“There is no Heaven up there, so we are going to have to make Heaven down here”–Jim Jones
Today is the 39th anniversary of the worst political mass killing in U.S. history prior to the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001–the Jonestown Peoples Temple massacre.
Peoples Temple documents recovered from Jonestown in the wake of the murder of 913 followers of political cult leader Jim Jones reveal a remarkable relationship between Jones and North Korea in the months preceding the massacre in the remote jungles of Guyana.
A March 17, 1978 document written to Jones from a top loyalist was a summary of a meeting held with the North Koreans at their embassy in Guyana.
We were speaking to the first secretary when the Korean Ambassador entered to speak to us. He said they have been trying to locate us, they will have many things to do with us. He was glad to see us there as they were searching for our location. The First Secretary later told us they had heard of us in North Korea…
By mid-1978, during the final months prior to the mass murder at the utopian agrarian socialist experiment in the jungles of Jonestown, Guyana, the delusional and paranoid Jones was incapacitated by psychosis and a series of addictions to drugs, including methamphetamine.
This period coincided with a rapidly developing relationship with the government and agents of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
By early 1978, Jones and North Korea had cultivated a close relationship with each other and had numerous clandestine meetings.
At mandatory daily ideological study sessions led by Jones in the jungle, he escalated a rhetorical focus praising the North Korean government and particularly its leader, Kim Il Sung.
Jones, his wife, and his children, as well as his top lieutenants met more than a dozen times with the North Korean ambassador, diplomats, and intelligence agents at the DPRK embassy in Georgetown, Guyana. They dined and socialized together, attended each other’s cultural propaganda presentations, traded heavy-handed semi-fictional propaganda tracts extolling their own virtues, and held secret talks exchanging political tactics and strategies designed to promote the victory of their remarkably shared visions of utopian socialism.
Jones force-fed his followers North Korean-provided official propaganda at mandatory political indoctrination meetings at their jungle enclave, reading from scripts and screening movies, increasingly exhorting the wonders of life in North Korea and the unmatched leadership of the Great leader Kim Il Sung. Jones read daily North Korean-supplied propaganda at these lectures, and Peoples Temple members were required to watch North Korean propaganda films on the superior life enjoyed by North Korean citizens.
The remote Peoples Temple jungle encampment communicated with supporters and operatives in the outside world via short wave radio. Documents found at Jonestown after the massacre show that North Korea had been assigned the code names “Mrs. Lagger” and “Virginia” to be strictly used in all communications.
In addition, the Guyana-Korean Friendship Association, a global formal arm of the Pyongyang government charged with distributing official propaganda and building foreign alliances and support for North Korea was created in Georgetown and dominated by the American top trusted Peoples Temple lieutenants of Jones.
Ideological lectures on “Juche” ideology at Peoples Temple at Jonestown were conducted by North Korean intelligence operatives based at the embassy in Guyana who traveled to the jungle to promote the DPRK vision of Kim Il Sung who Jones exalted as the most sophisticated political ideology to achieve an egalitarian society in world history.
This article explores these all of these contacts and is based upon records from all of these recovered from both Jonestown and the group’s headquarters in Georgetown following the deaths of November 18, 1978. They include reports to Jim Jones with detailed minutes of the contents of the clandestine meetings with North Korean embassy officials held by top lieutenants of Jones charged with carrying out directives and interacting with various socialist embassies. The bulk of these records are available at Section G-2 of the FBI’s release of documents to this website under the Freedom of Information Act.
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By 1977, Jim Jones had retreated to Guyana along with nearly 1000 of his flock. Among them was his illegitimate five-year-old son, whom he had fathered with a married woman while she was in the Temple. Grace Stoen had left the church a year earlier, followed in early- to mid-1977 – the exact date is not known – by her estranged husband, but she signed over custody of John Victor Stoen to other members of the Temple before she left. Within months after her son was relocated to Guyana, however, Grace joined forces with Tim in what became a high-profile child custody battle. The Stoens had prevailed in a California court, but the case was still pending in Guyanese courts at the time of the tragedy.
