Who Was Jim Jones?

By Jason Jeffrey

The above article appeared in
New Dawn No. 29 (January-March 1995)

Early Years

Continued Persecution


While the mainstream media, influenced by Cult Awareness Network propaganda, portray Jim Jones as an 'evil demagogue', a number of independent 'conspiratologists' view Jones as a conscious agent of the CIA. For these writers Jonestown was simply a CIA organised slave labor camp and the People's Temple just an elaborate facade hiding a bizarre intelligence agency experiment.

Other researchers see Jim Jones as the victim of a U.S. government operation. His People's Temple fleeing to Guyana to escape intense U.S. government harassment.

Early Years

The People's Temple began in 1954 as the Community Unity Church, a multiracial Pentecostal-style congregation in Indianapolis, Indiana. The church was founded by a twenty-three-year-old white preacher, Jim Jones (1931-1978), who had made a name for himself in Pentecostal circles throughout the United States as a healer and prophet. By 1955, Jones's ministry had been renamed the People's Temple Full Gospel Church and was attracting large crowds for Sunday faith-healing services. Jones later insisted that the healing dramas of his early ministry were conducted mainly to draw people who could then be taught his more important messages of apostolic social justice and equality. The young preacher's efforts to promote interracial harmony were heralded by the Indianapolis Recorder, a weekly Black newspaper, and earned Jones the position of director of the Indianapolis Human Rights Commission in 1961.

During the early 1960s the People's Temple set up soup kitchens, distributed free groceries and clothing, and organised other community programs. Jones was ordained as a minister in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in 1964.

Religious scholar J. Gordon Melton points out that: "Jim Jones' Peoples' Temple, labeled a `cult' after the deaths in Jonestown, was in fact a congregation within mainline Christianity. It was a full member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which in turn is a member of the National Council of Churches.

"Liberal Protestants heralded it for its social action program, and during the mid-1970s, several denominations such as the United Methodist Church devoted an entire adult church school lesson to extolling its virtues."

In 1961 Jim Jones had a vision in which the American Midwest was destroyed in a nuclear war and moved his congregation to Ukiah, California, shortly thereafter. By 1969 Jim Jones opened a large complex called "Happy Acres" which contained a meeting hall, a swimming pool, a child care facility, and a senior citizen centre.

Jim Jones's ministry, which now claimed to have twenty thousand members, expanded into Los Angeles and into the predominantly Black Filmore district of San Francisco in the 1970's.

The spectacular growth of the People's Temple saw Jim Jones emerge as an outspoken, uncompromising foe of U.S. imperialism. Through evangelistic rallies and radio broadcasts Jones addressed literally hundreds of thousands of people in cities all over the United States. In simple, yet forceful language, Jim Jones exposed the smug corruption, the blatant hypocrisy, the abuses, disgraces, and contradictions of American capitalism. The vast congregation of People's Temple helped plan and attended en masse countless demonstrations in support of freedom movements, peace, and human rights causes around the world.

The newspaper of the People's Temple People's Forum, which reached over half a million people, tackled the sacred icons of the U.S. Establishment provocatively asking: "The Rockefeller brothers - How they got their fortunes and increase them daily. Their influence over U.S. policy. How does Henry Kissinger, e.g., hop right over from being Secretary of State to become a Board member of the Chase Manhattan Bank?

Jim Jones soon became the target of organised Establishment opposition. He was attacked and threatened. His family members, children, congregants were terrorised, beaten and spied on. Attempts were made to infiltrate the organisation with provocateurs. Peoples Temple was subjected to harassment, bogus investigations, yellow journalism, and torrents of malicious gossip and highly publicized lies.

Addressing a rally in 1977, just prior to the exodus of People's Temple to the rural community in Guyana, Jim Jones, showing signs of the covert harassment and media attacks, declared "just remember there's nothing worse than putting someone in the corner when they have tried to do righteousness..."

Jim Jones rallied his congregation with the vision that they were pilgrims on a quest for enlightenment and safety. In Guyana they would establish a community of their own - Jonestown - free from the harassment and persecution they faced in North America. Here at Jonestown they would fully practice Jone's dictim that "service to my fellow man is the highest service to God."


In a statement he made to the Foreign Affairs Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rev. John Moore of the United Methodist Church wrote:

"The people went to Jonestown with hope, hope which grew out of a loss of hope in the U.S. There can be no understanding of movements such as People's Temple and Jonestown apart from this loss of hope. They migrated, because they had lost hope in any commitment of the American people or the Congress to end racial discrimination and injustice. They had lost hope in the people and the legislature to deal justly and humanely with the poor...Older people went to Jonestown hoping to become free of purse snatchings, muggings, and the harshness of the urban scene. Some young people hoped to learn new skills, or to become free from pressures of peers in the crime and drug scenes. People went to Jonestown to find freedom from the indignity our society heaps upon the poor. They went with hope for a simple, quiet life...They saw themselves leaving a materialistic society where things are valued more than people. Many went as pioneers to create a new community in the jungle. Still others saw in Jonestown a vision of a new society, a wave of the future."

