(Timothy Lisagor may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Another article on the “Death Tape” in this edition of the jonestown report is Revolutionary Suicide: A Rhetorical Examination of Jim Jones’ “Death Tape.” More information on the Death Tape – including several transcripts and several analytical articles – appears here. See specifically, Christine Miller: A Voice of Independence and Christine Miller told me she was not afraid to die.
____ Emphasis on the underlined word or words
( ) Elapsed time or reference to background noise
> < Increase or decrease in speed of speech for following words
¯ Increase or decrease in inflection of following word
::: A drawn out sound
hhh, ×hhh Exhalation or inhalation of breath
It is easier to consider Jonestown as something else, something foreign, easier to dismiss Peoples Temple as different. The draw of denial is strong, to believe that we are independent and could never be duped, fooled or manipulated. History is not this smug. People are swept up in groups, crowds, and mobs. People think collectively, and their logic overturned in favor of emotion. People want to belong. The wish is to will away the tragedy as anomalous, but the images are not as easily forgotten. The bodies prone, clumped together where, as a community, they died. In pictures, the jungle heat hangs like wet velvet over bodies that have fallen like matchsticks. As a community, they toiled on a scar carved in the South American rain forest. They became more than transplants from Peoples Temple in California; they worked hard to manifest an ideal, an ideal that was corrupted by its creator.
Jim Jones founded Peoples Temple with seemingly noble principles. He supported racial equality during a time when many Americans were opposed to integration. These principles drew people to him, people who existed on the margins of society or who had grown antipathetic to established intolerance. These ideals obscured the troubled psychology of Jones, a man seemingly unable to resist the trappings of power and his own nefarious drives.
Jim Jones is described as “charismatic” and “manipulative,” but these labels are applied without clear understanding of the strength of his speech; they are presented as an end to the discussion rather than areas to be explored. The word “charismatic” is vague and evokes a sense of commanding charm, attraction, and gravity. Charisma is used to describe Jones without fully identifying what drew his followers to him. The adjective “manipulative” is not defined either. How was Jones able to persuade his followers to have sex with him, to relinquish their property, and ultimately to commit suicide by drinking poison? To end with these descriptions disrespects the victims. Vague adjectives offer no understanding of the hold Jones had over his community.
The charisma and manipulation of Jim Jones culminate in his final exhortation which begins shortly after Congressman Leo Ryan left Jonestown for the Port Kaituma airstrip along with his entourage of media, staffers, and members of the Concerned Relatives oppositional organization, along with 16 defectors. An announcement over the public address system directs everyone to gather at the pavilion. As recorded on the so-called “Death Tape,” Jones starts by inveighing against those who had come to investigate the settlement and providing but one option in response (Hall 280-287).
Only one member of the Jonestown community speaks out at any length against him. Christine Miller presents alternatives to suicide, arguments contrary to the focus of Jones’ commands. The exchange between Jim Jones and Christine Miller is crucial to comprehending the tragic events that followed. Christine represents the loudest voice opposed to Jones. Her opposition seemingly represents hope to those preparing to die. She does not convince the members that suicide is unnecessary, but if she had attracted others, momentum might have shifted and the catastrophe averted.
From the beginning, Jones understands the constraints of time. Events are already underway which will implicate him in the murder of a US Congressman, and there will be repercussions.
Jones: Of what’s going to happen here in a matter of a few minutes, is that one of the few on that plane is gonna shoot the pilot. I know that. I didn’t plan it, but I know it’s gonna happen. They’re gonna shoot that pilot, and down comes that plane into the jungle and we had better not have any of our children left when it’s over, ‘cause they’ll parachute in here on us. I’m telling you just as plain as I know how to tell you, I’ve never lied to you… I never have lied to you. I know that’s what’s gonna happen, that’s what he intends to do and he will do it. He’ll do it. What’s there being so bewildered with many, many pressures on my brain, seeing all these people behave so treasonous, it is just too much for me to put together, but, I now know what he was telling me and it’ll happen. If the plane gets in the air even. So my opinion is that we be kind to children and be kind to seniors and take the potion like they used to take in ancient Greece, and step over quietly because we are not committing suicide. It’s a revolutionary act. We can’t go back. They won’t leave us alone. They’re now going back to tell more lies which means more congressmen. And there’s no way, no way we can survive. Anybody … Anyone that has any dissenting opinion, please speak … Yes … You can have opportunity, but if their children are left we’re gonna have them butchered. We can make a strike but we’ll be striking against people that we don’t want to strike against. And what we’d like to get is the people who caused this stuff and some, there’s some people here are prepared to know how to do that … go in town and get [former Jones lieutenant, now opposition leader] Timothy Stoen, but there’s no plane, there’s no plane, you can’t catch a plane in time. He’s responsible for it. He brought these people to us. He and Deanna Mertle [founder of Concerned Relatives]. But people in San Francisco will not, not be idle over this. And not take our death in vain, you know … Yes, Christine…
This theme of persecution versus independence pervades the entire conversation. Paraphrasing from the Gospel of John, Jones says “No man takes my life from me, I lay my life down.” He references ancient Greece to establish a precedent: it is comforting if others in history have made the same decision. He presents the consequences of not committing suicide: they will butcher the children of Jonestown. He describes suicide as a gift to the Temple’s children. He calls the cyanide-laced Flavor-Aid a potion, a euphemism which connotes transformative powers rather than abrupt death.
