Monday, May 12, 2008

The Jim Jones ‘death tape’

Be warned: this is the grimmest thing I’ve ever posted on this blog. But I must do it because it’s an extraordinary audio artifact... a stunning piece of history.

Six months from now will be the 30th anniversary of the Jonestown Massacre – the mass suicide (and murder) of more than 900 members of the Jim Jones cult in Guyana, South America.

The Jonestown tragedy added an ironically playful phrase – “drink the Kool-Aid” – to our American vernacular.

Perhaps we all should remember the horrible source of that phrase.

James Warren Jones founded an interracial church in Indiana in the 1950s... a church soon dedicated to his vision of utopian socialism. Jones called it the Peoples Temple.

The church moved to California in 1965. It grew in prominence during the 1970s in San Francisco, where the Peoples Temple attracted many poor black followers.

In 1977, Jim Jones encouraged his disciples to move with him to “Jonestown,” a settlement built in the jungles of Guyana.

U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan, an outspoken critic of religious cults, traveled to Jonestown to investigate claims of human-rights abuses there.

A small group of Peoples Temple defectors asked to be taken back to America, and they left Jonestown with Congressman Ryan.

But at an airstrip, Jim Jones’s armed guards opened fire on the congressman’s group, killing Leo Ryan and several others. At the same time, Jim Jones was urging his loyal followers to commit an act of “revolutionary suicide” and to “take the potion” – a mixture of grape drink and cyanide.

The FBI later recovered audiotapes that Jim Jones recorded while orchestrating the mass suicide.

A 42-minute package of these recordings is for sale online – under the title “The Jonestown Death Tapes” – at iTunes, eMusic and Amazon. A free version (slightly longer) is downloadable from the Internet Archive, where it can also be streamed.

I’m streaming a 15½-minute edit on my Vox blog.

You will not hear people dying. It’s more extraordinary than that. You’ll hear Jones running the ultimate mind-control game on his believers.

After making his case for mass suicide, Jim Jones yields the floor for “any dissenting opinion.” That is when a black woman, 60-year-old Christine Miller (pictured left), calmly and courageously argues for life.

“Not that I’m afraid to die, by no means,” she says. “But I look at our babies, and I think they deserve to live.”

The back-and-forth between Jim Jones and Christine Miller is bone-chilling and heartbreaking.

Eventually Christine was shouted down by other temple members. You’ll hear several of them speak in favor of Jones’s plan. They sound grateful to give up their lives at his command.

On the full version, grown black folks lovingly refer to Jim Jones – this psychotic white man – as “father” and “dad.”

I end my edit at the point where the poison is starting to be consumed.

Click here to listen... if you think you can handle it.


odocoileus said...

Just what I needed to get my Monday off to a good start.

As awful as it is, it's important to remember.

Kellybelle said...

I know I can't listen, but thanks for the write up on this. There was a good Made-for-TV movie about Jonestown that had Madge Sinclair, James Earl Jones, Rosalind Cash, and LeVar Burton in it. I remember being suprised that there'd been so many Blacks in his church.

Wanda said...

well, good morning to you to david.

those recordings are very creepy. i've never heard the debate between jones/his believer, but what i have heard is truly dark and scary.

earlier this year or late last year the history channel had a 2 hour documentary on Jim Jones and his church. they interviewed members who left and survivors who lived to tell about the last day of the cult.

You should try to check it out.

Francisco said...

Thanks UBM. Sad and Creepy, but we should NOT overlook these events at all. Thanks for posting the free version as well.

Danielle said...

I've watched several documentaries on the History Channel and PBS covering this topic. Horrifying. What is so fascinating is human frailty and vulnerability.

All the folks that were People's Temple members wanted to feel like they were a part of something.

They wanted to feel like a community and Jones preyed on that very human need to belong.

dj said...

Ever have tears well up for things that you are so far removed from and nothing that you can change?

I am more detached in my own life and surroundings,but just the mere thought about "all the lonely people" causes a great sadness and weight for me.

From folks like these to (I think) a vast majority of people in the race supremacy sects,some that I have spoken at length with.

Just looking to fit in somewhere and feel loved,regardless of if it is real.

"All the lonely people,where do they all belong?"

Michael Fisher said...

I ain't gonna listen, but let me tell you. It is exactly this type of mind-control bs that is pumped into the heads of our youth and the populace at large via the airwaves, schools, and the very language that we use that props up our notions of humanity, race, and superiority/inferiority.

And this shyt is so powerful that rational, logical, thinking just does no break through without tremendous emotional resistance.

Mostly people rather die than to abandon irrational self-defeating beliefs.

And that is the very thing that makes the System of White Supremacy work.

It's basically a just a plain ole' mind-fuck.

Undercover Black Man said...

^ Too bad you won't check it out, Michael. On the full-length tapes, as the poisonings begin, Jim Jones gives these extra words of encouragement:

"Are we black, proud and socialist? What are we?"

Michael Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
New Black Woman said...

I do remember seeing footage of some of Jim Jones and his followers' gatherings and noting that a lot of his disciples were black, poor or some other form of minority.

I think it's telling how quickly people became spellbound by Jim Jones' preachings.

I wonder how many other Christine Millers were there, but were afraid to speak out due to the fear of being scolded.

Michael Fisher said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Matt Norwood said...


I, too, always assumed that "drink the kool-aid" traced its etymology to Jonestown. But I read something a few months back that spurred me to check that assumption, and I wound up convincing myself that it was probably originally a reference to Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters' "electric kool-aid acid test": those who were willing to "drink the kool-aid" (laced with LSD) were hip, but those who refused were squares and not part of the club.

