Jeff Guinn: The Road to Jonestown

Apr 12, 2017

Regarding the characters predominant in our political arena today, the history that follows gives us pause.

We can recall the shocking news of the killing of US Representative Leo Ryan along with three journalists during an investigatory trip to Jim Jones’ “People’s Temple” in Guyana on November 18, 1978. Among the wounded was Ryan’s aide, current Congresswoman Jackie Speier.

Only hours later, over 900 followers of Jones, including the leader himself, drank—voluntarily or forcibly—the Cool-Aid knockoff Flavor Aid laced with cyanide. Over 200 children died. It took the Guyanese Army until the following morning to cut through the jungle and find “what the United States House of Representatives described as a ‘mass suicide/murder ritual’.”

Jeff Guinn is the author of several books, including Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson (2013) and Go Down Together: The True, Untold Story of Bonnie and Clyde (2010). His newest release is The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.

Guinn calls Jones a demagogue, but one who appealed to “the better nature” of his followers.

In a People Magazine interview, Guinn states, “Most demagogues work from a negative angle, but Jones recruited from the aspect of, ‘Let’s all work together and make this a positive world.’”


Reverend Jim Jones is given the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award by Reverend Cecil Williams at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, January 1977. Photo by Nancy Wong.


Rose Wunrow at San Diego State University writes in her paper “Jim Jones and Peoples Temple: An Investigation“:

In 1955, a 24-year-old reverend rented a small building in a racially-mixed section of Indianapolis. With a group of 20 followers, he founded a religious group called Wings of Deliverance, after leaving his position as reverend of the Laurel Street Tabernacle because of the congregation’s resistance to a racially-mixed church (Ksander). A year after its founding, Wings of Deliverance was renamed Peoples Temple. The Temple was known in Indianapolis for its social activism and for the services it provided for society’s disadvantaged; they opened a soup kitchen and an orphanage and provided services for the disabled (Ross, Rick). And Rev. Jim Jones himself served as a model for the Temple’s commitment to societal equality. In 1960, Jones and his wife adopted a black child. They were the first white couple in Indiana’s history to do so (Ksander).


Photo source: The Atkins Files.


People Magazine author Greg Hanlon continues:

(Author Jeff) Guinn credits Jones with almost single-handedly integrating the Indianapolis public schools in the 1950s.

Luminaries including former First Lady Rosalynn Carter, former Vice President Walter Mondale and California Gov. Jerry Brown lauded Jones’ church for its charitable efforts—such as drug treatment, free college tuition for impoverished youth and clothing giveaways.

Former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown once described him as “an American Gandhi.”

Guinn says Jones’ preternatural charisma, resourcefulness and political instincts would play in any era. One of his goals for the book, he says, is to show that there are “classic signs of any demagogue. And in America, we need to be better at recognizing them.”

“If Jones is alive today, he’s going to master social media. He’s going to use Facebook and Twitter to get his message across unfiltered,” Guinn says.

“If Jones is alive today, I think he’d be in elected office — maybe even the highest office.”
—”How Successful Would Jim Jones’ Cult Be Today?” by Greg Hanlon, People Magazine, April 11, 2017




Jeff Guinn Discusses & Signs The Road to Jonestown
Monday, April 24th at 7 p.m.
Vroman’s, 693 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena 91101
Free event; books available for purchase ($28)
For more info, visit


Author Jeff Guinn.






Photo of Jim Jones, top right, by Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.
Photo of Rev. Jones receiving humanitarian award, 1977, by Nancy Wong (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.


Source information:, Justin Peters, November 18, 2013.
Leo Ryan,”
People Magazine, Greg Hanlon, April 11. 2017.
Nearly 40 Years Later,” NPR, April 11, 2017.
Jim Jones and Peoples Temple: An Investigation” by Rose Wunrow, San Diego State University.
SDSU’s “The Jonestown Report,” October 2011.


Photo source:






Flintridge Books

Lyd and Mo Photography

Louis Jane Studios

Homage Pasadena