Jones’ manner of speaking during this final exhortation is peculiar. He develops a problem with the sibilant “S.” Moreover, his “S” often morphs in to a combination of “S” and “TH” sounds. This trait was not always present and likely a result of his failing health and continued abuse of both depressants and stimulant drugs. Jones had been diagnosed with a lung disease, and it was also reported that he attempted to strike a balance using both amphetamines and opiates (Hall 243, 254). In early sermons, Jones is a commanding and imperious speaker. His speaks quickly but clearly enunciates his words. In this final address, he draws out his “S” sounds and often his words trail before achieving coherency. It is seemingly unintentional, but the effect is disarming. He no longer sounds commanding but rather seems exhausted and finished.
But then, there’s a question from Christine Miller. “Yes, Christine,” he says.
Christine Miller: Is it too late for Russia?
Jones has already invited “anyone that has any dissenting opinion, please speak,” an attempt to convey an appreciation for those who feel differently. Christine Miller seizes this opportunity and uses Jones’ own language to counter his argument. Peoples Temple had allied themselves with the Communist Party, and there existed a vague idea the community could emigrate and thrive under the aegis of the Soviet Union (Hall 249-250). Miller is using Jones’ former plans to create an alternative to suicide. She is not defying Jones; she is presenting options. This is not a direct confrontation; it is a calm and logical discourse of alternatives. She speaks quickly and with an emphasis on Russia to express her belief in an alternative, an alternative Jones had seemingly espoused. This is not her idea; it is his.
Jones parries her argument by returning to his original thesis: we are a community, and as a community we are all complicit in the deaths that have occurred at the airstrip. There is no asylum for murderers.
Jones: Here’s why it’s too late for Russia. They kill:::ed. they started to kill. That’s why it makes it too late for Russia. Otherwise I’d said, Russia, you bet your life. But it’s too late. I can’t control these people. They’re out there::. They’ve gone with the guns and it’s too late. And once we kill anybody, at least … that’s the way I’ve always … I’ve always put my lot with you::. And when one of my people do something, it’s me. … Understand, I don’t have to take the blame for this, but I don’t live that way. They said deliver up Ujara, who tried to get the man back here. Ujara, whose mother’s been lying:: on him and lying:: on him and trying to break up this family and they’ve all agreed to kill us by any means necessary. You think I’m going to deliver them Ujara? Not on your life.
Congregation: (Collectively utters no-like phrases)
Jones allies himself with the community, posing as a Christ-figure who assumes the sins of his people. He does not separate himself from the community even if he is not directly responsible for the murders. Similarly, Jones expects the community to assume this responsibility. As communists, they are all guilty for what has occurred beyond the gates of Jonestown.
Jones emphasizes specific words in his response to Christine. He draws out the word killed after emphasizing the word they. He confuses the listeners, coaxing them to focus on dichotomous logic: others have done this to us, we are not at fault, yet we are all guilty. He draws out the word you in the phrase “put my lot with you” furthering the promotion that he is part of the congregation, not simply its leader. If those who shot the defectors are guilty, then he is guilty; if he is guilty, then they all are guilty. He distances himself from the shooting while simultaneously connecting himself with the entire community. Assuming the role of Christ, he suffers for the sins, which others commit. He says “it’s too late” and that he “can’t control these people.”
Christine continues to press the idea of an emigration to Russia. She remains undeterred and insists that Jones address her suggestions before moving forward. Jones has an agenda, and her comments are causing him to stray from his intent, but they require a response, as she is presenting options that, as unlikely as it seems, might take hold in the pavilion.
Jones: Not going. I can’t live that way. I cannot live that way. I’ve lived for all and I’ve died for all. …
Jones: I’ve been living on a hope for a long time, Christine, and I appreciate– You’ve always been a very good (.5) agitator. I like agitation (.5) because you have to see two sides of one issue, two sides of the question. ×hhh What’s those people gonna get done:: once they get through::? They make our life worse than hell, they’ll make the Russians not accept us. When they get through lying… ×hhThey told so many lies::: between there:: and that truck that we are, we are done in as far as any other alternative.
Christine: Well, I say let’s make an air- airlift to Russia, that’s what I say. I:: don’t think nothing is impossible
Jones: But how we gonna air…
Christine: If you believe it.
Jones: How’ re you going to air::lift to Russia?
Christine: Why, I thought they said if we got in an emergency, they gave you a code to let them know.
