In 1978, in a South American settlement called Jonestown—named after its leader Reverend Jim Jones—over nine hundred people committed suicide. Under the leadership of Jones, the communal members of Jonestown gathered together; for the most part, they administered a cyanide-laced drink to their children and then drank themselves. “Their bodies were found lying together, arm in arm.”
How could such a horror ever happen? Many of these people were middle- or upper-middle-class professionals: nurses, lawyers, college professors, businessmen, social workers.
The story begins about twenty years earlier when Jones established his church, the Peoples Temple, in Indiana. The Peoples Temple is a tragedy about how Reverend Jones—little by little—became a cruel dictator. Over a long period of time, under his directives, members eventually gave all their personal property and savings to the Peoples temple; spouses were forced to sexually degrade their partners, and parents beat their children to the point of unconsciousness. By the time his church settled in South America, Jones controlled almost every aspect of the lives of his congregation.
In 1978 a small group of journalists and “concerned relatives” led by Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown. After a short visit, two families, members of the Peoples Temple, tried to leave with Ryan and his group. As they were boarding planes, they were “ambushed