Jones and his top lieutenants saw the custody battle and other legal challenges to the Temple – most represented in court by Tim Stoen – as evidence of an American intelligence campaign to destroy his attempts to build a socialist utopia in the Guyanese jungles.
As the months in the second half of 1977 and throughout 1978 spun out – and other high-profile defections occurred – Jones began to unravel. Already mentally unstable, seriously ill with a life-threatening disease, addicted to mind altering stimulates, and convinced he was God incarnate, Jim Jones felt under siege and convinced he no longer had the unwavering political protection of Guyana’s government. He began to focus on suppressing dissent among his ranks and ordered top loyalists to explore a mass exodus from Guyana to a third country.
More than a dozen countries were contacted by letter from his Guyanese jungle redoubt, and at least five embassies in the Guyanese capital of Georgetown were contacted directly as Jones sought support for a mass migration of the Jonestown Peoples Temple population to a more reliable political safe haven. Those embassies included the Soviet Union, Cuba, Yugoslavia, and North Korea. But Jones’ relationship with North Korea was the most fascinating and included genuine mutual affection between the two, documents recovered from Jonestown and interviews with survivors show.
In fact, North Korea was the sole country to have initiated contact with Peoples Temple. Prior to 1977, Pyongyang had even praised Peoples Temple over their state media. The North Korean leadership had cabled their embassy in Guyana with instructions to locate and initiate contact with Jones and his followers prior to Jones ordering his top lieutenants to contact the Pyongyang embassy in Georgetown, Guyana.
By early 1978, both Jones and North Korea had cultivated a close relationship and deep support for each other and held numerous clandestine meetings.
Jones escalated rhetoric praising the North Korean government and particularly its leader, Kim Il Sung, coinciding with a rapidly developing relationship with agents of North Korea.
In April 1978, another meeting between North Korean intelligence operatives in Guyana and Jones’ wife, Korean children, and Peoples Temple officials strengthened the two’s relationship between the two. As an April 2, 1978 report to Jones reads:
They seemed deeply moved that Jim and Marcie had adopted Korean children and gave them an opportunity to grow up healthy and socialistic. They say we are progressive and humanitarian and they are very interested in further contact with us (their ambassador appears to be very willing to greet with us and is (or appears to be) a kindly friendly man). I am not too sure of these people as I am not too familiar with the Korean culture and they are overly polite in their speech and yet frankly inquisitive of us, even asked Marcie how old she was and how old JJ was. I think they are cultivating us for some purpose (perhaps to send letters to the US for some purpose) and to ask for support from US officials for reunification of Korea (not that this would be something that would be bad for them to cultivate us for, but it seems they are quite eager for us to be in contact with them.
In attendance at that meeting at the Korean embassy in Georgetown were “Cde. Lee [Comrade Lee of the North Korean embassy], Cde. Joe, Marceline J, Ava J [Jones], Lew J [Jones], Deb [Touchette], Kim Yoon Ai, Sharon [Amos],” according to minutes of the meeting compiled by Peoples Temple.
Cde. Lee said he enjoyed very much our wonderful performance, and enjoyed our introduction about our agricultural project. Marceline said: ‘We feel very close to the Korean people’. She told him she had adopted three children from Korea. Cde. Lee asked Lew if he spoke the Korean language. (Served soft drinks and plenty of refreshments) Cde. Lee said he was told before there was an agricultural project from people who came from the States… [Ellipsis in original] said Sharon had explained and he had a better understanding. Marceline gave him some background on Lew and Kim…. Marceline gave a few details, including 900 acres planted and 1200 acres cleared…. He said ‘In a certain sense you are an independent autonomous Kingdom.’ … Cde. Lee mentioned that … there are some maneuvers to do harm to our movement… he was obliged to express his thanks to Jim Jones for his efforts… They brought out a drink that they wanted us to take, made in Korea. Sharon told him of our commitment to our youth and that we don’t drink. It was called Insam, made from Ginseng tea; it had the actual root at the bottom of the bottle…. Lee said he understood Peoples Temple was striving for Socialism, that some people use it for propaganda, so they like to describe their form of Socialism. He said Socialism to them ‘is a world where the welfare of the people is highly shared. Our country is not so big; almost the same size as Guyana, but the population is larger’. He told us of the History.
