Jim Jones

Mass Suicide: “Die with respect. Die with dignity.”

The Jonestown massacre demonstrated the potential devastation of massive cult followings. 918 people died in Jonestown or nearby at an airstrip.

The Jonestown massacre demonstrated the potential devastation of massive cult followings. 918 people died in Jonestown, Guyana or nearby at an airstrip.

The above image depicts the tools of a mass suicide movement led by the charismatic and corrupted leader Jim Jones of The People’s Temple. It reminds the viewer of the ease with which power over a group of followers can be misused and the devastation that follows such exploitation.

This image shows a pile of cups and syringes that were implemented in the mass suicide/murder of 909 followers of The People’s Temple in Jonestown, Guyana. There are several paper cups; a few are empty, most still contain the dark red beverage flavoring and cyanide mixture. In addition to the cups, the table is littered with hypodermic needles and syringes. Some of the syringes appear to be missing the needle tip, others are intact. There are many sterile wrappers of hypodermic needles covering the table top as well, and there are several boxes on the surface, with at least one reading: “Yale Hypodermic Needles”. One syringe in the very front of the picture appears to still be filled with the poisonous mixture.

The table itself looks worn and dirty. The floor visible underneath the table appears to be dirty and rudimentary. There are looped cables or hose of some kind in the back left corner. On the right side of the table, a barrel or vat is partially shown. The shoes and legs of a victim are barely visible behind the jug and are curled around a crate with the address of PO Box 893, Georgetown, Guyana. It is addressed to a man named John.

This image is haunting because it displays the tools of a movement that left 909 Americans dead, 1/3 of which were children. The children were either injected with the cyanide mixture or forced to swallow the mixture which was squirted into their mouths with needleless syringes. This cult following mimics the mass suicide movement that was seen in Paul Beatty’s novel The White Boy Shuffle though the Jonestown massacre was a much more violent event. Whereas Beatty uses humor to explore the topic of mass suicide, his book also demonstrates the ease with which followers can be exploited.

Jim Jones had very similar ideas to Gunnar Kaufman, though Jones was much more radical. Jones pushed the idea that laying down their lives with dignity and self-respect was in direct protest to the way they and other human beings were being treated. Jones convinced his followers that suicide was a way for them to choose their own death since they were going to die eventually anyway. Furthermore, in choosing to lay down their lives by choice, they were refusing to submit to capitalism and furthering the cause of socialism.

This photo is captivating and disturbing because it captures the ease with which Jim Jones was able to convince nearly 1000 people to take their own lives in the pursuit of a better world. The exploitation is shocking and it seems senseless. What change did the Jonestown massacre bring about? The deaths of so many innocent people appear to have occurred in vain. It looks as if suicide makes a statement but mostly results in the waste of a life.

The mass suicide and murder at Jonestown are haunting reminders of the power that a single charismatic leader can have over hundreds of people and the danger when said power is used for corruption and violence.


Kinsolving, Tom. “New Jonestown Memorial: Honoring The Madman And His Assassins Along Side The Men, Women, And Children They Murdered.” Jonestown Apologists Alert. N.p., 19 Nov. 2010. Web. 30 Apr. 2013. <http://jonestownapologistsalert.blogspot.com/2010/11/new-jonestown-memorial-honoring-madman.html&gt;.


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