Why do conspiracy theories surround the evidence of the Jonestown massacre?

by Nicole Mekler

Conspiracy theories arise in response to many situations: the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, and the landing on the moon are all events around which myths and contradictory theories have arisen. On November 18th, 1978, more than nine hundred people died in a complex in the Guyana jungle and five others on the nearby Port Kaituma airstrip. The deaths of the Jonestown residents were publicly attributed to mass suicide.[1] The events of the Jonestown massacre have inspired an explosion of speculation and conspiracy theories. What is it about the Jonestown evidence that inspired such speculation?

Conspiracy theories try to explain a disputed event, often as the product of a plot or secret group, rather than as a series of isolated incidents.[2] Conspiracy theories often draw attention to inconsistencies in official versions of events, highlighting the non-conclusive, written and constructed nature of history.[3]

Conspiracies often arise when people are dissatisfied with the authoritative history of events. The events of Jonestown have no authoritative history, no single universally accepted account. [4] Conspiracy theorists attempt to establish some sort of justification or rationalization for the events of the Jonestown massacre.[5] The lack of probative evidence for any single account combines with contextual factors as a catalyst for conspiracy theories. The failure of reliable evidence and the breadth of interpretations given to what evidence exists, is also a function of conspiracists’ own perspectives and context. Conspiracy theories surround the events of Jonestown. [6]

The writing of history is affected by context. Pressures from social forces and movements influence both the events and the way in which they were received at the time that they occurred. The phenomenon of Jonestown can be elucidated by context; the conspiracy theories which arose later also respond to perceived contextual forces. Conspiracy theorists reflected both the context of the conspiracists and draw retrospectively from the context of the massacre to give expression to their conspiracy theories.

Insofar as all history is a product of the context in which it is written, the controversy surrounding Jonestown emerges out of the socio-political climate of the time, the late 1970s in America. Cold War radicalized political divisions and ideologies[7] in a social climate of fear and distrust. [8] World War Two was followed by a rise in conspiracism. [9] Richard Hofstadter calls it the “paranoid style”.[10] The growth of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was met with skepticism and suspicion,[11] while the American public became growingly aware of manipulated propagandist media coverage.

Ideals of racial and economic egalitarianism were gaining support among marginalised factions of American society. Peoples Temple emblematised this anti-governmental radicalism.[12] Women, African Americans and disillusioned malcontents were drawn to the philosophy of the Christian Socialism epitomized by Jim Jones and his congregation. “Jones’ vision was one of racial and economic equality, his combination of communalism (which he differentiated from communism), multi-racialism, and faith, as well as his political activism.”[13] In terms of the specific political incidents that provided the immediate context of the Jonestown massacre, the visit of Congressman Ryan to the community was a catalyst and a fulcrum both for the events themselves and for the conspiracy theories which emerged. Congressman Ryan had publicly spoken out against the CIA and was the co-author of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment.[14]

That the events of Jonestown took place in the midst of the Cold War explains much of the mistrust and controversy that surrounds the massacre. As a socialist community which supported Russia’s communist agenda, any action taken by the community at Jonestown became politically loaded. Deep polarizations of opinion with regard to the government meant certain segments of society reacted with ambivalence and mistrust to any expression of authority.[15] The absence of an official government account and suspicion of authoritative statements resulted in wildly varying interpretation of what little evidence was available. Differing, contradictory, conspiratorial accounts emerged.

Evidence is used by historians to come to a balanced judgment on issues that concern them. The use of evidence forms the bedrock of research.[16]

The evidence of the Jonestown massacre is the foundation of most conspiracy theories. The primary evidence that came out of Jonestown was severely limited in amount, availability, reliability and usefulness. [17] In the face of censored, deliberately corrupted and incomplete evidence, conspiracy theories emerged to fill the historical gaps.

What evidence there is of Jonestown can be divided into primary or hard evidence and interpretative evidence. Unfortunately the reliability of almost all the primary sources is questionable. This is further complicated by problematic eyewitness statements. According to Leopold von Ranke, “narratives of eye-witnesses and the most genuine immediate documents” reconstruct the past. [18] However, Tim Carter, a survivor present in Jonestown during the events, says: “There is no ‘the answer’ to this story.”[19] What Ranke would consider as wholly reliable primary evidence, is undermined by Tim Carter’s assertions. The evidence of eyewitness accounts is also problematised as they come in conflict with “authorative accounts”.

