“Nobody will ever be able to figure me out.”
—Jim Jones to his recording secretary
I take that as my challenge. I’ll start at the beginning.
Fly on the Wall, Me
I’m 22, so it is 1969. I’m sleeping in the living room of our little blue cabin on Pinecrest Drive in Redwood Valley, where the wood stove is. Dick is gone, must be on a trip to San Francisco. The dream elapsed in 10 to 15 seconds. This is how it went:
A scene bursts upon me and I try to take it in. A voice in my head says, “You’re in Brazil.” From my perch maybe 15 feet up, near the ceiling of a large, empty ballroom, I survey a rich wood floor, its polished surface reflecting the lights from the ceiling, extending into the distance. It is bordered at the far end by a low railing with carved balusters. The room is empty. I hear a door opening in the far corner and, peering through chandeliers toward the sound, see a knot of men emerge, walk along the wall to a gate in the railing, open it and move quickly across the floor towards the center, where I am. They are closely grouped, and the one leading them is robed, striding briskly and purposefully forward, carrying a folder of papers in his left arm. The others are all in gray suits. It is that walk, more than his face, that IDs him to me today. He’s dark-haired, handsome.
The group is not yet under me, but almost, when the robed man stops short, turns to look at the man behind him, then at his fellows one by one, as he sags, then spirals to the floor. I zoom down to see his head hit the floor, through the forest of legs, with the look of shock still etched on his features. I rise back toward the ceiling as the men, like swooping vultures, all kneel down around him. Making sure he was dead, I thought, and continued to think for another ten years.
It was over. I can’t say I woke up, because I was already sitting, wide awake, with an urgent feeling that I had seen something happen and I had to tell somebody. But Dick was gone, so there was no one to tell. I went down to the market in Redwood Valley and bought a newspaper the next morning, and the next few mornings, scanning them to see what leader was assassinated in South America.
Inside Peoples Temple
A year would pass before Dick and I would know about Jim Jones, as we joined in spring of 1970. Yes, I wondered about the likeness, but that man died, so how could it be him? And no, I never had another dream in my life before or after like it, where I woke up sitting and already awake. But I never mentioned it during my years in the Temple, since no one was supposed to have a power of discernment but Jim.
Brazil loomed large in Jim Jones’ mind. Always the same story, retold repeatedly. It marked his point of departure from marital fidelity, detailed ad nauseam in crude and explicit language, of his 12-hour sexual exploits and how much revulsion he had for “the woman” he serviced. That he was fixated on it was obvious.
There were Rheaviana Beam’s eyes burning into mine the night we made centerpieces at her house for something, for hours into the night, until she started hallucinating little animals out of the corner of her eye, and she said, her voice rasping hoarsely, “We was with him in Brazil.” The “We” were Rheaviana and Jack Beam, and their daughters – though they went back to the U.S. six months or more before Jim did – and Marceline and Jim’s kids.
Hindsight, Not 20/20, but Close
The first morning I woke up after knowing what happened in Jonestown, my first thought was how often and when he uttered that particular final line, “and we’ll die together!!!!” It was said as the last line, when we, with one voice, were already rattling the rafters, windows and walls with cheers for his revolutionary message. And he would end with that, then stand and listen, like a piano tuner, to the pitch of our fervor still stuck on full blast. It went back to my earliest memories, that pattern. His only intention.
I mentioned this to someone six months after the 1978 implosion, and his blurted response was, “Jim Jones worked for the CIA in 1963 in Belo Horizonte.” In the following days, I returned to my dream, remembering its ending. I realized the men in the gray suits were making sure he was still alive.
Jim’s day job was “selling business investments” in Belo Horizonte. It would be a decade into this century before I would read John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. I heard on a newscast that Belo Horizonte was the most polluted city on earth. It is still one of Brazil’s most polluted cities, though automobile exhaust has replaced the now-closed iron mine as the main source, the continuing “fallout” of the rapid industrialization resulting from said business investments sold by Jim and others. Perkins’ description of his own initiation into “the business” parallels some of the high or low points, depending on your perspective, of Jim’s incessant recounts of his famous “sexcapade.”
