Summary prepared by Fielding M. McGehee III. If you use this material, please credit The Jonestown Institute. Thank you.
FBI Catalogue Jones Speaking
FBI preliminary tape identification note: Labeled in part “Sat Aug 19”
Date cues on tape: Events described on tape corresponds with label
Carlton GoodlettCuffy, former slave, Guyana national hero
Cudjoe, slave emancipator
Commander Price, GDF leader in Guyana Northwest District
Debby Layton BlakeyJonestown residents, full name unknown:
Becky (likely Rebecca Beikman, could be Flowers)
Tim (numerous Tim)
Mitchell [likely L.C. Mitchell]
“Jonestown’s Moms Mabley”
James “Reb” Edwards (speaks)
James Ford, aka James Wade
Marthea Hicks (sings)
Donald Wayne McCall
Harriet Sarah Tropp (speaks)
Bible verses cited:
“[F]rom each according to his ability, to each according to his need. That’s Christian, honey, that’s right in the Bible.” (Acts 2: 44-45, “And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Also, Acts 4: 34-35, “Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.”)
(Note: This tape was transcribed by Vicki Perry. The editors gratefully acknowledge her invaluable assistance.)
Jim Jones leads the Jonestown community in anticipating questions which visiting reporters and other outsiders might ask about their project. Throughout the tape, he alternate roles between that of an aggressive reporter asking questions and a critic dissecting the answers the people give him. He maintains a conversational tone for most of the tape, gently offering suggestions and even remarking – with some levity – on the inconsistency of the responses, but there are several occasions when he seems to be frustrated and angry.
The specific impetus for the night of role-playing is unknown. The tape label has a mid-August 1978 date, and the references he makes – the recent defection of long-trusted advisor Debby Blakey and the anticipated arrival of American screenwriter Don Freed – are consistent with the label. The Jonestown community often hosted official delegations from the Guyanese government, and certain relatives of Jonestown residents were granted entry into the settlement, but the detailed critiques and repeated warnings about reporters’ tricks in tripping up their interview subjects suggest the expected arrival of a more hostile contingent. While Jones praises many of the answers, he offers either a lengthy critique, a minor correction, or alternative phrasing to practically everyone who comes before him.
At its core, though, the evening is one of an attempted community-wide public relations effort. They are supposed to accentuate the positive, turning what a reporter might see as liabilities into assets and – at times – denying their own reality. “You don’t say Father, or Dad, no screaming around like that. It’s Jim,” he counsels early in the tape. “Never Pastor, never … Father, never Dad… No, it’s got to be Jim. You always refer to me as Jim.” Later in the session, as he runs through questions he hasn’t directly asked of anyone, he says: “Who is Jim to you? He’s myfriend. Best friend I’ve ever had. Do you believe he’s God? You should say, what are you talking about?”
The tape reveals a few nettlesome areas for the community. Jones – in his role as a reporter – asks a woman what they eat. She begins with homemade bread, then says rice. Jones interrupts her on the spot. “Don’t name rice first, please. ‘Cause that damned woman … Debby [Blakey] said we never eat anything here but rice. So, I’d forget the rice for the time being.” She amends her answer to talk about meats, dairy, fruits and vegetables, and then – again at Jones’ suggestion – adds rice on at the end.
People are also cautioned about talking about Public Services and other forms of discipline, about people of different sexes living in a house together, and about dissenters. (And if a reporter asks a shocking question, it’s okay to react accordingly: “I’d look more shocked than that,” Jones tells one man.) The Jonestown leadership will also make some cottages available for the outsiders to tour, but say the living quarters off the official list must keep their curtains down; if the reporters ask to see those cottages, the answer will be no, because “[t]hey like privacy.”
Some of the questions and answers elicit laughter. “Okay, tell me,” Jones questions an older unidentified man, “how many hours do you work, sir?” “I work eight hours a day,” the man replies. “What’s your shift? What’s your hours?” Jones fires back. “Seven to six,” the man says, and the crowd behind him erupts in spontaneous laughter. Jones corrects him – “Seven and six means, by my last count, eleven” – then continues with the type of warning found throughout the tape: “You gotta watch it with reporters. They’ll trip your ass… Shit now, friend, if you start telling that people who work at eight, when they see everybody walking down the fucking path at six thirty, somebody’s going to get in trouble.” The problem for Jones and everyone else, of course, was that people were on the way to the fields by 6:30 and that they did often work 11 hours.
Jones’ main critique of the answers is in people saying things they can’t back up. One man says he has learned four skills in Jonestown, but can name only two; a young woman says the Jonestown school is one of the best in Guyana, and Jones-as-reporter follows up with a questions about how she knows that.
Sometimes, Jones’ advice focuses on word choice. He asks a question about the “gate” into Jonestown, and praises the woman who answers by speaking about the “front entrance.” When a man answers that he no longer suffered from a bladder problem he had in the States, Jones notes with approval that the man did not talk about healings.
And even though Jones suggests that people not be intimidated by the reporters – or by him – it is also clear that people feel on the spot, and that they need to answer quickly and decisively. Answering a question about the desserts they have in Jonestown, a woman lists two and then pauses. “You’re too slow,” Jones says, and gives her several more examples of the sweets they have. On the other hand, at another point, he suggests that if someone needs time for reflection on the question, to “smile [and] say what did you say? I didn’t quite hear your question. You understand what I’m saying? That gives you time to think.”
It is apparent, though, that Jones struggles with a sense of frustration throughout the conversation, and periodically, it finds a voice. When a woman cannot answer a question about the source of Jonestown’s money, Jones prods her at first – “You standing there, and look like this, I’m telling you folks, there’s going to be shit. You all know these questions. I told you to learn them… You seem like you’re hesitant to speak. What’s the problem?” – but when she turns to someone in the crowd for assistance, he cries out, “Listen, woman! I’m talking now! Get your huffy shit off! I’m talking! … Don’t you address anybody there, ‘cause you should have the answer.”
The tape ends with a run-through of the questions they didn’t address that night, and Jones’ short answers. Are you communist? Do they listen to long sermons? Do they have healings? How do they get their news? What is the public address system for? Each of the questions indicates that the Jonestown leadership believes the incoming visitors have their own agenda and/or have been speaking to – or are part of – Concerned Relatives.
Date of transcription: 6/13/79
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 31, 1979, Special Agent (name deleted) reviewed the tape numbered 1B93-25. This tape was found to contain the following:
JAMES JONES speaking and quizzing members of Jonestown on questions and answers which may be asked by visitors to Jonestown.
Questions and answers deal with topics of:
2. Entertainment in Jonestown
3. Food and Housing in Jonestown
4. Health care in Jonestown
5. Weather in Jonestown
6. Life in general in Jonestown
Differences with FBI Summary:
The summary is accurate and meets the FBI’s purposes.
Tape originally posted May 2009