This week we welcome Acting Captain of the SFO Police Department, and survivor of Jim Jones People’s Temple, Yulanda Williams.
Yulanda has an incredible story that was only touched upon briefly in her appearance in the final regular episode of The Aftermath Season 3 Episode 13 Church and State.
I will post a link here as soon as it’s available:
Yulanda’s parents joined Jim Jones’s People’s Temple when she was young, and she eventually ended up in Guyana, where Jones told his followers he was creating the utopian society. Her story of how her family became involved and her escape prior to the tragedy is riveting. And the parallels between the People’s Temple and scientology are quite obvious. Jones promised he would build a better world and initiated programs to “help” society. He sought out political influence and cover. And on the darker side, Yulanda speaks of the physical abuses and beatings. How Jones was idolized and his followers hung on his every word — in the end listening to him all day long. Family members reporting on one another. Confiscating passports. Prisoners in a hole and torture. Being permitted to read only approved materials. Screening of incoming and outgoing mail and phone calls. Crap food. Breaking up families. And her efforts to warn Congressman Leo Ryan.
Yulanda joined the SFO PD and rose through the ranks. This was primarily the focus of our discussion on The Aftermath that made it to air, and we talk with her about the failings of law enforcement in dealing with cults, the cause of the problems and what should be done about it. She of course has a unique perspective — a cult survivor and an experienced and senior law enforcement official.
What a story she has to tell and what an animated (and often funny) story-teller she is. An incredible woman.
Jim Jones was very conscious of what was happening with The Church of Scientology at the time. Deborah Layton explains this in her book, “Seductive Poison”.
I studied up on TPT and Jonestown in college. This was a horrible event in history, I was eight when I saw this on the news at my grandmother’s home. I cried because I couldn’t believe someone would kill all the babies.
I would like to see more podcasts from survivors of this terrible cult
Taylor T. says
I agree. I wish that someone would please give Capt. William’s and other survivors a forum to share their experiences while they’re still with us. Wether or not they ever went to Jonestown or left the church before. Their stories must be told.
Forgive me. I don’t mean to offend anyone or appear to be racist. But I especially think that it’s 40+ years fast due for the back remaining members to have their opportunity to release what’s in their hearts and minds.
Sadly, the AA members voices have been largely ignored, silenced or forgotten.
With the exception of Capt. Williams and her friend and fellow Uber smart Jonestown survivor Leslie Wagner-Wilson. No other AA survivor has had many offers to speak.
And it would be so amazing to hear from the remaining “Gang of Eight” college students. So, so, sadly Teresa Cobb and Wayne Pietila have both passed away. Which is so crushing. They like the others seemed to be wonderful compassionate people.
Please People’s Temple former members come share your powerful voices with us.
Andrew B. says
This was by far one of my most favorite episodes. Yulanda truly had an uncanny ability to relay her story in detail, while being incredibly humorous when she could, but serious when she needed to be. I’m so glad that she was invited back to the podcast because her story deserved the dedicated time.
I thought Yulanda’s points about why police and law enforcement are not properly equipped to deal with cults and cult mentality were spot on – and summarized in a way I’ve never thought of prior. It’s refreshing to see someone in law enforcement come to the table with a fresh perspective on what needs to be changed; Yulanda not only did her story and those of Jonestown justice, but she also was not afraid to go toe to toe with the current law enforcement officials by calling them out for the moral and ethical failings of the current leadership.
Yulanda’s episode will most definitely be one I listen to again, the dialogue between all three of you is far and beyond an experience that makes me both laugh & cry.
Taylor T. says
Hear, hear. I could listen to Yulanda all day. She is an inspiration. And a glamorous one at that.
This was an amazing episode. As someone who lives in the Bay Area, traces of Jim Jones are everywhere. A friend’s step mother lost her immediate family to it.
I think it is important to continue to drive home how it is rarely “idiots” “falling for” the scam of a cult. Yulanda’s story is extreme, what with her dad’s miraculous recovery and all, but people gain real things from these groups in the beginning. As Leah says, listening to Yulanda’s tales of the early days is enough to make anyone want to join.
And especially with cults like the Peope’s Temple and Scientology, the people who get trapped are often the most energetic, caring people who are heavily motivated to make the world a better place.