History is a derivative fusion of source material. Information derived from sources forms a narrative. The primary sources for the history of Jonestown are severely limited, unreliable and occasionally inaccurate. There is no comprehensive record of the Jonestown massacre. The evidence of the massacre itself consists of audio tapes, the bodies, photographs, restricted government documentation and suicide letters. All have been criticised.[20] Ample and meticulously controlled propagandist documentation produced by Peoples Temple before the massacre containing assertions of harmony and security is deemed unreliable, contradicted by the massacre. Evidence continued to emerge in years following the events, along with an increasing number of conspiracy theories.

The primary evidence can be dealt with chronologically, in the order of its emergence. During its existence, the Jonestown community recorded hundreds of audio tapes.[21] As the tapes were tools of propaganda, unreliable and selective, many conspiracists question their validity as primary sources of information.[22] A few conspiracists have attempted to argue the tapes are counterfeits, “fabricated under suspicious, conspiratorial circumstances.”[23]

Conspiracy theories that surround the Jonestown audio tapes focus on one main tape: [24] The Jonestown “Death Tape” (FBI No. Q 042).[25] The tape was released to the speculating public and aired by numerous news stations.[26] However, even the authenticity of the death tape has been called into question.[27] This ostensibly “carbon copy” evidence has been undermined by selectivity. [28] Parts of the tape are inaudible and it has clearly been edited. The tape is not one continuous “take,” perhaps deliberately censored by the person holding the recording mechanism at the time of the Jonestown massacre.[29] The excisions and gaps render its reliability as accurate historical evidence questionable. Leopold von Ranke defines correct history as an accurate record of “how it really was” – “wie es eigentlich gewesen”. The fragmentation means that it cannot purport to be an accurate record of the events, despite being primary and direct evidence.

As evidence was gradually made public, the Jonestown death toll reports led to speculation. The reported figure of 400 rose to over 900 within a week.[30] The jumps in the body count led some conspiracists to claim that many survivors ran into the jungle and were subsequently killed by another force after the massacre.[31] Even the positioning of the bodies has been fuel for conspiracy theorists. [32] Leslie Mootoo, Guyana’s chief pathologist commented, “Nearly every body was ‘face down’. it was ‘very odd'”.[33]

"Nearly every body was 'face down'. it was 'very odd'"[34]

Only seven autopsies were performed three weeks after the jungle tragedy,[35] mainly in response to demands made by relatives.[36] The autopsies, too, generated speculation amongst conspiracists.[37] Rebecca Moore[38] was dissatisfied with the autopsy reports.[39] James Richardson stated, “We will never even know how many people were murdered, or died of self-ingested poison.” [40] Dr. Mootoo told a Coroner’s Court jury that he saw needle marks on at least 70 of the bodies he examined.[41] Even the evidence of the bodies themselves, theoretically the most tangible of primary evidence, has become the subject of speculation and debate that does not provide any conclusive answers.[42]

The demographic range of the people who died at Jonestown has been another focus of conspiracists. The congregation of Peoples Temple was approximately 64% African American.[43]

Figure 1: Temple Members Living in GuyanaFigure 2: Membership by Gender and Race[44]

Within a week of the Jonestown massacre, African American news sources labeled the deaths as racially motivated murders.[45] Theories that Jonestown was genocide directed at African Americans used the demographic figures as proof of an underlying conspiracy.[46]

The belief that children are incapable of consenting to suicide[47] has been given as proof of the alternative explanation: murder.[48] Josef Dieckman stated, “It has been commonly accepted by most researchers that these deaths should be considered murders. Children cannot commit suicide.”[49] Dieckman uses mathematical language to lend credence to his assertions.[50] He concludes that the number of suicides was “75 of 913 which is not even 10%. So how could we ever call the Jonestown tragedy a ‘mass suicide’? I don’t think we can.”[51] Dieckman dismisses factual evidence in favour of what he believes is “right” history. He admits to extrapolation of assumptions from very little evidence: “What is left is largely speculative, but it is speculation based upon what we know about Peoples Temple and its history.”[52] The argument seems to be that any history is better than no history. This willingness to base history on extended associations of speculation is characteristic of conspiracy theorists.

