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: None
Date cues on tape: 21 December 1977 (parents of Oliver boys go to Guyana to try to get them out of Jonestown)
President Jimmy Carter
Lenin, father of Russian Revolution, first leader of Soviet Union
John D. Rockefeller, American capitalist titan
Forbes Burnham, Guyana Prime Minister (by reference)
Ptolemy Reid, Guyana Deputy Prime Minister (by reference)
Fred Wills, Guyana Minister of Foreign Affairs (by reference)
Vibert Mingo, Guyana Minister of Home Affairs (by reference)
Edna Beber/Beeber/Beaver, sister of Irene Edwards
Mother of Vera Talley
Walter “Smitty” Jones
Deanna Mertle, aka Jeannie Mills
Beverly Oliver (by reference)
Howard Oliver (by reference)
Jonestown residents, full name unknown:
Birdie (Arnold or Johnson)
Beverly (several in Jonestown)
Son of Rita MacElvane
“Brother Moton” (likely Russell, could be Danny or Glen)
Maya Ijames (speaks)
Lynetta Jones (by reference)
Donna Ponts (by reference)
Lois Ponts (speaks)
John Victor Stoen
Vera Talley (speaks)
Janet Tupper (by reference)
Larry Howard Tupper (by reference)
Mary Elizabeth Tupper (by reference)
Ruth Ann Tupper (by reference)
Timothy Tupper (by reference)
(Note: This tape was transcribed by Catherine Abbott. The editors gratefully acknowledge her invaluable assistance.)
Recorded in December 1977, almost a year before the murder-suicides of November 18, 1978, this tape is saturated with conversations about death. Whether raising it as an alternative to going to Cuba or the Soviet Union, whether talking about their options while under attack or simply not getting the Guyanese government to consider a demand, whether critiquing the futility of suicide without purpose or glorifying revolutionary death, whether expounding upon his own views or asking other people to discuss their own plans for death – in fact, whether looking for serious answers or speaking of it in a conversational, almost joking manner – Jim Jones has the subject on his mind that night and never lets it go.
There is a context for the conversation: the parents of Billy and Bruce Oliver have come to Georgetown with their U.S. attorney in an effort to bring their two sons – who are in their late teens – out of Jonestown. The decision, Jones says, is up to the boys, and the boys don’t want to see their parents. Along the way, Jones raises other custody issues – the efforts to return then-fourteen-year-old Donna Ponts to the States, even though her mother is in Jonestown; and then battle that raged during the community’s final 15 months of existence, that over John Victor Stoen.
Nothing that he says about the Stoen case is new, however. He had to have sex with Grace Stoen to keep her from betraying the movement, the child was born from the union, she never loved the child, she mistreated him and was cruel, she thrust her child upon Jones so that she could go and take up with another man; Tim Stoen never worked as hard as he said he did for the movement, he defected for reasons of money, he’s a transvestite and wears women’s clothing as he parades around Santa Rosa; John Victor Stoen has only frightening memories of his mother, he talks about socialism all the time, and he’s happy in Jonestown.
But Tim and Grace don’t care, Jones says. “[Stoen] knows I won’t give him that child. And why he and Grace both push and push and push, they want me to die. Because maybe if I die, and even if John dies, they won’t have to remember anymore. That’s how wicked people are.”
Setting the stage early in the tape, though, Jones asks the community at large whether people had planned for their own deaths – “Don’t you think you should plan about such an important event?” – and then calls upon people who do not raise their hands to flesh out their views. After two or three women speak (including one who declares her intent to strap a bomb to herself and blow up the enemy along with herself), an eight-year-old girl asks Jones, “What does planning your death mean?”
What follows is a stream of consciousness discourse on Jones’ views on death: his desire to die; the inability of anyone to threaten a man who does not fear death; the role of capitalism and religion in using up people’s lives even as they instill the fear of death; and the need to die for principle rather than wasting the opportunity to make a statement. The monologue is rambling but coherent.
It is a subject he is familiar with, and that he evidently enjoys talking about. “Nothing so liberating as thoughts of death,” he says in the second half of the tape. “I don’t know about you, but when I get really liberated when I can think about death, even though I know I ain’t gonna get the privilege to do it, it just liberates me!” If there is one thing that seems to frustrate him, it is that he doesn’t believe he will ever realize his goal. “After all, you just don’t risk every day dying like I did today,” he says elsewhere. “[Y]ou can say, well, he wants to die, … but I don’t– I don’t get to die.”
As with other conversations on the subject, though, Jones gives mixed messages. Even as he extols “sweet death,” he also encourages everyone to prevail in the struggle for survival. In words which he reiterates often throughout Jonestown’s last year – and which dissenter Christine Miller reminds him of on the last day – Jones says, “if there’s a chance at life, we gotta take that chance, to do something for communism, not just lay down here and die.” Even when he talks about the possibility of death, he talks about it as a result of fighting for principle, for what they believe, but mostly, as a form of resistance. And if “half the people gonna die [during that battle]… half the people still be alive, right?”
Indeed, the death of the community – during a principled battle or otherwise – is not inevitable. Jones lists alternatives for people who are unhappy with Jonestown, even while vowing to hold onto Jonestown itself for anyone who wants to stay. People can go to Cuba or the Soviet Union, they can even return to the “wicked” United States with its McDonald’s hamburgers and TV and Peace Mission and Pentecostalism. “I love ‘em enough to let ‘em live the way they wanna live, even though I know it’s a cursed way to live, I love ‘em enough to let ‘em go. Take ‘em…. You go where in the hell you wanna go. Die the way you want to die, ‘cause I love you.”
A few minutes later, as he describes those who return to the states as liars and “shitheads” who will bring down the movement, there is little doubt of his own desire.
One particular issue with a mixed message is suicide: He talks about his own suicide, if it will save the larger community. (Of course, he would have to take John with him: “I’ll take care of Jim Jones and being that there’s no way I can do anything for John but take care of him myself, if you follow what I’m saying.”) Later, however, during one of his glorifications of death, he says it does not apply to suicide. Even when comparing a selfish suicide to a revolutionary death, he does not use the word “suicide” to describe the second. “When you throw your life away for nothing, that’s counter-revolutionary, that’s a suicide that you pay a price for…. When you give your life for a cause, and know that you’ve done all can to live and you have to die and you give it right and think it through well! That’s sweet death.”
He also raises the subject of reincarnation, as he has on numerous occasions, and reminds his followers that he was once Lenin. He got a nine-year break between the two lives – he says Lenin died in 1922 (it was actually 1924), and he was born in ‘31 – and he would prefer a longer time away.
But however far he may stray, eventually her returns to the core issue of the night. “Now, what was I saying?” he muses halfway through the tape. “Talkin’ about death. You sure you have to piss now, ‘cause I want you to think about death. Dyin’! Tongue hangin’ out. Chokin’ … You’re gonna die someday, honey! You old bitch, you’re gonna die!”
Date of transcription: 6/27/79
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 June 26, 1979, Special Agent (name deleted) reviewed the tape numbered 1B110-FR 63. This tape was found to contain the following:
JIM JONES speaks at a People’s rally telling his people what makes life miserable. JONES also tells his people that communists must fight to rid the world of its miseries.
Differences with FBI Summary:
The summary is accurate and meets the FBI’s purposes.
Tape originally posted March 2010