There appears to be an edit war going on on the Kool-Aid wikipedia page over this question. I think the evidence is inconclusive, as is common with slang etymology. It doesn't appear to have emerged as a figure of speech until the 80s, at which point it may have caught on because it resonated with memories of both Kesey (as popularized in Tom Wolfe's book) and Jonestown. The first association is obviously much less ominous than the second, but they both have the same general implication of committing to an extreme shared experience as a way of signaling membership in a group.

A second question, and one that would make a great topic for a research paper, would be to check out whether Jim Jones was at all influenced in his choice of chemical-delivery system by exposure to the Merry Pranksters. Any historians out there want to track this down?

Undercover Black Man said...

White people, and Germans in particular, just don't think and above all act on their thinking the way black folks do.

Jawohl, Michael. The Germans are famous for their resistance to mass mind control. (What?)

Michael Fisher said...

"The Germans are famous for their resistance to mass mind control."

Don't believe the hype, David. National Socialism was not about mind control. It was a very rational approach to white nationalism. It was also the most popular movement Germany has ever seen. The average German was very well aware of the thought process behind National Socialism and supported it to the hilt.

Once the Germans stipulated that there were such human groups as biological races and posited themselves as the race above all races, the Germans, in typical thoroughness, followed the logic of that to the bitter and final conclusion.

tAnYeTTa said...

It's late/early and I'm afraid to click on the link. The house is quiet. I'm the only one up. I am afraid that I'll have nightmares.

I'll take your word for it and NOT click on it.

I never knew what the 'drink the koolaid' meant or where it came from. I just learned something new!

John B. said...

An interesting aspect of this whole story is that at one point the People's Temple was going to pull up stakes and defect to the Soviet Union!

NPR did an audio documentary about Jonestown many, many years ago featuring these recordings. The Soviet ambassador to Guyana can be heard hailing People's Temple and its dedication to the socialist cause!

Absolutely mind-bending!

Bklyn6 said...

I like that Ms. Miller spoke out: "When we destroy ourselves, we're defeated.... We all have a right to our destiny as individuals." Why look for pie in the sky? Why not make the most of the here and now? (But, I'm just a heathen. What do I know?) Yet, Jones insists that they "die with dignity" because soon they "would have no choice. Now we have a choice."

He talks about how "they took us in chains...and robbed us of our land...." If anything, he enslaved their minds and robbed them of autonomy. (Where's an insurrection when you need one?)

Everytime someone spoke in favor of Jones, it seemed like a dream to me; his flock really seemed to think that he was their saviour or something. They really believed his crazy talk.

Anyways, thanks for posting this UBM! I'm really glad I listened.

btw, thanks for clearing this up:
"Are we black, proud and socialist? What are we?" I couldn't make out the word before "What are we?"

tAnYeTTa said...

This was HORRIBLE to hear. Especially the lady in the background cussing out Christine Miller.

The most heartwrenching part was hearing the babies cry. Then someone said they're not crying from pain, they're crying from the bitter taste.

This is HORRIBLE!!! And yes, if you haven't guessed by now, I've been living under a rock. This is my first time hearing of any of this.

Thank you for bringing this to the masses. I need to go and hug my babies real hard and tight.

p.s. the koolaid part is heartbreaking. i will NEVER use that phrase. I won't even buy it. I'm so done right now.

Anonymous said...

I was 16 living in Guyana when this stuff happened. My father was the "top cop" investigating the tragedy. I remember listening to this tape at home and not really feeling it. It's so creepy now.

There was a Jonestown family living in Georgetown at the time, a woman and 4 children - I think they were Jones' but I don't remember clearly - and she didn't have access to the Kool Aid. I think she stabbed them to death then killed herself. That somehow affected me more at the time.

Thanks (?) for the memories.

Undercover Black Man said...

This was HORRIBLE to hear. Especially the lady in the background cussing out Christine Miller.

I know, right? I wondered two things:

1) Christine sounds like she's got good sense. So what was she doing there in the first place?

2) The curse-out lady sounds like such a knucklehead... how did Jim Jones ever get her under his thumb?

Love your babies, Tanyetta.

Undercover Black Man said...

What is so fascinating is human frailty and vulnerability.

Danielle, that is so frightening to realize. Our personalities are fragile. Our sense of self is fragile. And our free will is fragile.

Undercover Black Man said...

There was a good Made-for-TV movie about Jonestown...

Kellybelle: That's the first time I ever saw Powers Boothe, who played Jim Jones. I've been a big fan of his ever since.

Undercover Black Man said...

earlier this year or late last year the history channel had a 2 hour documentary on Jim Jones and his church.

Thanks, Wanda. Now that my interest is rekindled in this whole thing, I'll look for this.

With the 30th anniversary coming up in November, I'm sure there's be all sorts of stuff on TV...

Sam said...

How fucking Iago is that?

truthToPower said...

Yeah it's easy to be led. But when someone can lead you to take your own life that is insanity. But that's what happens when you blindly follow. I hope I can impart free and critical thinking to my children because I swear people will try to get you to do anything

truthToPower said...

That audio really made me sick to my stomach....

It's proves some Freudian theories though. That under the surface we are all very irrational and once you unleash that .. what lies beneath the surface you see human beings doing some incredibly violent dangerous things.

I mean think about all those pictures of black men being lynched with crowds of people around watching with the children.

Think about how germans were able to slaughter or stand by and let the slaughter happen during the nazi era

Think about the carnage in Rwanda

I think the actions taken in jonestown fall right in line with these other horrific events dealing with groups of people