Many theories are concerned with American political or administrative forces. As Jonestown was in Guyana, the events were outside the jurisdiction of the US government. Some feel that the government’s inaction amounted to a miscarriage of justice,[53] while others attribute culpability for the massacre.[54] Rebecca Moore wrote, “The Carter Administration characterized the suicides as an aberration lacking relevance to American society.”[55] A number of American government agencies hold thousands of pages of classified documentation, preventing public access to evidence, claiming “National Security” as justification for withholding the results of official investigations. [56] The lack of governmental authoritative history has allowed speculation to flourish. Rebecca Moore believes that verifiable history cannot be written until the documentation is released.[57] Its exclusive control over parts of primary evidence ought to make the government accounts more authoritative; however, the accounts are not supported by publicized evidence.[58] The limited investigation[59] further restricted public evidence as follows: [60] restricted public evidence[61]

The FBI has also used the privacy exemption to FOIA to heavily censor documents, as is clearly evident in the index shown below.

The FBI has also used the privacy exemption to FOIA to heavily censor documentsThe FBI has also used the privacy exemption to FOIA to heavily censor documents[62]

Conspiracist Matthew Farrell cites “the absence of evidence as evidence itself.”[63] For many, the refusal to properly publicise the evidence has created historical gaps and silences that conspiracists attempt to fill. “Without those documents, it’s hard to confirm or refute the speculations that have sprung up around Jonestown.”[64]

The dearth of facts is compounded by eyewitnesses’ refusal to claim historically comprehensive authority. As survivor Tim Carter said, “none of us – Temple survivor or academic researcher or interested party – has all the answers.”[65] Even if their accounts are entirely accurate, survivors can only recollect their individual experience. The survivor testimonies of both Tim Carter and Stanley Clayton disagree with canonical accounts. Both have publicly spoken, refuting the claim that all the deaths can be explained as suicide. When Tim Carter says: “We were just fucking slaughtered. it was just senseless waste.”[66] it is difficult to reconcile these deeply individual expressions of grief and horror with the bland phrase “mass suicide.”[67] Even first hand eyewitness accounts, theoretically the most immediate, cannot pretend to produce an objective and complete history of events.

Robert C. Williams[68] suggests that a written history becomes academically credible when “[t]he historian investigates what happened in the past by researching the available evidence.” This does not seem to hold true of conspiracy theorists. In fact, the lack of available evidence seems to be a motivation for many theorists to dismiss what little evidence is available as unreliable. Dissatisfaction or a refusal to accept contradictory evidence given means that any “proof” can be dismissed by those with preconceptions, biases, or willingness to distrust authority.[69] Conspiracy theories surrounding Jonestown are not always based in evidence. In fact many accounts are solely speculative.

Individual beliefs motivate historical interpretations of evidence. History as a narrative is shaped by the perspectives that underlie it. Secondary sources can incorporate contradictory individual or collective interpretations of evidence. Social, political, religious and cultural pressures distort interpretation. Tim Stoen[70], recently stated in an apology to the press, “It seems everything I say about that time is read one way or the other.”[71] His statement is an acknowledgement of the way in which different factions manipulate evidence to suit their own interpretation. Concerned Relatives, internet conspiracists and the media interpret evidence differently.[72] Individual opinion has affected the writing of authoritative history. The extent to which primary sources were corrupted and the level to which secondary sources vary wildly in their interpretation of that primary evidence, raises questions about the reliability of evidence in general and the reliability of any historical interpretation of that evidence. Much of the secondary evidence concerning Jonestown seems overtly unreliable. The question arises of how useful evidence can be and how impartial history can ever be written.

In some cases the factors behind particular interpretations are clear, for example the motivation for an apostate group actively opposed to Jim Jones – the Concerned Relatives[73] – is clearly an emotional connection. [74] Jones’ involvement in many different sectors in society, in politics, in the government and in religion, meant that his death affected many. Playing different roles in each of these sectors, he was perceived differently by those with whom he came into contact. [75] Differing interpretations of evidence were shaped by individual experiences of Jim Jones and Peoples Temple. [76] Primary Sources concerning Jonestown and Jim Jones often speak of his brilliance and compassion. Secondary sources speak mainly speak of Jim Jones’ faults and paranoia. That the two accounts (primary and secondary) do not necessarily contradict one another, is an indication of the extent to which bias and perspective affect the writing of history.

