The audiotapes recorded by Peoples Temple -- which
offer primary source documentation of the group's years in Indiana
and California, as well as its time in Jonestown -- are available
through the "Alternative Considerations" website and by writing the
editors of this report. We can provide copies of all tapes which have
been transcribed at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/tapes/transcripts.html.
In addition, we can duplicate untranscribed tapes which are denoted
on the website at http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/tapes/fbi.html
with the asterisk ("*") symbol. For those tapes, the only descriptions
we have are the summaries written by FBI agents in 1979 and 1980.
We can vouch neither for the accuracy of the summaries nor the quality
of the recording of those tapes which we have not transcribed.
For copies of tapes, contact us through email@example.com,
or write to Fielding McGehee, 3553 Eugene Place, San Diego, CA 92116.
Tapes are $2 each, postage included. Contact us about rates for bulk
orders. While most people who order tapes limit their request to Q
042, the so-called "Death Tape," a number of other people have asked
for tapes covering a larger spectrum of Peoples Temple life. We invited
several of them to write about what they were looking for when they
made their requests, what they heard that either confirmed or contradicted
their opinions, and what conclusions they drew. Three of their responses
Lessons of Jonestown Remain Elusive, by Brad Elliott
I discovered the "Alternative Considerations" website after looking
for Jonestown on the search engine Google. What attracted me to the
site initially was the listing of the numerous tapes acquired by the
FBI after the Jonestown tragedy. I decided to see if I could purchase
copies of some of the tapes listed.
The biggest challenge was trying to determine what tapes to request.
There were transcripts available online for a number of the tapes,
but for most of them, I had to rely on notes that the FBI had made
while listening and cataloging the hundreds of tapes they acquired.
I was interested most in recordings made in Jonestown. I felt that
they represented one of the few things that remained untainted by
time. This is of course presuming the FBI didn't delete, edit or doctor
any of the tapes that they released via the Freedom of Information
Act. I was also looking for tapes that hadn't been made available
to the public until just a few years ago. I was overwhelmed by the
amount of material available that fit these criteria.
My knowledge of Jonestown was based on what I had been told and/or
saw on the news as an eleven-year-old child. Later I would hear Jim
Jones sampled by music groups, and in hindsight the recordings tended
to just reinforce what I already knew: Jim Jones said and did crazy
things and supposedly brainwashed over 900 people into killing themselves.
I wanted the tapes to give me a parallax viewpoint to some of the
preconceived ideas I had about Jonestown. I wanted the tapes to prove
or disprove what I had been told and thought all along. I was truly
fascinated by the chance to have in my hands recordings from Jonestown
that few people in the general public had ever heard. In hindsight,
I wanted to be surprised or shocked by the recordings. I wanted to
hear the odd, inane, and crazy things that Jim Jones and Peoples Temple
said and did. I found all of that, and more.
The tapes didn't necessary change my viewpoint, but they made me realize
that everything wasn't so black and white. It was more like a grey
scale of good and bad. A few of the tapes I received were recorded
before the move to Jonestown. They helped me to better understand
what sort of ideals the Temple was built on. I was surprised to hear
a lot of references to socialism, communism, and the evils of capitalism.
In the early recordings, Jones's teachings seem a lot more logical
than after the move to Jonestown. He tends to sound more like an overworked
dictator than a leader.
On one Jonestown tape, Jones asks people to explain what they would
like to do to their relatives back in the States. Numerous people
speak of torturing and killing their family members, and other enemies
of the Temple. After each person explains their own special brand
of torture and murder, the entire congregation and Jim Jones starts
laughing and cheering. Jones laughs so hard at times he sounds like
a hyena. If the Devil had a laugh, this is what it would sound like.
The quality and length of the tapes varies, but most of the recordings
that I heard fall within the fair to good category. Pre-Jonestown
tapes will give you a better understanding of what the Temple was
all about, while the Jonestown tapes cover many facets of life, from
the mundane to the disturbing.
Tapes Demonstrate Power of Cults, by James Pickup
As an amateur researcher into cults, I have long been aware of
the tragedy at Jonestown in Guyana, and knew that there were extensive
recordings of Jonestown meetings and sermons, but I didn't know how
to obtain them until I did a Google search on the Internet on the
subject of "Jonestown" and found the Father Cares radio special by
James Reston, Jr.. This link led me to Rebecca Moore's website, where
I found the listing of tape transcripts.
Jonestown was of particular interest to me because I viewed it as
one of the most severe cult situations of the past century. I felt
that the cultic manifestations -- those manifestations that recur
again and again within all cults -- were at their most extreme in
Jonestown . As an example: All cults manifest a controlled milieu.
Members tend to be separated from external influences and sealed within
an environment where all information, social fellowship and activities
are directed at maintaining the cult's "orthodoxy." Orthodox behavior
and, eventually, orthodoxy of thinking result. Certainly the appearance
of orthodoxy becomes necessary. Those with doubts keep their thoughts
In Jonestown this controlled milieu was as extreme as it can get.
A sealed compound, in the jungle, with armed guards, far from civilization.
Truly, once inside Jonestown, escape must have been nigh on impossible,
and dissent inconceivable. The tapes I obtained proved of great interest
The most apparent thing in these tapes is the organizational structure
that was in place for controlling the behavior and modifying the thinking
of the membership. To a large degree, Jim Jones assumes the position
of moderator in community meetings, taking a central course in "debates"
and appearing reasonable. Many of the tapes are "cathartic." Members
are constantly singled out and accused of unorthodox behaviour and
thought. It is not Jones who does the accusing, rather it is other
members. Each member of the group acts as a regulator on every other
This is a classic cult manifestation which George Orwell demonstrates
at length in his cult novel 1984. Members spying on each other, squealing
on each other, public accusation, public confession, public humiliation
to regulate thinking, all these cultic manifestations are here, in
most extreme form. One is prompted to think it must have been most
similar to Chinese Communist "thought reform" schools.
Jim Jones is a most extreme example of how a man with good intentions
can go sadly astray. Surely, living in Jonestown must have been living
in a hell on earth.
Jonestown Residents Found A Home, by Christopher Stephens
Jonestown is one of my strongest news-related memories. I was
twelve, living in Central California, when I heard the first reports
of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan's death. I followed the story to its
end and into a few of the books that appeared on the subject. My interest
was innocent and fairly ghoulish; the second part is still true today.
I arrived at the Jonestown website on a whim. In the late 70s and
early 80s, the NPR documentary, "Father Cares," which I
had taped on its original air date, was a frequent late-night listening
choice. Soothing is the only word for it. But I often wondered what
came before and after the short passages excerpted in the program.
Hearing the tapes in their entirety both adds and detracts from their
power. One gets a better sense of Jim Jones' methods and how he used
them to devastating effect. At the same time, one wearies of the more
drawn-out sections and bristles at the accusatory rants.
A dozen hours of Jonestown hasn't made me any more comprehending of
the religious experience than I was 25 years ago: I still believe
that faith is a mistake. Yet, I am more forgiving and have come to
think that a person's life is theirs to live in any way they see fit,
and that death is one of the choices available to us.
It is clear from the tapes that Jim Jones' followers were better with
him than they were without him. That's not to say that he always treated
them in a kind manner, or that they weren't subjected to things they
shouldn't have been. At the same time, they found in him the things
they were missing from their lives: a sense of belonging, security,
and love. These things, even if only in small quantities, can have
more importance than a life lived long. Isn't this one of the lessons