Jonestown, 30 years later: original audio recordings from People's Temple and Guyana.

The single most comprehensive online public resource for original source material related to Jonestown is Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple, a website sponsored by San Diego State University's Department of Religious Studies. The site includes scanned documents, photographs, first-person testimonies and reflections, and a periodic email newsletter with updates on research, and the whereabouts of those who survived.

The section I've spent the most time in is the Audiotape Project Index, which includes copies of original recordings made by People's Temple members in California and Guyana.

Some of the cassette recordings at the SDSU website were retrieved from Jonestown by the FBI; others are in the possession of the FCC, which monitored radio transmissions from the compound. I'm not clear on the specifics, but it seems many of the original recordings in government possession are lost, missing, or still classified and unavailable to the public. Some ham radio operators once maintained a website documenting their battle to get the FCC to release more shortwave radio recordings from Jonestown, but the website is now offline.

Here is a list of recording transcripts and summaries at the SDSU Jonestown Project website. They include:

* Peoples Temple audiotapes collected by FBI
* Tapes of Peoples Temple radio conversations collected by FCC
* The Miscellaneous Audiotapes link includes tapes donated from private individuals and collections.

Three examples of the recordings in this collection:

* FBI #Q 042, "The Death Tape", made in Jonestown on 18 November 1978, during the mass deaths. Warning: the audio is very disturbing. You can hear children dying. Here is the audio at
* FBI #Q594: In this tape recorded 5 days before the mass deaths, Jones and followers fantasize how they will torture and kill People's Temple defectors.
* FBI #Q174: music and entertainment performed by Peoples Temple members in October, 1978. An announcer speaks: "And now, ladies and gentlemen. We're glad to have you here in Jonestown, Guyana. Sit back and enjoy yourself. We have a brief program. Presenting to you, the Jonestown Express."

The Jonestown Institute website is maintained by Elizabeth Parker, and archivist-historians Fielding McGehee III, and Dr. Rebecca Moore, an SDSU professor of religious studies. Together, they have played an instrumental role in preserving and digitally archiving many important historical documents related to People's Temple at SDSU, and with the California Historical Society. The SDSU site introduction expresses hope that visitors "will come away with an understanding that the story of Jonestown did not start or end on 18 November 1978. Dr. Moore has a personal connection to the tragedy: her two sisters died there. Annie Moore was Jim Jones' nurse, and Carolyn Moore Layton was his lover and lieutenant.


* The fact that so many Jonestown-related source materials went missing or remained classified for years has fed much speculation, and many conspiracy theories. This Feral House book includes an interesting essay by Jim Hougan which explores some of the wackier theories, and some of the possible links between Jonestown and various military/government activities involving the US or Guyana.

* Snip from a 1998 CNN item about how the lack of access to documents and audio recordings has fueld rumors of CIA involvement:

Some people believe CIA agents were posing as members of the Peoples Temple cult to gather information; others suggest the agency was conducting a mind-control experiment. In 1980, the House Select Committee on Intelligence determined that the CIA had no advance knowledge of the mass murder-suicide. The year before, the House Foreign Affairs Committee had concluded that cult leader Jim Jones "suffered extreme paranoia."

The committee — now known as international relations — released a 782-page report, but kept more than 5,000 other pages secret. Without those documents, it's hard to confirm or refute the speculations that have sprung up around Jonestown, said Melton, who planned to be in Washington Wednesday to ask for the documents' release.

George Berdes, chief consultant to the committee at the time of the investigation, told the San Francisco Chronicle the papers were classified to assure sources' confidentiality, but he thinks it is time to declassify them.

* Loren Coleman has a post up on his Copycat Effect blog about connections between the Jonestown deaths and the murders of then San Francisco political figures Harvey Milk and George Moscone. For some time before the extent of his insanity and destructive activity were known, Jones and his church — in which most members were black, while most leaders were white — received expressions of support from left/liberal politicians including Milk and Moscone, and black power activists like Angela Davis and Huey Newton.

Boing Boing posts on Jim Jones, Jonestown and People's Temple:

Jonestown, 30 years Later: Inside People's Temple, the 1977 exposé.
Jonestown, 30 years later: original audio recordings from People's Temple and Guyana.
Jonestown, 30 years later: Life and Death of People's Temple (PBS video).
Jonestown, 30 years later: interview with a survivor (video)
Jonestown, 30 years later: From Silver Lake To Suicide
Jonestown, 30 years later: "Father Cares," NPR documentary from 1981
Raven: The Untold Story of The Reverend Jim Jones and His People
Andrew Brandou on his Jonestown paintings