News sources in America have had a complex relationship with the facts of Jonestown. [77] The media has been involved in developing conspiracy theories. The perspective of the media is comparatively easy to identify, as clearly motivated by desire for commercial gain. Sensationalist, unsupported material is presented in order to draw viewers. Evidence is manipulated to construct theories.

The massacre was reported to the U.S public through the media. A Gallup poll, taken one month after the Jonestown massacre, revealed that 98 percent of Americans had heard about Peoples Temple.[78] “As the old cliché goes, the journalist provides the first draft of history.”[79] Sensationalist, inaccurate coverage amplified conspiracy theories.

Rebecca Moore categorises the conspiracy theories into three groups. [80] The first, she calls The Professional Conspiracists who suggest that the people of Jonestown were murdered by U.S. government, military or intelligence agencies. [81] They seem to provide numerous “proofs” of their claims. Internet Conspiracists join forces to collaborate or insult each other’s opinions. Their skepticism falls short of probative evidence. Most emphasize the point that it is simply “impossible” that more than 900 people would take their own lives.[82] Non-Professional Conspiracists believe that the occupants of Jonestown were murdered; they suggest the influence of brainwashing, torture or coercion. Most of these theories share the historiographical failing that only the theory is stated, with barely any evidence, if any at all, to back up their claims.[83] In the absence of a credible narrative. they attempt a believable reconstruction of what happened in Jonestown and why through their own perspective, influenced by their own context.[84]

An accurate history of Jim Jones and the Jonestown massacre is impossibly lost.

However history provides a narrative by which it is possible to understand fragmentary evidence from the past. It provides as truthful an account as possible. Conspiracy theorists reconcile their understanding of the events into a “rational account.” In the case of Jonestown, the constant speculation, restrictions, the secrecy of Peoples Temple, the restricted documents and the dissatisfaction of the parties involved in the aftermath of the Jonestown massacre with each others’ solutions, makes it difficult to come to a conclusive narrative. Conspiracy theories are abundant, and in the main, easily disproved. Alternative explanations that satisfyingly fill the gaps in information are not so easy to find. The magnitude of the Jonestown event itself probably means that no account will ever completely satisfy everyone.

Notes


[1]“The first word of the deaths in Jonestown to reach the U.S. early on the morning of November 19 came through NOIWON, a CIA radio communications channel, which characterized the deaths as mass suicides.” Moore, Rebecca (October 2006). “The Sacrament of Suicide.” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=31985 (Accessed 5.6.07).

[2] “Conspiracy theory” entry on Dictionary.com. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition. Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004 (Accessed: 8.6.07).

[3] Conspiracists have disputed every element of every “history” of Jonestown, from the number of deaths to whether Jim Jones is even dead. Mark Fenster suggests in his book that there is a deep-seated need for comprehensive theories, “not only is there an interest in – nay, demand for – a comprehensive explanation for the failure of some political, social and/or personal order, but that such an explanation may aptly describe reality.” Fenster, Mark (2001). Conspiracy Theories: Secrecy and Power in American Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (Accessed 4.6.07).

[4] Maurice, Brinton (July 25th 2005). Suicide for Socialism? [Internet]. [Place of publication unknown]: Libcom.org. Available at http://libcom.org/library/suicide-for-socialism-jonestown-brinton (Accessed 1.6.07).

[5] “The Reverend Jim Jones is alive, wealthy, secure and conceivably sipping pina coladas on the veranda as he reads this first published account of his escape from the carnage he created in Jonestown.” Meiers, Michael (1989). Was Jonestown a CIA Medical Experiment? Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press (Accessed 4.5.07).

[6] The main question seems always to be, Murder or Suicide? Murder or Suicide: What I Saw, by Tim Carter, Murder or Suicide: Coercion or Choice, by Don Beck,  Was It Murder Or Was It Suicide? by Laura Kohl, Murder vs. Suicide: Individuals and the Collective, by Leigh Fondakowski, Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show, by Josef Dieckman are only a few who explore this question.

