Chapter 11 – “The Vise”
This chapter (pp. 273-315) from A Sympathetic History of Jonestown by Rebecca Moore (Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 1985) examines external factors brought to bear on Jonestown from August 1977 to November 1978. The PDF of the chapter appears here.
The U.S. government pressured them. They were pushed and
We are not paranoid; we simply have found no other logical
Imagine being strangers in a strange land. As immigrants, Jonestown settlers were in Guyana at the pleasure of a foreign government. The church’s friendship with the country’s ruling political party was fragile, but necessary, if it were to be left in peace.
Imagine a place you can’t get to by car. There are only three ways into Guyana’s Northwest District: airplane, riverboat, or on foot, if you walk overland twenty miles from the Venezuelan border. From the airstrips at Port Kaituma and Matthews Ridge, or the boat landing at Kaituma, it’s a bumping, spine-jolting ride via four-wheel drive vehicle.
Imagine no telephone, no daily newspapers, no television or radio. Like the Guyanese in the area, the people of Jonestown relied on shortwave radio and the mail, once or twice a week, for their news.
Imagine a place with nowhere to shop. There were no department stores or large suppliers of goods in the Northwest District. Boats brought necessities from the United States or Trinidad or, perhaps, Georgetown.
The church’s main source of regular income was the checks the two hundred or so Social Security recipients donated. With the monthly income of $37,000 from these checks, and the donations and gifts the church had accumulated before the migration to Guyana, the community of 1000 people fed itself, bought medical and school supplies, purchased heavy farm equipment, lumber, agricultural products and livestock. In short, Jonestown supported itself at more than a minimum level of survival. And it planned to expand.
If one can imagine this kind of lifestyle, then it shouldn’t be hard to imagine what the community might feel when its checks were held up, its supplies delayed, its radio contact threatened, its relationship with the government disrupted, and its leader fighting an arrest warrant.
These were the very pressures Jonestown, and Jim, experienced. Congressman Leo Ryan’s visit was the culmination, not the beginning, of the threats to Jonestown’s existence.
John noticed a defensiveness in Jonestown during his visit. He and Barbara saw that the leaders talked only with each other. They fed their own fears because there was no outside or independent viewpoint. Jim filtered the news the community received. It was primarily negative, focusing on wars, natural disasters, and political events. He reported a border clash between China and the Soviet Union as a major war. Downbeat political films, like State of Siege, heightened the community’s fears.
Adverse publicity, about Peoples Temple and Guyana, seemed to offer proof that a plot against the group existed. A letter from Carolyn indicates the connections leaders made between news and economic developments.
The New West article intensified the pressure. Carolyn wrote in August 1977:
Ironically, Temple leaders stumbled onto part of the truth. Negative publicity had been well-organized. In September 1977, The Berkeley Barb revealed that private investigator Joe Mazor had hired one of the largest public relations firms in San Francisco “to coordinate a publicity campaign against the Temple and its minister, Reverend Jim Jones.” The article continued:
The news story said that Tim Stoen had attempted to arrange a payment to ex-members Marvin and Jackie Swinney in exchange for the couple’s consent to a property transfer. The Swinneys made tapes of Tim, according to the article, which they later turned over to San Francisco Deputy District Attorney Robert Graham. No indictments ever followed, however.
Another indication that publicity had been well planned comes from U.S. Customs Service documents. One comment, appearing in a September 21, 1977 report, says, “On July 18, 1977, a series of adverse newspaper, magazine, radio and television exposés were begun on JONES’ operation of the Church.” An earlier report notes:
During that same summer, Mazor called the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown and charged that twenty children were being held illegally in Jonestown. On September 6, the Embassy “reports further contact with investigator Mazor re custody of children.” The Guyana Embassy in Washington, D.C. received similar calls from Mazor. Someone claiming to be the Attorney General of the United States also called the Embassy and reported that Peoples Temple had abducted 20 children. The Embassy notified Guyana Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Wills.
