Jim Jones Research Paper

Jim Jones Research Paper


James Warren Jones famously referred to as Jim Jones, was a cult group leader, preacher, political activist, and faith healer who started a religious organization known as the People’s Temple. Along with the inner circle, Jones led people, including himself, into a mass suicide on November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana. In 1955, he created an organization that later became the People’s Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana (Gallagher, 2018).  He was associated with then famous Pentecostal preachers like William Branham from southern Indiana, who had a very distinctive style, and thought himself to be Elijah of the Second Advent. Branham helped Jones by preaching in a large venue and attracting a very racially mixed crowd. Jones spent some time on the Indianapolis Human Rights Council, where he worked hard to eliminate segregation. He was criticized heavily in a very charged political environment. His church grew, but the persecution mounted. He began to see himself as a great God-anointed prophet and leader. Jones saw the early church period in the Acts of the Apostles as an ideal communal period in church history and himself as the ultimate Apostle. He then moved the church to California, where he thought he would find a friendlier environment. The church grew, attracting many who believed in Jones’ utopian vision. Eventually, he led them to Guyana to establish a Paradise on earth, and some of the people who traveled to Guyana with him became disillusioned (Kohl, 2017). The rest is tragic history resulting in the death of Congressman Leo Ryan and 909 People’s Temple members, nearly one-third of them children.

The character of Jim Jones

Jim Jones was a charismatic man who convinced people that he cared about them. He started his ministry among the down and out people, with a more or less socialist view of the world, which resonated with the working-class people he attracted (Dogra, 2020). Jones helped people out of tight jams, and his reputation as a hip and excellent preacher spread. Of course, he was a social influencer, but social influencers are famous for being charming, and they can be clever enough to know what appeals to people. This trait also came with paranoia, the shadow side of the glib personality, and he was convinced the government was out to get him, which prompted the paranoid flight to Guyana.

Jim Jones was a socialist, and Guyana had a Socialist government that was happy to have him and his followers move there. Jones met with Prime Minister Forbes Burnham, who suggested a location for Jonestown in the middle of a disputed border region that the Guyanese were afraid might be seized by neighboring Venezuela (Crockford, 2018). Additionally, Guyana is an English-speaking nation with a large Black population, so Jones figured he might grow his congregation. It was also a remote location far from the U.S. where his American followers would be isolated and dependent on him.

What eventually led to the Jonestown Massacre was a combination of factors. Jones was known for being a narcissist but was not enough to persuade 900 people to kill themselves. One must wonder how Jones even convinced these Americans to move to the jungles of South America. Peoples Temple originally started as a Christian church, but it evolved into more of a social movement, starting with its move to California than Guyana (Albhlal, 2021). That same day, Jonestown people murdered Congressman Leo Ryan; further, Jones knew this would cause retaliation. As aforementioned, Jones showed many of the traits of a psychopath. In his last recorded sermon on November 18, 1978, one could hear hundreds of his followers choking and dying as he calmly continues speaking.

Strategies used to Obtain power

Jim Jones used many strategies to gain power and attract more people into his cult. He had a small, committed group of extremists who operated as his enforcers, and everyone else was cut off from any sources of help (Kelley, 2019). The public shaming that took place several times a week was used to turn the residents of Jonestown against each other. Because of this, nobody was sure of who to trust, and dissatisfied people were scared to speak out. He also strategically chose the location of Jonestown in the middle of forbidding jungle territory. This means that nobody was expected to walk out to safety; it would have been more than 100 miles in a thick, predator-filled jungle, and the person would have had no hiking boots, no compass, and no landmarks. Also, Jones began feeding people less and less food, which means the people were malnourished, hungry, and exhausted. In the final months, he broadcasted his messages via speaker all night, leaving his followers in a state of severe sleep deprivation. Many people at Jonestown had families there, and as long as one true believer wanted to remain, the others were hesitant to leave that person behind.

People were also demoralized through Jones’s intimidation and brainwashing tactics and held back by their concern for others that they loved. Jones used all of this to kill these people. From survivor interviews and memoirs, it is evident that only about one-third of the people at Jonestown willingly committed suicide. Another third were children, who could not fully understand their actions and had never known a life beyond Jim Jones (Guinn, 2017). Others surrendered to despair or were murdered. After the massacre, people on the scene found many syringes used to inject those who resisted forcibly, and witnesses report many people being forced to swallow the FlavorAid.

The strategy used by Jim Jones to influence people was nearly as complicated as people think. Cults start slow, and they certainly do not advertise themselves as cults. It is always a church, a Bible study, a meditation group, or self-help (Hoyk & Hersey, 2020). They offer love and acceptance, which are often in very short supply everywhere else. Jones targeted people groups who were more vulnerable to manipulation, exploitation, and abuse, including people dissatisfied with or disenfranchised by the mainstream. If an individual visited a few times and did not care about it, a person often finds himself going back eventually and getting more deeply involved. Jones also offered a good show and an ideology of hope. Everything from divine miracles to a better way of living was provided as part of the Peoples Temple experience. There was an amalgam of faith, social and economic politics, allegedly supernatural expressions, and showmanship.

