Cult Massacre: One Day in Jonestown (2024) s01e01 Episode Script

The Promised Land

[cheering and applause]
Thank you, thank you. Wonderful.
People see me as
a representative of the I Am,
as Jehovah-Jireh,
some people see a great deal
of God in my body.
They see Christ in me, a hope of glory.
[Stephan Jones]
My dad, he was a fiery speaker.
We are going to have to unite
against a common enemy!
[Stephan Jones]
Incredible voice
and a wonderful message
[inaudible dialogue]
that spoke to almost anyone.
[helicopter blades whirring]
[Peoples Temple member]
Hundreds of us here
are so extremely happy,
but I just must say this,
I can't help but say,
that none of this would've been possible
had it not been for Jim Jones.
[ominous music playing]
[inaudible dialogue]
-[helicopter blades whirring]
-[indistinct radio chatter]
[Charles Krause]
We flew in by helicopter
and from the air
it just looked like confetti
but each one of those pieces
of confetti was the shirt
or dress of a dead person.
[Thom Bogue]
Jones would talk about
it would be like the shot
heard around the world.
And there'll be a record of it.
And it'll never be forgotten.
[symphonic theme music playing]
[inaudible dialogue]
[music continues]
[inaudible dialogue]
[inaudible dialogue]
[music continues]
[inaudible dialogue]
[inaudible dialogue]
[music continues]
[inaudible dialogue]
[Yulanda Williams]
This was a time in America
where people were imagining
what society could be.
We had the Black Panthers movement.
[all chanting indistinctly]
We also experienced the Hare Krishnas
New Churches, of course.
But most interesting to me
was Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple.
[reporter] Reverend Jones,
how do you account
for such an avid following
as you seem to have?
I'm principled and dedicated to my people
and they are also committed
to the Christian ethic,
the Judeo-Christian ethic of service.
We've just kind of grown up together.
[Williams] It was a church
that did good works in the community
-Thank you, bless you.
-[crowd cheering]
with a very charismatic preacher.
Now will each of you
give a very fond embrace to your neighbor.
[Stephan Jones]
Folks have really not done a good job
of showing what was
attractive about my father.
I'm not here to protect his memory at all
but, so, what you see
in the media about my father,
one who didn't experience
the Temple can't help
but think why would
anybody follow that guy?
There must've been something wrong
with these people from the start.
[indistinct singing]
Dad was dynamic at times.
In the middle of a service,
he would, out of nowhere
jump off the stage,
wrap an African-American
woman up in his arms
and just love her up and kiss her
and my heart would melt.
[inaudible dialogue]
The people who joined it,
I adored many people in the Temple.
Some of the very, very best people
I've ever known.
First time that I got there,
I was greeted by
a rainbow coalition of people,
and this was the first time
I had been in an atmosphere
where it's one church,
multiracial and multigenerational as well.
And then, when I heard Jim Jones,
he spoke about how much he respected
the Civil Rights Movement
and how important it was that we continued
to live out
Dr. Martin Luther King's dream.
[inaudible singing]
So, for me, it was excitement.
-[crowd cheering]
-[inaudible dialogue]
[Grace Stoen] I was a member
of the Peoples Temple
for six years
and I thought I had
a great purpose in my life.
I would do anything for Jim Jones,
in the beginning anyway.
But over time, Jim started
behaving strangely.
One night, I went to
a meeting after a service.
We were told not to fall
asleep and I wanna say
it was like three o'clock in the morning.
I remember, I did fall asleep.
I had a gun on my forehead
by Jim Jones and he goes,
"I love you very much
but don't fall asleep
'cause I will kill you."
[Bogue] Jim Jones,
he spoke about the issues
that people cared about during that time.
You have to understand, this
was a time of great upheaval.
The Vietnam War had just ended.
We had protests going on
racial divide in our country,
and a lot of tension between people.
Jim Jones became friends with these
political people of the day
that were being brought into
the church to talk before us.
People like Angela Davis
Harvey Milk
And little did they know after they left,
Jim Jones twisted and represented
what they said to show us
how evil society was becoming.
The poverty that is reeking
at our very doors in every city.
[Bogue] So, we would need to
go somewhere and develop our own society,
you know, where we could
build a place where everybody was equal.
-[helicopter blades whirring]
-[indistinct radio chatter]
My first experience was fantastic.
