The House of Israel was established by an American fugitive, David Hill, also known as Rabbi Edward Washington, who arrived in Guyana in 1972. The cult had no ties to traditional Jewish religion but was a black supremacist movement. In the 1970s, the group claimed a membership of 8,000. The House of Israel had a daily radio program in which it preached that Africans were the original Hebrews and needed to prepare for a racial war. Opponents of the government claimed that the House of Israel constituted a private army for Guyana's ruling party, the People's National Congress (PNC). During an anti-government demonstration, a House of Israel member murdered a Roman Catholic priest because he was on the staff of a religious opposition newspaper, the Catholic Standard. The House of Israel also engaged in strikebreaking activities and disruptions of public meetings. Critics of the government alleged that House of Israel members acted with impunity during the government of Linden Forbes Burnham. However, under Hugh Desmond Hoyte, Burnham's successor, Rabbi Washington and key associates were arrested on a long-standing manslaughter charge and imprisoned.
Guyana acquired international notoriety in 1978 following a mass murder-suicide at the commune of the People's Temple of Christ, which had been led by the Reverend Jim Jones, of Oakland, California. In 1974 the People's Temple, a utopian commune, leased a tract of land near Port Kaituma in western Guyana to escape from mounting scrutiny of the group by California authorities. The government welcomed the People's Temple in part because of its interest in populating the interior of the country, especially the area claimed by Venezuela, where Jonestown was situated. Members of the People's Temple also became close to PNC leaders, and the group was allowed to function without interference from the government. Allegations of atrocities by commune leaders and charges that the commune was holding people against their will led a United States congressman, Leo Ryan, to go to Jonestown to investigate the allegations of abuse.
Fearing that Congressman Ryan's report on the commune would bring unwanted publicity and restrictions on his operations, Jones had the congressman shot as he was boarding an airplane to return to Georgetown. The United States immediately asked Guyana to send in its army. Before the army could reach Jonestown, however, Jones coerced and cajoled over 900 members of the commune to commit murder and suicide.
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