The following month, there was another meeting between “Comrade Jo” of the North Korean embassy and members of Jim Jones’ Peoples Temple, as a top Temple official wrote in a memo to Jones.
He asked if we were religious. I said we were not, but like in his country we have a few, a very few who are still coming out of the religious realm, just a few older people, but that you were bringing them out of that I told him that we had started out as a church because it was the only way to reach the people, most of the poor and the oppressed were in the church and that the church was what kept people from protesting their surroundings, so you have slowly been educating us to Socialism e.g. by showing the different errors in the bible and how it says slaves obey your masters, so people didn’t fight against slavery. He agreed, he said he wanted to know how you had educated the people.
I told him that we didn’t have church in Guyana but that we held classes on socialism and the classes are held at different levels, sometimes depending on the level of understanding of the people. They said before we left we should come by more often and that Terri should not have waited so long to come in and see them. Comrade Jo said they were always glad to see us because they wanted to stay in touch with us. They said they wanted a photo of Jim Jones and his wife, also Kim Yooni and family, they also wanted two copies of the people’s Forum every month.
Following one meeting with the North Korean ambassador in Guyana, it was reported back to Jones that
he asked a lot of questions; basically he wanted to know the nationalities of our members, the names of the people who coordinate here and in the United States. E.g.…Leaders proper names, how many Koreans, blacks, whites, Chinese, American Indians? Leaders children’s names here and in the U.S., asked several times about (Jim Jones’ adopted Korean son) Lew, said they would like to see him if he comes into town,” reads to document recovered after the massacre. “He asked for directions to our home offices in Georgetown, said he would like to come. Sharon asked what they found interesting about us? He said they liked our involvement in humanitarian projects, and after reading and making the contact with us, it will make them more knowledgeable as to how we can cooperate and work together with them.
Sharon asked if he found it strange that a group of Americans were in Guyana living cooperatively? He agreed that they did. The Ambassador sent messages to us that he regretted he was not able to spend more time with us today, but he would see us another day. They gave us quite a bit of literature on Korea, and books written by their leader, comrade Kim Il Sung.
In addition, the North Koreans based at the embassy in Georgetown, Guyana traveled the arduous 250 miles through the jungle by private propeller plane, by river, and farm vehicles to reach the isolated Peoples Temple enclave.
In the weeks prior to the mass murder, Jones formally requested a mass exodus of the nearly 1000 members of Peoples Temple seeking political asylum in North Korea, according to Peoples Temple documents recovered at the massacre site. “I had mentioned the possibility of our people moving to the DPRK,” Sharon Amos, a top Jones’ lieutenant and founder of the Guyana-Korea Friendship Society, wrote Jones August 10, 1978 after meeting North Korean officials. “I told them we are concerned about what would happen to the children and the old people if the US put too much pressure on Guyana. [North Korean First Secretary] Comrade Li asked about us giving up US citizenship.”
By then, an increasingly delusional and paranoid Jones was incapacitated by psychosis, growing political and legal pressure from enemies in the United States, and addictions to drugs, including methamphetamine, but simultaneously, his pro-Pyongyang rhetoric escalated until the days immediately prior to the mass murder on November 18, 1978.
North Korea and Jim Jones: Brothers in Isolation
Like North Korea, Jim Jones’ followers in the jungles of Guyana had no means of communication with the outside world. Even if they gathered the courage and resolve to leave, escape was nearly impossible. With no money or food and their passports confiscated, they would have to sneak out of the Peoples Temple enclave which was under constant monitoring by armed guards, traverse through the 250 miles of jungle that separated them from the Guyanese capital at Georgetown, and find their way to the US Embassy.
