What was the Six-Day Siege?

In early September 1977, the Jonestown community went on high alert. Jeffrey Haas, the attorney for Tim and Grace Stoen, had traveled to Guyana in an effort to persuade the government to intervene in the custody suit over John Victor Stoen. He was partially successful: a Guyana court did issue a writ of habeas corpus; when Jones refused to accept it, the court told Haas that process of the writ would be accomplished by posting it at three locations in Jonestown; and when people in Jonestown ripped down the summonses, the court issued an arrest warrant.

The response was dramatic, as Rebecca Moore writes in Understanding Jonestown and Peoples Temple (Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 2009): “[The] Jonestown leadership believed the community was in danger; they precipitated a state of siege in which residents believed that they were under attack by the Guyana Defense Force. Men, women, and children armed themselves with farm implements and stood on the perimeter of Jonestown for days, expecting an armed assault” (p. 76).

The siege lasted for six days. Several former members who went through it said the experience was the first indication of what the people of Jonestown increasingly endured over the next 14 months, culminating on November 18, 1978.