Jim Jones: Maniacal Monkey Salesman, Leftist Koole Aide, Democratic Congressional Massacre, and The Guns of the Largest Mass Murder in American History

The suicidal cult leader Jim Jones was a certifiable nutjob. He was also undeniably charismatic and an unrepentant communist.

Studying apocalyptic doomsday cults is like watching a slow-motion train wreck. Despite our best efforts it can be tough to turn away.

This is Shoko Asahara. He convinced his adherents to unleash sarin nerve gas into the Tokyo subway system in 1995, killing thirteen. Functionally blind, Asahara released this photograph as undeniable proof of his capacity to levitate himself with his mind. Down here in the Deep South we’d call him a “Serious Piece of Work.”

David Koresh, Charles Manson, Shoko Asahara, and Adolf Hitler are the archetypes. Their bizarre capacity to work a crowd ultimately resulted in the deaths of countless devoted followers. To the rational mind, however, such stuff can seem almost comically bizarre.

Heaven’s Gate

Heaven’s Gate adherents believed death was but a portal leading to…wait for it…a transient spaceship full of alien beings shadowing the Hale-Bop comet.

Heaven’s Gate was a mob of American UFO acolytes that arose near San Diego, California, in 1974. They believed there was a spacecraft following the comet Hale-Bop. Through ritualized mass suicide cult members thought they might physically transport themselves to the passing starship.

This is Marshall Applewhite, the brains behind the Heaven’s Gate UFO cult. He and five members of the group had themselves castrated to prove their commitment.

When they were unable to visualize the expected spacecraft their telescope was clearly defective, so they returned the device for a refund. The group purchased alien abduction insurance guaranteeing a $1 million benefit in the event of an abduction, impregnation, or death by aliens.

Adorned in odd identical androgynous garb, Heaven’s Gate shared dinner out before committing mass suicide. They all ate identical meals of turkey pot pie, blueberry cheesecake, and iced tea.

All 39 Heaven’s Gate cult members wore identical gender-neutral black shirts and sweatpants as well as matching Nike Decades athletic shoes. At the time of their deaths each had a $5 bill and three quarters in their pockets and wore matching “Heaven’s Gate Away Team” arm patches (one of several odd Star Trek references).

The brother of Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lieutenant Uhura on the original Star Trek series, was among the dead.

One cult member was Thomas Nichols, the brother of Nichelle Nichols who played LT Uhura on the original Star Trek. These 39 otherwise educated, professional people washed down a lethal dose of phenobarbital with vodka before affixing plastic bags over their heads. One can’t help but find such extraordinary behavior darkly fascinating.

Crazy on a Whole New Scale

A young Jim Jones is seen here on the far left. Even at a young age acquaintances could tell he was destined for darkness.

James Warren Jones was born in May of 1931 in rural Indiana. Like most stark raving lunatics, young Jim’s childhood was chaotic. His father was a WW1 veteran and a member of the Ku Klux Klan whose family shack had no plumbing. Those who knew him described the younger Jones as a “really weird kid” with obsessions concerning both religion and death.

Despite the clerical vestments, Jim Jones was actually both an atheist and a die-hard Marxist.

Jones employed a warped theology to manipulate people. However, he was himself either an agnostic or an atheist depending upon his particular mood. Regardless, he frequently wore a white clerical collar. Jones wielded spirituality as a form of mind control, but his real gods were Marx and Lenin.

Door-to-door monkey selling was actually an early form of fund raising for the Peoples Temple.

Jim Jones championed racial integration at a time when racial integration was not terribly mainstream. His willingness to bridge racial divides bought him his first acolytes. By the early 1970’s Jones’ Peoples Temple had satellite offices in cities across the United States. For a time Jones and his buddies actually sold monkeys door to door to raise money for the group.

President Jimmy Carter’s wife Rosalyn maintained a friendship with Jones. As I researched this project I was struck by how many prominent Democratic politicians of the day rubbed shoulders with this psychopath.

