Podcasting & Peoples Temple

There are podcasts for just about every subject one can think of, as I describe in my companion article, and that includes Peoples Temple. Jim Jones and Peoples Temple have been the subject of individual episodes of these podcasts: The Ask Historians; Casefile True Crime; Dark History; Eavesdrop; Just Paranormal; Killers, Cults & Nutjobs; Liar City; Those Conspiracy Guys; and Timesuck.

Most of them hit the highlight reel of the Peoples Temple story, with varying levels of respect. In other words, be warned that there are a lot of Kool-Aid jokes. The following is a review of each in alphabetical order.

  • The Ask Historians: This is one of the better ones, if you can get past the format of one person asking another person questions that the first person already knows the answer to. There is some depth of research here, such as quotes directly from one of Carolyn Moore Layton’s letters to her parents. The hosts also discuss the post-Guyana historiography of Peoples Temple, thus making this podcast the only attempt in any in this discussion to consider the body of Peoples Temple literature.[1]


  • Casefile True Crime: This is the best podcast to so far deal with Peoples Temple. Stretched over three hour-long episodes, these Australians go further in-depth than any of the others discussed in this article. It covers topics the others skipped, including Jones’ childhood, his early years in Indiana, his establishment on the revival circuit in the early days of his ministry, and so much more. If a person wanted to know about Peoples Temple but did not want to read a book, this would be the podcast to direct them to. The production values are high, the episodes feature many recordings from the Peoples Temple, there are no jokes about anything, or snobbery towards the victims.


  • Dark History Podcast: This show took three episodes to cover the story. The first covered the history of the Temple up to Guyana, the second covered Guyana, and the third was an episode about conspiracy theories. It took three episodes because the hosts kept going off on tangents about Beyoncé, irrelevant boyfriends, a recent trip to New York, and so, so, so much more. On one hand, they did include quite a bit of the history, but on the other hand, they made basic mistakes in the narrative and their analysis was often unintentionally comical, mentioning at one point that the Khmer Rouge took over Vietnam. Later, they mention that Peoples Temple is still operational, because they still have meetings, not realizing that those gatherings are of survivors and family reunions.


  • Eavesdrop: This one describes itself as a podcast to listen in on phone calls and recordings from the past. Only three episodes were made in 2015 and one is of Jim Jones. No date is given for the tape or where it came from, although it can be deduced from its contents that it comes from the late 1970s. Nor does the podcast give the tape’s origin, and it might very well be one of the tapes that have already been added to the Jonestown Institute. There are references to ham radio, Guyana, and a woman’s lawsuit which probably refers to Grace Stoen’s custody battle.


  • Just Paranormal Podcast: I thought it would be hard to pick the worst-researched podcast, but this entry made it surprisingly easy. On at least two occasions, the host says, “I didn’t have time to research that.” To catalog the entire list of their mistakes would require more space than the Internet has, so I will choose the worst. First is the claim that the “White Nights” began when Peoples Temple was still in Indianapolis. Second is the claim that when Jones went to Brazil in 1962, he took 900 followers with him, thereby skipping all of California, the political power that Jones acquired, San Francisco, the bus trips, New West, and the custody battle over John Victor Stoen. Third is the claim that “according to the autopsies” many of the children were shot, and that Jim Jones, Jr. was in Brazil on a trade mission during the final “White Night.” Towards the end of the podcast, they decide to Google images of the Jonestown dead and discuss them live. You get the idea. This is just awful.


  • Killers, Cults, & Nutjobs: Despite the show’s provocative title, this is one of the better podcasts to deal with Peoples Temple. The production qualities are adequate, and the content shows some genuine signs of research beyond the Internet, probably using Reiterman’s book for fact-checking. Some of the commentary is off-color, and some of the Kool-Aid jokes fall flat, but this is way better than the attempts made by Just Paranormal or Dark History.


  • Liar City: If you can get past the giant mistake right at the beginning – when the host says that say Jones was born in North Carolina – this is the best single episode podcast to deal with Peoples Temple. It uses a lot of clips from Temple sermon tapes and documentaries, and the production values are quite good. The hosts are more respectful about the subject matter and have done their research.


    • Those Conspiracy Guys: This lives up to its title by giving credence to the conspiracy theories that surround Peoples Temple. Their “evidence” and the fact that this episode was over four hours long made it the most painful one to get through. Their conclusion is that from at least 1963 onwards, the Peoples Temple was part of the CIA’s MK ULTRA program. Again, it’s hard to pick from so many examples, so I offer the most egregious ones, all of which can be refuted by cracking open a book or two. When Jones returned from Brazil, he personally paid for the California exodus out of his own pocket. Furthermore, Jones also paid to keep the Temple going in Ukiah as if no other members had jobs. They also believe that Jones moved the church to Ukiah to acclimatize his followers to working in the sunshine before moving them to Guyana.They find it suspicious that the Guyanese army just left all these bodies out in the field instead of moving them, as if Guyana had the facilities to handle 900 corpses all at once. They state that American Green Berets and the British counterpart, the Special Air Service, just happened to be in the area, as opposed to actually being five or six hours away. They also claim that a lot of witnesses who were part of the 1976 House Committee investigation into Martin Luther King’s assassination were killed at Jonestown. They insinuate that, much like the Kennedy assassinations, all the other Jonestown survivors who could contradict the official story wound up dead. They float the possibility that maybe the reason the body count kept going up in the first few days after the final “White Night” is that the US government, British government, and even Guyanese government had some people they wanted to get rid of, so they were taking them to Jonestown, killing them, and adding more bodies to the pile. Later they speculate on whether Jackie Speier was involved. They also believe that George Moscone and Harvey Milk’s assassinations were also part of the Jonestown cleanup. After all, Dan White served in Vietnam and is obviously part of this massive government conspiracy, as were the other two million people who also served in Vietnam… including Jonestown survivors Odell Rhodes and Tim Carter.
      This episode is the reason I sometimes hate the Internet. They rarely mention sources, but this has Internet research written all over it, particularly John Judge’s “The Black Hole of Guyana.” Another source that they uncritically accept is the Soviet book The Jonestown Carnage – A CIA Crime, by Sergie Fedorovich Alinin, B. G. Antonov, and A.N. Itskov. They completely and totally accept the Soviet story without ever questioning if the Soviets would ever try and use the Jonestown incident to embarrass the United States.


    • Timesuck: Hosted by comedian Dan Cummins, this one is decently researched. Some of the comedy was worth a chuckle, except for when he attempted to impersonate Jim Jones. Those were unfunny enough without the Southern accent he applied to Jones and, oddly, to Forbes Burnham.

    Before you listen to any of these podcasts, you should be warned that Peoples Temple – an organization comprised of basically good people – forms a crude, laughable, one-dimensional memory in cultural history. The impression you get here is that Temple members were brain dead morons who probably got what they deserved. Although Jeff Guinn’s latest book is attempting to rehabilitate that memory, most people who will never pick up a book, and these podcasts and a few documentaries are going to form their entire impression of these people and their lives.
    Hopefully, sometime in the near future, someone or a group of people will get together and remedy the lack of a good, honest, well-researched podcast about Peoples Temple.
    (Jason Dikes is an associate adjunct professor of US history at Austin Community College and Adult Services Librarian for the Leander Public Library. His other two articles in this edition of the jonestown report are Podcasts: A Primer and Guinn Follows Many Routes on Road to Jonestown. His previous article is A Brief and General Overview of Jonestown Historiography. He may be reached at jdikes@austincc.edu.)
    [1] For more on what historiography is, and an analysis of Peoples Temple historiography, please see my earlier article.