Q245 Summary

Summary prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III. If you use this material, please credit The Jonestown Institute. Thank you.

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FBI Catalogue: Identified Individuals Speaking

FBI preliminary tape identification note: None

Date cues on tape: Late April/early May 1978.

People named:

Jonestown residents:

Paula Adams (speaks)
Christa Amos (speaks)
Martin Amos (speaks)
Sharon Amos (speaks)
Jack Barron (speaks)
Rebecca May Beikman (speaks)
Johnny Brown, aka Johnny Jones, Johnny Moss (speaks)
Stephanie Brown (by reference)
Jeffrey Carey (speaks)
Carter (either Michael or Tim)
Eugene Chaikin (speaks)
Phyllis Chaikin (speaks)
Loretta Cordell, aka Loretta Coomer (speaks)
Penny Kerns Dupont (speaks)
James Edwards (speaks)
Hue Fortson (speaks)
Lemuel Thomas Grubbs (speaks)
John Harris, aka Peter Holmes (speaks)
Liane Harris, aka Liane Amos (speaks)
Marthea Hicks (speaks)
Lee Ingram (speaks)
Donald Jackson (speaks)
Shanda James, aka Shanda Oliver (speaks)
Ava Phenice Jones (by reference)
Earnest Jones (speaks)
Jessie Weana Jones (speaks)
Marceline Jones (by reference)
Marchelle Jacole Jones (by reference)
Stephan Jones (speaks)
Teresa King (speaks)
Lisa Layton (speaks)
Tish Leroy (speaks)
Kay Nelson (speaks)
William Oliver (speaks)
Michael Prokes (speaks)
Robert Rankin (speaks)
Edith Roller (speaks)
Pauline Simon (speaks)
Larry Schacht (speaks)
Helen Swinney (speaks)
Etta Thompson (speaks)
Debbie Touchette (speaks)
Harriett Sarah Tropp (speaks)
Richard Tropp (speaks)
Deanna Wilkinson (speaks)

International names

Vladimir Lenin, leader of Russian Revolution
Karl Marx, father of communism

Bible verses cited: None

Summary:

(Note: This tape was one of the 53 tapes initially withheld from public disclosure.)

(Note: This tape was transcribed by Michael Bellefountaine. The editors gratefully acknowledge his invaluable assistance.)

Recorded in the spring of 1978, this tape was devoted to statements by community members on their reasons for wanting to commit “revolutionary suicide.” With only a couple of notable exceptions, the people who speak are calm and forthright in their statements, even if the causes and travails they speak of fill them with passion. There are a few unifying themes – their relatives are hounding them, they cannot stay where they are, they have no place else to go, and suicide is seemingly the only way out – but there are many definitions of what revolutionary suicide means to them.

Jim Jones is also calm and matter-of-fact about the process. He interrupts a few speakers to press them on a particular point or to clarify an issue, and he is very interested in a couple of the community members who have never spoken before on the subject. In general, though – again, with a couple of notable exceptions – he plays the role of a dispassionate interviewer, and does not ask leading questions.

The voices are clear and strong, and it is difficult to tell if the statements were written in advance, or if they are extemporaneous. A few speakers sound as though they may be reading prepared statements, but others speak of the long meeting that very night, and of the decision they have just reached – to commit suicide as a group – which would argue against advance preparation. At the same time, most speakers are as articulate as they are emphatic, and only a few stumble over their words.

There is a reason for the clarity and purposefulness of the tape, though: as opposed to many others, this tape was recorded for history, for the people of the world to find and listen to. One speaker, Edith Roller, concludes a short statement in this way: “I pray and hope that this tape will at least survive in portions so that they can know what we stood for. I’m glad that my death will mean something. I hope it will be an inspiration to all people that fight for freedom all over the world.” Another speaker, Richard Tropp, opens his remarks with his wish “for those of you listening to this tape, to listen very, very carefully to the words of Jim Jones. Because here tonight, even at the hour of decision for a revolutionary suicide, in the words of Jim Jones, you will find, if you listen, the key to the survival of humanity.”

A few express regrets that they have no other recourse, whether that would be to go on to places like Cuba that had once offered them refuge, or to go back to the U.S. and take care of their enemies, especially those who left the Temple and now lie about their experiences in the movement. Most people take the opportunity to speak about the problems they faced in the U.S., how Peoples Temple and Jim Jones lifted them out of those problems, and how the response of the country at large and their relatives in particular had castigated the church for the efforts. “We feel that we are not appreciated,” one man says, summarizing the views of many.

