Jim Jones Jr. Speaks Out
When the Peoples Temple was first created in 1956 in Indiana, Jones said it stood for: "Divine principles. Total equality. A society where people own all things in common, where there is no rich or poor, where there are no races."
Nine years later, Jones moved his wife and seven children—which they called their "rainbow family" because they included an African-American, Korean-Americans and a Caucasian biological son—to California. The Peoples Temple also moved and grew into an organization of thousands.
Jones convinced members to sell their homes and sign over their paychecks and life savings to the movement. He claimed he could miraculously heal the sick. But he was also coming under government and media scrutiny for rumors of sexual and physical abuse, so in 1977, Jones moved the Peoples Temple to Guyana, where his team had built their own utopia: Jonestown.
In the United States, former church members were complaining that Jones was holding their loved ones against their will, so U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California traveled to Jonestown to investigate the allegations. Slowly, members came forward to tell U.S. Rep. Ryan that they wanted to leave.
Jim Jones appeared calm, but behind the scenes he had ordered what he called the avenging angels to take action. They ambushed U.S. Rep. Ryan at the airstrip, and he and four others were killed.
Back at Jonestown, Jones called an emergency meeting and told his followers to drink a poisonous liquid from a large metal vat—babies and children first, then adults. More than 900 people, including nearly 300 children, died.
Jim says he couldn't believe what he was told. "I was concerned about my loved ones, my family, my wife," he says. Jim's parents, brother, sister, wife and unborn baby died that day.
After getting the radio call from his father, Jim says he and other members of the basketball team went to the U.S. Embassy to find out what was going on. "We thought we could stop it," he says.
Jim says there had been practice drills of suicide leading up to that day. "It was a test of loyalty, you know? People would line up and pledge their life to the cause," he says. "The cause was non-isms. Non-racism, non-sexism, non-ageism."
Jim says that when he went with his father to Jonestown at age 17, he believed they were going to create a new world. "The common theme was people wanted to make a difference," he says. "We had an organizational structure, an agricultural team, the education projects, the infirmary or hospital team. It was a whole community."
Toward the end, when other members of the Peoples Temple said Jones was getting sicker, Jim says he didn't see it. "I didn't want to see it," he says. "I always thought the ends justify the means. What I didn't understand is that if the means become the foggiest, that changes the ends."
Jim says he did notice some changes in his father, but he believed they were due to the pressure people put on him. "I saw the preaching all night long, the tirades of discipline against other people," he says. "People were punished severely. I saw that and I thought, you know, did it sit right with me? No. But did I step up against it? No, I didn't."
Jim says he didn't return to the camp in the days after he received the call from his father. "My brother Tim did," he says. "At the time, I was very upset that I wasn't selected to go back to help identify bodies or try to make sense out of it. Thirty-some years later, I feel God protected me because I don't have that imprint in the back of my mind."
Despite Jones' wrongdoings, Jim says he has forgiven his father. "The mental illness was exacerbated by the drug abuse and the absolute power where no one challenged him. When you put that cocktail together, the mind can spiral out of control, and that's what Jim Jones did. He spiraled out of control and self-destructed."
The one remnant of Jonestown that Jim found when he was back there was the vat that held the poisonous drink that killed so many. He says he has often wondered if he would have ingested the drink if he'd been there that day. "When I look at my wife, my mother, my family who ingested [it], I cannot say I wouldn't have," he says. "Out of respect for what they did."
Jim says he shared his past with his children by telling them the good stories about their grandfather. "Stories of playing ball together, or different trips we went on," he says. "So they have a foundation of just hearing about grandpa Jim. "