Peoples Temple Radio Codebook

Peoples Temple used coded messages in shortwave broadcasts between Jonestown, Georgetown and San Francisco, in part to circumvent FCC regulations on conducting business over amateur airwaves. In the first section of codes, for example, Peoples Temple cloaked its legal discussions – which were not permitted under its HAM radio license – with references to medical procedures.

To ensure that different radio operators understood each other, the Temple created a code book of aliases and cryptic phrases, the contents of which are published below.

Although the book is undated, the “Us” and “Them” listings includes Debbie Layton among the Temple antagonists, and Terri Buford among the loyalists. This means the book was compiled sometime between May 1978, when Debbie defected, and October, when Terri left.

Debbie’s departure may have triggered the need to revise the code book, if members of the Jonestown leadership were fearful that, as part of her “betrayal,” she would provide Temple antagonists with its secrets. The fact seems to be, however, that the code book was revised on numerous occasions, even if this is the only one to survive.

Evidence of this is not only in the portrayal of Debbie Layton here, but in the omission of a previous code phrase which was familiar to many Jonestown resident: “Mrs. White” referred to the “final White Night,” according to Terri Buford in 2014, the time when “everybody dies.” Among the references to Mrs. White is one in Edith Roller’s journal of May 5, 1978, less than two weeks before Debbie’s defection.

There are several sections to this version of the code book, and several styles of type, suggesting more than one compiler. One result of this compilation by multiple users is some of the categories are alphabetized only by first letter, and some not at all. The reverse dictionary aspect of the book – the listing of the people for whom there are codes – is also alphabetized only by first letter. If you wish to locate the code name for a specific individual, we recommend you use your “Find” function for that person. Following the code sheets is an alphabetical listing of the people named in the book, along with whatever identifications we have of them. We have tried to make the entries internally consistent, correcting misspellings and punctuation errors, noting abbreviations, and cross-referencing codes wherever possible.

The code book was recovered in the Jonestown community following the mass deaths and released under the Freedom of Information Act. The copies of these lists were furnished by the California Historical Society.

Peoples Temple Radio Codebook, RYMUR 89-4286-B-3-g, parts 1 & 2.
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Last modified on May 22nd, 2014.
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