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Mazor’s work against Peoples Temple, which included speaking on radio talk shows, had attracted attention. He was a lone, private citizen, however. This made his actions seem less threatening than those of the U.S. government. The Federal Communications Commission, the Social Security Administration and the U.S. Customs Service investigations greatly affected Jonestown by creating deep, and real, concern.
The Temple learned of the Customs Service investigation on September 29, 1977. A Miami freight handler told church member Jim Randolph that a Customs search occurred August 29. In October, Temple attorney Charles Garry asked Customs why the cargo had been searched. Customs replied that such examinations of exports were routine, but that “in any event, any information which might have prompted an examination would be of the type which would be exempt from disclosure to your clients.”
An affidavit made by Jim Randolph contradicts this. Randolph asked the freight forwarder for SOPAC Transport Corporation if a search were standard procedure. “He replied that it is not.” The customs agents, who were not from Miami, wore civilian clothes and had Customs Agents’ identification.
By that time the Customs Service had had Peoples Temple under surveillance for ten months. An unnamed agent first made contact with Peoples Temple ex-members in February 1977. On February 24, the agent met with a dozen defectors who charged that the church was arming itself. Customs forwarded the report of that meeting to the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the FBI, the Secret Service, the State Department, and the California Department of Justice, “as well as various state and local law enforcement agencies.” Surveillance revealed “no indication of illegal activity.” Similarly, the shipment identified in August was “examined in Miami with negative results.”
U.S. Customs reports show a close scrutiny of Peoples Temple. On February 17, a Customs agent “surveilled the TEMPLE’S location in Redwood Valley and saw guards and watchdogs on patrol … According to the Mendocino Sheriff’s Office, the guards at night are armed.” On March 25, Customs forwarded four items to the San Francisco crime Lab of the Postal Inspection Service for fingerprinting. On April 21, Customs contacted the Organized Crime Intelligence Division and the Criminal Conspiracy Section of the Los Angeles Police Department, “with negative results.” An August 3 report observes:
The surveillance continued into 1978. “Local enforcement activities relative to JONES’ activities are being monitored,” although at that point, Customs had closed the case. Lookouts posted in Houston since August reported on January 30 that nothing indicated “that either Jones or his associates have attempted to utilize Houston area ports for their venture.” On April 20, 1978, the Miami District Customs office said it had been trying to locate the Temple’s boat “CUDJOE” for a year.
The Customs Service failed to turn up any contraband or signs of smuggling, despite a year-long investigation. When House Foreign Affairs Committee staff interviewed the “Reporting Agent” after the suicides, he told them:
Nevertheless, the staff concluded that “investigators apparently felt enough residual suspicion” to send their findings to Interpol and to the State Department. Interpol, the international police organization, shared the report with the Guyana police, which, in turn shared it with some Temple members in Guyana, including Carolyn. The report which Carolyn read found:
The “Interpol Report” came directly from an August 26, 1977 Customs Service report. That document came directly from interviews with ex-members. As a result, the report contains a few inaccuracies and a great many innuendos.
The amount of acreage at Jonestown, as well as its location, are wrong. The agreement between Peoples Temple and Guyana not to search cargo – if there were one – ended in the summer or fall of 1977, according to the U.S. Embassy, when “Guyanese authorities began to pay greater attention to Peoples Temple activities.” The trawler belonging to the Temple was required to stop at Port Mabaruma for customs and immigration inspections. It is not clear why the Customs agent persisted in using the colonial spelling “Guiana,” nor why he referred to “British Guiana” later in the report.
The Customs document notes connections with the Black Panthers and Black Muslims. Other Customs papers go further, and allege that Jim donated $10,000 to the Muslims; and that “[deleted] acts as legal advisor to the Black Panthers.”
The U.S. Customs Service circulated the report widely. The agent distributing it said the State Department never acknowledged receiving it. The Guyana police did, though.
