, the Father wants to found a new community, free and utopian and open to people of all skin colors.

Now is the time to experiment to make the world a better place. When Jones comes to Redwood Valley, the era of questioning and trying has begun. California is their center. Here new ways of life are tried out, new communities are founded. The People’s Temple is just one of many. Expansion of consciousness instead of civic narrowness, working on the future instead of clinging to the past: More and more people are showing themselves to be receptive to the message of change. Also Deborah Layton.

AS YOU FOR THE FIRST TIME hears from People’s Temple, Deborah is 17 years old. Summer 1970: The Americans are arguing about the Vietnam War, and Jim Jones helps Deborah's brother Larry with the petition, with which he successfully refuses military service - a small miracle.

Deborah is a rebellious teenager, she feels close to outsiders and marginalized people. She wants to meet the preacher who cares so selflessly for others and goes to Redwood Valley. On this day, the sun floods the glass windows of the parish church. Deborah noticed the many young faces - a colorful, happy crowd.

Then Jim Jones enters the gallery. The preacher has thrown on a dark satin robe. He is a striking figure, thinks Deborah. He wears his black hair parted, his features are well formed, and he speaks in a warm voice. Gestures of his manicured hands underline every word.

Jones seems to be speaking to her directly, wooing her: "It's no coincidence that you came here today," he says. “You are here because the world has bigger things in store for you. You are meant to be a part of this movement. You came here today because there is a higher power and it needs your help. I want you to help create a better world. "

The sermon ends with praises to Father. The disciples jump up, stretch their arms towards the sky, sing and rock themselves to the rhythm of gospel music.

Deborah wants to be part of this fascinating community. Because Jim Jones seems to embody a promise: that people can develop into more perfect beings in his aura. Wasn't his sect committed to fighting a good cause from the start?

She is still finishing school and joins People’s Temple in 1971, just like her brother did before. Jones quickly pulls you deeper and deeper into his universe.

Sect dropouts face retribution and even death

SINCE THE END OF THE 1960s he openly professes socialism in his sermons. A strange amalgam has arisen, from a lot of already existing set pieces, but linked to a unique combination of gospel, health prayer, criticism of capitalism, racial integration and reincarnation theory. Because Jones now also claims that he has already walked on earth several times: as Jesus, as the Persian religious leader Bab and finally as Lenin. He always fought for justice and the well-being of humanity.

Religion, Jones asserts with Karl Marx, is opium for the oppression of the masses. But he continues to use their forms and rituals to bind people to himself and then, as he says, to lead them to the next level of enlightenment: “I am here on earth to do great things for the needy. I am here to do divine deeds. "

He wears a robe like a priest, throws himself into the poses of the publisher and miracle healer, turns water into wine, makes the lame walk - all carefully staged miracles: a secretary, for example, plays a wheelchair user. But he also throws the Bible to the ground in front of everyone - the book only served to oppress black people. And he forbids his church to pray to the God of Christianity. In his political theology, it is socialism that finally takes the place of the Almighty. And he himself, Jim Jones, is its preacher and prophet.

AN IDEOLOGY, writes the philosopher Hannah Arendt, is nothing more than the logic of an idea. Anyone who spends enough time in Jim Jones' church will find the preacher's chains of thought consistent.

It is a world of fixed rules that Deborah now lives in, shaped by structures that psychologists will later call typical of religious sects.

Above all stands the incontestable authority of the charismatic leader. Nobody is allowed to doubt Father's words, let alone criticize his messages. No one is allowed to speak to others through conversations with Jones.

Although always in community of fellow believers, the members of the "Temple" are isolated from one another. There are no confidential conversations, no friendships. Jones controls all relationships. He solves and arranges marriages. At the same time, he compels his disciples to be celibate unless he allows an exception. Sex, Jones teaches, is selfish and harmful. He distracts from helping others.

In any case, all men are homosexual - with one exception: Jones claims the privilege of constantly approaching young women and men in the community sexually.

His disciples believe that the world is clearly divided into good and bad. Everything outside the sect is considered hostile to them. Everyone has to break off contact with friends and relatives, if necessary, may visit them in the company of other "Temple" members.

EVERY FREE MINUTE applies to movement - too much sleep is frowned upon. The supporters attend socialism classes, some complete paramilitary training in order to be prepared as a chosen elite for the post-nuclear war era, or come together for hours of purification meetings.

There Jones confronts anyone who has broken one of the rules, humiliates him and orders corporal punishment, such as beatings and spitting. It is forbidden to justify yourself. The punished should feel guilty because they did not live up to the great vision.

Jones copied some methods from other sects.His rhetoric, for example, is based on the Mun sect from Korea and on "Scientology": He condemns dropouts as traitors, threatens them with retaliation and even with death.

Everyone is encouraged to write down "treasonous" thoughts in regular reports - even though Jones claims he can read every thought anyway. Have each one watch the other disciples and report signs of weakness or apostasy. Denunciation is seen as proof of loyalty.

So there is soon no time, no more space for your own reflections, for an independent judgment. And the dependency is growing: Members are expected to transfer their savings, life insurance or houses to the sect, and also transfer their salaries. You will receive a small pocket money for this.

Every other weekend, hundreds of disciples get on the People’s Temple's eleven greyhound buses and make their way to San Francisco, Los Angeles or another city to recruit new followers. They distribute brochures, invite the curious to worship, cheer Jones, who preaches for several hours and performs miraculous healings.

