Image: History.com

The Jonestown massacre was a mass murder-suicide of the Peoples Temple cult at the behest of their leader, Jim Jones, in 1978. After cult members attacked Congressman Leo Ryan, who was investigating the cult, Jones enacted a suicide plan at the Jonestown compound. A fruit drink laced with cyanide was given to children and adult members. More than 900 people died in the Jonestown massacre, including some 300 aged 17 or under. It is one of the largest mass deaths in American history.

While the Peoples Temple was active in humanitarian causes, Jones’s treatment of his followers was less than humane. Temple members were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed, and many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions to the church. Black members and members of other minority groups were convinced that if they left the Peoples Temple they would be rounded up into government-run concentration camps. Family members were kept apart and encouraged to inform one another. In 1977, after members of the press began to ask questions about Jones’s operation, he moved with several hundred of his followers to Jonestown, a compound that he had been building in Guyana for some three to four years.

“Take our life from us. We laid it down.

We got tired. We didn’t commit suicide. We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”

-Jim Jones