The Commissioner of Police in Georgetown wrote to Interpol at the U.S. Department of Justice on January 31, 1978. He observed that the police had made “no progress along the lines indicated and that the [Guyana] Customs Police investigations had not brought to light any evidence to support the allegation of firearms or foreign currency.” He concluded by saying, “surveillance will be maintained.”
The Customs report outraged Carolyn. In December 1977, she wrote us that she’d read it.
Church members didn’t know how to handle the charges. They had little idea of the extent to which they circulated throughout the U.S. government. When Terri Buford forwarded the report to Charles Garry, she asked, “Do you suggest writing INTERPOL, or is that just a waste of time? Perhaps we should write our congressman?”
Peoples Temple viewed the Guyana customs searches as needless delays. They were more concerned about the possibility that their relationship with the country’s ruling party, the People’s National Congress was disintegrating. Critical articles had been forwarded to government officials. The Stoen custody case, pursued in part by the U.S. Embassy, made the project look bad, as did anonymous calls and threats to the Guyana Embassy in the United States.
A number of new and ominous developments occurred in the latter days of August 1977. Several hostile visitors came from different parts of the Guyana government to see Jonestown. A visit from the U.S. Consul, who asked to see Caroline Looman and John Stoen, also increased the group’s concern. This was the first time the Embassy made inquiries about relatives. Then the Temple learned that the Stoens’ lawyer was in Georgetown, bragging to Harriett Tropp and Paula Adams that a Guyanese Minister of State gave encouragement to him on the Stoen case. A day or two later, the attorney Jeff Haas arrived at the project with a Guyana marshal.
With three of their closest allies in the Guyana government out of the country, church leaders grew hysterical. The absence of Deputy Prime Minister Ptolemy Reid, Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Wills and Minister of Home Affairs Vibert Mingo, coupled with Jeff Haas’ visit and the issuance of an arrest warrant against Jim, convinced the group there was real danger. “It was conceivable to us that a coup had indeed taken place in the absence of Reid and the other officials,” Carolyn wrote in a “To Whom It May Concern” statement.
Jim’s comments a month or two after the crisis emphasized the fear everyone felt. “We saw the CIA practically overthrow this country or a conspiracy practically undo it,” he said in the voice of a preacher.
After Haas’ first trip to Jonestown, Peoples Temple issued a press release claiming there had been an assassination attempt on Jim Jones. When Embassy officials reminded Temple leaders that Jim was supposedly not in the area, they “hastily backtracked.” But later that month they began spreading the word that the CIA tried to assassinate Jim.
What really happened is not entirely clear. According to a secondhand report, Jim’s son Jimmy said his father staged the shooting himself, and Jimmy almost got caught in the crossfire. Joe Mazor said he was in Guyana at the time as part of an armed expedition, which encountered another armed group in the jungle outside Jonestown. Mazor said the other group consisted of either Venezuelan bandits or “ultra-leftist Guyanese intent on harassing the colony.”
Peoples Temple believed it was under attack. The group thought the Guyana Defense Force was on the perimeter of the outpost, armed and ready to strike. They had seen GDF aircraft fly overhead. Men, women and children armed themselves with cutlasses, boards, knives, and the few guns they had. Carolyn’s statement explains the community’s reaction.
The radio communication between Jonestown and San Francisco was frantic. Jim tried to reach the Guyanese officials who were in the U.S. at the time. Charles Garry’s office set up phone patches with Angela Davis, Huey Newton and Dennis Banks. Angela advised Jim to stay cool and work things out in the Guyana courts. Jim sounded shrill and hysterical.
Many people have said the group threatened suicide. Debbie Blakey said Jim told Terri Buford and her to contact the Guyanese officials in the U.S. with a suicide warning, although she does not say she actually did so. U.S. Embassy Consul Richard McCoy says Patricia Parks, a defector who was killed at the Port Kaituma airstrip November 18, told government officials in Guyana that they were prepared to die. Charles Garry says Jim called him and said they were ready to commit suicide if authorities took John Victor Stoen away.
