Jonestown (partially found NBC news footage; 1978)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its disturbing subject matter.


Screenshot from NBC video of Jim Jones being interviewed by Don Harris.

Status: Partially Found

Jim Jones (1931-1978) was an American cult leader/founder of Peoples Temple best remembered for the mass suicide/poisoning that occurred in Jonestown, Guyana on November 18th, 1978. Prior to the incident, Jones was known for his advocacy for the Civil Rights Movement and his church's socialist leanings.[1]

Following numerous investigations for his church's violations of tax evasion and allegations of abuse from former Peoples Temple members in San Francisco, Jones began to leash land from the Guyanese government in 1974 to build his church's agricultural program that would become known as Jonestown and he would officially move there in 1977. By the time of the 1978 Jonestown mass suicide/poisoning had occurred, it had an estimated population of more than 900 people.

Context[edit | edit source]

In November of 1978, United States Congressman Leo Ryan led a fact-finding mission to the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project (better known by the informal name Jonestown), a remote settlement in Guyana established by the American new religious movement, the Peoples Temple. The reason for the visit was to discover the truth about allegations that had been made regarding American citizens being held against their will and abused by group leader Jim Jones. Everything initially seemed to be going well, with a celebratory music concert being held at the settlement's main pavilion for Ryan's benefit. However, Ryan and his entourage began to suspect something was seriously wrong by the odd, seemingly rehearsed behavior of the residents. These suspicions were validated when several Peoples Temple members stepped forward and asked to leave, stating that they were indeed being held against their will in "a communist prison camp."[2] Jones, outraged by what he saw as "betrayals" and sense that Ryan's report when he returned to the United States would spell the end of Peoples Temple, sent some of his most loyal followers to the Port Kaituma airstrip as the Ryan party was leaving to attack everyone there. Ryan and four others were killed.

Back in Jonestown, Jones ordered all of his followers to commit what he called "revolutionary suicide" as a statement to the world. Any who refused to take part would be forced to die. In total, 918 men, women, and children lost their lives on November 18th, 1978. The tragedy was the largest loss of American civilian life in a deliberate act prior to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.[3]

Footage[edit | edit source]

During Ryan's trip to Jonestown, NBC cameraman Bob Brown filmed the proceedings. It is known that Brown used an RCA TK-76 video camera connected to a Sony BVU-50 portable U-Matic video cassette recorder, operated by NBC soundman Steven Sung. The portable version of the U-Matic format only allowed for up to 20 or 30 minutes of recording time per tape. One hour of footage surfaced in 2014, showing scenes of Jonestown as well as others (not filmed by Brown, who had been killed at the airstrip prior) of the military's walk-through of the settlement after the tragedy. However, more footage is known to be in NBC's possession, including the shootings at Port Kaituma and an hour-long interview NBC correspondent Don Harris conducted with Jim Jones on the final day. How much footage in total was shot is unknown, and its whereabouts are a mystery. Pat Lynch, a producer for NBC, has said that she personally reviewed three hours' worth of tape from November 18th alone.[4] NBC acknowledged within a few days of the massacre that it had thirteen hours of video from the entire week of the Ryan visit.

Resurfacing[edit | edit source]

Fielding M. McGehee, research director at Alternative Considerations of Jonestown & Peoples Temple, submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the FBI for the NBC tapes that were turned over to them in the aftermath of the tragedy. However, his efforts only resulted in "no record" responses.[5] NBC has declined to reveal how much Jonestown footage it may still have in its possession, though snippets appear periodically on the internet. Footage from the Port Kaituma shooting was shown in the 1981 documentary The Killing of America, and it later resurfaced from an unknown source some time circa 2013, taken at a low angle allegedly because it had been recorded after cameraman Bob Brown had been injured by a gunshot.[6] The recording itself is incredibly damaged and only lasts seven seconds, but shows one man firing a bolt-action rifle while several other gunmen jump off the back of a truck.

Gallery[edit | edit source]

The currently available NBC archive footage of Jonestown.
Footage taken by Bob Brown (deceased) of the shooting at the Port Kaituma airstrip.

References[edit | edit source]