Welcome to the sixth annual Peoples Temple Podcast Review, in which your humble reviewer once again reviews podcasts about Peoples Temple from the past year. Before we begin, an administrative announcement. Most of the podcasts covered here are from this last year, but an inquisitive reader asked why some of the podcasts get reviewed when they are already three or four years old. Finding podcasts requires the use of what are called podcatchers and depending on the various algorithms and metadata used, sometimes the podcasts don’t get found for a couple years. It’s like fishing with a net: whatever you haul up is what you get. If readers find a podcast that should be reviewed, please send it to me or my esteemed editor.
This past year, there were good episodes, there were some bad episodes, and only one that came near to being great. There are also a lot of single episode shows this year. I know I tend to be dismissive of those by referring to their “Peoples Temple highlight reel,” but they do some good in providing a jumping-off point for people new to the subject. Maybe they hear a single episode and that leads them to a book, or a documentary, or multi-episode podcasts. As long as they’re not just plain awful, I believe they do some good introducing people to the topic. Now that I think of it, it would be interesting to do a survey of how people first came to know about Peoples Temple, especially people not directly related to Peoples Temple members. Mine was through Guyana Tragedy, the Powers Boothe miniseries back in 1980. If you have a moment, drop me a note and let me know.
Give Us Morgue 04/15/2021
I have often wondered how the story of Peoples Temple is interpreted by non-Americans. This year, I found some. Unfortunately, two I found are in Spanish and German, so this and one other reviewed below will have to suffice. And that is unfortunate. These two Irish hosts provide some funny moments such as when one of them compares a young Jim Jones to Damien from The Omen. But the rest of the time, I can’t tell if they are making jokes or are dead serious when they define communism as when Stalin made everyone work on the same farm. Another big problem is that they condense time, the result being that Jim Jones is popping pills and building up his harem when he was still in Indianapolis in the 1950s. You can safely pass on this one.
Another podcast from overseas, this time from British (I think) hosts Kirstin and Skye. One of them has done some research, the other has done none. The best thing about this episode is that it does point listeners to the many essays and articles that Jim and Marceline’s biological son, Stephan Jones, has published over the years. Aside from that, there are better single episodes to hear.
History Buffs 05/31/2022
(Not to be confused with the movie review show on YouTube.)
The website states that this is “a comedic take on historic events.” Let me put this upfront. Part two of their Peoples Temple podcast was on Patreon and costs a dollar to listen to. I would rather have the dollar. The whole episode exists as an excuse to shit all over liberals, Democrats, and California in general. Sources are not given but I caught pungent, malodorous whiffs of Cult City, Daniel J. Flynn’s book which was already reviewed on this site.
What did I “learn”? “Redwood Valley is ‘uber liberal’”. That may be true now, but it wasn’t back when Peoples Temple made its headquarters there; members called it Redneck Valley for a reason. “George Moscone is an ‘Eastern European shithead’ who probably didn’t win re-election.” Well, yeah, because he was murdered. “Guyana doesn’t extradite to the United States.” Actually, an extradition treaty has been in effect since 1935.
They further claim that pedophilia was practiced in Peoples Temple, that Jones used cocaine and heroin, and – although this is just my interpretation – they might consider Jimmy Carter to be worse than Jim Jones. Both hosts are COVID-deniers and freely share the very deep thoughts of disgraced comedian Louis CK on politics, abortion, the 2020 election, conspiracies, and in general, how terrible Democrats are. The bag of chips I bought with my dollar was better for me than this dreck.
From their website: “A true crime podcast dedicated to glorifying the men and women who solve the major crimes! We cover the profilers and the way they approach each case.” A novel approach, but I never heard any profilers being discussed in these episodes. The host wants to investigate how such a good person doing good things—integration, civil rights, feeding the poor—becomes a “supervillain.” Was it narcotics? Is the road to hell paved with good intentions? Did his influencers negatively affect him? They do examine Father Divine’s influence and promised to produce episode(s) on people who influenced Jones, but then never delivered. Which is a shame. The two episodes hit the highlight reel of Peoples Temple all the way through November 18. (For the first episode, skip the first hour, it’s all political news and analysis.) This would have been much more interesting had they delivered on their premise quoted above.
I like interview episodes; I always enjoy first-hand accounts. This time Eugene Smith is interviewed to promote his book Back to the World: A Life after Jonestown. Smith talks about his life before, during, and after Peoples Temple. He was attracted to Peoples Temple because of the political maturity of the teenage members who were focused on real social and political problems, rather than just the latest clothes and music. He provides a vivid description of the journey to Jonestown from Georgetown. He missed the final White Night because that’s where he was – in Georgetown clearing items for customs – but was held for a few weeks in an increasingly hostile environment before being sent home. It is a good interview, and I look forward to reading his book.
