Reflections and Articles by Laura Johnston Kohl

After trying single-handedly to effect change throughout the 1960s to make the world around her more humane, Laura Johnston Kohl found she needed more hands. She joined Peoples Temple in 1970, living and working in the progressive religious movement in both California and Guyana. A fluke saved her from the mass murders and suicides on November 18, 1978, when 913 of her beloved friends died in Guyana.

Soon after this, Synanon, a residential community, helped her gradually affirm life. She married, and she and her husband adopted a young son. In 1994, she finished her studies, and became a public school teacher.

On the 20th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, Laura located fellow survivors of the Jonestown tragedy, and together they have worked to make sense of the jigsaw puzzle that was Peoples Temple. Her perspective has evolved as new facts have cleared up mysteries and she has had time to reflect. Her mission continues to acknowledge, write about, and speak about why the members joined Peoples Temple, why they went to Guyana, and who they were. One of her earliest interviews, on National Public Radio during its coverage of the 25th anniversary of the deaths in Jonestown, was one of the inspirations for Stanley Nelson’s documentary, Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple.

In addition to being interviewed on television and radio, in documentaries, and for both domestic and foreign press, Laura makes herself available to family members of those who perished in Guyana and scholars who are trying to understand the calamity of the ending. She is contact with fellow survivors many times during the year and helps organize gatherings twice a year.

(From left) Rebecca Moore, Jordan Vilchez, Claire Janaro and Laura Johnston Kohl
(From left) Rebecca Moore, Jordan Vilchez, Claire Janaro and Laura Johnston Kohl

Her research and contemplation has led to publication of her book, Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look. The website for the book is here, and its blog includes a number of articles separate from those published below.

Laura is a writer, a bilingual teacher, on the Speakers’ Bureau of The Jonestown Institute, a Quaker, and a Board Member of the Communal Studies Association. She is on the Advisory Committee at the California Historical Society for the Peoples Temple Archives.

She contributes to the jonestown report and writes a monthly article for a local progressive, bilingual paper. She is helping set up a survivors’ visit to Jonestown with a documentary crew. She is also working to develop a Communal Studies Journal issued dedicated to scholarly writings about Peoples Temple, to be published in 2018.

Contact info: or to schedule talks.

Laura’s lectures cover these topics and issues:

  • Reflections on Peoples Temple
  • Surviving tragedy and survivor’s guilt
  • Historical perspective ‘60s, ‘70s & ‘80s
  • New Religious Movement
  • Group (cult) dynamics – red flags
  • Human Rights, Quakers, and activism
  • Synanon – Laura  lived there 1980-90
  • Sociology, Political Science, Psychology
  • Bilingual education (Spanish-English)
  • The cult of personality in leaders
Laura’s recent and upcoming presentations:
  • OSHER at U of Utah, CSU-San Marcos
  • Grand Valley State University
  • Numerous media interviews, including Anderson Cooper, Ricki Lake, NPR’s Melissa Block
  • University of San Francisco
  • York College of Pennsylvania
  • San Diego Universities and Colleges
  • Professional, Service & Retirement Clubs
  • Mexico City Bilingual Book Talk
  • Penn State University – Atherton
  • Puget Sound and WWU University
  • Hawaii Pacific University
  • Bay Area Book Festival
  • BBC and USA Documentary Interviews
  • Communal Studies Assoc. Conference
  • Libraries and Book Stores from San Diego to Seattle to Washington, D.C.


Migration and Emigration (2018) NEW

Returning to Jonestown (2018) NEW

    Guyana 40 Years Later (2018) NEW

The Legacies of November 18 (2018) NEW

My Donation to the University of Southern Indiana (2018) NEW

Jonestown from Guyanese Perspectives: An Introduction (2017)

Change and the Chameleon That Was Jim Jones (2017)

What Does it Mean to be a “Survivor”? (2017)

  1. Letter from Leslie Wagner-Wilson
  2. Letter from Yulanda D.A. Williams
  3. Reply from Laura Johnston Kohl

Only the Survivor Activists “Get” Me (2017)

Who is the Voice of Peoples Temple? (2016)

I Am a Cultist, Two Times Over (2016)

Was Jonestown a “Millennial Intentional Community”? (2016)

Kwayana Book Captures Guyana – and Worldwide – Perspective (2016)

The Families of the 1000 (2015)

Why Such A Huge Variety Of Reflections On Jonestown And Peoples Temple? (2015)

A Boyish God: A Review (2014)

Moving From Guilt To Obligation (2014)

Who Suffered The Most? (2013)

Transition of Leadership in Peoples Temple, the Branch Davidians, and Synanon (2013)

A Further Legacy Of Peoples Temple (2013)

Peoples Temple Oral History Project Gets Underway (2013)

Who Could Have Stopped The Deaths In Jonestown? (2012)

Hate? What is it good for? (2012)

Peoples Temple and Synanon – Modern Communities: The Role of Women (2012)

The Meaning of the New Jonestown Panels At Evergreen Cemetery (2011)

Membership In Communal Groups – So Much Of Who I Am Today (2011)

Peoples Temple – A Church On The Margin And Then Over The Side (2011)

My Communal Studies Experience (2011)

Sisterhood (2011)

Coming Out Of The Peoples Temple Closet (2010)

Who Are the Victims of Peoples Temple? (2010)

The Architecture Of Jonestown and How It Both Created the Community and Ultimately Destroyed It (2010)

Poison in Jonestown (2010)

Jonestown Survivor: An Insider’s Look Published (2010)

Making The He’s Able Album (2009)

Three Cinquain Poems (2009)

Mourning the Dead, Cherishing the Living (2008)

Seeing the Faces (2008)

An Evolving People’s Temple (2008)

The Peoples Temple Planning Commission (2007)

Why Study Or Reflect On Peoples Temple? (2007)

Was It Murder or Suicide? (2006)

The Joiners of Peoples Temple (2005)

The People’s Temple: A Review (2005)

The Silence That Need Not Be (2005)

Film Creates Opportunity for Temple Member Reunions (2004)

Q 875 Made by Outsiders (2004)

Reliving the Love, Recalling the Pain of Temple Experience (2004)

Sex in the City? Make That, The Commune (2004)

A Temple Member’s Odyssey (2003)


Remembering Paul Flowers (2017)

“Tchaiko” meaning “One who seeks truth” (2017)

A Memorial to John F. Heneka (2016)

The Death of a Brother (2015)

The Larger Family of Teresa Cobb (2015)

Wanda King Comes Home (2014)

Remembering Odell Rhodes (2014)

The Things You Noticed About Sammie Jones (2014)

Johnny Moss Brown: A Born Leader (2013)

In Remembrance of June Crym Adams (2013)

Remembering Smitty (2013)

Paula Adams: Caught Between Two Men (2012)

Rheaviana Beam: A Kaleidoscope Of Parts (2012)

My Younger Sister Liane Harris (2011)

Alice Inghram: A Remembrance Of A Best Friend (2011)

Evelyn Leroy: The One Who Died In My Place (2011)

Johnnie Mae Yates (2010)

Carolyn Layton: Jonestown’s American Gothic (2009)

Michael Bellefountaine: An Adopted Member of Peoples Temple (2007)

David Shular: An Appreciation (2004)

Laura’s husband Ron Kohl accompanied Laura to Guyana in 2018 and wrote about his experiences in the article My Visit to Guyana NEW.

Originally posted on March 9th, 2013.

Last modified on October 15th, 2018.
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