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Reverend behind the biggest intentional civilian death in American history before 9/11

Shola Lee

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Reverend behind the biggest intentional civilian death in American history before 9/11

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock/Shutterstock

A reverend was responsible for the highest deliberate number of civilian deaths before 9/11.

On 11 September 2001, the world was shaken by the awful terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people.

It is the deadliest deliberate attack on civilians the US has ever seen, but before that, another horrific case saw over 900 die, a third of them being children, on 18 November, 1978, at the hands of Jim Jones.

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Jim Jones was responsible for one of the biggest losses of civilian life in the US. Credit: Robert Clay / Alamy Stock Photo
Jim Jones was responsible for one of the biggest losses of civilian life in the US. Credit: Robert Clay / Alamy Stock Photo

For those not familiar, Jim Jones was the reverend that started the Peoples Temple in Indianapolis back in 1955.

His movement rejected traditional Christianity and he quickly attracted a large following of people across America.

Two decades later, which included a scene change to California and a massive expansion into political and charitable activity, Jones started telling his followers that he was a Messianic figure, comparing himself to Jesus and Buddha.

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Jim Jones started the People's Temple in 1955. Credit: Robert Clay / Alamy Stock Photo
Jim Jones started the People's Temple in 1955. Credit: Robert Clay / Alamy Stock Photo

In 1974, he started building Jonestown, a commune on Guyana where he claimed it would be a 'socialist paradise free from the oppression of the United States government'.

Many followed him to the South American country and it wasn't long before it held hundreds of congregants.

Four years later, a US delegation traveled to Jonestown after family members expressed concern for their relatives.

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The delegation inspected the commune but, as they were boarding a plane out of the region with a bunch of defectors, they were attacked by a group of Jonestown gunmen.

Five people were unfortunately killed and the rest were able to get out and spread the word about what happened.

Jones laced the beverages with cyanide. Credit: Ken Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo
Jones laced the beverages with cyanide. Credit: Ken Hawkins / Alamy Stock Photo

Later that day, on November 17, Jones convinced more than 900 people to drink punch which had been laced with cyanide.

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He told them that intelligence organisations were conspiring against the Temple and that mass suicide was the 'only possible outcome'.

When a Jonestown member refused or cried, he reportedly said: "Stop these hysterics. This is not the way for people who are socialists or communists to die. No way for us to die. We must die with some dignity."

Afterwards, the FBI discovered a 45-minute recording of the horrifying ordeal, which heard Jones say at the end: "We didn't commit suicide; we committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world."

In total, 909 people, including 304 children, died. It was the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act until the September 11 attacks.

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Jones was found dead in the commune with a single gunshot wound to the head.

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence, contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677 

Topics: News, US News, Life

Shola Lee
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