The Jonestown Massacre: More to the Story

On November 18th 1978, 918 people died in Guyana in what was deemed as a mass suicide. The Jonestown Massacre was considered the most deadly single non-natural disaster in U.S history up until 9/11. The victims were members of the Peoples Temple, led by Jim Jones, and were a radically integrated group whose ideologies were supposedly helping those in need. The end result however, killed many more people than it helped. Years later, there are still multiple conspiracy theories that have circulated surrounding the massacre due mainly to the sheer number of deaths, the manner they died, and the suspicious lack of evidence and information. One main theory is that the CIA was behind the massacre, and the victims of Jonestown was part of an illegal mind control experiment Project MK ULTRA.


The People’s Temple was a radical left wing founded in 1955 by Jim Jones. Minorities such as women, African Americans, and disillusioned outcasts were drawn to the People’s Temple, and its preaching of human freedom, equality, and love. Due to bad publicity and rumors of abuse and scandals, Jim Jones and members of his congregation migrated to Guyana, and set up Jonestown. Life at Jonestown was less than ideal for the inhabitants however. The soil was harsh and  far from plentiful, there was a shortage of clean drinking water, children were separated from their parents, abuse was common, and prolonged manual labor was a reality for the members of Jonestown.


U.S Congressman Leo Ryan had heard suspicious things about Jonestown, namely that the people were being held against their will, and decided to visit it for himself to investigate. He brought along a team of journalists, a film crew, and concerned relatives of some of the members of the People’s temple. Leo Ryan was known for being fiercely against the CIA, and had introduced the Hughes-Ryan Act in 1974, which required the President of the United States to report all covert operations of the CIA to one or more Congressional committees with a set time limit.


Ryan and his group were greeted warmly by the People’s Temple and Jim Jones, and were treated to a dinner and a night of entertainment. It was running smoothly until a member of Ryan’s group was secretly handed a list with all the names of the people who wanted to escape Jonestown. The suspicions that Leo Ryan had at the beginning of the trip became amplified, and it was clear that Jonestown was not a Utopian society. However, Ryan said that he would report that Jonestown was “In basically good terms”, as the number of people who wanted to leave was a lot less than he anticipated. Even though Jones had nothing to worry about regarding Leo Ryan, because Ryan would give a positive report, Jones still maintained that “All was lost.”  Ryan then told everybody who wanted to leave were free to go with him back to the United States. While Ryan and his crew and the escaped members were waiting to board a plane, they were ambushed by masked gunman. The gunmen were sent by Jim Jones, and Ryan was killed, along with 4 others in his group. Back at Jonestown, everyone was assembled, and Jim Jones gave a speech, spouting lines such as “If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace.” He told his followers that they were not safe anymore, and that the government had found out about the attack on Leo Ryan, and that they were going to kill their babies, and torture them. “When the government start parachuting out of the air, they’ll shoot some of our innocent babies.”

Jim Jones captivated a majority of his audience, using scare tactics and portraying suicide as something honorable and the only choice. “We are not committing suicide; it’s a revolutionary act. We can’t go back; they won’t leave us alone. They’re now going back to tell more lies, which means more congressmen. And there’s no way, no way we can survive.” Those who tried to stand up against him were silenced, and even had guns pointed at them. When Jones found out that Ryan was murdered, he became even more agitated, going to more extreme measures, saying: “They’ll torture some of our children here.They’ll torture our people, they’ll torture our seniors. We cannot have this.”


With armed guards surrounding them, the babies and children died first, either drinking fruit punch laced with cyanide and Valium, or being injected with the poison. Then the mothers went, and the rest of the members. People who were unwilling were encouraged by the guards, and in some cases forcibly made to swallow the poison. The meglomaniac preacher Jim Jones was found lying dead next to his chair, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.


The Conspiracy Theories:

Many conspiracy theories have circulated around the massacre at Jonestown, mainly spawning from the lack of evidence, conflicting accounts, prevalence of the CIA, and discrepancies in reports, among other things. For example, only 7 bodies, out of 913 had autopsies performed on them, leading many to believe that something was being hidden or covered up, that a higher power did not want the public to know about. The death toll also rose from 400 to 900 in a matter of days, leading to a theory that many people ran into the jungle during the massacre to escape their fate but were shot in the forest, their bodies only being found after the initial investigation. The Americans said that the bodies were stacked up on top of each other, causing that to be the reason behind the miscounting, but all the photographs taken at the investigation show no corpse stacking at all. The Death tape, a key piece of primary evidence, with audio and video recording of the massacre, was clearly edited, censored, and altered. Also, many documents regarding the investigation of the massacre still have not been released and are being held by the FBI, the lack of evidence being evidence in itself to the conspiracy theories. All of this points to the fact that Jonestown was not a simple murder-suicide spawning from a megalomaniac cult leader and his mindless followers. Much more was at work behind the scenes and behind the accepted story, and the government has taken measures to cover up the details behind the atrocity.


A common theory is that the CIA was behind the massacre, and that Jim Jones himself was working with the CIA.

Does this theory have any basis or believably?

Firstly, the CIA had an illegal mind-control experiment called MK ULTRA that started in the 1950’s and was officially halted in 1973, though it is believed to have continued, but through different acronyms. MK ULTRA was a series of experiments on human subjects to develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations. This can be linked to the Jonestown Massacre because during the investigation of the massacre, many psychoactive drugs were found at the scene, which seemed to indicate the possibility of widespread behavioral control or modification at Jonestown, which is exactly what the purpose of MK ULTRA was.