Jones: >No, they didn’t. They gave us the code that they’d let us know of an issue, not us create an issue for them. They said if we … if they saw the country coming down, they’d agreed they’d give us the code, they’d give us a code. You can check on there and see if it’s on the code. Check with Russia to see >if they’ll take us in immediately. Otherwise we die. I don’t know what else you say to these people. <But to me death is not … death is not a fearful thing, it’s living that’s treacherous…
In the preceding exchange, Christine and Jones debate the possibility of escaping to Russia seeking the protection of the Communist Party. In his response to Christine, Jones is insidious. She is “a very good agitator,” he says, hoping to quell Christine’s protest by complimenting her. Praise from the leader of the community surely resulted in feelings of pride and appreciation. Rather than directly deny Christine’s claims, Jones validates her but continues to dismiss her argument. She is good, but her argument is flawed. He then reiterates the lack of alternatives. He claims that owing to the lies of defectors and the ensuing investigation, we must commit suicide. His offers nothing else.
Christine is resolute and reminds him of what he has said in the past about a possible code. Jones then explicitly and through his emphasis on specific words, devises a step-by-step progression to their mass suicide. They would let Jonestown know, we cannot create a problem for them, check for a code, if a code does not exist, we must die. The > represents a marked increase in Jones’ rate of speech. He rushes through the phrase “otherwise we die” and then slows down as he attempts to confound his audience with the logic that death is good and living is treacherous. He rushes through this phrase to avoid a direct focus on the word death. He wants it said, but he does not want the audience to linger on the word.
Jones: I have never, never, never, never seen anything like this before in my life. I’ve never seen people take the law … and do … in their own hands, and provoke us and try to purposely agitate and >murder of children. There’s:: no use, Christine, it’s just not worth living like this (1.0) not worth living like this.
Christine: I think that there were too few who left (1.0) for twelve hundred people to give them their lives, for those people that left.
Jones: Do you know how many le:ft?
Christine: Oooh, twenty odd … that’s, that’s small:::
Jones: … twenty-odd::, twenty-odd::
Christine: Compared to what’s here.
Jones: … twenty-odd. But what’s gonna happen when they don’t leave::. I hope that they could leave … but what’s gonna happen when they don’t leave?
Christine: You mean the people here?
Jones: Yeah, what’s gonna happen to us when they don’t leave? When they get on the plane and the plane goes down:?
Christine: I don’t think it’ll go down.
Jones: You don’t think it’ll go down?
Crowd: Yes it will…
The preceding passage is notable for Jones’ use of repetition. Throughout the exchange, Christine has been repeating the previous plans made by Jones concerning a possible trip to Russia. Jones now reiterates his murky logic and his denials of culpability. Jones repeats the phrase never five times in describing the community’s persecution. He has never before seen people abuse the law in the manner that they provoked the Jonestown community and in the murder of their children. It is repetition preceding a bizarre leap in logic. He includes the phrase, “murder of children,” a significant expansion of his argument: none of the children in Jonestown had yet been murdered. None would be murdered by forces outside of the community. He egregiously lies to further his proof of persecution. He repeats the word never to emphasize the magnitude and exceptionality of the threat to Jonestown. This intrusion is unprecedented. Jones has referenced history throughout the address to the crowd, so this passage is key in promoting the idea of their precedent and the uniqueness of the response to their experiment.
At the same time, his use of the word, agitate, reveals a new shift. He uses it in describing the actions of the congressional visit. He has used this word before in describing Christine, that he likes Christine because she is an agitator. This repetition allies Christine with the interlopers who came to investigate. Christine is an agitator and, according to Jones, agitation is now provocative and unlawful. He excises Christine from the community by casting her with those who came to destroy Jonestown.
Christine makes a logical connection between the few members that left compared to the people that remain in Jonestown. She bookends her statement with phrases concerning the small number of people who actually leave. She begins with “too few who left” and ends with “for those people that left.” She reinforces her argument that only a small number defected by encapsulating her statement with these parameters. Her intonation increases on the words oooh and odd and draws out small. She gives credence to the absurdity of mass suicide for only a small faction of people left the community. Her tone is welcoming and convincing as she tries to convince the community that their dream is still viable.
Jones repeats her phrase twenty odd three times, which subtly increases the number of defectors and overtly mocks Christine’s language. Twenty odd now becomes twenty odd, twenty odd, twenty odd, which appears a larger number. Jones then repeats the word leave four times in reference to the defectors. He places emphasis on those who left and restates they only made it as far as the airstrip. They left Jonestown, and they will die. Leaving Jonestown is not an option. We cannot fly away, so we must die. Christine and Jones then repeat the same phrase “don’t think it’ll go down.” Jones repeats her assertion in a slightly mocking tone. His intonation increases on the word down to turn her assertion into a question. He invites an answer by sardonically twisting her statement.
Jones: I wish I could tell you you were right, but I’m right. There’s one man there, ×hh who blames:::, and rightfully so, Debbie Blakey, for the murder, for the murder of his mother and he’ll sh… he’ll stop that pilot by any means necessary. (2.0) He’ll do it. That plane will come out of the air. There’s no way you can fly a plane without a pilot.
Christine: I wasn’t speaking about that plane. I was speaking about the plane for us to go to Russia.
Jones: How do (3.0)
(Incoherent shouts from crowd)
Jones: To Rus ::: sia? ×hh Do you think Russia’s gonna want .. no they’re not gonna it, it, it, it, it Do you think Russia’s gonna want us with all this stigma? (2.0) We had really had some value, but now we don’t have any value.