Jones controlled the only communication with the outside world, a shortwave radio. Like those who live under the control of the North Korean regime, their minds and bodies were completely isolated. Survivors speak of having lost their personal identities and living an existence increasingly based on fear and survival.
Those who opposed Jones were punished and sometimes tortured. Infractions included defying Jones; non-attendance at mandatory meetings; not reporting infractions of other members; not working hard enough; or expressing desire or attempts to leave. In order to survive, people had to keep their thoughts completely to themselves, remain silent, unquestioning, and obedient.
These traits, remarkably similar to the conditions described by defectors from North Korea, are those that cost 909 Peoples Temple members their lives on November 18, 1978 as they drank the cyanide-laced poison fruit drink at gunpoint.
The parallels between North Korea and Jonestown are stark.
As a preacher in Indiana in the 1950’s, Jones had been critical of the United States’ led Korean War sparked by Kim Il Sung’s invasion of South Korea, calling it a “war of liberation” and stating that “the south is a living example of all that socialism in the north has overcome.”
Jones first conceived of creating a “socialist agrarian paradise” at Jonestown in 1970 and began plans to establish the “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project.” Jones, like Kim Il Sung, said of his model communist vision: “I believe we’re the purest communists there are.”
There were numerous other parallels between Peoples Temple and the DPRK, and, equally between Jim Jones’ and Kim Il Sung, their remarkably similar uses of organization of internal control, ideology, religious based tactics as a fundamental political strategy, and the reverence and perceived infallibility of single leader who was viewed as both a God King and a father figure to their followers.
Mandatory hard manual labor and ideological study sessions, emphasized through loudspeakers that were placed throughout the work sites and living areas, often broadcast 24 hours throughout the day and night were shared features at Jonestown and throughout the DPRK. Required mass meetings presided over by Jones focused on criticism and self-criticism, and emphasized the rights of a collective above private property rights or the individual. These political tactics were central to Jones’ vision of achieving a Socialist utopia, and no other nation on earth exemplified–or was as strident in the use of–these means of social organization more than Kim Il Sung’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Equally no nation in the world shared Jonestown and the Temple’s central tenet of promoting itself as a new and unprecedented higher form of social and political organization and its citizens as an extended family with a single, revered leader with supernatural abilities than North Korea. As Jones lectured his followers during one sermon:
What you need to believe in is what you can see … If you see me as your friend, I’ll be your friend. As you see me as your father, I’ll be your father, for those of you that don’t have a father … If you see me as your savior; I’ll be your savior. If you see me as your God, I’ll be your God.
In 1977 Jones wife, Marceline Jones, said that, at age 18, when Jones watched his idol Mao Zedong overthrow the Chinese government, he realized that the way for Marxist revolution in the United States was to mobilize people through religion. “Jim used religion to try to get some people out of the opiate of religion. He slammed the Bible on the table yelling, “I’ve got to destroy this paper idol!” said his wife.
“You’re gonna help yourself, or you’ll get no help! There’s only one hope of glory; that’s within you! Nobody’s gonna come out of the sky! There’s no heaven up there! We’ll have to make heaven down here!” Jones preached to his followers.
Kim Il Sung, the founder of the North Korean state, was the son of a pre-revolutionary Korean Presbyterian preacher and played the organ in his father’s church, where he learned the effectiveness of religious tactics to secure loyalist followers as a means of mass indoctrination.
Jim Jones and his Korean family
One great interest and focus of North Korean agents was that Jones and his wife had adopted three Korean War orphans in the 1950’s: Stephanie, Lew, and Suzanne.
All three have died since.