Secondly, Leo Ryan was the most anti-CIA congressman to date, and he went to investigate Jonestown, and ended being killed. He was in charge of passing the Hughes-Ryan amendment, which worked to directly combat covert operations undertaken by the CIA, in this case Project MK ULTRA. It seems as if killing Leo Ryan would be like “killing two birds with one stone.” The CIA would get rid of their main opposition, and killing Leo Ryan would also allow less stories of the horrors of Jonestown to get out to the public. The CIA then could blame Jim Jones and the People’s temple in regards to Ryan’s death, taking any responsibility or blame off of their shoulders.


Richard Dwyer, a man highlighted in the Who’s Who in the CIA 1968 edition, was also the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S Embassy, and escorted Leo Ryan to Jonestown and to the Airstrip. Many believe that Richard Dwyer had a close relationship with Jim Jones, adding more fuel to the theory that Jim Jones was working with the CIA. In the Death Tape, a key piece of evidence, we hear Jones say: “Take Dwyer on down to the east house.” and a while after: “Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him.” However Dwyer was not there at the time, he was escorting Leo Ryan to the Airstrip, where Ryan was assassinated.


The CIA could have been involved in Jonestown in two different ways. They could of been working with Jim Jones himself, regarding the Project MK ULTRA mind control experimentation on the inhabitants of Jonestown. The large quantities of psychoactive drugs found on the premises point to that, as well as Jim Jones links with Richard Dwyer, and Joe Holsinger, Leo Ryan’s assistant testified to the court that the CIA had a covert operation running in Guyana. In Senators Ervin’s 1974 report, “Individual Rights and the Governments role in Behavior Modification”, it shows how the targeted people that were “potentially dangerous”, and could be the subjects for the experiments, were women, blacks, prisoners, the young, and inmates of psychiatric wards. A majority of the members of Jonestown were black, many were women and children, and there were also many misfitted  members of society. Also, the People’s Temple at Jonestown, were the exact population selected for such tests. At the scene of the massacre, a large quantity of drugs were found, well over enough to use on over 200,000 people, for weeks on end. Among those drugs, sodium pentathol (truth serum), chloral hydrate (hypnotic), Demerol, and thallium (which confuses thinking). The environment in which the members of Jonestown lived in was typical of brainwashing techniques and psychological experiments.


The CIA could have used the mass suicide of the People’s Temple to cover up Leo Ryan’s assassination, getting rid of two threats: Ryan and the People’s Temple who were staunch communists. Jim Jones kept in contact with the Soviet Union, had given money to them, and was even considering moving his congregation to the USSR. By getting rid of Jim Jones and the congregation, they would be eliminating a massive and influential threat.


What is the most concrete and believable explanation?


There is no doubt that the government covered up key pieces of information regarding the Jonestown massacre, that have still not been released today. The Death tape had clearly been tampered with, and the fact that only seven bodies had autopsies performed on them, made the claims of the conspiracy theories seem all the more legitimate.


However, there is no concrete evidence that the CIA was directly involved with Jonestown, and it is even less likely that the Jonestown inhabitants were subjects of project MK-ULTRA. Though there was a large amount of psychoactive drugs found at the scene of the crime, that only leads to speculation, rather than solid proof. Joe Holsinger, Ryans assistant did indeed testify to a court that the CIA had a covert operation going on in Guyana, but unfortunately he had nothing to back that up. The inhabitants of Jonestown had undertaken a suicide drill in the months leading up to the massacre, and were lined up by gunpoint, and forced to drink a concoction of kool-aid and “poison”, to prove their loyalty to Jones and the People’s temple. They actually believed that they were going to die, but minutes after, Jones announced that it was simply a test, and they had passed it. A theory is that the members of the People’s temple believed that the Jonestown massacre was simply another loyalty test.


The accepted story of that the Jonestown massacre was a mass suicide-murder. Jim Jones had a majority of his followers under a spell of compliance and blind following. Leading up to the massacre he made his congregation take multiple oaths of obedience, harsh interrogations surrounding loyalty, and even suicide drills.


I believe, that there is not enough evidence and proof to determine whether the CIA was behind the Jonestown Massacre, and whether the inhabitants of Jonestown were part of the illegal mind control project MK ULTRA. There is no denying the lack of concrete evidence, a large  amount of evidence that has either been erased of hidden from a higher power up in the government. Jim Jones could have been involved with the CIA leading up to the massacre, but that doesn’t prove that they were directly behind the Jonestown massacre.

I do believe that Jim Jones was a sinister, manipulative, and deranged man, who had the ability to make others do his bidding by either force, charisma, or abuse. The People’s temple in Jonestown is considered one of the most notorious cults, and it followed every negative connotation that follows when one hears the word “Cult.”


The members were emotionally and physically isolated, forced to give up their possessions, mind sets, and even children. They had to completely submit to Jim Jones, and were utterly powerless. The inhabitants of Jonestown were in a very dangerous situation, and due to the nature of cults, and the damaging effects of the members, it’s completely plausible, and the most likely story of why these people took part in mass murder suicide. However, out of all 900 members, many were found to be murdered, and on the death tape you can hear a few people protesting. Not everyone had completely succumbed to Jim Jones and his sinister intentions, and those who didn’t did not get out fast enough.

(Note; this article was extensively researched and cross referenced.)


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