Drinking the Kool-Aid (4/4)

A Guyana memorial yo the lives lost at Jonestown

Content warning: This post series discusses the mass death of People’s Temple members at Jonestown
Continued from part 3

It isn’t clear how many Temple members were aware they were going to die. Babies and children were poisoned first, with a mixture of cyanide and chloral hydrate, and those who had taken poison were quickly ushered away before the effects took hold. Jones walked through the crowd, watching to be sure they swallowed. Death occurred within five minutes, and the cries and screams of dying children rang through the air.

A 44 minute audio “death tape” testifies their anguish, and also the speeches made by adult members praising Jones for his bold decision. Eventually his urgency supplanted his narcissism, and Jones can be heard begging them to stop and move the mass death along quicker. I haven’t even attempted listening to it, because I know it would haunt me always.

Over 300 of those killed were children, of all races. The first to be poisoned was a one-year-old babe in her mother’s arms. Some were kidnapping victims. None had a say in their church membership, move to Guyana, or death. All cult members are victims, with varying degrees of complicity with the crimes of their leader. The Red Brigade may be hard to sympathize with, but those 300 children never should be.

When people joke about Jonestown, or when even mainstream press outlets (who lost three of their own on that air strip) casually use the phrase “drinking the Kool-Aid”, it makes me despair. If you would never make a joke about solitary suicide, if you would never joke about the children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary by a lone gun man, but you would laugh about the more than 900 killed by “suicide” that day and at the more than 300 murdered children of the People’s Temple, you’re not being a good person.

I was a child in a cult. Obviously I managed to escape with my life, and Alzheimer’s incapacitated my former leader before she could kill en masse. One at a time, she still managed to rack up a body count of at least twelve. I could have been one of those deaths; at least four other children were killed indirectly through her influence. Each of those deaths is a crime and a tragedy. Not one of them is a joke.

The next time you are tempted to laugh at these deaths, ask yourself why. Investigate what in you is so callous it can treat this tragedy as comedy, and then work on it. Are dead black and brown kids funny to you? Does the use of a children’s drink in this mass murder amuse you? Do you think cult members deserve death for their choice to join a socialist racially integrated church doing notable good in the neighborhood? Why is this a joke to you?

Nearly 1,000 lives were lost in a single day, in two incidents of abhorrent violence. People were executed for trying to escape, and for daring to help them do do. And then nearly everyone else was killed too, leaving a field of corpses behind. Temple members with family in Concerned Relatives were claimed, but over 400 bodies never were. Even in death, they were abandoned. I can’t laugh at people who had no one being manipulated literally to death by a paranoid and narcissistic abuser. I just don’t see the humor in it.

One thought on “Drinking the Kool-Aid (4/4)

  1. I first found out about Jim Jones and the Jonestown Massacre last year while looking at a list of countries’ suicide rates. I’ve listened to the 44 minute “death tape”. It’s madness. People embracing death to the point of believing that killing their children was an act of mercy. Jonestown was another failed utopia like you’ve talked about Angie. One member of the group by the name of Christina argues with Jim against his plan, talking about going to Russia and finding acceptance, but finds herself unpopular with the others. The tape shows how many had given themselves to over to Jones’, trusting his judgement and his “prophecies”. I’ll be frank and admit there have been times in my life when I would have been susceptible to promises of a utopia, separate from the world. I did actually go to a utopia of sorts, though for barely a day. It was a Christian farm-stay that grew lot’s of fruit and vegetable. I think after that experience I was inclined against utopias. Maybe they’re best left in songs like John Lennon’s “Imagine”.


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