The leading Guyanese newspaper Guyana Chronicle, December 1977 had this to say about the Jonestown community:

"Some 800 people, all members of the Peoples Temple, are living at the giant agricultural project at Jonestown, aiming at helping Guyana with farming while also helping make Jonestown self-sufficient in food and housing.

"At the area known as Jonestown, the Pastor and founder, the Rev. Jim Jones, has come under fire from reactionary forces in the U.S.A., who see the prosperous agricultural project and the communal life enjoyed by its members there as a threat to the old established order."

U.S. Attorney Charles Garry, who visited Jonestown on November 6, 1977, told The Sun Reporter on his return to the United States, "I have been in paradise. I saw a community where there is no such thing as racism." At a press conference in 1978 the prominent civil rights lawyer Mark Lane stated: "I have been deeply impressed with what I have seen there [in Jonestown]...It makes me almost weep to see such an incredible experiment, with such vast potential for the human spirit and soul of this country, be cruelly assaulted by the [US government] intelligence organisations..." On another occasion, Mark Lane called Jonestown "the closest thing on earth like paradise I have ever seen."

Continued Persecution

The CIA and their allies launched an elaborate campaign against Jim Jones and the Jonestown community. Shortly before Christmas 1977 the U.S. government stopped sending social security payments to senior citizens at Jonestown. Reports appeared in the North American press that a father of a member of People's Temple publicly threatened to liberate his son from Jonestown using mercenaries.

In his book The Strongest Poison Mark Lane tells how one opponent of People's Temple admitted that "during September 1977 he had led a group of men armed with rifles and bazookas [to Jonestown]... He said that a huge jet was standing by to carry all of the children back to America... What they found [in Jonestown] was about ten building and a clearing - no barbed wire, no guards with automatic weapons, nothing like what they had been led to expect. For two days, the invaders watched the compound and tried to figure out what the hell was going on. The only guns they saw were shotguns used to kill snakes."

Amid mounting tension and heightened fear of attack by hostile forces the Central Committee of the Jonestown community held a press conference, via shortwave radio, with journalists assembled at San Francisco People's Temple centre.

From the transcript of this press conference it is obvious that the Jonestown community were a people under siege. In a desperate attempt to end the harassment engineered by hostile U.S. agencies, a People's Temple spokesman read a prepared statement. It said in part: "Finally we would like to address ourselves to the affect that we prefer to resist harassment and persecution even if it means death...We affirm before we will submit quietly to the interminable plotting and persecution of this politically motivated conspiracy, we will resist actively putting our lives on the line if it comes to that...We choose as our model not those who walked submissively into gas ovens but the valiant heroes of the Warsaw ghetto."

Clearly this was not the plea of a 'suicide cult'. Pushed into a corner the people of Jonestown made a public declaration to resist and if necessary, fight any aggression against their community. Consequently late in 1977 a small security force was set up to protect Jonestown. In a final, desperate bid to escape continued persecution and avoid conflict Jim Jones announced that the people of Jonestown had decided to leave Guyana and move to the Soviet Union.

As part of the preparations to relocate to the U.S.S.R. People's Temple developed close contact with the Soviet Embassy in Guyana. On September 27, 1978 the Soviet Consul Fyodor Timofeyev made a visit to Jonestown.

The Soviet Consul found a thriving community in the jungle of Guyana. Dr. Nikolai Fedorovsky accompanied the Consul to Jonestown. Jim Jones explained that they were expecting more than a hundred new arrivals. "I am not sure they'll be able to get through to us here," Jones told the Russian doctor. Adding that:"Somebody must have it in for us over there, in the States. Even the books, tools, and many other things reach us in an unstable state. The same happens to the medical supplies we receive from the USA. This must all be the job of the CIA."

Dr. Fedorovsky inspected Jonestown's medical dispensary. In The Jonestown Carnage, he states "the pharmacy did not impress me very much. Everything here was very much like in any other pharmacy of this type. Later, after the terrible events in Jonestown I tried to recall if there had been anything unusual about it. Cyanide? No, I did not see any. Tranquillizers and sedatives in tablets? Yes, I saw them, but only in moderate quantities that did not arouse suspicion. And how many of these preparations would be required to kill almost a thousand people? All that did not hang together. And another discrepancy: where did all those numerous ampule injectors come from, the ones which, according to American newspapers, the victims of the Guyana massacre used to inject the killer-poison?"

Dr. Fedorovsky's observations, detailed in the 1987 Soviet Progress Press book The Jonestown Carnage, are significant. After the massacre Guyanese troops reportedly discovered a large cache of drugs, enough to drug the entire population of Georgetown, Guyana. One footlocker contained 11,000 does of thorazine, a dangerous tranquilizer. Drugs used in the notorious CIA MKULTRA project were also found in abundance. Were these drugs planted in Jonestown by the killers?

