Jones became increasingly obsessed with nuclear holocaust, and convinced himself and his followers that the world had become riddled with evil and corruption. These fears that Jones used to instill in his followers paved the way for Jones to dream of his own utopian community rich with peace, love, and a righteous way of living. Jones made this idyllic fantasy into a distorted reality.
Rankled by his paranoia, Jones gathered patrons of the People's Temple movement and fled to Guyana, South America, to institute his version of utopia. However, once the followers were in "Jonestown" as it became to be known, Jones inevitably grew manipulative and controlling, while his paranoia worsened. New enemies threatened Jones and his followers, who drove Jones to later commit one of the most heinous acts of the 1970s. These new enemies that Jones would have to contend with were any and all U.S. government agencies and outside family members who threatened to weaken the fabric of the community.
Jones secured a remote location deep in the Guyana jungle to build his newfound community, where he felt safe from the repugnant and pervasive evils of the civilized world. Jones, a master manipulator, sought to establish complete dependence and infantilism among cult members as a technique of brainwashing. This goal was accomplished through the community's complete isolation.
In his last orders as leader of the People's Temple, Jones set up endurance trials for upcoming events. These trials were termed "white nights": sirens were set to sound off in the middle of the night, and followers were told that the jungle was swarming with the evils of outsiders and mercenaries. Once everyone in the community had gathered, they were given glasses of red liquid and told that it contained poison which would cause death in 45 minutes. These tests would occur randomly at Jones's will and without warning. This ritualistic practice for the end of Jones's worldly kingdom became a reality on the eve of November 18, 1978. For reasons unknown to outsiders, Jones ordered that all 911 congregation members to commit their revolutionary deaths on that date. He laced a large quantity of fruit punch with generous doses of cyanide and Valium. Jones ordered all 276 children at Jonestown to drink the punch, followed by the adults. In the end, after members had carried out his orders, Jones shot himself in the head and Jonestown fell silent. The phenomenon of Jim Jones and the People's Temple can be viewed as a cultural marking point. The cult itself represents an anomaly, and therefore a crack in the backbone of mid-20th-century Canadian and American culture. Jonestown and other such cults arose from a cultural climate in which members were products of their culture, and at the same time producers of a reactant culture. These cults search for a new reality, a new meaning, and a new purpose to escape from the corruption that was and is still evident in the modern world. Charismatic religious leaders such as Jim Jones provide this reality and reassurance to their followers, and they look to the Apocalypse for their new reality in this world and the next.
Another spectacular mass violence event took place 17 years later. This time the charismatic leader was David Koresh, a self-proclaimed Second Messiah. Koresh was born in 1959 to a single mother in Houston, Texas; he never met his father. Koresh described his childhood as being very lonely, as he was often teased by other children, and suffered from dyslexia. At age 12, Koresh became fascinated by the Bible and memorized long passages. At age 20, he joined the Seventh Day Adventists; he was later excommunicated due to being a "bad influence" on the youth in the congregation.
In 1981, Koresh was welcomed into the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. Almost immediately, he attempted to assert himself in the cult as a leader. A power struggle between Koresh and George Roden for the role of leader ended in 1987, when Roden was killed during a shootout between the two men's followers. Koresh was put on trial for Roden's death; Koresh claimed that Roden was shot by mistake, as he (Koresh) was aiming at a tree.