Jones began his career as a religious leader by pretending to perform real live healings and miracles. He created his first church in 1954, in a rented building from Indianapolis, a church he named “Community Unity” (Klippenstein). According to Kristian Klippenstein, he attracted working people, particularly those who needed medical aid, who had no financial means or felt discriminated by the society. These people believed in Jones’ promises that all their needs will e taken care of if they accepted to join the communal lifestyle of the cult by giving up all their material possessions and submitting to the leader’s will. His teachings, which combined social messages with ambiguous Penticoststalism (Gallagher and Ashcraft 114) attracted both blacks and whites, particularly since it promoted noble actions such as helping the needed or giving shelter to the homeless.
As in the case of many cults, Jones preached about an Apocalypse which was imagined in his case, in the shape of a nuclear war. For this reason, he started to look for a new location where he could move his congregation (Klippenstein). In the end, he moved the congregation to California, though the reasons for this are not completely clear (Gallagher and Ashcraft 115).
While the number of his followers reached thousands, the first detractors began to accept telling their stories, which talked about the abuses committed by this charismatic leader. In an article published by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy in 1977, the authors talk about the extraordinary force that Jones had become, about the mystery surrounding his congregation as well as the unknown source of his income. “What is going on behind the locked and guarded doors of Peoples Temple?” (31). In trying to answer this question, they interviewed former members of the Peoples Temple who all talked about cruelty, physical and psychical punishments which involved the person being disciplined by the other members of the congregation through insults and even beatings.
In 1977, due to panic caused by the article mentioned above, Jones announced the members that the Peoples’ Temple will be moving to Guyana, in Jonestown, where they would start an “Agricultural Mission”, isolated and safe from the outside world (Klippenstein). About 900 people followed Jones here, including as many as 276 children. Once here, they became prisoner, as Jones obliged them to surrender passports and all documents, and complete to the leader completely (Klippenstein).
A year later, Congressman Leo Ryan led a delegation to Jonestown which was meant to check the safety and freedom of the people who had relocated there, and take with him those who were willing to leave. This was the event that triggered the violence in Guyana. According to Klippenstein, 15 residents asked to leave with the congressman but they would not e allowed to do so. As the delegation and the defectors were ready to leave for Georgetown, a Temple guard shot them down. In the same time, in Jonestown, Jones ordered a “revolutionary suicide” to avoid an invasion (Klippenstein). Soon after, all members committed suicide through poisoning or were murdered by Jones’ aids with the same means. Children were also injected with the lethal substance and not even babies escaped the massacre. Jones’s utopian society had come to an end.
Gallagher, Eugene and Aschraft, Michael. “Introduction to New and Alternative Religions in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group. 2006. Print.
Kilduff, Marshall and Tracy, Phil. “Inside Peoples Temple”. New West, 1, (1977):30-38.Web. 21. 11.2012.
Klippenstein, Kristian “Peoples’Temple as Christian History: a Corrective Interpretation. N.d. Web. 21.11.2012.