This is like Mowgli in Jungle Book
to see, oh, you know, look at these
beautiful wild birds and macaws, parrots,
that you rarely got to see in real life
and how abundant the wildlife was.
It seemed like everybody was just happy
and untethered to the world around us.
I really like it here and it's fun
and I really don't wanna go to sleep
because it's so fun here and,
and there's so much to do.
[inaudible dialogue]
They were bringing in electricity
building beautiful homes
where we wouldn't have to pay rent,
all the food we needed,
our medical would all be taken care of.
It was something
that was absolutely amazing.
We were safe and secure.
The great Utopia, the better life
helping each other
as one, big, happy family.
[kids chattering]
[Peoples Temple member]
We're building equipment
and doing things to set up a little town,
an actual community
or a country of our own
where we can live the way we like to live
with our own lifestyle
not to be interfered with people
from the outside world.
I'd left the Peoples Temple,
but I still had loved ones
that had moved to Jonestown.
I started hearing that people
were being badly mistreated.
People were there against their will
and what people that were there were told
and what they were involved in
were quite different,
making their lives a complete misery.
Myself and other relatives
approached Congressman Leo Ryan.
And many people there
were his constituents
and he agreed to help us.
[dramatic music playing]
Me with other relatives, journalists,
a TV news crew
and Congressman Ryan with his aide
met a JFK Airport.
May I check your sticker there?
[Jackie Speier]
I was quite anxious about the trip.
Of course my mom said,
"No, you, you shouldn't go."
You know, this was 1978,
there were not many women
as senior staff members
in Congress at the time.
And I thought, if I didn't go,
this would set women back
in our, um, efforts to be treated equally
and so that was the reason why I went.
We had a duty to protect
the American citizens who were there,
constituents of Congressman Ryan.
I was 31 years old in 1978.
I had worked for The Washington Post
at that point for about six years.
So I got a call from the editor telling me
that there's some Americans
living in the jungle in Guyana,
the congressman is going down there,
and he said, "Yeah,
it's becoming a big story."
And they wanted me to go with him.
In my mind, it might've been
a style story that is a,
you know, a kind of feature
about these Americans
who had left the United States,
uh, to live in, in,
in a very remote part of the world.
[Tim Reiterman]
I'd been covering this story
for, you know, for months and months
and written a number of stories
about Peoples Temple.
One man said he escaped from Jonestown.
People describe it as, as a work camp,
a real hellish experience
and there was one really
important hole in my reporting
and that is that I hadn't
been to Jonestown.
I honestly thought
the worst thing would happen
would be I would be barred
from entering Jonestown
because I was an enemy of the church
and they wouldn't let me in.
[inaudible dialogue]
The concerned relatives
that went, you know,
of course, we were grateful
that Congressman Ryan,
uh, was willing to step in
to help us to see our loved ones.
But at the same time,
I knew it was very dangerous.
I warned Congressman Ryan,
he said, "Grace,
why do you keep saying this?"
and I said, "You know,
I wasn't there for six years
and not realized what
this person's capable of."
I felt that at least I was
going in with that knowledge
and I wanted everybody else
to go in with that knowledge.
I remember reminding
everybody one more time,
I said, "I just want everybody
to know there's a possibility
that you could lose your life."
And I remember a crew member from NBC,
telling me to shut up
and I said, "Okay, I'm done.
I've, I've warned you people once, twice."
I said, "I'm done."
[Krause] I was hearing from
the concerned relatives'
stories that seemed really quite amazing,
people were being tortured,
people were being starved,
and, you know, that it was a kind of
gulag in, in, in the jungle.
And that could be true, I suppose,
but it sounded almost as if
it sounded like they were
exaggerating quite a bit.
It just didn't seem possible
that it could be that bad.
We got to Georgetown, Guyana,
and it was a very tense situation
because we did not have
an invitation from Jim Jones
to travel to Jonestown.
So when we arrived,
we immediately got a message
from the Peoples Temple
saying, "Stay away."
[Leo Ryan] The petition
was handed to us this morning,
which obviously says,
uh, "Yankees, go home."
And, uh, that's the present,
somewhat hostile attitude
of the, uh, Peoples Temple.
I'm doing everything I can at this point
to give Jones every possible opportunity
while we are here to address
any one or all of us, beginning with me.