[7] Gillis, Charles (2006). American Cultural History 1970-1979. Kingwood, TX: Kingwood College Library. The Civil Rights Movement continued lobbying for the rights of African Americans and women.

[8] Gillis, American Cultural History.

[9] Michael Meiers’ book combines combine five theories in one: murder, CIA brain control, the assassination of Ryan, discrediting Mark Lane and picking up on a filament of the Martin Luther King conspiracy. Meiers, Was Jonestown a CIA Medical Experiment?

[10] Hofstadter, Richard (1965). The Paranoid Style in American Politic. New York: Alfred A. Knopf (Accessed 8.4.07).

[11] “The lurking presence of the CIA.” Vakin, Jonathan and Whalen, John (1995). The Jonestown Massacre: CIA Mind Control Run Amok? New York: Citadel Press [Website no longer online].

[12] “We did not exist in a vacuum. We were a reflection of the economic and political and cultural realities and dynamics of the Civil-Rights/Vietnam war generation. Whether one’s intentions had been political or spiritual, the Temple seemed to offer the ideal opportunity to affect social change.” – Carter, Tim. [n.d.]. “The Big Grey.” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=16975 (Accessed 15.6.07).

[13] Kurtz-Nichol, Jesse and Miller, Carrie. [n.d.] Jonestown: Examining the Peoples Temple. Web page created by Jesse Kurtz-Nichol and Carrie Miller for Rice University [Website no longer online].

[14] The bill was intended to require the CIA to divulge to Congress all of its covert operations. After Congressman Leo J. Ryan’s death, it was never passed. This alone sparked many conspiracy theories. The deaths of 909 people have even been explained as a smokescreen for the CIA executed murder of Ryan: “A convenient side benefit was the CIA’s assassination of Ryan.” See Meiers, Was Jonestown a CIA Medical Experiment?

[15] Peoples Temple itself was involved in expressing this ambivalent relationship with the government. American conspiracists have used this tension to explain the United States Governments connection to the Jonestown massacre. Art Silverman is one such conspiracist: Silverman, Art (December 1988). “The Unanswered Questions of Jonestown.” San Francisco: San Francisco Weekly Calendar Magazine. Available at: http://hrvcanada.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-unanswered-questions-of-jonestown.html (Accessed 01.3.14).

[16] Trueman, Chris (2000). Evidence. United Kingdom: History Learning Site. Available from http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/evidence.htm (Accessed: 10.4.07; link no longer available 1.1.16).

[17] Primary Evidence, is evidence from the time, including eyewitness accounts, photographs, films, audio tapes and artifacts.

[18] Leopold Von Ranke, cited in: Hayes, Brian (2000). Age of the Sage: Transmitting the Wisdom of the Ages. Available from: http://www.age-of-the-sage.org/history/historian/Leopold_von_Ranke.html (Accessed: 5.5.07).

[19] Carter, Tim. Email correspondence (18.4.07 and 20.4.07).

[20] The Jonestown Dead. John Judge letter to Arianna Huffington. Available at: http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/JonestownDead.html (Accessed 4.2.07).

[21] According to Norman Scott, “There are over 750 tape recordings that document the inner workings of Peoples Temple.” Audio tapes include sermons by Jim Jones, Peoples Temple meetings, Jones’ loudspeaker transmissions that played constantly over the loudspeaker at Jonestown, phone conversations and several other recordings. Scott, Norman (November 2006). “The Tape Recorder Never Lies: Musing from a Phonographer,” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=32003 (Accessed 5.5.07).

[22] Scott, “Tape Recorder Never Lies.”

[23] Scott, “Tape Recorder Never Lies.”

[24] The “Death Tape” is a 45-minute recording of what is purportedly the final hour of the Jonestown community. It records Jim Jones final speech to his congregation including the exhortation to commit suicide. Jim Jones: “If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace.”

[25] The Jonestown Death Tape (FBI No. Q 042) (November 18, 1978) available at http://www.archive.org/details/ptc1978-11-18.flac16 (Accessed 14.2.07). The central piece of primary evidence from the death ritual at Jonestown, the tape was given to the FBI by an investigative reporter, it is archived as: “Specimens received: December 7, 1978, personally delivered from Guyana by (name deleted) Qc42 Direct copy of ‘Last Hour’ tape”.

