Upon learning of Rep. Leo Ryan’s plans to visit Jonestown in November 1978, Peoples Temple attorney Mark Lane wrote a letter to the Congressman, requesting that he postpone the trip and suggesting that failure to do so might be interpreted as part of a concerted attack against the Temple.
It was a confrontational letter, and four days later, on November 10, Ryan wrote a letter to Lane which responded in kind. After opening with an acknowledgement of Lane’s “offer of assistance,” Ryan declared that he “must respectfully dissent from certain assumptions which were apparent in your letter.”
The most immediate issue was Lane’s demand to be present when Ryan entered Jonestown, and on that score, Ryan intimated that he did not have to consider the lawyer’s wishes. Congressional offices and committees work with the government of the nation which a representative intends to visit (which he did), his own policy is “to deal with the principals in a given situation” (which he did), and the Temple would be represented even without Lane, since “I understand Mr. Jones has other legal counsel available.”
Most directly, Ryan wrote, “In a situation when the [House International Relations] Committee schedule does not coincide with your own personal schedue, I must obviously resolve such a conflict of the United States House of Representatives.”
The letter proceeds to refute Lane’s assertions that the congressional visit might constitute “persecution” or a “witch hunt,” and says Lane’s predicted result of an “embarrassing situation” arising from the visit was out of line. “[It] does not impress me at all. If the comment is intended as a threat, I believe it reveals more than may have been intended.”
Leo Ryan left for Guyana three days after writing this letter.