Christine: Well, I don’t see it like that. I mean, I feel like ¯as long as there’s life, there’s hope. That’s my faith.
Jones: ×hhh Well, someday everybody dies:::, someplace that hope runs out. ‘cause everybody dies:::.
Crowd: Right, right.
Jones: I haven’t seen anybody yet that didn’t die::. And I’d like to choose my own kind of death for a change. I’m tired of being tormented to hell::, that’s what I’m tired of.
Crowd: Right, right.
Jones: Tired of it.
Jones continues explaining his decision to the crowd regardless of Christine’s objections. He informs the assembled community about the fate of the plane intended for Leo Ryan, the reporters, and defectors. Jones slips a bit in his description of the events occurring at the airstrip. He has formerly disavowed responsibility for the attack, but here he suggests a more direct knowledge. He refers to one of the attackers specifically and begins to claim that he will Sh- oot the pilot. He stops before he utters the -oot and replaces his phrase with “stop that pilot by any means necessary.” He has said earlier that he was aware that the shooting would occur, but was vague about the plans. This is subtle, but by referring to the shooter specifically, it becomes harder for him to logically disassociate himself from the planning of this attack.
Nevertheless, he chooses softer language – stop rather than shoot – to distance himself from the shooting. He wants the community to know that although he is not responsible, they all must die to atone for the actions of a few. He poses as lordly and gracious by claiming innocence while simultaneously accepting responsibility. He did not commit this act, but his people did; therefore he is, as they are, responsible.
Christine is defiant, and the emphasis on her words indicates her willingness to counter Jones’ argument. She emphasizes the word that to firmly assert her independence. She is quick to return the argument to Russia. It seems that Christine is not terribly concerned with the attack on the airstrip. She understands Jones’ intent and struggles to find an alternative. This differs from Jones as he presents the attack at the airstrip as pivotal for the mass suicide. In this manner, Christine attacks his goal by dismissing his reasoning as unimportant. Jones’ main argument for suicide rests on his belief in communal culpability; Christine is not even giving the argument credence. She acknowledges the need to leave but presents options against death.
Jones stammers in his response to Christine. He stumbles over the word it five times before regaining composure. Although unintelligible, the crowd is strong in its support of Jones and derisive in their response to Christine. With the crowd solidly behind him, Jones makes a definitive statement on the possibility of emigrating to Russia. He claims that after the murder of the congressman and others on the Port Kaituma airstrip, they will not be welcome in Russia.
After definitively ending the argument about Russia, both Christine and Jones regroup and promote contrary vague philosophical beliefs. Christine states that “as long as there’s life, there’s hope” and emphasizes the word my in acknowledging her faith. This is a misstep. By emphasizing the word my, Christine alienates herself from Jones and the rest of the congregation. Christine is fiercely independent, and she speaks too quickly and defiantly. She needs some in the crowd to support her, but her independence makes this difficult.
The crowd has fully sided with Jones. Christine, unfortunately, speaks only for herself. Laura Johnston Kohl, a member of Peoples Temple, corroborates this assessment. She writes that Jones “knew who the most popular /powerful people were – and he would have responded a different way to one of them on the last day.” Kohl states that Jones was never threatened by new ideas; “he knew as we all did, that he was the final decision-maker.” Christine Miller is described by Kohl as “somewhat abrasive” and she “did not have the emotional support of a lot of other residents.” Christine is not wrong, but unfortunately she is not popular. Secure in his position and ideas, he continues to discount Christine’s alternatives.
Jones capitalizes on this point. He claims the obvious – that “everybody dies” – and that hope is gone. The crowd assents, and he continues. He states again that everyone dies and posits that he would like to choose his own death. He then repeats the phrase “tired of” twice and speaks it a third time with conviction once the crowd responds favorably.
Jones: Tired of people’s lives in my >hands and I certainly don’t want your life in my hands and I’m going to tell you, Christine, without me, (.5) life has no meaning–
Jones: I’m the best friend you’ll ever have:. And once, once I have to pay: I’m standing with Ujara, I’m standing with those people. (1.0) They’re part of me::. I could detach myself > my attorney says detach myself < no, no, no, no, no, no I’d never detach myself from any of your troubles. I’ve always taken your troubles right on my shoulders and I’m not gonna change that now::. It’s too late. I’ve been running too long. Not gonna change now::.
Jones: >Maybe the next time you’ll get to go to Russia (.5) the next time ‘round (1) ×hhThis is, >what I’m talking about to now is in the dispensation of judgment. This is the revolutionary su, sui … this is revolutionary suicide council, (.5) I’m not talking about self, self-destruction. (1) I’m talking about what, we have no other road::. I will take your call::. We will put it to the Russians, and I can tell you the answer now::, >because I’m a prophet.
Jones: Call the Russians and tell them and see if they’ll take us.
Christine: Not that I’m afraid to die:: …
Jones: I don’t think you are … .
Christine: By no means::
Jones: I don’t think you are …
Christine: But, uh, I look at all the babies and I think they deserve to live:
Jones: I agree …
Christine: You know …
Jones: >But also they deserve … what’s more they deserve peace:
Christine: We all came here for peace.
