I’m an amateur researcher of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. I’m also a community member of the forum AskHistorians, located at https://reddit.com/r/AskHistorians.
AskHistorians, as a “subreddit” (or subsection) of Reddit, is dedicated to public history, under the simple premise that there is no such thing as a stupid historical question. Hundreds of thousands of users visit the forum every single day, asking historical questions and getting responses from people who are knowledgeable in the field. The forum also hosts “Ask Me Anything” threads from distinguished scholars, in which forum members can question scholars about whatever is on their minds. AskHistorians also has a podcast, in which guests – drawn mostly from the forum’s distinguished group of experts and history enthusiasts – discuss historical topics ranging from famous castrati to black radicalism to Caesar. The podcast format is similar to a structured Q&A interview, in which the host asks the guest questions about whatever topic had been planned in advance.
Back in September of last year, I had the idea of introducing the people of Peoples Temple to AskHistorians through the podcast. I wanted to introduce the people of the Temple for a couple of reasons: firstly, because what most people think of when they think about Jonestown is poisoned Flavor Aid and dead bodies, and I wanted to challenge that; and secondly, because conversations about the Temple usually focus on people in the leadership – or members of the opposition – and not the thousands of average, mostly anonymous people drawn to the group. Focusing on Jim Jones alone would not suffice to explain Peoples Temple to the average listener who might have never heard of the group before. I wanted the listener to understand the Temple, not as “the group of brainwashed crazies who drank the Kool-Aid”, but as a group of people with hopes and dreams and a desire to bring about a better future for themselves and their children.
I hope that this podcast episode does justice to the memory of those who died on that tragic day on November 18, and does justice for those who survived or were a part of the story before and since.
The podcast includes one mistake which is made repeatedly: it discusses the 918 dead in Jonestown. In reality, that figure refers to the total number of people who died on November 18, but as most readers will know, that includes the four who died in Georgetown and the five who were killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip. There were 909 people who died in Jonestown itself.
In regards to content, we do issue the warning that we use some excerpts from Q042 (also known as the “death tape”) in the podcast episode. The excerpts in question correspond to minutes 12:56-16:10 in Part 1 and from minutes 0:30-1:46 in Part 2.