Peoples Temple in the News

• Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-CA), who was severely wounded during the Port Kaituma airstrip shootings that killed her boss, Rep. Leo Ryan in 1978, was appointed to the congressional task force on gun violence following the Newtown, Connecticut school killings. “This issue is both personal and professional for me,” Speier was quoted as saying following her appointment in early January. The bipartisan task force issued its recommendations in early February, although little action was taken on them.

Atlas Obscura, a website devoted to highlighting the less well known but interesting places to visit in the world, recently included the Jonestown memorial at Evergreen Cemetery. The accompanying article summarizes the history leading to the placement of the “four modest plaques” listing the names of the Jonestown dead.

09-cult pizzaCult Pizza, a pizza parlor in Grand Rapids, Michigan, drew attention in April 2013 for putting portraits of controversial religious figures, as well as a photo of the Jonestown dead following November 18, 1978, on the restaurant’s walls. The restaurant and the artwork are the products of Ryan Cappelletti, who says “he wants western Michigan to be open to a full range of artistic expression and not to lose its cool when faced with challenging images.”

In addition to these news articles, Jonestown and Peoples Temple is often mentioned in the mainstream media both as cultural icons and in serious considerations of religious and political issues.

Jonestown Cited in Political Contexts

Is Glenn Beck’s Independence, USA the Next Jonestown?
January 12, 2013,

    In the discussion of Glenn Beck’s vision of a utopian community, the writer – identified only as Mark – notes:

    “What’s troubling is the notion that Beck wants to create a segregated community of followers who believe in his vision and will strike out on their own to build a self-reliant, communal society based on his twisted brand of evangelism and with him as its leader. Sound familiar? It is precisely what Jim Jones, a pastor from California, did when he assembled his flock in Guyana to form what he called Jonestown. That ended in tragedy with more than 900 disciples succumbing to poison-laced Kool-Aid.”

From Jonestown to the Mad Hatters Tea Party
December 5, 2012,

    “We know by now that conditions and perception of reality, are affected by collective belief. This relates to the actual, as well as the illusionary and most of the time to the illusionary. Sometimes it leads to dramatic and unfortunate events like Jonestown. Sometimes it leads … to things like the obvious farces of presidential elections and support for mass murder and genocide as a result of religious mania, fomented by psychopaths, who manipulate scripture to that end.”

Obama’s Jonestowns
by Jack Cashill, November 16, 2012, The American Thinker

    In discussing how Pres. Obama could have racked up such overwhelming majorities in America’s inner city, the author states:

    “[F]raud isn’t the real issue here.… Worse than fraud is the process that turned nearly 20,000 black Philadelphians — and millions of inner-city dwellers throughout the country — into automatons. Hope does not produce this kind of regimentation. Fear does. In looking at these numbers, in fact, one can begin to see how, 34 years ago this Sunday, in the jungles of Guyana, Jim Jones was able to persuade 918 of his followers, most of them poor and black, to drink their lethal Kool-Aid. Fear can do that.”

    After giving a short, somewhat loaded history of the Temple, the article concludes: “Despite the tragedy, Democrats from the president on down have continued to do almost exactly what Jones did and get away with it: embrace minorities, alert a partisan media to the embrace, woo the minorities for their support… In 2012, this strategy would seem to have paid off. Despite record poverty and unemployment, atrocious schools and neighborhoods, all the residents of Obama’s Jonestowns voted for him.”

Modern civilization: The Next Jonestown Massacre
by Michael Stedman, October 25, 2012, OpEd News

    “Most would agree that it was a devastating event in November of 1978, when 918 people died after committing mass suicide by drinking poisoned grape flavored Flavor-Aid. Unfortunately most of you who feel that it was a tragedy, yet remain oblivious to the fact that our entire modern civilization is not that much different.” The article then continues to draw numerous parallels.

Jonestown Cited in Religious Contexts

Disciples like me: Remembering the Jonestown dead
by Katherine Willis Pershey, November 16, 2012, The Christian Century

    The article discusses Jim Jones’ affiliations with the Disciples of Christ and what it means for the denomination.

Jonestown in Cultural Contexts

A violent turn in 2012 apocalypticism
by Egil Asprem, October 26, 2012, Heterodoxology

    A report on apocalyptic groups which were predicted to turn violent in 2012 based upon many factors – including the Mayan Long Calendar – included Peoples Temple among the examples of periodic doomsday cults, along with the Branch Davidians in Waco, Aum Shinrikio in Japan, and the Order of the Solar Temple in Switzerland and Canada. It then continues, “[A]ll seem to have a certain mix of factors that make things go wrong: the strong emphasis of an impending apocalyptic event is mixed with autocratic leadership issues (which may involve a shady entrepreneurial aspect, and/or issues of psychopathology), and significantly, with a real threat from the outside world that seems to confirm, trigger and intensify already existent suspicions about the evils of government agencies or other secular authorities. In other words, there is a number of sociological, psychological, and theological factors that seem to work together in unique ways when “cults” like this turn bad.”