On November 17th, 1978 Congressman Leo Ryan (D, California) arrived in Guyana with a group of journalists and investigators to look into the religious colony of "Jonestown."
Why would an American Congressman do such a thing?
The "Peoples [sic-no apostrophe] Temple of the Disciples of Christ" was founded in 1955 in Indianapolis by Jim Jones. He openly preached the religious virtues of communism and his purported healing and clairvoyant abilities attracted many. Overtime, however, his message lost much of the overly-Christian trappings for a more traditional atheistic communist worldview, yet one in which Jones was seen as a near messianic figure. In 1960 he claimed to have a vision of nuclear war and began looking for places to move his congregation, he lacked the funds but afterword began openly preaching what he called "apostolic socialism." He began claiming that Christianity was a "fly away religion" and that the Bible was used to control blacks and women. He said the God of the Bible was a "Buzzard God" and no God at all. Instead, he said the Divine Principal was Love, and Love was best expressed as Socialism (Communism).
By the 70s he needed to move his followers to more fertile and less hostile ground (the Midwest not being the best place for someone preaching communist atheism to a primarily African American audience.) He moved his organization to LA and San Francisco. In a few years the church was taking in $20k+ a week from at least three different locations in California, plus additional revenue from a publishing house, record company, and the sell of "blessed" items.
However, in 72 and 73 the Temple faced serious investigations by major news sources and the widely publicized defection by the "Gang of Eight." Jones conclusion on the matter was "in order to keep our apostolic socialism, we should all kill ourselves and leave a note saying that because of harassment, a socialist group cannot exist at this time." They did not, at that time, go through with it, but instead ritual preparations for the tragedy of later years would begin, the so called "White Nights".
By 76 and 77 the IRS was investigating the organization. The fact that Jones saw it as a means of social change and not faith was widely known, even acknowledged by his wife in to a New York Times reporter. However, at the same time the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project - or "Jonestown" was underway and had 50 permanent residents.
The population grew and eventually Jones himself would arrive. At its peak the population was around 1000. However, there were reports of human rights violations mainly brought on by a lack of food and adequate housing - in spite of the Temple having access to several million dollars. Up to $65,000 in monthly welfare payments from U.S. government agencies to Jonestown residents were signed over to the Temple. Several minor investigations were conducted to determine if there was Social Security fraud involved, but none was found.
Then the arrival of Congressman Leo. He made the journey in his role as chairman of a congressional subcommittee with jurisdiction over U.S. citizens living in foreign countries. He asked the other members of his Bay Area congressional delegation to join him on the investigation to Jonestown, but they all declined his invitation. While the party was initially planned to consist of only a few members of the Congressman's staff and press as part of the congressional delegation, once the media learned of the trip the entourage ballooned to include, among others, concerned relatives of Temple members. Congressman Ryan traveled to Jonestown with 17 Bay Area relatives of Peoples Temple members, several newspaper reporters and an NBC TV team. He had invited his friend Dan Quayle to come, but the future VP was unavailable at the time.
As best as can be pieced together everything was going fine until his delegation was leaving. At that time a group of residents, including one planted by Jones, asked to be taken home. Their escorts opened fire on the Congressman, killing him and four others and wounding nine. Meanwhile in the plane the plant, Larry Layton, opened fire and wounded several before being subdued.
Meanwhile, back at Jonestown, the White Night plan was put into action. A 44-minute cassette tape, known as the "death tape",records part of the meeting Jones called under the pavilion in the early evening. Before the meeting, aides prepared a large metal tub with grape Flavor Aid, poisoned with Valium, chloral hydrate, cyanide,and Phenergan.
A total of 909 Americans died.
Because Religion and Politics do not mix.