Stephanie was the first. She was killed in a car crash in 1959 during the Temple’s Indianapolis years. Lew was 21 when he died at Jonestown, alongside his wife Terry and son Chaeoke. Suzanne, who was adopted at the age of six in 1959, had renounced her family and was not in Jonestown. After their defection, Jones referred to Suzanne openly as “my goddamned, no good-for-nothing daughter.” In a signed will dated November 18, 1978, the day of the mass deaths, Marceline Jones directed that the Jones’ funds were to be given to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and specified “I especially request that none of these are allowed to get into the hands of my adopted daughter, Suzanne Jones Cartmell.” Suzanne, who had married and divorced Mike Cartmell before the tragedy, later remarried and had two children before dying of colon cancer in November 2006.
The Jones family had children of other races as well. Agnes Jones, who was a white 11-year-old girl when she was adopted in 1954, died in Jonestown. In June 1959, the couple had their only biological child, Stephan Gandhi Jones. In 1961, Jim and Marceline adopted James Warren Jones, Jr., becoming the first white couple in Indiana to adopt a black child. They couple also adopted another white child, Tim, whose birth mother was a member of Peoples Temple, although the formal date of adoption is unknown. Stephan, Jim Jr. and Tim were in Georgetown on November 18, and all survived.
In the days prior to the mass murder, Jim Jones was nearly incoherent, delusional from weeks of no sleep and hopped up on methamphetamine. On October 21 1978, less than a month before the mass killing, Jim Jones, sitting on a makeshift throne on an elevated podium using a battery-powered loudspeaker system, lectured Peoples Temple members gathered in the dark on the dirt below. In the weeks before the mass murder at Jonestown, audio tapes of Jones’ lectures reveal a man who appeared to be heavily drugged, delusional, and, often, incomprehensible, slurring his words and speaking incoherently.
Much care and much love to you, comrades. I love you with so much deep, deep love. Us– bring us–us to back to the discipline. I’ve been reviewing, I’ve been up all night, and today I’ve been reviewing some new films that we have from North Korea that shows people working voluntarily sixteen hours a day, how happy and joyous they are and disciplined and how beautiful their country is. Building, organizing, has structure. Eight hours for rest, eight hours for study, eight hours for work, no less. And that is reality. You’ll be seeing the film. It’s not that long– it won’t be long before you’ll be seeing this beautiful Technicolor film of the People’s Democratic Republic of North Korea under the great leadership of the communist Kim Il Sung (who) led the brave and victorious battle that won the victory at least for a segment of Korea.”
Wearing dark sunglasses and surrounded by armed guards, Jones stumbled over words and darted to disconnected topics in a soft but ominous voice on the recovered audiotapes.
But North Korea flowers in democracy with free health, free medical care that is, free meals, collectivism… Much love, I love you very, very deeply indeed…And they exalt their leader as a– as a savior, as a God, Kim Il Sung. But that’s necessary, because people who have been conditioned to worship for many, many, many, many generations and centuries, but they– he uses that power, not to corrupt, but to give power to the people. There’re no political prisoners, by the way, in–and freedom of religion still exists in North Korea.
In early November, Jones learned that Rep. Leo Ryan, a Democratic Congressman from California, was planning to come to Jonestown. The Temple leader began preparing his followers for what he perceived as acceptable behavior for Ryan’s visit, however unwelcome it might be. His model, of course, was North Korea.
Jim Jones: “WPK general staff of the Korean Revolution. The Workers Party of Korea, the DEPK– RK, that beautiful, practical, lovely co– country that we saw on our TV station, where all the children eat rice as a staple food, and how healthy they look, and how vigorously happy, enthusiasm on all their faces.
Voices in crowd: That’s right.
Jones: You certainly better be prepared, not sittin’ on our bony– People say, there’s too many meetings. I’m rather tired of hearing about too many meetings, in that we’ve got uh, Democratic Peoples Republic– which I could’ve shown you tonight but I’ll probably show you tomorrow in the language session. And all will be required to attend. Say, “I don’t like these meetings.” Neither do I. But we’ve got to get ourselves in readiness now to meet certain elementary requirements. In the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea, people work automatically 16 hours a day. And you will see their faces shining and beaming and healthy. I know that some of you gruntle [grumble] and– disgruntle and cry over that…That means we got to make this a model. Everything’s got to be up to par. It’s going to take more work than we’re now doing. You understand?