Lynette and Jess like to focus on “weird, crazy things from history” and provide a food segment. It’s a light, breezy show that hits the highlights of Peoples Temple and throws in a few jokes, but the host voices do hitch up when talking about the children who died. As for Guyanese recipe, it comes from a Guyanese co-worker Jess knew. It is tamarind balls with curry for a little sweet and hot taste. It’s not a very long episode, but as I stated in my introduction, I think these can help hook new people.
This podcast examines Indiana’s most notorious horrors. The first episode plays about half of the “death tape” before interviewing Eugene Cordell and two of his daughters. It’s interesting to hear from someone who joined and then left Peoples Temple during the Indianapolis period. What stood out was the difficulty he went through in losing his family, particularly his Aunt Edith, to Jones. It still eats at him. This also has extra value in that Eugene died about 18 months after appearing on this podcast.
Episode 2 contains the audio from Leo Ryan’s remarks in the pavilion on November 17th, then goes on to an interview with Jim Jones, Jr. The interview was done through Skype, so the audio is rough, but it is worth a listen. Jim Jr tends to rely on a repertoire of stories that he repeats, but he is such a relaxed and comfortable storyteller that I didn’t mind hearing them again. If he ever makes it to central Texas, we can run up a bar tab – on me – while he tells them again.
Stranger Than Podcast 07/02/2020
A podcast dedicated to weird, mysterious, creepy cults. Hosts Joann and Nate don’t appear to have done much research as Google would have cleared up a lot of mistakes. They do talk about the civil rights efforts and the Rainbow family, and they follow the highlights reel. But they make terrible mistakes along the way. They admit they don’t know what the Disciples of Christ is, they refer to Carol Moore, not Carolyn Moore Layton, and they think Dan White killed himself after assassinating Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Your time is better spent elsewhere.
This entry involves two sisters who “totally geek out about all their favorite moments in history.” They tell some jokes while hitting the highlight reel. Their main source is a 4-part YouTube series by Stephanie Harlowe (about 4 hours long), and as I didn’t hear any mistakes, I’m guessing it is a good source (which I will probably review next year). The tone is light but gets more serious when discussing the events of November 18. Like Sofa Spuds, it’s a good hook for listeners new to the topic.
Together with one of his friends, host Josh Schell talks about Peoples Temple, and it does not go well. They wrongly state Odell Rhodes was the only survivor of November 18th, and that he was a woman. They think people starved to death at Jonestown. To be fair, it is the first episode of his podcast, and later episodes did improve with better research and better guests, before the podcast suddenly stopped making episodes in March 2022. Had he continued, this would have been a good episode to remake.
So you got a friend who doesn’t want to read a book or listen to an audiobook about Peoples Temple? Send them to this audio documentary podcast that makes extensive use of the tapes – including some I’d never heard – as well as audio clips from news footage. Because of its length, it goes into more detail that other podcasts, even multi-episodes, have skipped.
For example, more time is spent on Marceline’s role in Indianapolis and how she taught Jim the art of politics. Other examples include the anti-war march in Ukiah, Father Jehovia, the Gang of Eight, and Howard and Beverly Oliver’s legal actions against Jones. A lot of these have been covered in print media, but not so much in audio media. And the clips used can be quite devastating. I was aware of the charges Maria Katsaris made against her father, but to hear it, that flat monotonous tone saying such terrible things, reinforced the plain horror of control that Jones had. Speaking of voices, the narrator’s monotone and run-on sentences can be taxing to the listener, but that should not keep anyone from giving this one a listen. This is as close to great as it got this year.
Something Was Wrong 01/31, 02/07, 02/14, 02/22, 02/29, 03/07, 03/21, all 2020
These seven episodes consist of interviews with the Bogue family, mainly Thom, but also his father Jim, and his daughter Leah. The first episode spends a lot of time establishing definitions for “cult” and “brainwashing” using the BITE model. There is a website with show notes, and Raven and A Thousand Lives are the main sources. There are also links to other resources for combating cults, and getting out of relationships with abusive people or groups.
Thom Bogue has an easy speaking style, and his stories are vivid, everything from his first attempt to run away from Peoples Temple at age 9, to hiding out in the jungle for a few days after the airstrip shooting. Jim Bogue’s stories are just heartbreaking. Betrayed by his wife, separated from his children and subject to blackmail, at one point he was literally sleeping with the dogs in the barn. The conclusion the Bogues come to is that drugs were what really destroyed Jones and Peoples Temple, with Jim Bogue insisting that Jonestown would have worked if Jones had stayed away. If you enjoy hearing from first-person accounts, this one is worth checking out.
