Mike Pettus Jonestown The tragic event, known today as the Jonestown Massacre, was “the most deadly single non-natural disaster in U.S. history until September 11th, 2001” (Jenn Rosenberg). It was the work of one man, Jim Jones, which culminated in the senseless deaths of over 900 people, including one U.S. Congressman.
Who was this Jim Jones? Born May 13th, 1931, James Warren “Jim” Jones was from the small town of Crete, Indiana. Jim’s household was an unusual one for the times. Jim’s father was a soldier in WWI and had been injured to the point that he could no longer provide for his family. The responsibility, then, fell to Jim’s mother, Lynette.
Childhood playmates recall Jim holding mock funeral services for dead animals – animals whose deaths may have come at the hands of Jim himself (Rosenberg). In 1949, Jim married Marceline Baldwin, with whom he would have one child and adopt several other children of different ethnicities. Jim liked to call it his “Rainbow Family”, and encouraged others to do the same. Marceline and Jim’s marriage was not an easy one but they remained together until the end.
It became clear that Jim firmly believed in and wanted to further the two ideas of socialism and racial integration. He was an avid believer “in making the world a better place”, and in the early 50’s, began to work at a Methodist church in Indianapolis. As his radical beliefs emerged, he inevitably had quarrels with church leadership and soon left the established church.
In 1955, Jim started what was called the People’s Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana. The main ideas espoused by this group were socialism, Pentecostalism, and Communism. To attract more followers, Jones used rituals that supposedly healed people of their illnesses. It was a racially integrated church, which was very rare at the time. The church then set up multiple soup kitchens, fed and clothed the poor, and set up nursing homes. At face value, Jim Jones’ ideas were altruistic in nature and he attracted people with his “utopian view of what society could become.” (Rosenberg) However, despite his overwhelming compassion and concern for others, Jones had a “pathological belief in his own superiority”, (Crime and Investigation network), which would become very apparent in his total control of his followers.
The People’s Temple views seemed quite simple at first, but as it grew, it was obvious Jim Jones was out to create a socialist society; a society that severely distrusted government and held that capitalism created an “unhealthy balance in the world”. The rich were rich and the poor worked for nothing in return.
As word spread about the People’s Temple and some of their ideas and practices, scrutiny of the organization grew and an investigation into the church was begun. When word of the investigation spread, Jones believed it was time for his church to move. In 1966 the church moved to Redwood Valley, California. Jones chose Redwood because he had read an article that stated it was one of the least likely places for a nuclear attack to occur. About 65 families migrated with the church to Redwood Valley. As the church continued to expand it made its way towards the San Francisco Bay area. There they again set up homeless shelters, food drives, foster care etc. The local newspapers and the politicians praised the work that was being done.
The trust that people had for Jones was great. They believed that he knew what was right and what the country needed. But there was much more to it. Jones wasn’t what people believed him to be. There was another side to him and as the fame and the power grew, this diabolical side also grew. On the inside, the church was taking on more of the qualities of a cult. Not only did people pledge their loyalty to Jones, they were also giving up all their material possessions, money, and even their children, to Jones. Its views also began to change from religious to political and