According to author Jeff Guinn’s research for The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple, the commonly used expression “Don’t drink the Kool-Aid” should actually be “Don’t drink the Flavor Aid.” It was this cheaper version of Kool-Aid that Jim Jones’ most devoted followers mixed with cyanide on that day at the Jonestown settlement in Guyana. Guinn explores what led up to that day in 1978 in his well written and meticulously researched book.
Jones was always seen as a bit unusual. He was fascinated with church services and preachers from a young age. He also started the strange habit of not talking to anyone at school unless they spoke to him first.
When he was a little older he relocated to Indianapolis and worked to help integrate what had previously been a very segregated city and, in doing so, became a highly respected citizen of Indianapolis. Along with his progressive ideas (he saw himself as a socialist) came many peculiar ones, an early one being his insistence that the Peoples Temple relocate to where they would be safe from what he described as an inevitable nuclear war. The Temple relocated several times before finally ending up in Guyana. Along the way Jones started using cult tactics on members such as public humiliation and physical punishment. He also started keeping Temple members busy at all times and forcing them to get by on very little sleep. And to finance the Temple he took their money. As a show of loyalty he had Temple members drink what he claimed to be poison prior to them drinking the real thing in Guyana. Jones also became more and more dependent on a variety of drugs which in part led to his delusional and paranoid thinking.
The Road to Jonestown is a fascinating read. It’s hard to know how over 900 people could have died the way they did, but Guinn’s measured approach makes at least some sense of what happened.