Jones’ communist sympathies earned him some interesting friends. President Jimmy Carter’s wife Rosalyn met with Jones on multiple occasions. Democratic vice-presidential candidate Walther Mondale publicly praised Jones and his organization. Leftist California Governor Jerry Brown gushed that Jones was a symbiotic melding of Martin Luther King Jr, Albert Einstein, Angela Davis, and Mao Tse-Tung. LGBT activist Harvey Milk was also himself enraptured.

By 1977 Jones’ pervasive weirdness was garnering his sect more scrutiny than he desired.

By the summer of 1977, Jones’ group started attracting attention. Sensible minds began investigating Jones’ charlatanical faith healing as well as persistent rumors of physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. In response Jones took his motley mob on the road, securing land for a church compound in the South American nation of Guyana.

The Workers’ Paradise

A common thread to all such enterprises is that the current practitioners believe that the reason communism has failed every single time it has ever been tried is that the previous purveyors were just somehow doing it wrong.

Jones and his followers intended to form yet another communal utopia. They titled their agrarian enterprise the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project” or more simply “Jonestown.”

Despite its lofty populist goals Jonestown actually remained pretty squalid.

They intended to pool their resources and live comfortably off of the bounty of the land. There would be no class distinction, and resources would be equally shared by all. Oddly behind every single one of these delusional mobs there resides some alpha lunatic who believes himself divinely inspired to do most of the thinking.

Jones maintained a motley harem of both men and women as well as an extended blended family.

Most megalomaniacal nutjobs also fold a sexual component into their particular depraved fiefdoms, and Jones was no exception. He banged anything he could catch, regardless of gender. In 1973 Jones was arrested for lewd conduct in a movie theater restroom. I tried to catalog the guy’s kids and stopped counting at nine.

The Deviancy Amplification Spiral

California Congressman Leo Ryan seemed a decent enough guy. When staff members voiced concerns regarding their safety Ryan reassured them that a sitting American Congressman and his staff would never be harmed.

In the fall of 1978, a Democratic US Congressman from California named Leo Ryan flew down to Jonestown with a few straphangers on a fact-finding mission. Some of Ryan’s constituents had approached the Congressman about relatives they felt were being held in Jonestown against their will.

Congressman Ryan is shown here with cult members whose families back in the US had asked him to look in upon.

There followed a carefully choreographed dog and pony show designed to allay the Congressman’s concerns. All went well until a few terrified cult members surreptitiously slipped notes to the visitors begging to be freed. One deranged cult member then attacked Ryan with a knife, and the group felt it was time to leave.

Larry Layton, shown here soon after his arrest, originally intended to bring down an airplane loaded with turncoat cult members wishing to leave the Guyana compound.

The visiting delegation made its way back to the airfield in a dump truck. Once there they began boarding a pair of civilian aircraft, a Twin Otter and a six-seat Cessna. A Peoples Temple true believer named Larry Layton boarded the smaller plane and produced a handgun. His original mission was to kill the pilot in flight. However, he only succeeded in wounding two passengers before being disarmed.

The operation at the airfield was a full-bore bloodbath.

Meanwhile the cult’s security detail, colorfully titled the Red Brigade, approached the Twin Otter in a trailer pulled behind an agricultural tractor. Once within about 30 feet of the plane they opened fire with rifles, shotguns, and handguns. The resulting bloodbath precipitated Something Truly Horrible.

The Guns

Period news reports stated that Jones’ armed security detail was equipped with AK47’s. I could find no reference to military weaponry having been recovered in my research.

I recall news reports at the time saying that the cult had murdered the Congressman’s delegation with fully automatic AK47 rifles. It appears an uninformed media might have gotten the details wrong. All of the weapons catalogued from the Jonestown site were civilian firearms procured in the United States and smuggled into Guyana underneath false bottoms within shipping crates. In 1978 airport security was not really a thing. 

The Walther PPK has been a popular concealable handgun since the 1930’s. It remains in production under the Walther banner in Arkansas today.
The diminutive Colt Vest Pocket .25 is an adorable little pistol firing a Lilliputian cartridge.

