This article examines representations of Peoples Temple in popular culture through the lens of mimesis, understood as a process of repetition and re-creation of specific elements. This process produces what is understood as a “cult” in popular culture, which is divorced from the complex historical reality of Peoples Temple. Three symbolic strands combine to construct the concept of a “cult”: the power of a charismatic leader, isolation from outside influences, and consuming poison, or “drinking the Kool-Aid.” In popular culture, these symbols are used in order to apportion blame, to learn lessons, and to act as a warning. Peoples Temple was a collective trauma for American culture as well as an individual trauma for survivors. The process of mimesis, therefore, is a way of both memorializing and reinscribing this trauma on a cultural level. Examples from ethnographic research conducted in Sedona, Arizona, are used to illustrate how symbols of Jonestown generated by cultural mimesis continue to be invoked by participants in contemporary minority religions as a way to signal their concern about whether they belong to a cult.

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