I also appreciate the part where Yulanda casts doubt on the mainstream narrative that those who died all did so willingly. The idea that all 900+ souls (or at least the adults) happily drank the Kool-Aid is both somewhat insulting to their memories and also dangerous because it obscures the reality that this was clearly a situation of intense coercive control, peer pressure, economic/practical restructions (being in the middle of the jungle in a foreign country with no passport or money), but also physical control and the threat of violence with armed patrols and the like. Surely, some folks did willingly commit suicide, but just as surely others thought they were submitting to another loyalty test and others knew they and their children were about to be murdered.
The people in these situations on not merely unfortunate kooks. They needed help and they didn’t get it in time.
Jonestown is an extreme, but how people got there isn’t that extreme. People losing money and years of their lives, plus enduring ruptured relationships, seems to be more common, but that stuff is also terrible. How wonderful that Yulanda and her family escaped and she is now in a position to do something to help others and maybe change the law and law enforcement practices so that others can be protected in the future.
Keep doing the work that you are doing, Mike!
Fantastic episode, thank you Mike.
Yulanda tells her story so eloquently and with such charm and humour.
Would love to hear you guys chat to Megan Phelps-Roper.
And Derren Brown, if you can snag him…ohhh my, he’d be incredible.
I was 11 years old when the Jonestown massacre was on the news, all 3 channels (my parents did not get cable). It was a defining moment for me and I became fascinated with cults. My parents did not have the words to answer my questions about cults. I am glad to hear this survivor’s story but it was hard to listen to it without stopping, being furious and sad all over again, resuming the podcast, stopping it again . . .
I read about “Light of the World” – another cult. I read “Helter Skelter” which a sibling left lying around. I was literally frozen with fear one night with the book nearby. I could not move. My mother found me like that and my sibling caught living hell for having that book around.
Years later I lived in Tampa and how could I not be intrigued/revolted by the Cadillac of Cults in Clearwater? I was angry and sad to hear that there was a Tampa org.
Yulanda brings so much memory and emotion flooding back into my mind. My childhood was pretty ideal, honestly, so I have no personal experience to speak of regarding cults beyond my interest. This podcast was very moving to me. Thanks, Yolanda, Leah and Mike!
Is the “Recent Comments” section gone forever? It was useful in seeing replies to comments made.
Mike Rinder says
Sorry — you will find it again now on the home page. Hadnt noticed it was gone in the recent transition to the new Host.
Can’t wait to hear more from Acting Captain of the San Francisco Police Department, Yulanda Williams. Her conversation with Leah and Mike on “Aftermath” was illuminating and intriguing, including I grew interested in the nature of her own cult experience. #FairGamePodcast
I’ll Echo that. Would love to hear her on Fair Game podcast!
I remember your appearance on the Aftermath show and I just want to say that I am very happy that you survived that cult.
I know some people might like to “press” you on why the police and other authorities are not actively trying to put an end to the Scamatology cult. But I understand that is extremely unfair. After all, when I compare what you have done to what many other people (including myself) have done in the struggle to put an end to this cult – and all cults – it is hardly something easy to do – to get rid of this cult.
The people who started it and who currently lead it are expert con people. They have learned through trial and error exactly how to behave so that they can position their business “between the cracks” and thereby escape by subverting our laws and laughing at us while they rake in billions of dollars.
So far, they are winning. But as you well know, this struggle is not over yet. All we need is to find a suitable fat lady (bad juvenile joke, huh?), and get her to sing!
Very happy Mike featured you on this blog and I wish you all the best in your life and hope to see you again when this cult finally bites the dust!
Just a few days ago the TV show “How It Really Happened” with narrator Hill Harper presented the story of “Heaven’s Gate”. I recall this cult from many decades ago, and how 39 people literally committed suicide at the behest of their lead Marshall Applewhite.
Just listening to recordings or Marshall Applewhite was enough to send chills down my spine. His appearance alone, with his wide bugged out eyes creeped me out. Hearing him spew forth his tenets of belief in aliens & spaceships etc…..that man IMHO was truly mentally ill…..yet he was able to con so many into his realm of belief, who willingly became loyalist to his teaching.
These members willingly cut off family members, gave away all their personal possessions & money to follow Marshall Applewhite. They believed according to his teaching that that suicide would allow them to leave their “bodily containers” & enter a space ship trailing the Hale Bopp comet. In essence they would “evolve into aliens”. Marshall Applewhite gave his follower specific instructions on how they were to end their own lives…..enmass….& they did so willingly.
