Cult of Death: The Jonestown Nightmare

A religious colony in Guyana turns into a cult of death

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The Victims
Odell Rhodes, a Temple member who survived by hiding underneath a building, said that among the very first to line up for the poison were several mothers and their babies. He said that there was no panic or emotional outburst; that people looked as if they were "in a trance."

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The survivors spent a night of terror in a small bar near the Port Kaituma airstrip. They feared that the Jonestown gunmen would return to finish their deadly task. Drinking coffee laced with rum through the long night, the defectors from Jones' colony told how far their community had fallen from their Utopian ideal. They lived in fear, one reported, because "Jim Jones said the Guyanese government gave him authority to shoot anybody who tried to leave."

The fugitives recalled the "white night" exercises in which loudspeakers would summon all Jonestown residents from their sleep.

They would convene in the central pavilion, and Jones would harangue them about "the beauty of dying." All would line up and be given a drink described as poison. They would take it, expecting to die. Then Jones would tell them the liquid was not poisonous; they had passed his "loyalty test." But if ever the colony were threatened from without, he told them, "revolutionary suicide" would be real and it would dramatize their dedication to their unique calling.

The survivors of the landing strip massacre had no way of knowing that the ultimate white night—a ghastly and irrevocable test of loyalty—had already taken place back in the Jonestown commune. Equally unaware of the murders at the airfield, Lawyers Lane and Garry witnessed the ominous signs of the impending disaster. Recalled Garry: "When 14 of his people decided to go out with Ryan, Jim Jones went mad. He thought it was a repudiation of his work. I tried to tell him that 14 out of 1,200 was damn good. But Jones was desolate."

After the Ryan party left for the airstrip, the two lawyers took a walk, comparing impressions of the visit. When they returned to the center of the village, they found all its residents assembled in the meeting hall. "You and Mark better not attend because tension is running pretty high against you," Jones told Garry. He and Lane retreated to a guest house several hundred feet from the pavilion.

The attorneys became frightened when they saw eight men run toward a nearby building and take out rifles and boxes of ammunition. Said Garry: "Then two young men whom I knew very well came to us with rifles at the semi-ready. They were smiling, very happy.

'We're going to die for the battle against fascism and racism,' they said.

'We're going to die in revolutionary suicide—with dignity and honor.' They were both black, maybe 19 or 20. I got the impression that perhaps they were sent down to get rid of us."

But the quick-witted Lane had a suggestion. Said he: "Charles and I will write the history of what you guys believed in." The gunmen paused. Then one said, "Fine." The ready-to-die cultists hugged both lawyers. Lane had another apt thought. "Is there any way out?" he asked. The armed men pointed into the bush and said the road to Port Kaituma lay in that direction. The attorneys plunged into the jungle. As they fled, they heard Jones shouting:

"Mother, mother, mother!" They heard shots and screams, then nothing.

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