It was the largest death toll of US civilians by human acts until 9/11 , but was it really “mass suicide” or were people murdered? What’s to be made of the spectre of CIA conspiracies looming over Jonestown? This article examines how the Jonestown narrative was manipulated, and the claims of covert government connections to a massacre that fuelled a war against alternative spirituality.
On 18 November 1978 more than 900 members of The People’s Temple tragically lost their lives at their religious commune in the jungles of Guyana, in what was widely reported as mass suicide. The place, and the tragedy, was dubbed “Jonestown” after the church’s leader, the Reverend Jim Jones. It was the largest death toll of US civilians by deliberate acts, until the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001. Like 9/11, there was saturated media coverage, people were shocked and horrified, and the world was never quite the same afterwards.