“Drink the Kool-Aid” is an American idiom which means to blindly follow a person or group. But where did this idiom originate?
On November 18, 1978, in Jonestown, Guyana, more than 900 people died from cyanide poisoning. The leader, Jim Jones, had founded several “churches” throughout California between the 1950s and the 1970s to create a utopia. Members were regularly humiliated, beaten, and blackmailed, and many were coerced or brainwashed into signing over their possessions—including their homes—to the church. As the media began to investigate him, Jim Jones fled to a compound that he had built in Guyana.
In Guyana, Jones found more autonomy than he had in California. However, when a US Congressman, Leo Ryan, visited Jones’ compound, members who were being held against their will tried to escape. Members who still believed in Jones launched an attack on Congressman Ryan and his party, leading to Ryan’s death.
Upon hearing the news, Jim Jones ordered everyone in and around the compound to commit suicide, using a fruit drink laced with cyanide. Jones himself was later found dead with a gunshot wound. While Jones used Flavor-Aid, the Kool-Aid brand seemed to be preferred in the idiom. Both brands were at the scene, but Kool-Aid got front billing in the aftermath and eventually stuck due to a large media focus on it. So whatever you do, don’t “drink the Kool-Aid.”
Written by Josh Yohe
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