At the behest of the State Department, the BATF traced as many of the recovered firearms as they could. There were rumors of as many as 176 guns at the compound, yet only 31 were ever documented. The handguns included a Walther PPK, three S&W .38-caliber revolvers, a Ruger .357 Magnum revolver, two inexpensive .22 wheelguns, a Ruger .22-caliber semiautomatic, and a Colt .25ACP pocket pistol.

The Winchester Model 88 was a rakishly modern lever-action hunting rifle.

The long guns included a GI M1 Carbine, a Ruger 10/22, a Browning slide-action .30-06, a Winchester .243 bolt-action rifle, a Sears Model 54 .30-30, a Remington 742 .308, a Winchester Model 88 .308, a Remington 700 in .308, a Remington 788 in .308, and a Winchester .30-30 lever-action saddle gun.

The ArmaLite AR7 survival rifle is a takedown survival arm that breaks down into components that store in the buttstock. This nifty little gun even floats.
There were seven 12-gauge shotguns from Remington, Winchester, Universal, Noble, Foremost, and JC Higgins. There was also an ArmaLite AR7 .22 in the mix.

These guns represented a fairly typical cross-section of civilian-owned firearms drawn from 1970’s America. In each case, they were purchased legally by cult members and then smuggled into the compound in Guyana illicitly. What became of the other weapons rumored to have been there is anybody’s guess if they were ever there at all.

The Rest of the Story

The toxic concoction was mixed in a series of vats and then dispensed via syringes either orally or as an injection. Note the crossbow bolt through the top of the barrel. Guards were purportedly wielding crossbows to help keep the less enthusiastic in line.

The nine-man Red Brigade hit squad was nothing if not efficient. Congressman Ryan was shot more than twenty times. When word of the murders got back to the compound Jones, called on his followers to partake of a lethal concoction of Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide, and Phenergan mixed in with Flavor Aid drink powder. Jones referred to this lethal brew as “the medication.”

Kool-Aide got a bad rap in Jonestown. The actual culprit was knock-off Flavor Aid.
Many of the crossbows present were WHAM-O Powermasters like this one. The Consumer Product Safety Commissioned ordered a recall of 15,000 of these weapons back in 1976 due to inadequate heat treatment of the string release mechanism. WHAM-O also brought us the Hula Hoop, the Frisbee, the Slip ‘N Slide, and the Super Ball.

While the colloquial term “Drink the Kool-Aide” has come to mean any circumstance wherein someone voluntarily partakes of something unlikely or stupid, in this case most of the victims were just flat-out murdered. Security personnel armed with guns and crossbows ensured that the poisoning proceeded in a fairly orderly fashion.

The influence Jim Jones had over these poor people is tough to overemphasize. It is amazing how many of his victims seemed to go along with him willingly.

Jim Jones made a 44-minute cassette tape recording of his appellations to his followers to kill themselves in real time. The audio is available on Wikipedia and is absolutely surreal. Jones’ reassuring monotone stands in stark contrast to the obvious terror of the moment. He does at one point refer to a machinegun in his unhinged discourse, but I could find no evidence of such weapons in my research.

The resulting carnage is hard for the rational mind to comprehend. Note the crossbows in the foreground.

918 people died, some 304 of whom were children. Most of those succumbed to the poisoned Flavor Aid that was either ingested or forcibly injected via syringe. Jones himself went down with a bullet to the head, either self-inflicted or otherwise, at age 47.

A massive stash of communist propaganda was found at the compound in the aftermath of the killings.

Larry Layton, the man who fired the handgun in the Cessna, was the only survivor prosecuted as a result of the carnage. He was ultimately paroled in 2002. The group attempted to leave their accumulated assets, more than $7 million, to the Communist Party of the USSR. On the death tape, cult members are still asking about an airplane that they hoped might arrive to “take them off to Russia.”

Nearly a thousand people died that fateful day in Guyana.

