Were members of Peoples Temple forced to go to Jonestown against their will?

There are a few fiction writers, and (regrettably) one or two non-fiction writers who say that people knew their emigration to Guyana represented going to their doom, not unlike Jews going to Auschwitz during World War II.

There are several facts arguing against this: first, many of the elderly people had signed up for lifetime care from the Temple in exchange for their assets, much like the lifetime care arrangements made when senior Americans enter some retirement communities. And while some may have realized that the Promised Land night be the last stop on their life’s journey, for many of them, it was more like returning home to the flora and weather conditions of the U.S. South of their youth, and hence, a nice place to be in their final years.

Other, younger members have said they welcomed the challenges offered by Jonestown – as a utopian community, as a refuge from the racism and sexism they experienced in the US, etc. – even if it didn’t live up to its billing once they got there. Nevertheless, at least one survivor has said he thought he would go back and forth over the years and see his children and grandchildren grow up there. In other words, there were a few who expressed consternation when they got there, but not as they were preparing to leave.

The final consideration on this question is that, while there were 1000 people in Guyana in November 1978, there were another 1000 who were cleared and ready to go as soon as they got the call. There was also an unknown – albeit smaller – number of people who had petitioned to go but who were denied permission by the Temple due to medical or legal impediments.

Undeniably, exceptions exist. As word got back to the States of actual living conditions in Jonestown, some people who had been cleared for emigration changed their minds, but were still pressured into making the move. Others had professional skills or family connections that led to similar pressures. But for the most part, it wasn’t a question of Temple members going down to Guyana out of a sense of obligation or anything other than their own commitment and desire for the community that the Temple promised.