To think that people who were both young & middle age would STAY with & follow Applewhite wherever he led them, some for over 20 years, still believing that they would be “beamed up” to an alien spaceship is incomprehensible.
A few others spoke out in relation to the cult, a few were former members, who thankfully had exited Heaven’s Gate before the mass suicide took place. 19 men & 21 woman voluntarily took their own lives to go….where? It’s all too sad that cults like this exist…Heaven’s Gate supposedly STILL exists, largely on line. It’s all too sad.
I want you to know that I feel your sadness and I want to tell you this fight is not over yet. I have no doubt the day will come when we find some heroic lawmakers who will take the risk and give all these cults a real thorough “thumping” and then throw them in the pen – where they belong.
Hello Skyler…..If ONLY that WERE true. All I can recall is the failed FLDS “adventure”. Those women DEMANDED to be returned to the ONLY life they’ve ever known. Raised to OBEY WITHOUT QUESTION the tenets of their leader….Warren Jeffs…who picked up where his father had left off (after his father’s death) …to “be sweet”…i.e. young ladies to give themselves over to any man…especially him as wife & then mother.
Jeffs, after his father died, “spiritually married” ALL of his father’s former wives & a few minor girls as well. Yet to THIS DAY, his loyalist STILL follow his teaching, which is done from prison.
After that huge fiasco..it seems our Government no longer will insert it’s long pointed nose into ANY religion…separation of church & state.
Thing is Skyler….several decades ago while working with CPS…a young lady of 18 came to us through let’s just call it an underground rescue group. (who shall remain anonymous since they are still in existence)….. She had run away from one of the compounds seeking freedom from oppression & control.
Too long a story to tell here, but, she was set up with a furnished place to live, food, clothing, registered for schooling, & a job given to her so she could support herself.
After about so many months (can’t recall exactly)….she WILLINGLY WENT BACK to the FLDS group.
She missed her siblings….her “mothers”….ALL that she had ever known where she felt SAFE & was use to living that way. We heard through the grapevine that as SOON as she returned….she was “sent elsewhere away from the family group she grew up in” to be punished & reprogrammed.
Within a month or so she was married off to a man in his 40’s or 50’s……& immediately pregnant…..THAT is & was her reality. I often think of what became of her, but it’s a done deal so to speak…HER CHOICE.
As I’ve noted in the past…..YOU CANNOT SAVE SOMEONE WHO DOES NOT WANT TO BE SAVED….for whatever reason…..
Add to it as far as religious belief goes……just WHO will determine what is a CULT & what is NOT a CULT . IF ONLY………..
I can feel the frustration in your mind as you recount that story. But, the thing is, this story and others like it may be the best tool we have to convince people as to the tremendous power of “mind control”. It must be one of the most powerful forces on this planet.
So, we must be smarter than these con people and use their own powers against them. Let us remember to tell this incredible story far and wide in order to convince the world as to the tremendous power of “mind control” and the prison of belief.
That may well be the very best tool we can use in this fight against these bandits. Whatever will happen and however it will happen, I want you to know that I am with you Balletlady. I hope and pray we will witness the end of these scams together – and when I say “we”, I mean everyone who participates in Mike’s blog.
Amen Skyler! Not enough words to say about all the dreams WE have of seeing cults like this disbanded & closed down. Yet deep in our heart of hearts we KNOW that as I said so many times before, “we can’t save someone who does not want to be saved”…..there are those who will remain loyal to their own death. Heaven’s Gate members STILL exist…as was stated in the documentary…on line it seems & secretive elsewhere.
Stay well Skyler, stay safe happy & warm!……..myself, my husband & son are preparing for a big “Nor’easter”…..I HATE massive amounts of snow!!!!!
By ALL means KEEP SMILING……it makes people wonder what you’ve been up to!
@Balletlady and Yulanda & Mike & Christie & everyone else:
God bless you and your families and I hope we all find a way to have a joyful holiday season.
FDLS cult groups should be shut down not to protect their members, but to protect society. Their polygamy causes a society-wide male surplus. That kind of thing causes strife in the Middle East, and may even cause China and/or India to go to war.
George M. White says
Yulanda is an admirable person to have survived Jim Jones. I remember the day it happened. Best of everything to you.