The people of Jonestown speak of issues they have heard for many years, first from the pulpit in the U.S., and more recently, in their own community meetings. The perspectives are anti-capitalist, anti-nuclear, anti-imperial; remembrances of life in the U.S. focus on poverty, the ghetto, prisons, and miserable convalescent homes; the true way of liberation, through Marxism-Leninism, is a path that Peoples Temple took – and succeeded in creating an ideal community – but the entrenched interests in the U.S. would not let it succeed elsewhere.

The phrase “revolutionary suicide” is used  by many of the speakers, and the definitions of what constitutes revolutionary suicide vary as much as Jones used the term over the years. One person says it’s because “we don’t want to be involved with the mess that’s going on in this world.” Another expresses the hope that their revolutionary suicide will “be used as a instrument to further liberation.” Another says that they are a people born out of time and place, but that the real reason for revolutionary suicide can be laid at the feet of “the conspiracy [which] will not leave us alone to build, to serve and to live in peace.” Another chooses to die to shatter the illusion created by “defectors, liars and down right provocateurs.” Another chooses “to commit revolutionary suicide on the basis that we, as Marxist-Leninists, have come from the United States being interrogated and tried to choose a life and live socialism in this country, and they came here and interrogated us also, and I feel that I would rather die than see us divided or torn down, and I would like to show the rest of the world that together is the only way.” And so on. Jones himself adds another rationale: “[R]evolutionary suicide would be the best service we should render the cause of the international Marxist-Leninist struggle.”

Indeed, the Marxist-Leninist struggle is a focal point, not only of the Jonestown experiment, but of the statements, with the phrase used no fewer than 20 times in the hour-long tape. As with “revolutionary suicide,” the definitions of Marxism-Leninism vary from speaker to speaker, but that also reflects the use of the phrase in the history of the church, and of Jones’ invocation of the concept to describe (or defend) a controversial or unpopular decision the leadership may have made.

If there is a split in the ranks of the Temple membership, it is a subtle one, that of defining Peoples Temple as a service institution that took care of seniors and children, and that of the Temple as a revolutionary organization in which seniors and children are a hindrance. “[W]e wanted to be willing to fight in a liberation struggle,” one woman says early in the tape, “but Jim Jones brought in seniors that we could not involve in that kind of thing, and young children.” Another woman raises the same issue later on: “[W]e have many children, many seniors, and I know that it would be impossible for them to [fight for a revolutionary group], or to be accepted in any society where such activity is presently and currently going on.” Even Jones refers to the struggle: “[W]e would be of little help to a liberation struggle, in that we have so many seniors and so many children.”

But the people are united in the decision to commit revolutionary suicide. At one point, Jones calls for a vote. “How many in this assembly feel this [choice] by saying, and there’s about a thousand people, how many here feel it by the sounding of a yea?” The response is loud, emphatic and prolonged. The call for votes of dissent is met with silence.

FBI Summary:

Date of transcription: 6/11/79

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 May 29, 1979, Special Agent (name deleted) reviewed the tape numbered 1B70-32. This tape was found to contain the following:

The following individuals giving their reasons for committing revolutionary suicide.

1. HUE FORTSON
2. LARRY SCHACHT
3. ETTA THOMPSON
4. CHRISTA AMOS (Age 11)
5. SHARON AMOS
6. MARTIN AMOS (Age 10)
7. HELEN SWINNEY
8. LISA LAYTON
9. EDITH ROLLER
10. KAY NELSON
11. JIM JONES
12. DEANNA WILKINSON
13. VALERIE JONES
14. RICHARD TROPP
15. LEMUEL THOMAS GRUBBS
16. LIAN HARRIS
17. BILL OLIVER
18. MIKE PROKES
19. HARRIET TROPP
20. JAMES EDWARDS
21. GENE CHAIKIN
22. LEE INGRAM
23. JOHN HARRIS
24. SHANOA JAMES
25. REBECCA BYKEMAN (phonetic)
26. TERESA KING
27. PAULINE SIMON
28. LORETTA COOMER
29. STEPHEN JONES
30. TISH LEROY
31. PAULA ADAMS
32. EARNEST JONES
33. JEFF CAREY
34. DONALD JACKSON
35. JACK BERN (phonetic)
36. PENNY KERNS DUPONT
37. MARTHEA HICKS

Differences with FBI Summary:

None

Tape originally posted April 2004

Originally posted on July 8th, 2013.

Last modified on June 8th, 2017.
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