Jim Jones: The greatest Cult Leader of All Time

On November 18 1978, hundreds of members of the People’s Temple committed mass suicide by willingly ingesting poisonous punch. The final death toll was 909 people. The members were convinced to do so by their leader Jim Jones, a charismatic self-proclaimed messiah from Indianapolis. As you will soon see from reading this article, the sheer control and influence that he had over his followers makes Jim Jones a valid option as one of the greatest leaders ever.

3 Events That Define Jim Jones

  1. Creation of the People’s temple

 Jones dressed as neatly as he could for his preaching, but he sympathized with the poor, and he preached also in black neighborhoods. During his days as a student pastor, Jones secretly visited various African -American churches around Indianapolis. He made friends with some of the people he found there, inviting them to his services and into his home. At the age of sixteen, in 1947, Jim was preaching on street corners, believing that he had wisdom and knowledge that others needed, and a few people would stop to listen and reward him with coins tossed onto a blanket next to him. Jones became a hit at Pentecostal gatherings and at other churches, outshining other healers with his miracles, and he built for himself a reputation in Indiana Pentecostal circles. He left Somerset Methodist Church and started his own church in a run-down building that he rented. In 1956 he transferred his church to a better building, and he began calling his efforts a “movement,” and his church he called the “People’s Temple.”

  1. Support and Promotion of Black Rights 

 Although Jones was white, he attracted mostly African Americans to the group with his vision of an integrated congregation. Jones was motivated to start Peoples Temple in part because he disliked mainstream denominations that served single-race congregations. He was inspired by the ideal of a just society that could overcome the evils of racism and poverty. It appealed to African Americans looking for alternatives to their conservative churches. Many black ministers in the late 1950s and into the 1960s were still preaching patience, asking their congregations to accept inequities and await a better future in heaven, even as forceful young leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X were demanding changes in the here and now. In many ways, Jones worked in the vanguard of these societal shifts, providing meals and home care services to the most economically distressed in Indianapolis, without discriminating by race.

  1. The Jonestown Massacre 

  Jim Jones relocated his followers to a community in Guyana that he bought and built with all of their money. On November 17, congressman Leo Ryan came to inspect Jonestown after hearing rumors that some people were being held there against their will and were being psychologically abused. The day after when he tried to leave, he was attacked by members of the People’s Church, being shot and killed alongside 3 members of the press. An additional 11 were wounded. While all the shooting was going on, Jim Jones was convincing his followers to all commit “revolutionary suicide”. This was done by using cyanide laced fruit drinks. It was first squirted into the mouths of babies and children before being ingested by the adults. Most members complied with Jim’s orders but others were killed forcefully. After seeing the devastating results of his work, he killed himself with a gun.

The aftermath of the Jonestown Massacre, a sea of the poisoned dead bodies

Jim Jones Criteria of Greatness

  1. Ability to Inspire 

Jim Jones appeared to be a great person, and he convinced so many people that he was doing great things in the community. He united the races, and combated the racist attitude which may have lingered within members. He supported the poor and elderly people in the community. “He was a role model for me – adopted children of all colors, hard worker, lived in modest circumstances, didn’t have his own limo no matter how successful, never made fun of anyone”. He inspired people to be the best versions of themselves

  1. Rise from the bottom

Jim Jones wasn’t all famous and powerful from the start, but quite the opposite. At the age of sixteen, in 1947, Jim was preaching on street corners, believing that he had wisdom and knowledge that others needed, and a few people would stop to listen and reward him with coins tossed onto a blanket next to him. After years of work and determination he began to increase in popularity, catching the eyes of people with his miracles. He became a hit in 1956 and eventually grew to be one of the most popular pastors in the state and eventually the country.

  1. Deception of the Public

To the outside world, the People’s temple was not seen as a sinister cult at all and was instead viewed to be associated with social change and humanitarianism. They often had very successful recruitment journey’s on buses, where strangers were convinced to come along, leave their life behind, and start a new one. Jim Jones was a recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarianism award for his valiant efforts.

Jim Jones receives the Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award.

4. Dependency of Followers

Jimmy Jones  controlled almost everything about his followers. He controlled when they ate,  their money, their cars, their homes and even their sleep. “You’re made to feel guilty if you take too many luxuries like sleeping, you tend to not to think for yourself and I allowed Jones to think for me, because I figured he had the better plan. I gave my rights up to him, as many others did.” The followers of Jim Jones were completely dependant on him and he controlled everything about them

5. Tactical Mastermind

Jim Jones was very smart with the way he did things. One of the things he did to control the people was depriving them of their sleep. Hours and even days on end left them with no self control and made it very easy for Jim Jones to manipulate them. In order to test the people’s loyalty to him, he would often hold “white nights”. Here Jim Jones would have them practice mass suicide by drinking spiked fruit punch. He would say aloud, “This punch is going to be passed out to everyone here. We all drank our punch, and then he said “you just drank poison and we will all die right here in the church together.”

6. Iconic Status

Jim Jones was remembered for decades after the Jonestown massacre and  is still remembered today. Leading the largest cult suicide in history,  he is remembered as the greatest cult leader of all time. He was also quite iconic before the Jonestown massacre being the first white couple to adopt a black child in Indiana back in 1961. He did things nobody would have even imagined of and is truly an icon.

Jim Jones charismatically preaching to his congregation

“Take our life from us. We laid it down. We got tired. We didn’t commit suicide. We committed an act of revolutionary suicide protesting the conditions of an inhumane world.”-Jim Jones


Jim Jones came from very humble beginnings. He discovered his passion of preaching in his youth and spent years perfecting his skills. The church he established became a phenomenon, being completely revolutionary in terms of racial composition. Jim Jones made his followers feel special and was able to gain full control of many of their lives. The People’s Temple became a cult that reached unprecedented levels of prominence. The members were so devoted to him that they were willing to die for him. Not many people could have the influence and leadership skills to pull all this off. We believe that the story of this man is truly one-of-a-kind and makes him deserving of the title “5th greatest leader of all time”


Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Peoples Temple. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/topic/Peoples-Temple

Gritz, J. R. (2021, May 25). Drinking the Kool-Aid: A survivor remembers Jim Jones. The Atlantic. Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2011/11/drinking-the-kool-aid-a-survivor-remembers-jim-jones/248723/

How did Jim Jones manage to gain such control over his followers? Alternative Considerations of Jonestown Peoples Temple. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=33150#:~:text=Jim%20Jones%20appeared%20to%20be,elderly%20people%20in%20the%20community.

Jim Jones. The People’s Temple. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2022, from http://www.fsmitha.com/h2/ch30-2.htm

SDSUNBOUND scholarship. research. heritage. Jim Jones and Reverend Cecil Williams receiving the Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award, 1977 | SDSUnbound. (n.d.). Retrieved June 23, 2022, from https://digitallibrary.sdsu.edu/islandora/object/sdsu%3A44544