American Cult: 5 Spiritual Groups That Went Too Far

From the Heaven's Gate tragedy to a sect that allegedly encouraged sex between kids and adults, a look into some utopian communities gone wrong

The Peoples Temple (1955 - 1978)
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Hundreds of bodies are strewn around the Jonestown Commune in Jonestown, Guyana where more than 900 members of the People's Temple committed suicide in November 1978. The Rev. Jim Jones urged his disciples to drink cyanide-laced grape punch. Jones, who was among those who died, led the Peoples Temple, which ran a free clinic and a drug rehabilitation program. File/AP1/5

The Peoples Temple (1955 - 1978)

When Jim Jones founded the Peoples Temple in Indiana in 1955, it appealed to many as a progressive organization advocating for civil rights, and operating homes for the elderly and those with mental health issues. Like previous progressive groups, Jones's goal was to create an egalitarian utopian community. In 1965, Jones moved his family and the Peoples Temple to the Redwood Valley in California, based on recommendations from an article in Esquire suggesting places to survive a nuclear war. In 1974, the Peoples Temple leased land in Guyana, where the group would flee media scrutiny in the United States and set up an agricultural commune. By 1978, the population of "Jonestown" in Guyana had grown to around 900, but a few disillusioned members tipped off the American media of the armed compound in South America and rehearsals of mass suicide. In November 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan traveled to Jonestown where he, three journalists and one defector were shot and killed, before Jones ordered his followers to drink a cyanide-laced drink, resulting the loss of 909 lives.