What I was shown in my dream goes beyond the economic hit man initiation, into MK-ULTRA territory, that radioactive zone where nothing is known, shown or admitted, leaving only the effects to bear testimony. My best guess and conjecture, based on my dream, is that I saw Jim get his commission: to gather his utopian, perfect society using his mix of political and religious tools, get it as big as possible, and take it down with him in mass extinction when it was threatened.
We do know that communal religious organizations (MOVE, Branch Davidians) were fair targets for elimination. A CIA whistleblower’s “reason” for MK-ULTRA – that “We weren’t about to let the Hare Krishnas take over the government” – is as much detail as we’re likely to get about what transpired under it 1954 to 1965. Supposedly the files were destroyed in 1974. Media consolidation allowed MK-ULTRA’s tactics to fuse into mainstream media’s echo chamber(s), and we’re heavily immersed in that brainwashing today.
Circumstantial Evidence re Jonestown/CIA Links
In the mid-70s, at the time of the death of Dan Mitrione – a man whose crossed paths with Jim may have been inevitable, either as a police officer in Richmond, Indiana in the late 40’s and/or as a CIA agent in Belo Horizonte, Brazil in the early 60’s – Jim’s 201-C file was destroyed by the CIA or went missing. Congressman Leo Ryan was about to investigate the CIA, specifically its recent history of dirty tricks and MK-ULTRA. A lawsuit by his children against the CIA after his death was dismissed on a technicality. Years later, Leo Ryan’s aide Joe Holsinger said he refused to discount the possibility of a wider conspiracy. A Congressional Inquiry at which noted Temple defectors Al and Jeannie Mills were to testify, was abruptly cancelled as soon as it convened and rescheduled… to a date after their murders. There’s more, but you get the idea.
Media’s nearly unanimously refused to touch this subject, despite the “mystery tape,” despite evidence of a cleanup crew variously described as Navy seals or British intel that went in overnight on a reconnaissance and site-scrubbing mission involving several helicopters, despite one survivor’s accounts of hearing planes and gunfire “all night.”
I bought Jesse Ventura’s American Conspiracies in 2015, and Will Savive’s Jonestown: Don’t Drink the Kool-Aid in 2016. Reference Chapter 8, entirely on Jonestown, in Jesse’s book, which is footnoted with his sources, and pages 34-40 in Savive’s, on Jim’s travels in the late 50’s and early 60’s up to 1963 and apparent contacts with the CIA. His repeated concerns about Dwyer’s safety – as opposed to Ryan’s – and the many indications he was a protegé of Mitrione’s in South America, all make me conclude he was acting in tandem with them on the predetermined outcome, contained in his commission. The one he was accepted on his return to consciousness from the scene I saw in my dream.
What was he Thinking?
The inexorable unfolding of events that day to attempt to trigger violence were at his instruction. Consider Don Sly’s knife attack, sobbing as he attempted it; but he would have one more chance to make good on his mission, the dispatch of mostly young men to draw first blood. All these point to the necessity to stage that trigger act as a secret mission, (1) to Don; (2) to Larry Layton; (3) to the airstrip shooters, to put whatever preconceived plan was refined at the leadership level into motion to accomplish what he did, the mass extinction.
It’s at that point I think I see how Jim sees it: Better for all of them to die and make the statement of tacit support for his “model” than to die by slow cuts, as once the door opens, after all the White Nights, there would have been another mass exodus of people from Jonestown, and its pressures, strictures, and actual dangers to continued existence, and who would be left behind? Then the inevitable blowback from families and lawsuits. And disgrace, expulsion. No choice but to pull the plug on it.
Or he was ordered. Or both. Orders would have helped, but were probably not necessary. If I were to give Jim the benefit of the doubt, another conjecture is that he was prepared to take the karma of interrupting all these lives, under the assumption that under his arduous and rigorous tempering of the people he was shepherding, they would do better in the afterlife. Having created it, in a sense, he felt entitled to take it down with him rather than let it decay and dissolve in chaos.