Jones: And we, have we had it?
(Crowd says no)
Jones slips a statement that is quite personal and likely telling of his mental state that day. He is initially tired of being tormented, presumably by the investigators from America. He then states that he is “tired of peoples lives in my hands” which reveals his total exhaustion at having the entire community contingent on his leadership. He reasserts his position quickly admonishing Christine that life without him has no meaning. He enunciates the word ever to express the veracity of this claim. He continues to stress specific words highlighting his presentation as a martyr. He is not responsible for the attacks, but he is standing with his community even against the advice of his attorney. His speech slows as he repeats the word no six times. Again Jones is using repetition to establish his conviction.
He offers no other option. It is too late and he says “he’s been running too long.” He slips again to a more personal admission; he is too exhausted to continue. The crowd applauds and Jones begins to reference the supernatural. He makes his first mention of reincarnation, stating that Christine may be able to get to Russia “the next time around.” The concept of reincarnation is used to allay the fears of death that may be present in the congregation. Reincarnation means another life, possibly better than the life lived here. He talks of Russia and reincarnation to quell Christine’s objections. He returns to her argument and agrees it may be a possibility, just not in this life. He then agrees to make a presumably phony call to inquire about the emigration plan. He undercuts this statement by referring to himself as a prophet. Jones accomplishes two things by linking the disparate concepts of Russia and prophecy. He allows Christine her objection and even offers to place the call for her. Simultaneously, he conveys her option as foolish for he already knows the outcome.
Christine is now defensive and must ally herself with Jones and the congregation. She explains that her protests are not born of fear. She emphatically states that “by no means” is she “afraid to die.” She clarifies to Jones and the assembled that her protestations are not based on fear or self-preservation. She then appeals to the basic love the community has for its children. She emphasizes babies in an attempt to remind the congregation what will actually result from their decision to commit suicide. Christine reminds the community that this act of revolutionary death involves the killing of children.
Jones agrees with Christine that children deserve to live but then insidiously includes the phrase “what’s more.” He states that the children should live, but more importantly they deserve peace. Christine inadvertently assists Jones in his argument by claiming that they all have come here for peace. This statement allows Jones to counter with the phrase “have we had it?” The crowd responds no and even Christine must concede that they have not.
Jones: I tried to give it to you. I’ve laid down my life, practically, >I’ve practically died every day to give you peace ×hhand you still not have any peace. >You look better than I’ve seen you in a long while, < but ×hhh it’s still not the kind of peace that I want to give you. The person’s a fool who continues to say:: that you’re a winner: when you’re a loser:
Jones: (7) Win one, lose two: What? (5) I didn’t hear you, ma’am, you have to speak up
(6.0 inaudible response)
Jones: That’s a sweet thought, who said that?
(8.0 inaudible response)
Jones: Co.. Come on up and speak it again, ¯honey. <Stand up and say it about (inaudible) love… is taking off (2.0) no plane is taking off
(3.0 sounds like music in background)
Jones: It’s suicide. They have done it… Stoen has done it but >somebody ought to live… somebody ×hhcan they talk… can they not talk to San Francisco >to see that Stoen does not get by: with this infamy,
Jones: –with this infamy? He has done the thing he wanted to do, (2) <to have us destroyed.
Christine: When you, when you, when we destroy ourselves, we’re defeated (1.5) we let them, the enemy, defeat us.
Jones: Did you see, did you see “I Live to Fight No More Forever”?
Christine: Yes, I saw that.
Jones: Did you not have some sense of pride and victory in that man, ×hh that he would not subject himself >to the will and whim of people who tell that they are gonna come in whenever they please, push into our house, come when they please, >take who they want to, talk to who they want to… does this let living… <that’s not living to ¯me. That’s not freedom. >That’s not the kind of freedom I ¯sought.
Christine: But I think where they made their mistake is when they stopped to rest. If they had gone on, they would have made it. But they stopped (.5) to rest …
Jones continues in this fashion, alternating between his plan for their suicide and complimenting Christine. He is keen to keep her grateful, and these compliments and accommodations effect civility and humble debate. Christine is emphatic but never agitated or overtly angry. Jones keeps her loyal, allowing her opinion to be heard and acknowledging that her view is important. Incorrect, but important. He is a bit obsequious in this section as he tries to elicit her favor. He likely recognizes that if he can get by Christine, the rest will have no objections. He continues preaching about peace and the community’s burden, which he bears. He reminds them – as he has done so many times in the past – “practically died every day to give you peace.” He preaches about his sacrifice and heaps on a compliment to Christine. He quickens his speech and slips it in between concepts of peace. He tells Christine that she looks better than he had seen her look in a long while. It is an odd compliment but a statement that might disrupt Christine’s line of thinking. He is being kind to Christine but continues to assert his power.
Jones remains in control. He is responsible for issuing peace to his followers; they cannot find it elsewhere. The remainder of the passage is a bit muddled as speakers away from the microphone are talking with Jones, but the tape does not record their voices. Jones concludes this passage by again blaming others for what has occurred. He blames Tim Stoen, the People Temple’s former lawyer, and now chief antagonist. He enunciates that they have done this. He pauses, then slowly belabors his message: they have destroyed us.