Back in the United States, The Sun Reporter, October 5, 1978 carried an article titled People's Temple Strikes Back. Conspiracy to Destroy Jonestown Charged. The report announced that: "People's Temple plans to launch a massive, multi-million-dollar lawsuit against various government agencies, which the temple says have conspired to disrupt its activities and destroy its operation..."

Mark Lane was quoted as saying "the intelligence community in the United States has participated in deliberate efforts to destroy People's Temple, Jim Jones and Jonestown".

Lane said he thought the government targeted People's Temple because its experiment in socialist living was an "embarrassment" for the United States government. "Twelve hundred Americans have fled to the jungles of Guyana in search of human rights and an opportunity to lead fulfilling lives-opportunities that are not available to them in the ghettos of America," Lane added.


The last visitor to Jim Jones and the People's Temple in Jonestown was U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan. Accompanied by reporters, 'concerned' relatives of Jonestown residents and People's Temple lawyer's Mark Lane and Charles Garry, Leo Ryan arrived on November 17, 1978.

Congressman Ryan was warmly received at Jonestown and toured the community. After dinner Ryan told the assembled crowd: "I can tell you right now that by the few conversations I've had with some of the folks here already this evening that...there are some people who believe this is the best thing that ever happened in their whole lives."

People's Temple member Richard Tropp told Washington Post reporter Charles Krause that Jonestown was a living and working experiment in how society should work. "I think it's a tragedy we couldn't do it in the United States." Asked by Krause why he thought the People's Temple was under attack in the U.S., Tropp replied, "Because we believe there is some group, some force that is working to disrupt and agitate against the People's Temple". (Guyana Massacre)

Leo Ryan told Jim Jones that Jonestown was a "beautiful place" and he found no proof of the allegations about the Temple which were in circulation in the United States. Ryan and the rest of his group left for the nearby airstrip. Charles Krause sums up the results of the investigation into Jonestown:

"I rather admired Jim Jones's goals... The People's Temple hadn't struck me as a crazy fringe cult... It seemed to me that the People's Temple had a legitimate purpose, a noble purpose, and was more or less succeeding... No one...had offered any proof that the 900 or so people at Jonestown were being starved, mistreated, or held against their will... The hundreds of people still at Jonestown, who had chosen not to defect, seemed ample proof that they were relatively content." (Guyana Massacre)

Preparing to board a small aircraft for the return journey Congressman Leo Ryan and some members of his entourage were shot and killed. News of the assassination soon reached Jonestown, panic swept the community.

What happened on the night of November 18? Genuine information was supplied by those few people who survived the massacre and escaped into the jungle. They said that Jim Jones had called a general meeting of all the residents of Jonestown in order to set out a course of action in the wake of Ryan's assassination.

Attorney Mark Lane, who was at Jonestown, told a November 20 press conference in Georgetown, Guyana, that he counted 85 bursts of semi-automatic weapons fire when the community gathered for the supposed "mass suicide". Jim Jones shouted "Mother, mother, mother, mother!" Lane said. "Then there was the first burst of shooting." Lane said he and lawyer Charles Garry then fled into the jungle, but they heard "lots of gunfire and people screaming, including children".

Jim Jones was found days later at the foot of his chair in the centre of the meeting hall. He had been killed by a gunshot to the head. Surrounding him were dead bodies of hundreds of members of People's Temple.

Prof. I.R. Grigulevich, a distinguished Member of the USSR Academy of Sciences, after studying the Jonestown massacre wrote:

"The United States has closed the case of the People's Temple by dismissing it as 'one of those irrational episodes in our mad world'. A thousand political protestants were declared 'votaries of a cult of death', a bunch of lunatics who committed an unparalleled act of mass suicide. This version which had been tailored long before the Jonestown massacre not only made it possible to conceal the crime but also to use it for discrediting the People's Temple: it was labled a 'sect of suicides' and was formally disbanded.

"In spite of the incontestable proof that the Jonestown commune had been deliberately destroyed, the authorities in Washington...did not stir so much as a finger to conduct a fair and objective investigation into the tragic death of several hundreds of their fellow-countrymen. On the contrary, the authorities in Washington went to great pains to put the lid on the whole thing.

"The Jonestown massacre was part of an extensive complex of actions undertaken by U.S. punitive agencies (Operation 'Chaos' and others), whose goal was to clamp down on political movements, such as the Black Panthers, the Weathermen, the New Left, etc. To carry out this program, the CIA set up a highly secret group concerned with 'special operations'...

"We hope that now everybody will know about the act of savagery committed by the American imperialists in Guyana in order to suppress political dissent, to kill those who dared to build a new life free from the omnipotence of capital. The crime committed by the CIA laid bare the monstrous hypocrisy of the Washington administration which spares no words about defense of human rights. It was the Washington administration that gave the go-ahead for the extermination of people in the Guyanese jungles, those men and women for whom human rights became a reality only after they had made a clean break with the American capitalist system.

"The political refugees from the United States were killed because they had thrown down the gauntlet to the oppressive regime in the United States."