I'm trying to find out what the facts are.
I intend to keep pushing
as long as I'm here.
[Jim Jones speaking]
One evening in Jonestown,
Jim Jones had called
everybody to the pavilion
and he made an announcement
that Congressman Ryan was coming down.
[Jim Jones speaking]
He prophesied
that Ryan would never make it to Jonestown
because he saw his plane
falling out of the sky like a bird.
[indistinct chatter]
[Speier] We had been stuck in
Georgetown now for three days.
And we negotiated
with Jim Jones' attorneys
trying to finally get
an invitation to go there.
So when we arrived in Georgetown,
for the first three days,
there were no planes.
After three days, Congressman Ryan
approached the concerned relatives.
He told us that the plane was available,
that there were a certain amount of seats
and that so many were taken
for the news crew.
"There's this many seats
and you need to decide
among you, you know, who's gonna go."
-Could I?
-I don't know.
I'm not in charge of anything
but I certainly
[Stoen] Well, people started
arguing for these seats
and I just stepped back and I said,
"I'm not gonna fight over a seat."
And Congressman Ryan said,
"You know, Grace, let us go in,
"we'll open up the doors
and then, you know, there can be,
you know, another chance,
maybe, for people to go in."
I wanted to be able to see my son,
I just wanted to be able to visit him.
And hopefully, get him back.
[ominous music playing]
We were going to be flying
into Port Kaituma airstrip,
a very tiny town, you know,
not very far from Jonestown.
When we approached Port Kaituma,
the pilot said they got a report
and it came from Peoples Temple, actually,
that the airstrip was unserviceable.
They tried to get us not to land.
The pilot circled, however,
and decided it was safe enough to land.
Local officials there said
Peoples Temple had not
given us permission to enter.
I'm Congressman Ryan.
I'm from the United States government
and we're here to inquire into the, uh,
health and the welfare of
American citizens who are here.
I will have to get instructions.
-[Ryan] From?
-From my chief inspector.
Before any permission
can be granted by me.
But I'm just carrying out duties.
-[Ryan] Good.
-That I will continue to do.
Sure, I, I, I have no intentions of
hurting or stopping
or anything like that and I,
I want to do it with a great
respect for your government
and for the rules of your country.
Finally, they brought a truck for us.
It took us an hour to go about
three miles in this truck.
It was so muddy, it couldn't go very fast.
Very remote.
It's just hard to explain
how remote Jonestown was.
The whole situation was very weird,
I mean, there we were
in the middle of the jungle,
in the middle of nowhere
having no idea what to expect.
[children singing indistinctly]
We finally got to Jonestown.
Some of the members took us on a tour.
[indistinct chatter]
That tour was, um impressive.
A childcare center, a medical clinic.
They had carved out a life there.
You couldn't not be impressed.
But there was no sign of Jim Jones.
[upbeat music playing]
[indistinct singing]
Later that evening
well, they put on a show in the pavilion
and there was dinner
and people were singing and dancing.
-[singing continues]
-[music continues]
-[slow romantic music playing]
-[singing continues]
At the end of the performance,
they asked Congressman Ryan
to come up to the stage,
which he did.
I'm very glad to be here,
this is a congressional inquiry.
I think that all you know
that I'm here to find out
more about, uh, questions
that have been raised
about your operation here.
Well, I can tell you right now that
from the few conversations I have had
with some of the folks here
already this evening that, uh,
whatever the comments are,
there are some people here
who believe that this is the best thing
that ever happened to them
in their whole life.
-[crowd cheering]
-[mouths] Yeah.
[cheering continues]
[cheering continues]
[[inaudible dialogue]]
[cheering continues]
[inaudible dialogue]
[cheering continues]
[inaudible dialogue]
These people were sitting there
and they were clapping.
It was, you know, the beginning
of a feeling that I had,
that, "Well, this place
is not quite as, you know
There's, there--
Something's going on here."
We had the performance,
the congressman had finished his speech.
Suddenly there he was,
Jim Jones was seated
at the end of the table.
[Reiterman] When I first
introduced myself to him,
he said, "I've read many of your stories.
"You don't have to shoot me,
you know, your words
have that kind of effect."
That he didn't like what I had written.