Christine tries to regain momentum. She attempts to include the congregation in her protest. She begins her response twice with the phrase “when you” then rephrases her response “when we.” She states “when we destroy ourselves, we’re defeated.” Christine tries to realign herself with the community, and by using we acknowledges that they all can decide a different path. This collective assessment contrasts her former reference to “my faith.” She also refutes Jones’ claim that they destroyed us. She counters that the mass suicide would be self-destruction. This is in direct opposition to Jones’ previous claim. He calls the act revolutionary suicide, a euphemism for their voluntary mass poisoning, but states clearly that he is “not talking about self destruction.”
Jim McElvane: It’s over, (.5) sister, it’s over (1) we’ve made that day … we made a beautiful day (.5) and let’s make it a beautiful day
Jim McElvane: That’s what I say.
Jones: We win::, (.5) we win when we go down. >Tim Stoen has nobody else to hate (2) He has nobody else to hate. (1.5) ×hhThen he’ll des- troy himself. (2.5) ×hhI’m speaking here < not as the, uh, adminis::trator, >I’m speaking as a prophet today… I wouldn’t sit up in this seat and talk so serious >if I did not know what I was talking about. Is there any way to call:: back (1)the immense amount of damage >that’s going to be done? But I >cannot separate myself from the pain of my people. And you:: can’t either, Christine, >if you stop to think of it. You can’t separate yourself. <We’ve walked too: long together.
(Crowd: That’s right)
Christine: I, I know that. (.5) But I still think, as an <individual, I have a right to …
Jones: You do::, I’m listening …
Christine: I think, what I feel, (.5) and I think we all:: have the right to our own: destiny as individuals.
Jones: Right …
Christine: ×hhAnd I think I have the right to choose: mine and >everybody else has the right to choose theirs:.
Jones: Mm-hmm …
Jones: Mm-hmmm. I’m not criticizing, I’m not (incoherent)
(crowd shouts, inaudible)
Jones: … What’s that?
Unidentified Woman (in background): She talks like she wants to leave us, well, she can go ahead … they’re our individual lives, that’s what you’re saying.
Christine: That’s right.
Jones: That’s today, >that’s what twenty people said today with their lives.
Christine: I think that I still have the right <to my own opinion.
Jones: I’m not taking it from ¯you. <I’m not taking it from you.
Jim McElvane: ¯Christine, (2.0) you’re only standing here because ¯he (.5) was here (.5) in the first place. >So I don’t know what you’re talking about (.5) >having an individual life. Your life has been extended to the day that you’re standing there (.5) because of ¯him.
Unlike the random shouting and applause, Jim McElvane speaks into the microphone to support Jim Jones. His first audible statements definitively end the possibility of alternatives. He states “it’s over, sister, it’s over” and ceases any possibility of objection. Another leader from the church has come forward and agreed with Jones. The rush is insurmountable as the crowd is inexorably pulled to the side of Jones and McElvane. He continues in Jones’ rhetoric claiming the day will be beautiful. Jones follows McElvane with an impassioned summation of his former arguments. He states “we win when we go down” reiterating that their deaths are not defeats but a form of revolutionary suicide. He again blames Tim Stoen. Tim Stoen has done this, they have done this; Jones bears only the responsibility he has for his church. Once again, he claims he is not guilty, but they all must atone for the attacks. He again claims that he is a prophet, a supernatural emissary who knows the future. Lastly he invokes community. He cannot separate from his people, and, he concludes, neither can Christine.
Christine responds with a terribly brave and honest argument. Her statement conveys the basic tenet of personal liberty and is distinctly opposed to Jones’ communist philosophy. She claims that as individuals, she and the other members of Jonestown have the right to choose their own path. She initially asserts her own independence as separate, but she is quick to realign herself with the community. It is not her decision alone, but a decision that belongs to all members; it is their decision to make not to be made for them. This is not Christine’s final argument, but it is her most important. She has dispensed with any reference to the day’s events or supernatural belief and distilled the argument to the most fundamental concept: an individual should have the right to choose.
However, Jim McElvane’s response to Christine clarifies that she has lost momentum and any pull on the crowd. Most do not agree with her belief. They arrived in Jonestown as a community that does not espouse personal liberty. Christine owes her life to Jim Jones, McElvane says, and her life has been extended because of his protection. He furthers the faulty supernatural logic in his attempt to convince Christine and others that their lives are contingent on the grace of Jones. McElvane was countering Christine’s sound logic with spurious faith; however, this was a faith held by the majority of those in attendance.
Jones: Despite this, she has as much right to speak as anybody else, too. What did you say, Louvie::? (3.0) Only you will regret that this very day <if you don’t die: (1.5). You’ll:: regret it >if you don’t … if you don’t die. You’ll regret it.
Christine: (few words inaudible) … A man who saved >too many people::?
