Jonestown, Guyana was the scene of one of the most harrowing tragedies in American history. On November 18, 1978, at the direction of charismatic cult leader Jim Jones (pictured), 909 members of the People’s Temple died, all but two from apparent cyanide poisoning, in a “revolutionary suicide.” They included over 200 murdered children. It was the largest mass suicide in modern history and resulted in the largest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until September 11, 2001.
Jones had established the Peoples Temple, a Christian sect, in Indianapolis in the 1950s, preaching against racism, and attracting many African Americans. After moving to San Francisco in 1971, his church was increasingly accused of financial fraud, physical abuse of its members and mistreatment of children. The paranoid Jones then moved his Temple to Guyana, to build a socialist utopia at Jonestown.
Richard Dwyer was Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. embassy in Guyana when the tragedy took place. In his oral history, he recounts the prelude to the massacre, how he pretended to be dead when shot at the airstrip, and how he dealt with the subsequent harrowing events. He was interviewed by ADST’s Charles Stuart Kennedy starting in July 1990.
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