I have always found the topic of cults to be both fascinating and a bit confusing. I struggle to understand how so many people can be persuaded to follow one person - believing what they believe, relocating for them, and doing what they tell you. I recently learned that one of those persuasive men and leader of one of America's most notorious cults was from Indiana.

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Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple

Jim Jones was born in 1931 in the small town of Crete, Indiana. He was a regular churchgoer in his youth, and after he graduated from Butler University, he decided to begin his own ministry - the Peoples Temple. In its earliest days (the 1950s), it was not considered a cult, it was simply a religious community led by Jones in Indianapolis. In 1965, Jones and his congregation moved west to California, followed by the creation of the first Jonestown settlement in 1974.


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In 1977, following accusations of financial fraud, mistreatment of his members, and physical abuse of their children, Jones and hundreds of his followers relocated to Guyana, South America. If you are at all familiar with history, you know this is where the story takes a tragic turn. The following year a Congressman from California named Leo Ryan visited the Jonestown settlement. Following what seemed to be a completely pleasant and civil visit, the congressman and his group were murdered at the airport before heading back to America. This was the beginning of the end for Jonestown.

Don't Drink the Kool-Aid

In November of 1978 for reasons that are still not completely known, Jim Jones instructed his followers to drink a deadly concoction of fruit punch laced with cyanide. Hundreds drank the poison willingly while many that didn't drink were shot. When it was all said and done, more than 900 people, including Jim Jones, were dead.

(Information courtesy of Britannica.com)

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Did Jim Jones initially have good intentions for his congregation, or did he always have this outcome in mind? I'm not sure if we'll ever know. What I do know is that the story of Jonestown should serve as a reminder of the dangers of charismatic leadership and manipulation and the power it can have.

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