Jones: I’ve saved:: them, I saved:: them but I made my example::. I made my confession:: I made my manifestation and the world was ready >not ready for me. Paul said, “I was a man born out of due season.” I’ve been born out of >due season just like all we are ×hh and the best testimony we can make is to < leave this God damn world.
Unidentified voice, likely Jones: peace, peace.
Unidentified Woman: You must be scared:: to die.
Christine: I’m not talking to her. Will you let, will you, will you let her or let me talk?
Jones: You talk. You’re talking.
Christine: Would you make her sit down and let me talk while I’m on the floor or let her talk?
Jones: … proper to tell your leader what to do. >It really isn’t.
(Crowd talking, unintelligible)
Jones: I, I’ve listened to you. You asked me about Russia. >I’m right now making a call to Russia. What more <do you suggest?
(2.5, Crowd talking, unintelligible)
Jones: I’m listening to you.
(3.5, Crowd talking, unintelligible)
Jones: If Russia gives me one slight >bit of encouragement, <I just now instructed her <to go there and do that.
Unidentified Woman: You won’t do no fuckin’ good in Russia, God-damn it … (pause).
Unidentified Man: All right, now everybody hold it, we didn’t come … hold it, hold it, hold it, hold it …
Jones: … much <longer to maintain.
Crowd: That’s right.
Jones: To lay down your ¯burdens, I’m gonna lay down my ¯burdens, <down by the riverside, >should we lay them down here … inside of Guyana. >¯What’s the difference? (5) No man didn’t take our lives, right now, >he hadn’t taken it, but when they start parachuting out of the air, they, they’ll shoot some of our innocent babies. >I’m not … I don’t want to see this, Christine. <They gotta shoot me:: to get through:: >to some of these people. >I’m not letting it take Ujara. Can you let them take Ujara?
Christine: You wanna see John die?
Jones: What’s that?
Christine: You mean you wanna see John, the little one, who’s keep–
(Crowd responds, unintelligible)
Jones: I want to keep–
Crowd: Loud background noises, unintelligible, very vocal, very agitated
Jones: I, I, <peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace, peace.
Unidentified Woman: Christine, are you saying that you think he thinks more of them than other children here?
Jones: John, John…
Unidentified Woman: That’s what you’re saying–
Jones: Do you actually, do you think I would put John’s life >above others? If I put John’s life above others <I wouldn’t be standing with Ujara. I’d send John out,, out, he could go out on the driveway ¯tonight.
Christine: (unintelligible beginning) He’s young … they’re young.
Jones: I know:, but he’s no, he’s no >different to me than any of these children here:. He’s just one of my children. (2.0) I don’t prefer one above another. (2.0) I don’t prefer him above Ujara. I can’t do that. >I can’t separate myself from your actions or his actions.
Unidentified Woman: No way.
Jones: If you’d done something wrong, I’d stand with you. >If they wanted to come and get you they’d have to take me:.
Unidentified Man: Well, we’re all ready to go. If you tell us we have to give our lives now, we’re ready. I’m pretty sure all the rest of sisters and brothers are with me.
Jones: For months I’ve tried to keep this thing from ¯happening but I now see it’s the will … it’s the will of Sovereign Being: that this happened to us. That we (.5) lay down our lives in protest >against what’s been done. >That we lay down our lives to protest in what’s being done. (2.0) The criminality of people, >the cruelty of people. Who walked out of here today? (1.5) Did you notice who walked out?
Jones: Mostly white people,
Jones: mostly white people walked. (4.0) >I’m so grateful for the ones that didn’t, those who <knew who they are. There’s, there’s no point there’s no point to this. We are born before our time. They won’t accept us. And I don’t think we should sit here and take any more time for our children to be endangered, >for if they come after our children and we give them our children, <then our children will suffer forever.
Christine: (Unintelligible opening) different right here.
Jones: I have no quarrel with you coming up, I like you. I personally <like you very much.
Christine: People get hostile when you ¯try to …
Jones: Oh well, some people do::. But then … some people do. Put it that way. I’m not hostile. (5.0) You had to be honest and you stayed. >If you’d have wanted to run, you’d have had to run with them because anybody coulda run today, they would have wanted to. I know you’re not a runner (1.5) and your life is precious to me:. It’s as precious as John’s::. And I don’t … what I do, I do with weight and justice and judgment. (3.0) I’ve weighed it against all:: evidence.
Christine: >And that’s all I’ve got to say.
The preceding section resolves the climax of Christine’s powerful assertion of free will. She claims personal liberty in a communist settlement fronted by an exhausted, delusional, and manipulative leader. Her arguments of personal liberty evaporate quickly when countered with the community’s faith in Jones. Communally they believe in the miracles of Jones, they believe he is a prophet, and they believe in reincarnation. Jones senses the crowd supports him, and he speaks with more conviction. He allies himself with the apostle Paul claiming that he was born out of season. The world was not ready to receive the beauty of Jonestown, and the best testimony is revolutionary suicide. His confidence is regained and he even violates a commandment by declaring that the community should “leave this God-damn world.”
