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Prior to 9/11, the Jonestown Massacre was the largest massive loss of American lives in United States history. The massacre, which was led by cult leader Jim Jones, led over 900 men, women, and children to their deaths. (This made Charles Manson's mass murders look like child's play.)
The massacre became known for being the source of the phrase "drink the Kool-Aid," due to the use of cyanide-laced Kool-Aid that was used to kill off cult members. It also became known as a warning of what could happen when you join a cult.
Most people who have read true crime books about Jim Jones believe they know all the facts about Jonestown, but there's always more to the story than people know. Here are some of the scarier facts about this tragedy most people don't know.
The Peoples' Temple was actually a very highly regarded, progressive church.
A lot of people want to believe that cults are always extreme right-wing churches, or that they were fringe movements. This is just not true—and Jim Jones' church proved it.
The Peoples' Temple, as it was called, was known for being very progressive in its views and for having well over 2,000 members when it was stationed in the United States.
Prior to the massacre, the Peoples' Temple had a lot of friends in high society. These included local politicians, ministers, and a number of businessmen and government employees. No one would have guessed they would become one of the most sadistic cults of the 20th century.
Though California was known for New Age cults at the time of the Peoples' Temple, Jim Jones was not a cult leader of that breed. No, the Peoples' Temple was strictly Pentecostal with an evangelical twist.
Jim Jones had a son who saw it all, and who survived.
His name is Stephen Jones, and he was one of many children fathered by Jim Jones. He openly admits that his father was sick, and, in fact, regularly argued with his father when he was alive.
When Jim Jones ordered the mass execution of his followers, he escaped by just driving off, claiming to look for others. Oddly enough, Stephen Jones believes that the women close to Jim Jones were also partially responsible for the death tolls.
The tragedy caused him to lose all his friends at Jonestown, as well as his mother and two siblings. He was charged and spent a while in prison for his ties to his parents. The charges were eventually dropped and he was released.
Not all people went willingly.
The common misconception about the Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre is that all the cultists immediately killed themselves at Jones' command. This wasn't true.
Many people protested at the idea of suicide, including one woman named Christine who pointed out that kids deserved better than to die a short life. She and others were shouted down.
The cult's devout followers were both killers and the killed in many situations. Those who refused to drink found themselves dying when others shot them in the head or poisoned them by injecting them with the poison.
Those who were found to still have a heartbeat were shot by members who went around with stethoscopes. Only one person in the camp survived the massacre, and she survived by hiding under her bed.
Jim Jones told mothers to kill children first.
A survivor who actually witnessed the entire mass suicide explained that the first people who died weren't adults, but children. Perhaps one of the most gut-wrenching facts about Jonestown is that Jones ordered the killing of children as a way to take away adults' hope of survival.
After all, if parents kill their own children, chances are that they won't want to live much longer either.
Many people believe that Jim Jones was a CIA plant.
It's not surprising to hear that the CIA and FBI studied Jonestown to find out how Jones was able to drum up as much loyalty as he did. It takes a lot of skill to convince over 900 people to kill themselves or be killed for a cause, and that kind of skill could be weaponized by groups like the FBI or CIA.
Michael Meiers and other conspiracy theorists believe that Jim Jones was secretly a CIA asset who performed a mass murder as a way of experimenting with mind control.
Some of the reasons for this theory include discrepancies in Jones's body identification and cause of death, as well as mysterious footsteps heard in the end of Jones's mass suicide tapings. Who those footsteps belong to still remains to be seen, making this one of the scariest cults that committed mass murders.
People wanted to defect from Jonestown before the massacre, but were stopped.
Part of the reason why people willingly went along with Jim Jones's whims was because they really had no choice but to do it. Jonestown's compound was isolated as could be, in the middle of the jungle with no real way to leave safely.
Representative Leo Ryan was sent by Congress to investigate rumors about Jonestown citizens trying to leave the compound. Hearing rumors of people trying to defect from the remote jungle community, Jones began to instill serious repercussions for anyone who stepped out of line.
Ryan himself counted 15 people who wanted to defect, and brought them along with him to the plane back to America. Jones sent people to ambush him, which ended with a skirmish that left Representative Ryan, several news crew members, and one defector dead.
Only 400 bodies were found, despite the official death count being 900.
A lot of the facts about Jonestown don't fully add up, no matter how you look at them. The official death toll claims that 900 people perished in the massacre, but only 400 bodies were retrieved. 500 bodies were never found, even though they were counted among the dead.
Moreover, Zbigniew Brzezinski, the US national security adviser, told people to cease all activity involving the body counting and investigation activities.
When pushed further, the very dubious official claim was that the 500 bodies were found "underneath" the first 400. The Guyanese officials noted that only 200 people appeared to have committed suicide; the rest seemed to be murdered.
The entire camp was more like a prison than anything.
One of the facts about Jonestown most people like to recite is the fact that it was meant to be a communist Shangri-La. Jim Jones claimed that it would be a wonderful place to live and be, and for a short time, it was.
However, that really only lasted a very short time.
Jones had armed guards who would stand at the gates 24 hours a day. This was done so that no one could leave or enter the compound without Jones knowing.
Supplies ran short, and cult members often would have to work ridiculously long hours in order to ensure that everyone would have food and water. Those who didn't work were beaten.
There are around two dozen or so survivors who managed to get out.
Just because many defectors weren't able to escape doesn't mean that no one did. One of the more startling facts about Jonestown was that there were around two dozen—if not more—survivors who were able to avoid the death that Jim Jones planned out.
11 people from Jonestown survived by walking 35 miles through the jungle under the guise of going on a picnic. Hyacinth Thrush, an elderly member of the church, slept through the mass suicide. Two men had gone through security through sheer wit and guile. Three more survived by going on a mission outside of the compound and fleeing.
Additionally, members in Georgetown and San Francisco who heard Jones's orders refused to carry them through. This easily saved dozens of other victims.
It wasn't actually Kool-Aid.
You may have heard of people say "drink the Kool-Aid" as a way of talking about blind allegiance to something, or alluding to cult-like behavior. This was actually a phrase that was originated from the Jonestown massacre, and that, alone, is one of the more commonly-cited facts about Jonestown.
Though the phrase suggests that Jones decided to kill his followers with Kool-Aid, this isn't true. The fact you might not know is that the Kool-Aid man actually doesn't deserve that bad rep. Flavor-Aid, on the other hand, does. The cult used the knockoff stuff since they couldn't afford real Kool-Aid.