Jim Jones also used social and political activism to gain power. He offered valuable services within the community, not just ideological balms. This raised personal and social, and political interest in the Temple and created a sense of legitimacy and entrenchment, which was further supported by the tactics used against bad press and dissenters (Palayon, Todd & Vungthong, 2017). He used standard cult practices like trying to isolate and indoctrinate individuals with no regard for the good of the individuals involved. This was not psychic hypnosis but malevolent, next-level engineering of human consciousness. Jones did not exist on his charm, and in ways, this was much bigger than him as a person.

Nonetheless, he used physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological abuse to shape behaviors and maintain organization. This kept so many members from speaking out more or leaving and going as far as was necessary to pursue particular goals. The ‘mass suicide’ involved more violence than free participation—and it was regularly practiced as a dry run (Dikes, 2019). Murdering outside parties as well as members was a chosen solution. Cults start shaky and almost always end in tragic deaths. Cultic organizations are doomed from the start because they are not supposed to be. Their very nature is an affront to human dignity. Egomania and narcissism are the main components of cult leaders. They presume themselves to be superior to the people who follow them and to society as a whole. It is the same quality of a dictator that vaunts self-imposed leaders to force rule by threat, intimidation, and violence if needed. There is a fatal attachment to cultic existence that usually results in a loss. A stable government is a better option. Even with the upheaval the United States is experiencing now; it beats the secretive and prohibited world of cults. Cultic organizations like that of Jim Jones do not work in the long run.

Reasons why Jim Jones was Evil

Jim Jones was evil in many ways. He had the sadistic narcissist’s canny identification of who can be corrupted and who can be sold. Jones also utilized the demonization of anyone who points out that what he was doing was crazy or wrong. Jones spun a fantasy world for their followers to inhabit, a zero-sum dystopia where they either totally accepted everything he did or quit the organization (Crockford, 2018).

Jim Jones was the ruthless and inhuman leader of a semi-Christian cult who enticed over 1,000 people to move to a commune he set up in Guyana. There were accusations of child abuse, forced teen sex, and other abuses that caught the eye of the U.S. media. Relatives of the people in the commune expressed their concerns to Congressman Leo Ryan, whose district many of the commune members came from (Kohl, 2017). Ryan flew to the Jonestown commune to investigate. His party included members of his staff and the media. When he was leaving with some disaffected commune members, he and members of his party were assassinated at the airport at the order of the commune’s leadership. Jones then directed the members of his commune to commit mass suicide with poison. Many did so readily, lining up to drink the poisoned “Kool Aid.” Some resisted and either had the drink forced on them or were shot. Ultimately over 900 commune members died. Today “Drinking the Kool-Aid” means the unquestioning acceptance of something usually involving politics.

Jim Jones was inconsiderate and selfish. The poor people who believed in him followed him to Ghana, where they were separated from all the family and friends they could previously have counted on for advice and support (Dogra, 2020). They were totally under his control. Unless they were brilliant and clever, they had no escape. By that time, he was under investigation by federal forces for human rights abuses. He had sex freely with many of the women there, often against their will. When the team returned to investigate further, in 1978, Jones’ bodyguards allowed them to hold a meeting, a dinner, and as they returned to the airfield, his bodyguard shot the Congressman and his team.

Upon return to the compound, Jones gave a disorganized and illogical speech to his remaining followers. He mentioned it was a “revolutionary suicide.” He instructed parents to feed it to their children first (a fatal drink of cyanide and Kool-Aid) and then lie down and take it themselves. Though they protested, like any successful religious nut, he dictated their lives to them. They did as their leader told them. He later took a large dose of barbiturates. By morning, the death toll was 909 people, 304 of which were children (Albhlal, 2021). If Jim Jones did not have the Bible on his hands, all those people would not have died without reason on that fateful day, destroying so many short lives. They trusted and had faith not only in him but in the Bible.

Cult leaders like Jim Jones are never good. He turned from slavery to violence, from one form of evil to another. This does not mean he saw himself as evil. He may not have been malicious. He may have been very misguided. Misguided people most certainly can do evil things (Guinn, 2017). Too many people notice the violence of exceptional cults and ignore the slavery of typical ones. Hundreds of millions of people have been enslaved, including the Marxist states, which use the same mind control methods. The error of distinct cults is more critical because it affects more victims. People do not notice exceptional sensational headlines while ignoring the vast and typical phenomenon right before them because they think it is not notorious. That is complacency that is entirely unacceptable. It was the not-unusual story of people seeking meaning and purpose who found a leader they felt had saved them, who became emotionally invested in him, and stayed with him as he came apart mentally until they paid the ultimate price. When Jim Jones told his followers to kill themselves, they had almost no options left (Dikes, 2019). As is often the case in scenarios like Jim Jones’ his behavior became slowly crazier, and at each level, a few of his followers would leave, but most would stay and tell themselves, and those that doubted him were the real enemies.

