Summary prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III. If you use this material, please credit The Jonestown Institute. Thank you.
FBI Catalogue: Identified Individuals Speaking
FBI preliminary tape identification note: One Tracs 90/”Sharon to Barba[gelleta] 5/10/77″
Date cues on tape: Fall 1977 (Reference to court order in Stoen custody case which was issued in late summer, 1977)
Rosalynn Carter, wife of President Jimmy Carter
Ruth Stapleton, sister of President Jimmy Carter
Unita May Blackwell Wright, mayor of Meyersville, Mississippi
S.F. Mayor George Moscone (by reference)
S.F. Commissioner John Barbagelata
Melvin Charles, citizen involved in police shooting
Temple adversaries; members of Concerned Relatives:
Lester Kinsolving, newspaper columnist
Peoples Temple members:
Sharon Amos (speaks)
Ben Bowers, licensed ham radio operator of Temple radio (speaks)
Chaikin, presumably Gene Chaikin
Mike Prokes (speaks)
Jonestown residents, full name unknown:
Dee (first name unknown) Johnson, “transvestite” in Jonestown
Kenny, “child molester” in Jonestown
Bible verses cited: None
(Note: This tape was one of the 53 tapes initially withheld from disclosure. The reason may be that Jim Jones discussed how to get around Federal Communications Commission regulations on ham radio operations.)
The tape consists of two phone calls, a snippet of conversation between Jones and an unidentified male which is too short for contextual reference, and a long meeting between Jim Jones, several Temple leaders, and Ben Bowers, the holder of the Temple’s ham radio license.
In the first phone conversation, a woman (likely Sharon Amos, even though she won’t identify herself and says she’s not a member of Peoples Temple, despite her use of Temple equipment to record her call) speaks to an unnamed aide to San Francisco Commissioner John Barbagelata. Sharon complains about a “negative reference” which Barbagelata made about Jim Jones, and said the criticism could be embarrassing to the official. Jones had supported a ballot proposal made by Barbagelata, and stood by the commissioner when he was “victimized” by terror. Later, Sharon reminds the aide that the Temple has 9000 members and “they’re not the kind of people I think [Barbagelata] wants to take on.”
Despite the heavy-handed nature of the message, Sharon doesn’t seem to be able to back up any of her assertions with even the most basic information which the aide asks for in an effort to check things out. Even though low voices at Sharon’s end give her more ammunition, she is periodically flustered, especially when the aide asks for her name.
In the second call, Michael Prokes tries to arrange a meeting between Ruth Stapleton, the sister of President Jimmy Carter, and Jim Jones. It’s a last-minute request – Mrs. Stapleton will be in San Francisco that night – and the receptionist says her boss is out of reach. The taped portion of the call ends before Prokes makes much progress.
The most extended portion of the tape – lasting for all but the first five minutes of the second side – is a meeting between Jones and Ben Bowers. Even though the meeting apparently takes place in Bowers’ radio room, several Temple leaders have accompanied Jones. There is much movement of furniture and equipment throughout the tape, and much conversation is lost.
The reason for the meeting is to discuss what the Federal Communications Commission wants from the Temple, and what they should do to resolve the violations which the FCC has cited them for. There is a subtext of disagreement that becomes immediately obvious: Jones wants Bowers to go to Guyana to set up the radio equipment; Bowers not only refuses to go to Guyana, he wants to leave the church. The positions of the two men are clear, unyielding, and diametrically opposed.
As the meeting begins, the unidentified Temple leaders urge Bowers to do what he can to fudge the record (although the nature of the alleged violations is never specified). One suggestion is to make some of the entries in the log book less clear and more ambiguous; another is to lose the log book, or to pretend that kids broke into the radio room while it was unlocked and stole the book.
Bowers opposes the ideas as self-defeating, among other things. If the room was left unlocked, he says, “then that’s my responsibility. I mean, I’m the control operator. Whatever happens … I’m responsible for.” He also says that his meeting with the FCC had gone well, because he had admitted the violations right away. When the discussion of fudging the violations resumes later in the meeting, Bowers – and others – rejoin that many of the violations are already on record, since the FCC has been monitoring transmissions, and likely recording them as evidence of violation.
Jones grudgingly accepts this. “I question why we shouldn’t lose [the book]. It was my idea to lose it. But you say not to. And I trust your judgment.” But the truth is, Bowers’ words wouldn’t mean much if there weren’t also a written record. “Things in writing can damage you,” he says, the adds later, “[T]hey’ve got something in writing. That’s why I don’t want for you people to keep things in writing.”