[26] “The mass deaths at Jonestown in the remoteness of Guyana’s jungles took on a new and far more personal dimension. Americans sat in their living rooms and heard the actual sounds of the Peoples Temple dying.” -“Hurry, My Children, Hurry”. Time (Monday, Mar. 26, 1979). Available at: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,916666-1,00.html (Accessed: 8.6.07).

[27] It has even been suggested that it is a record, not of the night in question, but rather, another “White Night.”

[28] McGehee, Fielding M, III (6.7.01). “Commentary on Q 042.” Available from:http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=29215 (Accessed 14.2.07).

[29] “So it becomes clear – to me anyway – that Jones wanted the world to hear a biased account of what went down on that tragic evening.. However, on the tape we do not hear any type of overt resistance or objections to the suicide whatsoever, nor do we hear Jones order any of his guards to take action against anybody. Are these moments where Jones strikes the ‘Pause’ button on the cassette recorder to bark out his orders to the guards to deal with dissention?” Review by “Shadowdancer” (16.7.06). Available at: http://www.archive.org/details/ptc1978-11-18.flac16(Accessed 14.2.07).

[30] Moore, Rebecca. “Sacrament of Suicide.”

[31] Conspiracists argue that the subsequent murders were performed by agencies ranging from the FBI, CIA, to the Guyanese local militia, surviving Jonestown Members, British or US troops. The Jonestown Dead. John Judge letter to Arianna Huffington.

[32] The bodies all lying face down has led many to question whether the bodies were moved. The Jonestown Dead. John Judge letter to Arianna Huffington.

[33] Jonestown Conspiracy (26.3.07). [Website no longer available].

[34] Smith, Mark. [n.d.] Victims of Religion. (Accessed: 20.12.06). [Website no longer available].

[35] Moore, Rebecca. “Last Rights.” Available From: http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=16585 (Accessed 4.6.07). Reprinted from In Defense of Peoples Temple and Other Essays, by Rebecca Moore (Lewiston NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1988).

[36] Moore, Rebecca. “Last Rights.”

[37] Some dispute whether any autopsies were carried out at all: “When the bodies were shipped back to America, there were no autopsies done, they were buried, and the families were not allowed to see them.” “The Truth Behind The Jonestown Massacre.” Available from:http://nstarzone.com/JONESTOWN.html (Accessed 01.3.14).

[38] Rebecca Moore is a Jonestown historian who lost two sisters in the massacre: Annie Moore and Carolyn Layton.

[39] “If you’re a cultist, you don’t have the same civil rights ordinary Americans enjoy. If you die, the government doesn’t have to perform an autopsy, or investigate your death. It can entertain the notion of dumping you into a mass grave. It can destroy evidence of the cause of your death, frustrate your family’s efforts to secure your remains, stick you in an airport hangar on a military base 3000 miles from home for weeks on end, and depend upon public apathy to get away with it. This is exactly what happened to the people who died in Jonestown.” Moore, Rebecca. “Last Rights.”

[40]Geniella, Mike (November 16, 2003). “The day they ‘stepped across’.” Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat. Available at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/5049/the-day-they-stepped-across (Accessed 01.3.14).

[41] Mootoo made other statements concerning the post mortem examinations of over 200 Jonestown inhabitants, and publicly refuted a mass suicide explanation.Jonestown Conspiracy (26.3.07). [Website no longer available]

[42] Subsequent deaths of Michael Prokes and Temple defectors Jeanne and Al Mills caused a resurgence in conspiracy theories that blamed the CIA or other government agencies for extended campaigns of persecution or deception.

[43] Moore, Rebecca. “The Demographics of Jonestown.” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=35666(Accessed 4.5.07).

[44] Moore, Rebecca. “Demographics.”

[45] Moore, Rebecca. “Sacrament of Suicide.”