[inaudible dialogue]
[Krause] Journalists started
asking questions and Jones,
he wasn't making sense.
He would start to answer a question
and then all of a sudden,
he would start saying,
"They're trying to hurt us
and they're doing this
and they're doing that"
and, you know, and,
"Why is all this happening?"
And then he would kinda wind his way back
to whatever the question was, sort of,
and it really
was disturbing, I mean, it
He, he, he clearly was not someone who was
coherent, uh, half the time.
Jim Jones didn't appear to be
the same sort of charismatic leader
that he was in the United States.
His eyes, you know,
even with his dark glasses
I could see, were sort of like,
they had a gelatinous cast
to them like he wasn't well,
you know, he was exhibiting,
you know, really sort of paranoid feelings
about his many enemies.
He said the ex-members
were out to destroy him.
It made me feel as though
not only the 900 people who lived there,
but those of us who were visiting
Jonestown and reporting in Jonestown
were also in his hands.
[Speier] The first thing
I noticed, he dyed his hair.
He was sweating, agitated.
After the performance was over,
Don Harris, the NBC reporter, was
walking around the,
the edge of the pavilion
and two members of the Peoples Temple
had independently slipped him notes.
So he came up to us
at the end of the evening
and hands us these two notes
and my heart sunk
because then it was confirmation
that people were being
held there against their will.
[inaudible singing]
We all played our role.
We were all happy,
you know, clapping our hands,
excited that a congressman
would come and see us
as we were instructed to do,
and we did very well at it,
and that includes me.
I remember smiling and clapping too
but inside not really caring
one bit of what was going on.
Then I saw this one lady
pass a note to a reporter
up in the cottage area
and I knew that wasn't a good thing,
only because we really
weren't supposed to have
any direct contact with them on our own.
So I went and told my dad what I had seen.
And he knew what that meant also,
that actually it meant
there were gonna be problems.
So he went and told me to tell
my mother and my sisters
and everybody that, you know,
we need to get together
because we were gonna leave
one way or the other.
[Krause] Jones did not want
us to sleep in Jonestown
and so, the journalists,
we went back to Port Kaituma
the little town nearby,
in what was a kind of open-air nightclub.
Later that night, the sheriff told us
that there had been incidents
where people from Jonestown
had tried to escape
but had been, sort of,
apprehended and taken back.
So the pieces began,
some things began to come together
that were disturbing to say the least.
[eerie music playing]
[Reiterman] We were waiting
for the truck to arrive
for our second, second day's visit.
Don Harris knew that
some Peoples Temple members
wanted to leave.
We didn't know how many.
We were apprehensive
going back into Jonestown.
[Steve Sung]
I was a sound man for NBC News.
Don Harris was anxious to get back,
he wanted to confront Jim Jones.
He wanted to investigate,
is that true that you're holding them
without, uh, free will?
We're gonna go ask him about the note.
[Don Harris] That leaves
only one thing to be explored,
and that's this question of--
There's a lot to be explored.
[Harris] Well, for, for us,
the thing of fear.
This is a good example.
Last night, someone came
and passed me this note.
Well, now you see
what we're talking about,
he wants to leave his son here.
If Jonestown's such a bad place,
why does he want to leave his son here?
Doesn't it concern you at all that
this man, for whatever reason,
one of the people in your group--
People play games, friend.
They lie, they lie.
What can I do about liars?
Are you people gonna leave us?
I just beg you, please leave us.
We'll We will bother nobody,
anybody wants to get out of here
can get out of here,
we have no problem
about getting out of here.
They come and go all the time.
I don't know what kinda game,
people like, who people like publicity,
some people do, I don't,
but some people like publicity
but if it's so damn bad,
why is he leaving his son here?
Can you give me a good reason for that?
[Harris] I'll ask him.
I'd take my son, I'd take my son with me.
When he told Jim Jones
that some people wanted to leave,
that was particularly tense
and, and confrontational.
Jones was one of these people
who would try to counter every argument
with something, you know.
"Well, what about this? What about that?"
[inaudible dialogue]
That really, sort of, was,
set off the, um,
rest of the-- what happened.
[inaudible dialogue]
[Tim Carter] I'd been in
the Temple about six years.
When I was watching Jim Jones' interview
with Don Harris,
I was not thinking that six hours later
everybody would be dead.
But when he handed him
the note something changed.
