Remembering the Jonestown massacre

MNA Feature Desk: Four decades ago this Sunday, the Rev Jim Jones, the charismatic leader of an American cult in the Guyanese jungle, ordered his followers to murder a US congressman and several journalists, then commit mass suicide by drinking cyanide-laced fruit punch.

The Jonestown massacre was, before 9/11, the largest single incident of intentional civilian death in American history.

More than 900 people died, many children. It was also a devastating cultural trauma: the end of the last strains of a certain kind of 1960s idealism and 1970s radicalism.

Jonestown’s legacy lives on in the ironic phrase “drink the Kool-Aid”.

Although he would later become a symbol of the darker side of the west coast counterculture, Jim Jones was born to a poor family in Indiana.

Described as an intelligent and strange child, Jones was instinctively attracted to religion, especially charismatic Christian traditions like Pentecostalism. He cut his teeth as a street preacher, and was, unusually for the time and place, a passionate advocate for racial equality.


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