[46] Nathan Landau is one such theorist “Jonestown’s “final solution” focused on homosexuals, blacks, and drug users, who were murdered. Meanwhile many in the white leadership group, including Jim Jones, planned to escape with millions of dollars.” Nathan Landau quoted in: Moore, Rebecca. “Reconstructing Reality: Conspiracy Theories About Jonestown.” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=16582. Accessed 18.1.07) Reprinted from Journal of Popular Culture 36, no. 2 (Fall 2002): 200-20.

[47] Jynona Norwood questioned, “What could the babies do?” (November 18, 2003). Jonestown survivors recall fateful day. CNN. Available at:http://www.cnn.com/2003/US/West/11/17/jonestown.anniversary/index.html (Accessed 29.10.06).

[48] Moore, Rebecca. “Sacrament of Suicide.”

[49]“.279 were 17 years old or younger. children and adolescents of Jonestown comprised more than 30% of the total population.” Dieckman, Josef. “Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show.”

[50] Figures are scattered throughout his article with little proof. Dieckman, Josef. “Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show.”

[51] For extended examples of Dieckman’s process of extrapolative reasoning see Dieckman, Josef. “Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show.”

[52] Dieckman, Josef. “Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show.”

[53] “America is still owed a definitive explanation for the many unresolved questions surrounding the tragedy.” Moore, Rebecca (2000). Is the Canon on Jonestown Closed?. Nova Religio. October 2000. Vol. 4, No. 1, Pages 7-27 (Accessed 1.6.07).

[54] Silverman, Art. “Unanswered Questions of Jonestown.”

[55] Moore, Rebecca. “Last Rights.”

[56] “It is clear that conspiracy theorists will continue to spin their tales as long as government documents remain classified.” Moore, Rebecca (1985). A Sympathetic History of Jonestown: The Moore Family Involvement in the Peoples Temple. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press (Accessed: 20.6.07).

[57] Many people have requested their release under the Freedom of Information Act.

[58] Few were satisfied when in 1980. The House Select Committee on Intelligence determined that the CIA had no advance knowledge of the mass murder-suicide. The CIA investigations withheld more than 5000 pages of documentation. The FBI investigated only the death of Congressman Ryan In part, this may have been a result of a perceived continuing lack of openness on the part of government authorities: The committee released a 782-page report, but kept more than 5,000 other pages secret.

[59]“Some believe answers may lie in more than 5,000 pages of information the U.S. government has kept secret. Further complicating the historical recovery process is the loss of yet another type of institutional memory: government documents. A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by myself and Fielding M. McGehee III with the Social Security Administration in 1998 to obtain SSA records of recipients living in Jonestown in November 1978 revealed that the agency had destroyed those papers.”Moore, Rebecca (October 2006). “Justice Department Considers Substantive Issues in FOIA Lawsuit.” http://jonestown.sdsu.edu/?page_id=31971 (Accessed 16.5.07).

[60] The FBI held that the events of Jonestown were outside its strict liability, and therefore not subject to investigation. FBI’s strict liability allowed them to investigate the assassination of a congressman (FBI jurisdiction in 1979 Federal Bureau of Investigation composed report (1986). Jonestown. Part a) Page 20 of 123.

[61] Federal Bureau of Investigation composed report (1986). Jonestown. Part a) Page 20 of 123.

[62] Federal Bureau of Investigation composed report (1986). Jonestown. Part a) Pages 22-23 of 123.

[63] Moore, Rebecca. “Reconstructing Reality.”

[64] Geniella, Mike. “The day they ‘stepped across’.”

[65] Carter, Tim. Correspondence (18.4.07 and 20.4.07).

[66] Testimony from Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple (2007). Berkeley, California: A Firelight Media production for American Experience. Directed by Stanley Nelson (Accessed: 4.5.07).

[67] The survivors’ first hand testimonies are persuasive, because of their immediacy and emotional impact. More specifically, that both had different individual experiences draws attention to the subjective element in reporting history. See Carter, Tim. “The Big Grey.”

[68] Williams, Robert C (2003). The Historian’s Toolbox. New York: M.E. Sharpe.

[69] Moore, Rebecca. “Reconstructing Reality.”

[70] Jim Jones’ former chief legal adviser.

[71] Geniella, Mike. “Stoen Apologizes To Reporter:’You Were Right … I Was Wrong'”. Published on March 2, 2005. Santa Rosa (California) Press Democrat. Available at: http://jonestownapologistsarticlearchive.blogspot.com/2007/03/press-democrat-you-were-right-i-was.html (Accessed: 4.5.07).