He groomed his believers repeatedly to believe the U.S government was hunting him and they were in danger. Their lives revolved entirely around him and his “church.” Four team members and one escapee hoping to go back to the USA were killed, and several others were wounded (Crockford, 2018). Jones told his people that they would all be tortured and executed for the crime, and the time had come to an end their lives. The story of the mass suicide is unbelievably heartbreaking. Jones believers were surrounded by armed guards who had orders to shoot anyone who did not drink the poison, but they had rehearsed the mass suicide several times, and there was no natural resistance to the idea. A recording of it reveals only one woman openly defying Jones, saying that the children (200-300) deserved to live, and she was shouted down.

It was evil for him to kill his believers while he remained behind. For many months beforehand, Jones told his followers that someday they would need to die; “perform an act of revolutionary suicide,” as he put it. Naturally, he felt that he would have to forego the privilege of dying along with them because, he said, someone would have to stay behind and explain why they did it (Kelley, 2019). Manipulating his followers to give up their family and friends, sell all their possessions, donate the proceeds to the church, and then follow him to “the Promised Land” (Jonestown) was a systematic way to break down their support systems and leave them vulnerable. It was a long, dangerous walk through the jungle to get to the closest settlement and many hours by boat or private plane to the nearest police department or consulate, so his followers were utterly at his mercy.

Long before the night of the mass murder, he put his followers through loyalty tests. As they dropped off to sleep following a long day of hard labor, a siren would go off, and he would call a “white night.” Everyone in camp would be required to show up in the pavilion where he held his long rant fests, and anyone who failed to appear promptly would be punished (Gallagher, 2018). After a long, disjointed rant over the P.A. system, he would have his aides bring out little cups of Flavour Aid, tell everyone it was poison, and instruct them to drink. Only later, after they might have expected for any poison to take effect, did he let them know that the drink was not poisoned. Thus, he systematically trained his followers for mass suicide. Having gone through this same ritual multiple times without being poisoned, they were used to constant impromptu loyalty tests and conditioned to take the drink when he demanded it. Jones’ armed guards, who were fanatically loyal to him, stood by, ready to forcibly inject anyone who didn’t voluntarily swallow the concoction (Dogra, 2020). Jones didn’t die from poison; he died from a single gunshot. No one knows if he had one of his trusted aides shoot him, or if he would shoot himself, or if someone had shot him against his will.


In conclusion, Jim Jones was an evil cult leader who led thousands to mass murder. His major traits include being charismatic, a narcists, a social influencer, and a socialist. He used manipulation, social and political activism, emotional and psychological abuse, torture, public shaming, and death to gain power. He was also an evil man. Jones fled the U.S. along with his followers to Guyana and created a socialist commune called Jonestown. When Congressman Leo Ryan arrived on November 18 to investigate the compound at the behest of concerned relatives who believed their loved ones were being held against their will, Jones ordered his murder. He also ordered the killing of those of the film crew Ryan brought as they attempted to board their plane to leave. Soon afterward, Jones (who had been declining mentally and physically) ordered his followers to commit “revolutionary suicide” by drinking Kool-Aid laced with cyanide. Jonestown has since become a metaphor for those who follow leaders blindly and accept everything they say without question, with “drinking the Kool-Aid” the usual phrase used. This is especially the case for those who, like Jones, create a “cult of personality” around themselves where their followers see them in messianic terms.











Albhlal, T. S. (2021). Terrorism and Contemporary Religious Cults: Jim Jones, Shoko Asahara, and Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. J. Pol. & L., 14 (1), 32.

Crockford, S. (2018). How Do You Know When You’re in a Cult? The Continuing Influence of Peoples Temple and Jonestown in Contemporary Minority Religions and Popular Culture. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 22(2), 93-114.

Dikes, J. S. (2019). Jonestown Documentaries on the Fortieth Anniversary. Nova Religio, 23(2), 94-104.

Dogra, K. K. (2020). An Investigation into the Tragedy of the Peoples Temple in Jonestown. Kwantlen Psychology Student Journal, 7(7).

Gallagher, E. V. (2018). The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple by Jeff Guinn. Nova Religio, 22(2), 157-158.

Guinn, J. (2017). The road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and peoples temple (Edition 1). New York:  Simon and Schuster.

Hoyk, R., & Hersey, P. (2020). Jonestown. In The Ethical Executive (pp. 109-116). California: Stanford University Press.

Kelley, J. L. (2019). “I Have to Be All Things to All People”: Jim Jones, Nurture Failure, and Apocalypticism. In New trends in psychobiography (Edition 1). pp. 363-379. New York: Springer, Cham.

Kohl, L. J. (2017). A New Map for Understanding Peoples Temple and Jim Jones. Communal Societies, 37(2), 199-208.

Palayon, R. T., Todd, R. W., & Vungthong, S. (2017). The Language of Destructive Cults. Communication & Language at Work, 7(1), 42-58.

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