By that time, the more fundamental problem is on the table. Jones says he can’t understand why Bowers would be so cooperative with the FCC, and so resistant about working with the Temple radio operators in Guyana. At first, Bowers says he had decided not to go to Guyana. Even with the promise of a round trip ticket, he says he thought that, once he arrived, they wouldn’t allow him to return. “Did you think you were going to stay?” Jones asks. “I assumed that,” Bowers replies. “I mean… I don’t care what you told me, that’s what I figured.” As long as he remains in the States, he says, he has some independence, and if it comes down to being forced into a decision, he says he’ll quit the church.
As the conversation continues, however, it is apparent he has already decided to leave, and he resists every effort – through shame, through logic, through emotion – to try to get him to change his mind. When Jones asks Bowers if he realized what legal danger Jones was putting himself in by returning from Guyana, Bowers says, he assumed that’s why Jones went down in the first place. When Jones says they are facing a situation of whether to live or die, Bowers calmly replies, “Well, check that on the ‘live and die.’ ‘Cause that’s true.” When Jones accuses him of enjoying the “fruits of… fascism,” and reminds him of all the work that the Temple is doing to help the farmers in Zaire and to save the refugees from Chile, Bowers replies, all he could do anyway is just supply a radio system.
If anything, Jones’ arguments seem to strengthen Bowers’ resolve. As Jones repeats his willingness to die for the movement, two things become apparent: Bowers can’t put enough distance between himself and that kind of talk; and Jones can’t figure that out. Jones has sold himself on his own rhetoric – especially the rhetoric that he uses before large gatherings – and can’t understand why it isn’t working in a one-on-one conversation.
Indeed, Jones sounds genuinely perplexed why anyone would want to abandon Peoples Temple and join the system. Even when he asks questions for information about what Bowers wants, and Bowers replies with the information, Jones treats the answer as an invitation to argue against him, to show him where he’s wrong. In one exchange, for example, Jones asks Bowers what he wants. “I guess I want independence. I guess that’s what I want,” Bowers replies. “Whoever’s freed anybody, son?” Jones returns. “Whoever freed anyone by hedonistic indifference? Who, with anarchy, ever did a damn thing for a soul?”
Some of Jones’ replies lead down long and winding pathways which show some of his thought processes. At one point, Bowers observes simply, “I just burn out.” Jones’ initial response is, they don’t have the right to burn out. Then he modifies that to say, he doesn’t have the opportunity to burn out. In the very next breath, he says, “I may burn out, but I’m not going to give out. Because that’s a terrible feeling, to feel that you let people down.” That leads to his beliefs about the need to organize, then to the influence that the Temple organization has, then to the risks that come along with that influence, and finally, to the pain that comes with the risk. “So what’s the difference?” he concludes. “Pain is pain. Why not be painfully loyal, rather than painfully dissident?”
Jones also expresses a reluctance to let anybody like Ben Bowers leave the group. Even though Bowers says he hasn’t tried to take anyone else out with him, that he hasn’t talked to people on the outside, that he’ll just walk away, Jones says he has the experience to distrust that. Everyone else who says they’ll leave without incident, he says, turns around two weeks later and hits them with a lawsuit.
But Bowers represents a special problem. Jones is worried about communications. He wants Jonestown to be able to remain in instant contact with San Francisco, and to do that, he thinks he needs to hold on to Bowers, he needs to do whatever it takes to keep the FCC off their backs, and he needs to be figure out a way to conduct business on what is designed – and policed – as an amateur radio network. “We have to have communications,” he says more than once.
What happened after this conversation? Although Ben Bowers did not leave the Temple immediately, he never went to Guyana, as far as we know, and certainly did not die in Jonestown on 18 November. The radio communication between Guyana and the U.S. was more or less reliable, and the radio room was extensively used. Peoples Temple continued to conduct business over the ham radio frequencies, principally through the use of coded words and phrases. And, with the help of ham radio operators across the US who provided tapes of the Temple’s violations, the FCC continued to monitor the group. The threat of suspended service always hung over Jonestown, and contributed to Jones’ increasing sense of isolation and paranoia in the final weeks.
Date of transcription: 3/29/79
In connection with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s investigation into the assassination of U.S. Congressman LEO J. RYAN at Port Kaituma, Guyana, South America, on November 18, 1978, a tape recording was obtained. This tape recording was located in Jonestown, Guyana, South America, and was turned over to U.S. Officials in Guyana and subsequently transported to the United States.
On March 1, 1979, Special Agent (name deleted) reviewed the tape numbered 1B62-2. This tape was found to contain the following:
A telephone call from an unknown female to the office of Mr. BARBAGALATTA. A telephone call to Mrs. STAPLETON’S office from MICHAEL PROBST [PROKES], a minister at Rev. JONES’ office. Two males and one female discussing radio links between the Temple and Guyana.
Nothing was contained thereon which was considered to be of evidentiary nature or beneficial to the investigation of Congressman RYAN.
Differences with FBI Summary: The summary is accurate and meets the FBI’s purposes.
Tape originally posted April 2002