Nov 19, 2021

Jonestown: How Jim Jones Betrayed All His Followers

November 19, 2021

In this series, Newsweek reconstructs the events leading to the Jonestown Massacre as it happened in 1978, day by day.

The buildings of Jonestown burned down long ago; all that remains is an overgrown field. The impoverished Guyanese government has considered turning the site into a travel destination to capitalize on the "dark tourism" trend. One plan calls for rebuilding the pavilion, Jones's cabin, and several cottages and charging visitors two hundred dollars $200 per a night for the thrill of surviving the Jonestown "experience."

Today, few Americans under 40 are familiar with the Jonestown tragedy, but the erroneous phrase "Don't drink the Kool-Aid" has entered the cultural lexicon (despite the fact it was Flavor Aid, not Kool-Aid, used in the massacre). Its reference to gullibility and blind faith is a slap in the face of the Jonestown residents who were forced to die by Jim Jones, including 304 murdered children.

If anything, the people of Jonestown should be remembered as hopeful idealists. They went to Guyana to create a more equitable society. Like many of us, they longed for a better world—one that was free of violence, racism, sexism and classism. They believed in a dream.

How terribly they were betrayed.

Julia Scheeres is an award-winning journalist and author. Her books include Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown.

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