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.