SN Yes. [In the film] there's that incredible audiotape when he's giving his own history, where he talks about how his father didn't want to let a black kid in his house. Jim Jones says, "I won't come in either," and he doesn't see his father for years after that.
I don't think it was a hustle at all, I think it was something he truly did believe in. Jim Jones was a very complicated individual. Everybody's complicated — there are no simple people — but Jim Jones was much more complicated than most of us.
MG How hard was it to find folks in Indiana who knew Jones?
SN It was hard. But Lynn [Jones's hometown] was very small, and we were able to find one person who could lead us to others. One thing that's amazing when you do research is that you can go to high schools and grade schools, and they still have yearbooks. You find people's names, use the phone book, and just start calling.
MG Over time, Peoples Temple gets a financial foundation because its members give their property to Jones. He's then able to set up communal living arrangements. But when he's in Indiana, if I'm to understand correctly, he's selling monkeys door to door or something like that.
Was his message about communal living a part of the hustle, or do you think that was also a belief that he genuinely held?
SN I think he genuinely believed it. That component really came out of Ukiah, in Redwood Valley, where they [Peoples Temple] had this farm. People actually did travel with him from Indiana [in 1965], so how were they going to live when they'd sold their houses? They could live communally.
One thing that I found fascinating is that the older people who lived in these communal houses got better treatment than they ever could have gotten from the state or welfare or Social Security, because not only were they housed and fed, they were also loved. All of a sudden they had this family — the old people were revered in Peoples Temple.
MG Would you say those two components — racial integration and property held in common — were the cornerstone of his preaching?
SN I think they were a big part, but it was also more than just racial integration. There was a sense that "we have this power that none of us has as individuals." This was a time when a lot of people were smoking dope and dropping out, but Peoples Temple members were active. They saw themselves as activists; they saw themselves changing the world with the church as a tool.
MG In 1971 Richard Hongisto was elected sheriff of San Francisco, and it was a very liberal campaign. [George] Moscone was elected mayor in ’75, and we know Peoples Temple played a part in that. Hongisto's election was an early sign of growing liberal strength in San Francisco, enough so that you can look at the Moscone victory and not simply say, "Peoples Temple caused this to happen." But there's no question given how close the election was that they played a major role. How do you see their political impact then?