Voices in crowd: (Scattered) That’s right.
Jones: Because they want a model of pure communism. Do you understand what I’m saying?
Jones: They said we are the purest communist model that exists. No monetary system. It does not exist any place in the world. We don’t use money between us. They want that to continue. But they also want productivity to continue, good health and hygiene, good education. So that means a constant input of correction.”
Not only was Jones suffering from psychosis and drug induced delusions and paranoia, his threats to potential dissenters among Peoples Temple members became ominously darker.
The North Koreans have built a socialist society, a socialist society with one of the highest standards of living in the world, in and of itself. Their success then have not been based on magic or good luck or favorable weather conditions, because cloud seeding has been uh, used against them by our tax dollars through the CIA… As developed by President Kim Il Sung, Juche or the Juche, or jussie, j-u-c-h-e concept – someone else can give you a proper pronunciation. The DPRK industrialized its agricultural country in only eight years. Now this is the picture we saw the night before last. The beauty of their organization, where they work sixteen hours. Eight hours of work. Eight hours of study. And then eight hours of rest…There is such unity and solidarity in this country that they do not have one jail in the country inhabited by over fifteen million people… Health care and education are free, with a universal eleven-year compulsory education system for everyone. Comprehensive daycare centers have been established for working women. Recreational centers have been provided throughout the country of the most modern variety like our carnivals and circuses. There are state subsidies on basic foodsubs– foodstuffs, particularly rice. Free clothing is given to schoolchildren and workers. Subsidies mean that the rice cost little or nothing. Large-scale construction of new housing has guaranteed livable housing all for now no rent at all. Now that’s what work brings about. We can free so many people, and if we work now, we can get to a place that doesn’t work that hard, but we must work and our observers– I’m instructing the security to see that the job is done and that every name is put down. Equality and prosperity– and the supervisors will be held responsible, by the way, for any of your workers that are not doing what they should be doing.
We here in Guyana have the duty to help remove it by– for work and produce, we can send out funds to help other systems. We also already have helped the DPRK while we’ve been here, but we’ve got to do more. We’ve got to get our people to freedom. I would think you’d take joy in just working to make funds for Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. I would think that would turn you on. But some it doesn’t…Who in the world is better situated to take up this fight than we, the only socialist movement, as the different guests have said in the last few days, in the United States? If we don’t take it up, who will? We must always work. We know the night’s coming when no man can work. We know nuclear war looks inevitable. We know it looks like almost an absolute…digest what you have for testing tonight in People’s Rally. Thank you for your consideration and time, and I do love you more as I say than you’ll ever know. Good morning. Good evening. Good day.
On November 17, 1978, Ryan’s delegation came to Jonestown to investigate reports of American citizens being held against their will. During his overnight stay, several members passed secret messages begging to be allowed to leave with him the next day. As the delegation and several defectors boarded their plane, they were attacked by Peoples Temple armed guards who killed the Congressman and a number of others.
That night Jones ordered more than 900 Peoples Temple members to drink powdered juice drink laced with cyanide. Babies had cyanide injected into their mouths by syringe. 909 died. Jim Jones was found with a self-administered bullet hole to his temple.
During the murders, Jones spoke from the podium, his voice often low and soft as babies cried in the background:
How very much I have loved you. How very much I have tried to give you a good life. No matter how hard I have tried, a handful of people with their lies have made our lives impossible. There is no way to detach ourselves from what has happened today. Not only are there those that have left and committed the betrayal of the century. You can’t steal people’s children. You can’t take away people’s children without expecting a violent reaction. If we can’t live in peace, then let’s die in peace.
The audience broke into applause. It was the worst mass murder in American history.