THE WORK IN THE MISSION leads to the disciples identifying even more strongly with the People’s Temple. And they learn to outbid one another with enthusiasm: every doubt is a sign of one's own weakness, a betrayal of the good cause.

In 1972 Jones moved his sect's headquarters to San Francisco. The city on the west coast is open to alternative ways of life and spiritual movements. It is from here that Zen Buddhism spread in the West around 1960, and it is here that the hippies proclaimed the “Summer of Love” in 1967. This is one of the centers of the flower power movement, many sympathize with civil rights activists, and activists read the writings of Karl Marx. And new esoteric movements are just beginning to develop.

But at the same time disillusionment is spreading in the country. The attacks on Robert Kennedy and the black civil rights activists Martin Luther King and Malcolm X have poisoned the political atmosphere. The US government under Richard Nixon has demonstrations against the Vietnam War clubbed down, it listens to its opponents, it breaks the constitution.

THE MOVEMENT OF JIM JONES however, something seems to keep alive the utopian verve of the 1960s. Undaunted, the preacher proclaims: A better world is possible. Few people know about the chastisements, the rigid sexual morality of the sect, in which alcohol and drugs are also taboo.

This makes it easy to recruit new disciples. According to its own information, People’s Temple will soon have 7,500 members - important votes. Jones tries to get close to politics in San Francisco and successfully supports the election campaign of the Democratic mayor candidate George Moscone.

As a reward, he was appointed to the municipal housing commission in 1976. The following year, the future first wife Rosalynn Carter invites him to the inauguration of her husband in Washington. Jones is at the height of his reputation.

The allegations against the People’s Temple are increasing

BUT ALWAYS MORE PEOPLE The question now arises: Who actually is Jim Jones? Many in San Francisco suspect his influence. The first critical reports appear about the clergyman with the sunglasses, who surround himself with bodyguards, about his miraculous healings and the authoritarian inner workings of the sect.

From then on, Jones perceives the media as part of a conspiracy. His rhetoric is getting shrillier. The government is planning concentration camps for civil rights activists, blacks and the People’s Temple. The country is ruled by fascists. When the FBI searches Scientologists' offices, Jones also expects a raid.

In the USA, since the hippie enthusiasm subsided at the beginning of the 1970s, critics have formed a movement that warns against religious cults such as Hare-Krishna, Scientology or the unification church of the Korean sect leader San Myung Mun. "Cult" has become the epitome of a dangerous pseudo-religion that brainwashes its followers to submit.

Similar allegations can now be read in the newspapers against the People’s Temple. Jones prepares to escape. On his behalf, Deborah Layton and other members of the leadership circle travel abroad and illegally deposit millions of dollars in accounts.

ON AUGUST 1, 1977 The "New West" magazine in San Francisco published an exposure report on the People’s Temple, based on the statements of ten dropouts: Jones is a fraud and a charlatan, he manipulates the people in his community. They would be pressured, exploited financially and physically abused.

Jones has mobilized his political contacts to prevent publication. In vain. Shortly before the article appeared, he left for Guyana. It is the beginning of a great exodus. Hundreds of followers followed him to South America within a few weeks. Most of them disappear without a trace, without saying goodbye to their relatives - as Father ordered.

As early as 1974, Jim Jones leased 27,000 acres of land in the former British colony in the middle of the jungle. Guyana is run by a socialist government - an ideal haven for the People’s Temple. 50 pioneers traveled to the outpost in the tropical wilderness that same year; have cleared the jungle, created fields, erected the first buildings.

But the settlement was not up to the mass rush of summer 1977. Relatives and friends of Jones' disciples in the USA are getting alarming rumors from "Jonestown", as the settlement is now called: about bad treatment, punishment, detention - and about the White Nights.

Politician Leo Ryan wants to investigate the conditions in Jonestown

AS DEBORAH LAYTON When it becomes clear that hard field work and suicide exercises are part of everyday life in Jonestown and that even older, sick followers like her mother face severe punishment, she decides to flee. She has been a member of the People’s Temple for nearly seven years; she is trusted by Jones. For a long time she suppressed any doubt. But now she wants to leave Jonestown forever.

But there is no escape - the settlement is too remote, nowhere a phone, just dense jungle all around. It took months before an opportunity presented itself: In May 1978, she was supposed to do an assignment for Jones in the capital, Georgetown, 150 miles away. At the US embassy, ​​she confides in the consul. Two days later, Deborah boarded a plane to New York.

Soon after, she went public with a statement. She reports about the punishments and the armed guards. And of the White Nights.

The report alarms California Congressman Leo Ryan - a member of his family was also addicted to a cult. For some time, the politician of the Democratic Party has been in contact with relatives whose spouses, siblings or children have joined the sect and broken off all contact. Some dropouts describe the People’s Temple as a pseudo-religious cult in which brainwashing is practiced. After Deborah Layton's report, Ryan is determined to investigate the allegations.

ON NOVEMBER 14, 1978 Ryan makes his way to Jonestown, accompanied by a crowd of TV reporters, newspaper journalists, dropouts and relatives of sect members. He sent a telegram to Guyana announcing his visit.

For Jim Jones it is that hostile advance into the inner workings of People’s Temple that he has prophesied time and again: an alleged conspiracy of politicians, renegades and journalists who are preparing to occupy and destroy Jonestown.

A threat that he and his disciples can only evade in one way: through “revolutionary suicide”. Nobody, including Leo Ryan, takes the warnings seriously.