What Is the Jonestown Massacre?

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The Jonestown massacre is a mass death event that took place on November 18, 1978, at Jonestown, the Guyanese compound operated by the People's Temple religious organization and named for the Temple's leader, an American man named Jim Jones. More than 900 people died during this mass death, with deaths resulting from consumption of a cocktail of cyanide, a poison, and prescription drugs such diazepam, chloral hydrate and promethazine, all of which were mixed together with flavored drink concentrate to create a purple liquid.

There is some disagreement as to whether this mass death was a mass murder or mass suicide; several hundred of the victims were children, and while some followers likely drank the poison voluntarily, there is evidence, including audio recordings, that Jones was extremely coercive in convincing his followers to consume the poison cocktail.

Though Jonestown was located in the South American nation of Guyana, most of the people who lived there were American citizens. Jones had moved his cult-like religion to South America to avoid paying taxes in the United States. The mass suicide was brought on by a visit by U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, who was gunned down while attempting to leave Jonestown following a threat from a Temple member.