The website for this podcast defines itself as a ministry to help the church “combat deception” by exploring “the cults from a theological, sociological, and psychological perspective.”
Technically, only the last episode is about Jim Jones, so you can just skip to that one if that is all you want. The entire six-episode run is made up of interviews with John Collins, a former member of the William Branham “cult” (his word) who got out of it and now researches and publishes extensively about Branham and people associated with Branham. He has a website and Amazon carries his works including his one book about Jim Jones. Collins has also written extensively for this site.
As for William Branham, he was a leader in the post-World War II healing revivals and deliverance ministries who influenced the direction of the charismatic and Pentecostal movements (your reviewer is not a theologian, so I offer apologies if this is wrong). He was also accused of massive fraud, was banned by more than one nation, got on the wrong side of IRS, and was baptized by, and maintained a lifelong friendship with, Roy E. Davis, a national Imperial Wizard of the KKK. He also helped launch the careers of several other revivalists including Jim Jones.
What struck me were the similarities between Branham and Jones: the supernatural events they claimed surrounding their births, the fears of nuclear war, the use of “miracles” to gain converts, the rewriting of your past to suit your present goals. Even their differences are similar. Both used religion as a cover for political goals. Branham, a strong white supremacist, started a political movement against civil rights disguised as a religious movement. Jones did the opposite, using the same tools. Which begs the question: why would a civil rights activist like Jones have a white supremacist as a featured speaker at revival services in 1956? Did Jones ignore that because of the fame he was hoping to get from Branham? Were Branham’s serpent seed beliefs not known to Jones? Both are possibilities, and I never heard a clear answer. My only criticism is that because these episodes are interviews, they sometimes detour to some tangent that one of the hosts brings up, and it loses focus. I personally have found his books to be a better resource because they flow naturally without interruptions.
Last year’s podcast review featured a show called The Return of the Repressed with Marcus, who set out to use a method known as the Four Discourses to investigate those who defected from “American imperialism in the 70s.” I enjoyed parts of it and said so in my review. This time, Marcus is being interviewed by Jimmy Falun Gong, which I suspect is a pseudonym. Two episodes are from a four-hour conversation, and the third episode is a little over three hours of conversation. There is a lot to listen to.
Most of the conversation revolves around the question of whether, and to what extent, intelligence agencies were involved with Jones and Peoples Temple. This then leads to related questions about MK ULTRA, LSD, psychiatric institutions and hospitals in Mendocino County, the two passports issued to Jim Jones, whether Jones was ever in a psychiatric institution, and other inquiries that are usually found in the parapolitical podcasts. I’m not taking a side here, although I will say that there are some troubling unknowns that permeate this group’s history. I do know that these episodes are probably best listened to in pieces, and that you should keep a notepad nearby to write down names you hear that might be of interest. I wish the more parapolitical podcasts would create short concrete episodes in which they lay out their case rather than these long discourses with many tangents and rabbit holes. I don’t think I could listen to this again, but I took notes of things I found interesting.
Part of the Wondery panoply, American Scandal is hosted by Lindsay Graham – the podcaster, not the senator from South Carolina – and examines various scandals from American history. Past seasons have covered payola, Iran-Contra, Enron, and other topics from across the spectrum of American life. For their Jonestown season, five episodes covered Peoples Temple, and a final episode featured an interview with “cult expert” Rachel Bernstein.
The sound design, music, sound effects and recording are done by professionals, so it sounds quite good. What is surprising is that none of the available recordings of Peoples Temple are ever used or re-recorded. They even managed to cover the events of November 18 without ever playing or speaking Jones words, which is completely unique.
The only issue, and loosely, that I have is with the dramatizations. The show clearly states that it is impossible to always know exactly what was said, but that they do research from several sources, including Raven, The Road to Jonestown, and the Alternative Considerations website. Most of the time this is innocuous. A conversation between two Guyanese Defense Force soldiers walking through the jungle towards Jonestown on November 19th. A conversation between members of the Gang of Eight about the wording of their manifesto. The part of me that watches movies based on historical events, and points out all the mistakes gets a little uneasy hearing these dramatizations. Just a word of warning that these are present.
The sixth and final episode is an interview with “cult expert” Rachel Bernstein where she talks about why some people join cults, who is most vulnerable, when they are most vulnerable, and why people stay. I found it informative.