This loss of life was the single worst case of mass death in American history prior to 911. The Jonestown tragedy serves as an extraordinary example of what results when true darkness is unfettered within the hearts of men.

The cult members’ passports were centrally maintained to help keep everybody under control.
In happier times Jim Jones almost looks like a nice guy. He wasn’t.

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About the author: Will Dabbs A native of the Mississippi Delta, Will is a mechanical engineer who flew UH1H, OH58A/C, CH47D, and AH1S aircraft as an Army Aviator. He has parachuted out of perfectly good airplanes at 3 o’clock in the morning and summited Mount McKinley, Alaska, six times…always at the controls of an Army helicopter, which is the only way sensible folk climb mountains. Major Dabbs eventually resigned his commission in favor of medical school where he delivered 60 babies and occasionally wrung human blood out of his socks. Will works in his own urgent care clinic, shares a business build-ing precision rifles and sound suppressors, and has written for the gun press since 1989. He is married to his high school sweetheart, has three awesome adult children, and teaches Sunday School. Turn-ons include vintage German machineguns, flying his sexy-cool RV6A airplane, Count Chocula cereal, and the movie “Aliens.”

{ 22 comments… add one }
  • GatDaddy November 4, 2020, 6:23 pm

    I hate it when even small details are missing or wrong in a “news” story. It makes me believe there are many errors that maybe I did not see or have knowledge about. It reminds me of the media when they talk about buckshot and rifles.
    The children were not “injected” with the deadly concoction. Anyone with children knows that you administer medicine through a syringe IN THE MOUTH…no needle…to make sure that they take the “medicine”. No one was injected. Flavor-Aid without the cyanide would probably kill you if you injected it into a vein.
    Please pay better attention Mr. Editor. Credibility is a BIG deal…

  • jimboecv November 2, 2020, 10:41 pm

    About 400 of them are in Evergreen Cemetery in Oakland, Ca. A lot of people still say nice things about ol’ Jones. Gave to the poor, bridge builder kinda crap.

  • Mike in a Truck November 2, 2020, 2:07 pm

    I remember when Jonestown happened. For some odd reason my unit went into EDRE. Then stand down was called.Nothing more came of it. I remember the sick jokes going around the bars and even the NCO club. Some I laughed at. These nutjob cult leaders dont shock me. What does is that some people are so lost that they actually follow these goobers. Now Shoko was the real deal. He really could levitate himself. On a fart column of gas. Just look at his face.

  • M.Johnson November 2, 2020, 1:36 pm

    Thank you for writing this. There were facts I did not know before, and additionally the world needs to be reminded of this.

  • Andrew November 2, 2020, 1:06 pm

    I’m not surprised to see jim jones friends with so many demorats. Demorats have always been communists.

  • Charlotte November 2, 2020, 11:26 am

    I think the article points out there are dangerous people everywhere – it’s not about political party. Some folks seem friendly but are evil at heart – so be prepared and careful. Your enemy could be sitting next to you.

  • D.J. November 2, 2020, 10:33 am

    Again , Mr. Dabbs , an excellent article !

    I do recall the events of Jonestown , being thirteen at the time . As
    you clearly pointed out , these situations do happen from time to time
    in our blessed Nation . Freedom seems to be a double – edged sword .
    One has the clear right to be stupid . It is unfortunate that others are
    caught up in such madness , costing them their lives .

  • Chris Navarro November 2, 2020, 10:18 am

    Why is this referred to as the largest mass murder in American History? It happened in Guyana. Maybe South American history.

  • Eric November 2, 2020, 9:54 am

    Dr. Dabbs makes careful note that some prominent Democrats of the era interacted with Jim Jones. Kind of a cheap shot, in that Jones was not yet known as a mass murdering lunatic when he was making the cocktail party rounds.

    It’d be like busting on Trump for throwing a lavish party for Jeffrey Epstein where they were the only two men who attended and where they discussed in great detail the physical qualities of the paid bimbos comprising the rest of the guest list. Epstein was not yet known as a serial rapist and abuser, so why criticize Trump for organizing a bimbo party for him, right? It was just a totally normal bimbo party two dudes had one time.

