Peoples Temple responses to Concerned Relatives Accusation

Throughout the spring of 1978, shortly after the Concerned Relatives issued its Accusation of Human Rights Violations, Peoples Temple launched a series of attacks against its critics and warnings directed at those who would interfere with the Jonestown community.

Press Release of April 18, 1978

On April 18, one week after the Accusation was published, Peoples Temple issued a press release of a transcribed statement of defiance by Harriet Sarah Tropp. The original statement was read during a press conference during which Temple leaders in Jonestown – led by Tropp – answered questions from reporters gathered in the offices of Temple attorney Charles Garry. The statement some time in describing the beauty of Jonestown, but opens – and focuses – on the “self-styled group of ‘Concerned Relatives’ [that] have now threatened publicly to hire mercenaries … to capture relatives in the Peoples Temple community.”

The final section of the press release asserts Jonestown’s position that “It is  not our intention to die,” but it reiterates earlier pledges that members will “resist this harassment and persecution even if it means death” and describes the community’s willingness to die as “the ultimate commitment.” The statement ends, “We make no apologies for it.”

Press Release of April 18, 1978, RYMUR 89-4286-I-1, pp. 230-234
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Open Statement by Members of Peoples Temple, May 10, 1978

On May 10, Peoples Temple issued two more substantive attacks on the Concerned Relatives. The first was in the form of an “open statement” released to the press which described the Concerned Relatives organization as “only the latest ploy… [in] a series of elaborate charades that only imperfectly masks a politically motivated conspiracy.” The statement details a “host of schemes … and ‘dirty trick’ methods of Cointelpro” which the group has used against the Temple, including sabotage, lies, attempts to cut off pensions, and attempted kidnappings. “It is all documented fact,” the statement emphasizes.

The statement refutes the Accusation’s charges against Jim Jones and mounts a counterattack against the relatives. After describing Jonestown in glowing terms, it adds that the critics cannot comprehend the principles and beliefs that would convince a group of sincere believers that they could find a better life elsewhere. “They are unable to understand the ultimate commitment of people to a cause that transcends their own personal self-interests.”

Open Statement by Members of Peoples Temple, May 10, 1978, RYMUR 89-4286-I-1, pp. 239-242; also, California Historical Society, MS 3800, Box 77, Folder 1208
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Fact sheet on Jonestown, May 10, 1978

The second document dated May 10, 1978 included additional characterizations of the Concerned Relatives organization as “an elaborate hoax,” “a right-wing McCarthy-like attack,” and a “lunatic outfit,” but it spent more space describing the programs that the oppositional organization would destroy. The two-page flyer also reprints a number of glowing comments which visitors to Jonestown – principally Guyanese government officials – have written in its guestbook.

Fact sheet on Jonestown, May 10, 1978, California Historical Society, MS 3800, Box 77, Folder 1208
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U.S. Government Refutes Charges Against Peoples Temple, May 12, 1978

Two days later, on May 12, Peoples Temple released a press statement promoting “an official State Department report [which] officially refuted the charges” raised in the Concerned Relatives Accusation. The report was based on on-site visits made by Embassy personnel who “periodically visit” Jonestown. The three-page press release is preceded by a “Dear Friends” cover letter.

U.S. Government Refutes Charges Against Peoples Temple, May 12, 1978, RYMUR 89-4286-I-1, pp. 146-149
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Last modified on November 6th, 2017.
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