Thirty years ago today, more than 900 members of the Peoples Temple died at Jonestown, Guyana (in the Northeast corner of South America). Congressman Leo Ryan, the Congressional representative for parts of San Joaquin and Alameda counties (adjacent to the congressional district in which I live) flew down to investigate the Peoples Temple compound there, and as he was touring, several Peoples Temple members expressed the desire to leave. On November 17, as they attempted to board Ryan’s plane at the airport, Peoples Temple members killed Ryan, one of the “defectors,” and three journalists. Current California Senator Jackie Speier was with him, an aide to Ryan, and survived the massacre.
Speaking of politics, Jim Jones had served as Chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission under San Francisco Mayor George Moscone.
Back to South America: Following Representative Ryan’s murder, on November 18, Jones ordered his Peoples Temple followers to drink poisoned Flavor Aid (not Kool-Aid, as usually reported). Jones died from a self-infliected gunshot wound to the head.
I vividly remember a joke circulating in the days following the events in Jonestown: “Why doesn’t anyone want to hear the joke about the Peoples’ Temple? The punch line’s too long!” Ha, ha, ha, very funny. I was ten, it was the start of my disgusted outrage at the insensitivity of my fellow alleged-humans. To this day, someone who “Drank the Kool-Aid” is someone who subscribes to a weird group belief, particularly one that may ultimately prove self-destructive. It’s a favorite expression of Bill O’Reilly, who, let’s be frank, drinks a lot of Kool-Aid.
Though it did not occur on U.S. soil, the Jonestown was still the largest loss of civilian life in a non-natural disaster in United States history until the events of September 11, 2001.