Content warning: This post series discusses the mass death of People’s Temple members at Jonestown
Continued from part 2
The Concerned Relatives, a group of ex Temple members and the families of current members, formed in the mid 1970s citing the child abduction of John Stoen as one of their concerns. They were an incredibly effective group. Using media tactics they had learned from Jones, they succeeded in getting newspapers to report their claims, and they influenced legislators to start an investigation.
As part of this inquest, California Representative Leo Ryan flew to Guyana with a small contingent of press and Concerned Relatives. He hoped to see Jonestown for himself, to know if the allegations of abuse were true and to help as he could. Jim Jones met with Ryan’s group and had them stay for dinner. Some Temple members approached Ryan, asking for his help defecting. But Ryan’s overall impression of the rehearsed performance of happiness was positive, and he stated he intended to make a good report to Congress. Ryan’s group left with the defectors.
When they arrived at the air strip to begin their journey back to the United States, they were met by heavily armed members of the Red Brigade, the loyalist enforcers of Jones’s will for the People’s Temple. The cult members opened fire, killing NBC reporter Don Harris, NBC camera operator Bob Brown, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Ron Javers, and Temple defector Patricia Parks within minutes. Rep. Ryan succumbed to his injuries after being shot twenty times, ultimately dying at the scene. Nine others were injured.
Meanwhile back at the Jonestown encampment, Jim Jones was losing his composure. Since leaving the United States he had developed an addiction to drugs, and he had become increasingly paranoid and erratic. During the Ryan visit, he had ranted to reporters about his feelings of persecution and appeared dangerously agitated. The defections and the massacre at the air strip only heightened his sense of urgency.
When the Red Brigade returned, Jones began the mass suicide. He had held many rehearsal mass suicides before, called White Nights. During those rehearsals, the entire camp would be awoken in the dead of night, to drink unpoisoned grape Flavor-Aid (not Kool-Aid) as a group. Jones would preach over a loudspeaker system, about glory and standing against capitalism and the possibility of resurrection. They always lived through those nights, including at least one prior time Jones had claimed the punch was laced.
(Continue to part 4)