He felt trapped.
[inaudible dialogue]
I guess that he felt betrayed.
He took every person leaving
as a personal betrayal.
I saw Jones getting angrier
and angrier and angrier.
Literally saw his jaws just clench
and his face turn red.
And then a storm came up
from literally out of nowhere.
The sky turned black, the wind came up
and there was just an absolute
torrential downpour.
You could barely see
five feet in front of you,
it was raining so hard.
What I felt, um
I felt evil itself flow into Jonestown,
that's what it was a cold chill.
The coming down, it's coming down.
Whatever's gonna happen,
this is the beginning of it.
People absolutely
were not free to leave.
[inaudible dialogue]
Dad was a fearful man, he created fear.
He was constantly managing
his own insecurities
and there were many.
I believe Dad's entire
opinion of himself,
the only esteem he had
was in his perception
of other people's perception of him.
And so that meant the attention
always had to be on Dad.
For Dad, the temple
didn't exist beyond him.
The world didn't exist beyond him.
It's the ultimate addiction,
I think, adulation.
[inaudible dialogue]
People wanted to leave Jonestown.
So there was this desperation.
And I was thinking about
all that we had to do
to, to leave safely.
I said, "Come with me
and I'm going to take an oral affidavit
and we will get you out of here."
They were actually being fairly quiet.
They just wanted to leave.
What is her name?
Okay, well, get them.
I've got them!
Okay. We're gonna get them all, okay?
I need, I'm gonna need
an oral affidavit from you all, okay?
[indistinct chatter]
Right. Now, I'm coming right back.
I'm going to get an oral affidavit
from both of you.
Now do I both understand you
to say that you both
want to leave Jonestown,
On this day, November 18th, 1978?
And my name is Jackie Speier
and I'm an attorney
on the staff of Congressman Leo Ryan,
U.S. government.
And what is your wish today?
To go back, to go back home.
And where is home?
The U.S.
Alright, then.
[Speier] They were scared.
They had done something
incredibly bold and courageous.
As I went to one of the cabins
to retrieve one of the defectors,
you know, there was a man who looked like
he could be a guard
standing at the doorway,
trying to prevent the member
to get her belongings and to leave.
We were able to do that.
We went back to the pavilion.
And then word spread,
and then more and more people
wanted to leave.
You bring those kids back here!
You You bring 'em back!
Don't you take my kids!
[indistinct chatter]
And there was a couple there,
one wanted to leave,
the other wanted to stay
and they have the child between them,
and they were pulling
on this child's arms.
The atmosphere got incredibly tense.
As I was interviewing
those that wanted to leave,
Jim Jones was hovering nearby
and he was basically saying to them,
"Come on, you know you've got
a good life here, you wanna stay.
"I can't believe for a moment
that you're gonna be leaving me,
you're my whole world."
Words that were intimidating to them
and he was trying to be intimidating.
But I was focused on providing
what little protection I could at the time
but making it clear that we were
gonna take them out of there.
So the number of people leaving
just grew throughout the day.
And I asked Leo Ryan,
"How many are going?"
And he said, "More than a dozen.
They're coming out of the woodwork."
It ended up being 15.
[Speier] We recognized that we didn't have
enough seats on the plane,
so we then ordered a second plane
and Congressman Ryan then decided
he was gonna stay behind
because there were more people
that wanted to leave
than we had seats on the plane,
so he would assist
with the second airlift out.
We're starting to travel
and then all of a sudden
there's this noise erupting.
This roar that came up
from the pavilion area
and Don Harris jumped off the truck.
[Speier] And out walks Congressman Ryan
in a now blood-stained shirt.
Someone had attempted to knife him.
One of the Peoples Temple members
grabbed him and pressed a knife
to his throat and said,
"I'm gonna kill you."
[Krause] Someone else
had grabbed that person
and the knife, instead of
going into the congressman,
ended up stabbing the guy
who tried to kill him,
so it was his blood,
it was the assassin's blood
that was on his shirt.
[Krause] It was clear we
really had to get out of there
as quickly as possible.
It did signal that there was more going on
than, than maybe, maybe I realized.
This was a very, very traumatic moment.
And the fact that somebody had tried
to kill the congressman
was just the prelude to
what was really gonna happen.
[dramatic closing theme music playing]
[music continues]
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