For my next four blog posts I’ll be focusing on the topic of cults. This is a topic many have my other classmates have done, however I will be trying to further the analysis section and relating it to social cognition more.
To start this series off, I’ll be choosing “Jonestown“, a well known case of a cult that will be an easy start to these next blogs that everyone has most-likely heard of.
The Peoples Temple had its humble beginnings, originally known as the Wings of Deliverance, founded by Jim Jones. Having no more than 20 followers, Jones then renamed it the People Temple, known for its racial activism, allowing people of color to join the congregation, setting up soup kitchens and an orphanage. Jones promoted equality, preaching about the intolerance he has to racial segregation, and commenting on the flaws of capitalism. In 1960 Jones and his wife and him were the first white people to adopt a black child in Indiana (Ksander, 2o07). The Peoples Temple started to grow in popularity, growing from a few hundred to 20,000 in a short amount of time. With the mixed congregation, people believed this sort of equality was only something Jones could accomplish. Many of Jones’ followers were homeless, or addicts, and Jones offered shelter and guidance, an offer many couldn’t afford to turn away (Nelson, 2007).
As the Peoples Temple continued to gain followers, he began to gain political power. This attention drew the media, in which his following swayed slightly. Humiliated, Jones went to Guyana and began his commune there.It was during this time that Jones became increasingly belligerent as his drug addiction becoming more apparent, and his captivating speeches that entranced so many people were becoming more difficult to understand and no longer were about this “better future”, and were much more pessimistic in nature. Jones’ methods of manipulation became more aggressive, and word continued to spread, Congressmen Leo Ryan came to Jonestown to see if these rumors were true, along with family members and journalists. During Ryan’s visit, many of the members made their situation apparent, having several ‘defectors’ asking to leave with them. This pushed Jones to a breaking point, and some of the Peoples Temple members shot several of the defectors, Ryan, and some of the journalists. Jones then called an “emergency meeting”, distributing his poisonous mix of Kool-Aid and cyanide. Many drank willingly, those who didn’t were injected with it through syringes, forced to drink, or shot.
Whether the tragic end of the Peoples Temple was planned from the beginning with the Wings of Deliverance, or he fell victim to his own madness; a further analysis is necessary to better relate the tactics Jim Jones used against his followers to Social Cognition.
Jones first gained traction by his social manipulation, catering to the public and gaining followers through his passionate and intense speeches, many people report getting easily caught up in what Jones was saying, just because he was so emotional about it. Jones offered a hand to people in need, those that were homeless took up refuge under Jones, easily convincing them that he saved them, and that he was someone that they owed something to (Nelson, 2007). He encouraged his followers to sell their belongings and turn away from their families, as Jones deliberately tried to “break down” his followers outside ties, believing that family relationships were “sick” (Ross, 2008). He quickly became a sort of Messianic-figure to his followers, demanding that they call him father, staging spiritual healing presentations, and even drugging his own followers to further their belief in him as a saviour (Webb, 1978).
Jones was not only convincing, but also coercive, and often humiliated his followers by having them sit naked in meetings, and would criticize them during congregations (Kilduff, 1977). Jones would also put on suicide-rehearsing “White Nights” in which a portion of his followers would ingest a liquid that was said to have poison in it, demanding that they drink if they want to prove their devotion (Ross, 2008). These methods were so degrading and psychologically damaging, that a majority of his followers had no opposition, as they were just mentally exhausted. In this broken state, Jones was able to further manipulate them, encouraging them to spy and report on each others actions, creating a system of anxiety and paranoia. Shortly after the death of Leo Ryan, Jones ordered that children drink first, severing the final ties any members might have to family. The community in Jonestown was so broken down at this point, many no longer saw the point of living, and the fact that many members willingly drank the poison becomes easier to understand.
In conclusion for this blog, as I am way over my word count, Jim Jones used manipulative forces to socialize his followers into believing the Peoples Temple was concordant to their own beliefs, and a movement worth joining. Jones quickly stripped them of personal identity, and punished them when they questioned his authority, and through the methods already discussed, Jones was able to socialize his followers into becoming helpless and completely dependant on him, some; even willing to end their lives for him. Thank you for reading! 🙂
Nelson, S. (2006). Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Fireflight Media, October, 20.
Webb, A. (1978). Jonestown Survivors Describe Their Escape. The Bryan Times, Nov.
Kilduff, M., & Tracy, P. (1977). Inside Peoples Temple. New West, 8(1), 77.