[72] Dieckman comments on perspective directly affecting the historical writing of Jonestown and the interpretation of evidence “Can any of these people truly be considered as suicides? Depending on what figures you look at or who you talk to.” Dieckman, Josef. “Murder vs. Suicide: What the Numbers Show.”

[73] The extant distrust of the Jonestown society that was evinced by the Concerned Relatives meant speculation and worry about the Jonestown inhabitants was rife before the massacre. Conspiracy theories provide comfort and explanation for the loss of loved ones. The Concerned Relatives supplied grounds for conspiracy theories, often engaging in theorizing themselves. Marshall Kilduff, a journalist, described the Concerned Relatives in Jonestown: The Life And Death Of Peoples Temple (2007). “The Concerned Relatives were the ex-members who wanted other family members, still in the church, to know they could leave. They wanted them to feel that there was an outside world — that Jones was wrong about telling people they could never leave the church, and that they would be treated badly in the real world.”

[74] Although history often claims objectivity, the account of anyone close to events; those in a position to present facts, is likely to be emotionally biased. Many friends and defectors came forward after the disaster and spoke to the media, historians and victims’ families. See further, Jim Jones.[Date unknown]. BBC Documentary shown on the History Channel (Accessed: 10.2.07) This documentary collected many of the accounts of these people. It utilised evidence based on biased statements regarding broad personality traits made by emotionally involved people. Defectors would say “that as you watched him, listen to him, a strange power, could convince you.” Clearly, although this documentary presents itself as a factual account, it is motivated by sensationalism. It begins with details of the events of Jonestown, using loaded language like “unrivalled disaster”, and evoking implications of sexual and emotional abuse.

[75] Some have been accused of tampering with vital evidence to create their own theories. See Appendix A, Fox News (http://www.luclin.org/files/saleani/Fox_News_Jonestown_Web.jpg; link no longer functions 1/1/16).

[76] The fruit punch the victims at Jonestown were forced to drink, was actually Flavor Aid, but the media refers to it as Kool-Aid, which has become part of the popular history of Jonestown.

[77] “…to the public he seemed a social activist, but within the People’s Temple he was a tyrant, causing humiliation and hosting cathartic sessions.”Jim Jones, BBC.

[78] “Only the attack on Pearl Harbour and the dropping of the atomic bomb achieved greater levels of awareness among the public.” Templer, Robert (1999). “Jonestown.” London: The Richmond Review.

[79] Simkin, John. Education Forum, statement made on May 17 2006, 07:10 AM in discussion thread, “Historians, Journalists and Political Conspiracies.” Available From:http://educationforum.ipbhost.com/index.php?act=findpost&pid=63989 (Accessed 22.6.07).

[80] Rebecca Moore, “Reconstructing Reality.”

[81] One conspiracist, Farrell feels, like many fellow conspiracists, that the Jonestown deaths cannot be explained as “mass suicide”: “it was not a Masada wet run’ whichthey want you to think it is. Something bad happened in Guyana, and we will probably not find out exactly what it was.”

Farrell in this statement incorporates two of the most prevalent attitudes of conspiracists to the Jonestown massacre. The first is that there is some underlying or “other” explanation than the official version of events. Farrell’s second reflects the lack of reliable evidence means that the events of Jonestown will likely remain incompletely explained.

[82] Many internet conspiracists fail to discredit the possibility that the members of Peoples Temple did commit suicide except with the rebuttal that 913 people killing themselves willingly and in full possession of their mental faculties is simply impossible.

[83] The conspiracy theories often only concentrate on the scandal and the massacre itself, ignoring evidence provided by records of the people’s temple and Jim Jones’ behaviour before the massacre. Much primary evidence indicates that Jonestown was a happy socialist colony. Whether this reflects a greater likelihood of communal agreement in the instance of suicide, or less likelihood of happy people agreeing to take such extreme action is a matter of opinion.

[84] Rebecca Moore found that, “Only 256 people who died in Jonestown had no apparent family connections with anyone else present, or 20% of the total.” Moore, Rebecca. “Demographics.”

Last modified on November 7th, 2018.
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