40th Anniversary of the Rev. Jim Jones Jonestown Tragedy (murder-suicide where 918 died) and the Origin of International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA) – November 18, 2018
In November 1978 California Congressman Leo J. Ryan visited Jonestown, a commune in the jungle of Guyana, along with journalists and relatives concerned about family members in the group. The leader of the group, Rev. Jim Jones, had become prominent in San Francisco because his church, the Peoples Temple, had championed progressive causes, most notably racial equality.
He moved nearly 1000 of his followers to an agricultural commune in Guyana to avoid the IRS and bad publicity emanating from the actions of a group that called itself “The Concerned Relatives.” The commune was called “Jonestown.”
Ryan said he was on a fact-finding mission. As Ryan and his companions interviewed more people, their skepticism about the Peoples Temple grew. Jones, who felt his “mission” crumbling around him, ordered the murder of Ryan and his entourage and a mass suicide of his commune, something that had been practiced many times before.
On November 18, 1978, Congressman Ryan, three journalists, and a Peoples Temple member were shot and killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip, six miles from Jonestown. Soon after, more than 900 of Jones’s followers ingested poison in Kool-Aid as an act of “revolutionary suicide.”
Nearly 300 of the victims were children, a calamity depicted in icy detail in Ken Wooden’s book, Children of Jonestown. Thus, “murder-suicide” is the adjective often associated with Jonestown.
As the bloated bodies of the deceased were discovered and photographed, horror gripped the world. Weeks of newspaper and television coverage followed. In the United States Jonestown became the biggest media story since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Political committees investigated the tragedy. Groups of parents concerned about loved ones in cults were able to connect and work together. In 1979 the American Family Foundation (ICSA’s original name) was founded, as was the Citizens Freedom Foundation (later renamed the Cult Awareness Network), which was driven into bankruptcy in 1996.
In 1978 ICSA director Dr. Michael Langone had become interested in the cult phenomenon because of his association with Dr. John Clark, one of the first mental health professionals to speak out on behalf of parents concerned about children in cults. Langone recalls attending a seminar Dr. Clark held with psychology interns at Massachusetts General Hospital about a month or two before the Jonestown suicides.
Dr. Clark had no special knowledge of what was going on in the jungle of Guyana, but he had come to witness the striking level of control some cults wielded over their followers. He said to the interns something like, “There is going to be a bloodbath someday.” Langone remembers the cynical snickering of the skeptical interns.
Soon thereafter television and news magazines shocked the world with photos of hundreds of bodies in Jonestown. Public perceptions about cults changed quickly after Jonestown.
The tragedy of Jonestown should not be viewed as typical of cults. It is without doubt the extreme. Jonestown, however, shows, as did Nazi Germany, what might happen when immense power becomes concentrated in one person.
Human beings by nature tend to conform; they want to relate harmoniously within their social groups. The deceptive and manipulative techniques of influence and control illuminated in the cultic studies field serve as an accelerant to this natural tendency, as some chemicals accelerate the growth of a fire.
Thus, human beings, who want to belong and do good, are led down destructive pathways that they would not have chosen had they known the outcome in advance.
In memory of the victims of Jonestown, the directors of ICSA ask you to reaffirm your commitment to help victims of cultic manipulation and educate the public so that fewer people follow pied pipers down pathways of subservience and pain.
More information on Jonestown and the Peoples Temple:
Images from Jonestown (WARNING: of the graphic nature of mass suicide): https://www.gettyimages.com/photos/jonestown?sort=mostpopular&mediatype=photography&phrase=jonestown
Podcast in which Rachel Bernstein, MS, LMFT, interviews Patricia Ryan, daughter of the slain congressman and former president of the Cult Awareness Network:
NOTE: This is reproduced with permission from Dr. Michael Langone, and the ICSA Board of Directors.
Robert Chaen and his social media and website acknowledge ICSA for bringing light into the Dark World of Cults, brainwashing and family isolation; and support the excellent work and research ICSA does and to bring greater awareness of cults in Asia where most cults originate from.
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Published: 18th November 2018.
Read Robert Chaen’s articles on cults: https://robertchaen.com/category/cults/
Watch Robert Chaen’s YouTube videos on cults in Saving 72 Virgins:
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Watch Robert Chaen’s YouTube videos on Brahma Kumaris Cult: