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A Jonestown Witness's Plea: Don't Call It 'Mass Suicide'

It was 'mass murder,' says Rep. Jackie Speier, who'd gone to Guyana on fact-finding mission
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2018 11:34 AM CST
Updated Nov 17, 2018 3:00 PM CST
Congresswoman Jackie Speier, D-Calif., poses for a portrait on Oct. 15, 2018, in New York.   (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
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(Newser) – This month marks 40 years since the event known as the Jonestown massacre took place in Guyana. More than 900 Americans died after the man who had led them there from California, the Rev. Jim Jones, instructed them to drink cyanide. Do not, however, refer to Jonestown as a "mass suicide," writes California Congresswoman Jackie Speier in Politico Magazine. "It was a mass murder." The reason Speier's opinion on this carries weight? She was in Guyana at the time, then a young aide to Rep. Leo Ryan, who had embarked on a fact-finding trip to see firsthand what was going on at Jones' Peoples Temple. Ryan would never make it home alive—he was shot to death by Jones' adherents in an airport ambush as they were trying to leave, and Speier herself was shot five times and nearly died.

"I've shared my Guyana story countless times, but it’s still a challenge to go back and relive those days," writes Speier. "To go back to the gunshots. To the tarmac. To the stretchers. To the volatile flight home." She recounts how when they first arrived, the larger group put on a happy and "choreographed" public front, but fearful individuals kept privately asking Ryan's group to take them back to the US. They were trying to do just that when the ambush took place. Shortly after that attack, Jones ordered his followers to drink the cyanide. "Although some of Jones' most zealous followers may have consumed the poison voluntarily, the vast majority were murdered outright and against their will," writes Speier. That includes nearly 300 children. Click to read her full story, in which she expresses hope that the "misguided" phrase "drink the Kool-Aid" disappears. (Read more Jonestown massacre stories.)

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