Jim Jones provided the classic model of cult mind control with the mass suicide-slaughter of over 900 members of his "Family" in Guyana in 1978. A native of Indiana, Jones founded his church, at first called the Christian Assembly of God, in Indianapolis, Ind., in the late 1950s. He preached a gospel of social and racial equality to his integrated congregation, at the same time presenting himself as the only source of survival in a hostile and soon-to-be-destroyed world. In 1965, Jones and his followers moved to California, first to Redwood Valley and later to San Francisco. There his revival-style meetings drew large crowds, and the group's membership swelled to several thousand. The temple also attracted attention by its programs to help the poor, and in 1976, Jones was appointed chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority. Within a year, however, allegations were heard that the charismatic Jones exercised a sinister power over his followers, extorting money from them, encouraging sexual promiscuity, and enforcing discipline by beatings and blackmail. As these stories--soon to be proved true--broke in the press, Jones and 800 followers fled to Guyana, where Jones had acquired the Jonestown site in 1974.
In Jonestown the cult members were cut off from the outside world. Guarded by armed security forces, they received inadequate food, worked as many as 11 hours a day, and were constantly harangued by their leader. In November 1978, California congressman Leo Ryan visited the commune to investigate the charges against Jones. On November 18, Ryan and several of his party were murdered, after which Jones ordered his followers to commit suicide with him by drinking a concoction of a powdered fruit drink and cyanide. Although some were forced, many apparently followed the order without question.