The crowd becomes more vocal in their denunciation of Christine. She responds to Jones but must also respond to the shouts of Temple members. She unintentionally supports Jones’ authority in trying to parry the comments from the crowd. Rather than respond, she asks Jones to identify a speaker. She asks Jones to “let her or let me talk.” She asserts that Jones has the command, and he allows the speakers their turn. Although she is an individual, she must continue to ask Jones for permission to speak. She is angry, and she emphasizes words such as sit down. Her anger is clearly directed at the comments of the crowd, which are not the civil protestations of Jones. She is respectful to Jones but curt in her answers to women in the crowd.
Jones takes this opportunity to further alienate Christine. He has dispensed with compliments and chides Christine on the way she has spoken to him. He states that she is behaving improperly by attempting to tell him how to act. Christine was asking for an audience free from crowd interruptions, but Jones twists her request into a demand she makes of him. He then returns to her questions about Russia and expresses his exasperation with what he sees as a foolish request. He aligns the two questions to portray Christine as an agitator making incessant and unreasonable demands. He asks Christine “what more do you suggest” conveying his exasperation to the crowd that has become more involved, breaking in to these exchanges with unintelligible but angry outbursts. Jones assumes the role of an exasperated father who has exhausted all options to appease a child. Christine’s request was foolish, but he entertained it for a bit. Now he is done.
He continues his theme of persecution and community adherence but in a more metered and relaxed tone. He emphasizes specific words such as parachuting to inform the assembled of the specifics of America’s imminent retaliation. He increases his speed when he needs to convey the force of his conviction: “I’m not letting them take Ujara.” He then changes his inflection to ask her if she would allow Ujara to be seized. The crowd responds no.
Christine then appeals to Jones’ love of John Stoen, the paternity of whom has been claimed by two men who are now desperate adversaries: Jim Jones and Tim Stoen. Christine asks Jones if he would be comfortable with the death of a child he considered his own son. The crowd answers before Jones can sufficiently respond. They are angry, and Jones eventually tries to settle the crowd by slowly chanting peace seven times. He places himself within the community and claims that no one life is more valued than another. He then places himself as the community’s protector, a protector that would stand with Christine if she had committed a crime. An unidentified man from the crowd summarizes the majority opinion stating that they are ready to die, and “if you tell us we have to give our lives now, we’re ready.”
Jones continues finalizing his belief in the necessity of suicide. He then consoles a broken Christine who complains about the hostility in the crowd. Again in the role of a father, Jones assuages her and states that he is not hostile. He draws out the word do, which conveys a soothing sound like a parent to a child with hurt feelings. He validates Christine telling her that he likes her. He accepts her back into the community and expects her to die. Christine is beaten and responds meekly that she has said all she has to say.
Christine is silent excepting three statements she makes to plead for the life of another member. She ends her final statement with “and I appreciate you for everything.” She is now thanking Jones for his service to Peoples Temple. She has relinquished her former protests and is prepared to die with her community, which she does.
It is difficult to know whether Christine had any real chance in subverting Jim Jones and redirecting the community. She represented others in the community who did not want to die, but only three avoided mass suicide by slipping away undetected into the jungle. Christine represents more than herself when she speaks against Jones, but her independent personality belies her altruistic statements. She represents those who disagreed with his direction, but were too frightened to speak against him. Still, she does not want to give up. Unlike the defectors, Christine sees hope for Jonestown, whether it exists in America, Guyana, or the Soviet Union.
The exchange between Christine Miller and Jim Jones manifests the pivotal role of language as it relates to identity and group membership. Both Christine and Jones use specific changes in speed, emphasis, and inflection to promote their view and undercut opposing arguments. Jones begins slowly and initially stumbles on Christine’s defiance. He scrambles, possibly believing the crowd might side with reasoning that is sound and articulately stated. He may have felt paranoid after the congressman and defectors left the commune, afraid that all were ready to desert him. Others feeling similarly might accept Christine’s logic and collectively defy their leader. The interspersed crowd response swells Jones’ confidence as he identifies Christine as alienated in her defiance. Christine missteps and crafts her resistance as a personal struggle rather than a collective decision. She begins speaking for herself, and when she tries to enfold the crowd, it is too late. Members in the community take umbrage to this assertion and associate her with those who defected.
This was not a sudden decision. The crowd has faith in their prophet and faith in reincarnation. Christine’s resistance is viewed as cowardice and apostasy. This faith obscures the concern and care Christine has for members in her community. She is working to spare their lives from a senseless demand by a leader whose belief in communism extends to his culpability. He wants the community to share his responsibility and to die for the failure of Jonestown. It is a daunting task to counter the faith of approximately 1000 individuals who remain deaf to logic of personal responsibility based on the unpopularity of the speaker. She tried to save the lives of her community by bravely speaking against their delusional and violent leader. Christine elected to die with her community, but her independence reflects her personal convictions and a willingness to challenge what is fundamentally wrong but accepted.
Hall, John R. Gone From the Promised Land: Jonestown in American Cultural History. New Brunswick: Transaction Books, 1987.
Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple. Dir. Stanley Nelson, Firelight Media Inc., 2006
Jones, Jim. Address. Death Tape. Jonestown, Guyana. 18 Nov. 1978.