    Oh well. At least Dr. Dabbs did note that Representative Ryan, the guy who came down to investigate Jonestown and got murdered, was a Democrat. Hard to imagine Louie Gohmert putting his ass on the line like that…

    • Justista November 2, 2020, 10:39 am

      Man, are you going to wake up Wed. morning to another four years of derangement syndrome and misery or what?
      How funny.

    • Ti November 2, 2020, 2:12 pm

      The mirror comes out and you blame the other guy.

    • Don November 2, 2020, 2:25 pm

      Jones associated with democrats as they accepted the Marxist rhetoric so easily. His groups line was pure Marxist silliness, and democrats accept that as being OK.

  • Alan November 2, 2020, 9:23 am

    Will another outstanding and very interesting piece! I look forward to your writings.

  • Gary November 2, 2020, 9:14 am

    I find this article to be very dated, as well as misleading! Congressman murdered!! Like it was ACTUAL NEWS!! Sure..it WAS news..decades ago!!
    I myself felt totally insulted by comparing the loss of life of these scumbag morons to the people murdered by terrorists on 9-11, it’s sick to make such a stupid comparison!
    Those people didn’t follow some power drunk idiot into a jungle, allowing people to have sex with their children, then drink the kool Ade! They were murdered for NO reason at all, other than the price of oil. They were killed by a government, not some stoned whack job!!
    They were hard working people that went to their place of employment to make a living, to pay taxes for our worthless politicians, and to feed their families!! To even mention them in the same breath is the most insulting thing I have read on this stupid site in a very long time!!

    • Michael Keim November 2, 2020, 11:08 am

      Chill out dude before you have a stroke

    • Big Al 45 November 2, 2020, 1:46 pm

      So what you’re saying is that you take things too literally, and obviously too far?
      The comparison was loss of life, was that too far a stretch for you?
      And your reach for a Govt/Big oil conspiracy theory concerning 9/11B.S. found amid that jumble of poorly worded nonsense wasn’t easy, but there it is.
      Must be lonely in that small of a mind.

    • Don November 2, 2020, 2:27 pm

      Oh, lighten up.

    • MC November 5, 2020, 1:37 am

      Apparently reading isn’t one of your strengths, Gary. Of course it’s dated: it’s a history lesson…

      Nothing in the title was misleading. It didn’t list a timeframe such as “Congressman Murdered Yesterday” – again, this is an article about an historical event.

      Also, Dr. Dabbs didn’t compare what happened at Jonestown and on 9/11 by stating similarities between the events, he simply said that the body count of Jonestown was unmatched until 9/11.

      Try reading again. Maybe you’ll understand it better the second time around.

    • Willie-O February 28, 2022, 9:04 am

      …..”the most insulting thing (you) have read on this stupid site in a long time.” Why exactly have you been visiting and reading things on a “stupid” website in the first place ? Much less for a long time. TRY to learn how to read as well as the concept of “context” jackass.

  • Zupglick November 2, 2020, 8:54 am

    Killed almost as many as Andrew Cuomo.

  • Steve R November 2, 2020, 8:51 am

    I was in my junior year in college when this story broke. Remember it well. We were all confused and horrified that one nut job preacher could could be so convincing as to have 1000 people commit suicide. A couple years later, when I went on USAF active duty flying cargo aircraft, one of our loadmasters told us the story of the body recovery when he was assigned to the unit that was involved. He said no matter how many times they cleaned that cargo compartment, the smell of death always lingered.

  • DrThunder88 November 2, 2020, 7:34 am

    “Oddly behind every single one of these delusional mobs there resides some alpha lunatic who believes himself divinely inspired to do most of the thinking.”

    A very cogent and ideology-neutral statement when removed from its context. The definition of any mob could be a group of sheep led by a sheep that thinks it’s a lion.

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