This week we recommend the Longreads exclusive excerpt of journalist Julia Scheeres’s New York Times bestselling investigative work, A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown. In this piece, Scheeres follows the story of Tommy Bogue, a troubled teenager who followed his parents from San Francisco to the ill-fated Jonestown compound founded by Jim Jones deep in the Guyana jungle.
Through a series of interviews, videos and audio recordings, Scheeres traces Bogue’s arrival to Jonestown and his growing sense of distance from the rest of the Peoples Temple as Jones conceived and pitched his concept of “revolutionary suicide,” amid growing unrest in the compound in the face of increased international scrutiny and skepticism.
Here are the words of Jones himself, on the eve of the visit from California Congressman Leo Ryan, whose 1978 visit to the compound set in motion the chain of events which led to the massacre of more than 900 Peoples Temple followers, as well as the murder of Ryan and other members of the congressional inquiry expedition:
Jones: “I don’t know about you, I just wanted to be sure you understood where I’m coming from. I don’t care whether I see Christmas or Thanksgiving, neither one. You don’t either. We’ve been debating about dying ’til, hell, it’s easier to die than talk about it…I worry about what you people think, because you’re wanting—trying to hold onto life, but I’ve been trying to give mine away for a long time, and if that fucker wants to take it—he can have it, but we’ll have a hell of a time going together.”