Jonestown is a subject that has grown to be something I spend much of my free time researching. Starting with listening to Q 042 “The Death Tape,” the audiotapes recovered from Jonestown quickly became my main focus on personal research into Jonestown. About a year or so ago I decided I was going to listen to all the tapes recovered by the FBI from Jonestown in chronological order. While sometimes emotionally exhausting, the tapes are fascinating because they give such insight into that last year in Jonestown.
After going through all the tapes, Q 170 was one that always stayed fresh in my mind. When I first saw the label “Jones announces defection of Teri Buford,” I was expecting an hour-long threatening and paranoid speech by Jim Jones. Instead this tape includes only a few minutes of Jones claiming to have had a heart attack from the defection, promising to kill enemies, and warning the Jonestown population to not speculate on who the “traitor” is. After 2min:37sec], Jones stops speaking, and the Jerry Butler album Suite for the Single Girl begins and plays almost in its entirety.
This tape stood out to me for two reasons: First, it is an excellent example of tapes being recorded over, and containing out-of-place edits. That in my opinion cast doubts on conspiracy theories revolving around Q 042. Second, listening to the rest of the tape waiting to hear if more audio from Jones was recorded, I found myself really enjoying the music. Picturing members of Peoples Temple listening to this music made me start to wonder about good times in Jonestown, and if there were any.
While researching for positive times at Jonestown, I found mixed accounts of it being called a paradise and others calling it a prison. It’s easy to see it as a prison with Jones’ paranoia, verbal/physical abuse, and hard working conditions. The accounts of positivity that I could find reflected a sense of camaraderie members had, and the belief they were on the path to make real change in the world. With the 40th anniversary of this tragedy coming this year, I feel that the positivity members had among each other at times is very important to remember, that these were everyday people, who truly wanted to make a change in the world. It was just manipulated into something completely different.
(Ian Kehoe may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)