It was a perfect marriage of his rage at anyone who wanted to leave him and the aims of his handlers. Secretly, Jim may have considered himself a double agent, hoping his death would accomplish the opposite of what they intended with the massacre. I don’t know. But it explains much of the misery and duress that he increased and intensified, over the final 11 months, as Jim by degrees prepared the population for violence, invoking their savagery toward “the enemy” and glorifying death as the only release to be found.
My personal experience as a member from 1970 to 1978, augmented with taped recordings of meetings and broadcasts in Jonestown, yields a three-dimensional form that combines the many, many interwoven and overlapping mechanisms that kept us insular and oriented to follow cues from Jim, to be self-enforcing, unquestioning, and loyal, as the group burgeoned and responded to Jim’s imperatives of the moment and constant pressures and panics.
As members, we learned early on to overlook practically anything Jim said, as long as it “was needed” to send a message to someone of wavering mind or possible ill intent. Efficiency and unanimity seemed worth that, and any doubt was evidence of the resistance of our selfish nature. This wiggle room would be used to full advantage. Likewise, our solidarity had its own identity quotient. We were often praised passionately and just as often berated for draining him, weighing on him, killing him with our little jealousies, pettiness and rebellion.
It helped that the move had to be made as stealthily as possible, taking everyone who could go, in an evacuation that is still little understood, even though it happened right under my nose. I depend on narratives of writers like Glenda Bates, or Edith Roller’s journal accounts of people who tried to bolt, only to be urgently solicited – or convinced, in Jossie Chambliss’ case – by a personal phone call from Jim Jones. In other cases, calls made by other relatives, with groups often privately picked up and flown to Guyana. I don’t have a total of the unrecorded dates of entry, but they number about 100, and in at least one case we know the person, a minor, did not want to go, but was forced and accompanied by a guard. I know now, but didn’t then. There is now a name for that: trafficking.
Ignorant of the trap that was closing over those already there, I realized only recently, reading Jim’s continual fulminations (“Anybody starts some shit, we’ll all die”) against those who wanted to “go back.” It was people like me – and me personally – still functioning as their stateside support team, whom they needed to keep carefully insulated from knowing what was happening in Jonestown. Even as those trapped there saw their prospects get increasingly desperate as the White Nights became more frequent, brought closer by each defection.
Que Bono? Looking at the Follow-Through (1978-2017)
Jonestown is the black hole of history, the invisible line at which history turned and the US population, still in shock, turned with it, into what it is today.
With 38 years of hindsight, still as a fly on the wall, I see that the CIA more than triumphed on this one. Not just were 918 lives lost, the worldwide shock, and revulsion associated with all things integration, communitarian, and left-wing was ushered in. Four days after the final number of the dead was known, the assassination of Milk and Moscone occurred in San Francisco. Classic “shock doctrine” brought home.
Then began the unwinding, the turning by degrees of battleship USA from an antiwar, antinuclear consensus, to our present perpetual war posture, frog-march though it may be. It is more a stupefaction, a paralysis in comprehension of daily events and their significance to us amid the blur of technological change. There began the rollout of goodness and purity to be found only in acquisition, consumption and diversion, surrender to the warm and fuzzy world of entertainers and advertisers ready to fulfill us, make or remake us.
No antennae for anything else. No more history, no more civics, no more news, eventually. Another crop of perfect subjects.
My case rests, what there is of it. A spectacularly successful hit. But success has its own failures contained in it. We are now in the Aquarian Age whether we like it or not. And cooperation is our only hope. It’ll be a steep climb, now that we’ve forgotten all our survival skills. Replacing the authoritarian leader with dire necessity and group consensus on hard work, and hopefully survival may be the next model. If we can manage it.
(Kathy [Tropp] Barbour joined Peoples Temple in 1970 with her companion, Richard Tropp, and was living in the San Francisco Temple on November 18, 1978. The website for her book, Who Died? is here. Her other articles in this edition of the jonestown report are The United States of Jonestown, Alive and Well; The Birthday Project Comes to an End; and Status of Plans for Who Died, Edition 2. Her earlier writings on this site can be found here. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)