Jonestown 40th Anniversary at NBC News Archives


This year marks the 40th anniversary of the tragedy at Jonestown. Officially called “The Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” it was a settlement established by Reverend Jim Jones in the 1970s. Jones had started the Peoples Temple in the 1950s, a religious group concerned with racial equality and social justice. The settlement in Guyana was meant to be the beginning of their socialist utopia. However, conditions were brutally harsh at Jonestown and followers were forced to work long days with little food. Jones grew controlling and paranoid that the CIA was trying to sabotage his dream.

In November of 1978, California Congressman Leo Ryan flew to Guyana to investigate claims of abuse at Jonestown. Nine journalists accompanied Congressman Ryan, but NBC News owned the only camera allowed on the trip. The exclusive footage they captured provides a glimpse of what life was like on that last day at Jonestown. In just 24 hours, nearly everybody on the tape would be dead.

After touring the settlement, Ryan and company returned to the Port Kaituma airstrip with 16 defectors in tow. One of those defectors was secretly a Jones loyalist and opened fire on the group. All in all, five people were killed on the airstrip, including Congressman Ryan, NBC News cameraman Bob Brown, and NBC News correspondent Don Harris.

Back at the compound, Jones gathered his congregation in the pavilion, where followers were made to drink a mixture of Flavor Aid and cyanide. By the end of November 18, 1978, a total of 918 people had died in Guyana.

Join NBC News Archives in remembering 40 years since the Jonestown massacre at