SAN FRANCISCO—Wednesday, November 18 marked the 42nd anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre, where more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple of the Disciples of Christ took their own lives in Guyana at the direction of their leader in 1978.
The Peoples Temple was a religious group with hundreds of members, most of whom were African Americans. Their leader, Jim Jones, was a White minister known for preaching messages of social equality.
He founded the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis, Indiana in 1955, and convinced his members to relocate to California because he believed that a nuclear attack would take place on July 15, 1967.
In the 1970s, Jones took the Peoples Temple and relocated to Jonestown, a settlement in the country of Guyana, and wanted it to be the group’s utopia. Leo Ryan, a U.S. representative from California, went to Jonestown in 1978 to investigate allegations of abuse. Two staff members, along with members of the press, joined him on the trip.
When they arrived, some members of the Peoples Temple approached Congressman Ryan and his group and told them that they wanted to return to the United States. Jones viewed that as a betrayal.
On November 18, 1978, Congressman Ryan, his delegation, and some members of the Peoples Temple were at Port Kaituma waiting to get on a plane back to the United States when a truck filled with members of the Peoples Temple started shooting. Ryan and several journalists were killed.
Jones ordered his followers to commit suicide by forcing them to drink Flavor-Aid and Kool-Aid mixed with tranquilizers and cyanide. He threatened to have their children taken away by the Guyanese military if they did not obey his orders.
Some members escaped or pretended to be dead. More than 900 people died. Prior to the September 11 attacks, the Jonestown Massacre remained as the largest number of American civilians killed in a non-natural disaster.
Among the survivors was one of Congressman Ryan’s staff, who was shot five times. That individual is Congresswoman Jackie Speier, who represents California’s 14th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
On November 18, Congresswoman Speier wrote on Twitter: “42 years today I survived a mass shooting & massacre at Jonestown. Congressman Leo Ryan was assassinated along with courageous journalists Don Harris, Bob Brown of @NBCNews & SF Examiner photographer Greg Robinson.”
In an article for Politico Magazine in November 2018, Congresswoman Speier shared her story of what unfolded writing: “I’ve shared my Guyana story countless times, but it’s still a challenge to go back and relive those days.”
Speier has been a member of Congress since 2008.