Jim’s analysis of the events later shed a different light upon them. The suicide threat was absent. Instead, Jim spoke with authority, and calm, about defending themselves.
When the people of Jonestown said they “were prepared to die,” we assumed they meant they would die fighting. Jim’s statement confirmed this. The people would resist any attempt to take Jim or John Victor. Carolyn explained why.
There were never any Guyana Defense Force troops at or near Jonestown until November 19, 1978, according to the editor of The Guyana Chronicle. Relations with the Guyana police were cordial. The Guyanese never filed any complaints against the group.
Things calmed down once Reid, Wills and Mingo returned and after Haas left the country. Charles Garry flew to Guyana in November 1977 to visit the project and talk with Jim. He came back saying he’d been to “paradise.”
The negative publicity sponsored by Mazor and ex-members encouraged relatives to make inquiries about family members in Jonestown. In addition, the Social Security Administration (SSA) asked the Embassy in Georgetown to interview several SSA beneficiaries. As a result, “the Embassy initiated a policy (not customary in normal consular practice) of scheduling periodic visits by consular officers in Jonestown to follow up on these inquiries,” said the House Committee report. Between August 1977 and May 1978, Consul McCoy interviewed a total of 75 Jonestown residents on three separate occasions. Although the community knew of his visits in advance, he did meet with people out of the hearing of other residents. No one accepted his offer of escort back to the Embassy and passage to the united States. In fact, McCoy told us,
After the suicides, ex-members claimed McCoy was blackmailed into silence by an illicit relationship with someone in Peoples Temple. A survivor questioned by the FBI said McCoy was “targeted” for Carolyn or Paula Adams. Either would have made an unlikely candidate, since Paula was already having an affair with Guyanese Ambassador Laurence Mann, and Carolyn was Jim’s mistress. McCoy reacted to the rumor by saying, “I’ve been around enough to know whether or not I’m being seduced. And if I was being seduced, it was a very bizarre method. The only time there might have been a question was when they gave me a bottle of liquor in the office.”
Peoples Temple viewed the periodic inspections as intrusion and harassment from the U.S. government and the Concerned Relatives. They believed they were invasions of privacy. The group did not trust McCoy, either, although it got along with him. Carolyn told John and Barbara during their visit to Jonestown that he worked for the CIA. Earlier she wrote:
A former member of an Air Force counterintelligence team, McCoy says he once made a joke to Carolyn and some others about being a CIA agent. “So what if I were the CIA chief here, what’s so bad about that?” he asked them, before he realized they would not appreciate the humor.
While McCoy ridiculed Peoples Temple’s paranoia, he also indicated to us that the U.S. Embassy, or the U.S. government, was watching the group in Guyana. “We knew where the money was going,” he told us. “We knew it was going to the Soviet Union and to Cuba, and not just for humanitarian purposes.” He also said the Embassy knew of the group’s visits to the Soviet Embassy in Guyana, adding that “there’s no law against an American citizen going to a Soviet or Cuban Embassy.”
McCoy’s visits to Jonestown – August 30, 1977; January 11, 1978; and May 10, 1978 – gave him an opportunity to see the development of the project, and get a sense of the people living there. “Anyone who says it was a concentration camp is just being silly,” he told us. “For the old people, and people coming from the ghetto, it was relatively better.”
As late as November 7, 1978, other Embassy officials echoed McCoy’s sentiments. Foreign Service Officer Dennis Reece wrote:
Earlier in his report, Reece wrote that his general impressions were:
The members appeared to be in good health, mentally alert with due exception being made for advanced ages of some members. The members seemed generally happy to be at Jonestown and absorbed in their various jobs such as metal working or teaching.
Relatives and critics charge that Jonestown residents were coached on what to say before the visits. They probably were. A tape recording made shortly before the visit from Soviet officials reveals an interesting, and often hilarious, coaching session between Jim and individuals in a community meeting.
The Embassy knew of the Concerned Relatives’ allegation of corporal punishment, but “the allegations were not corroborated” by the official visits. McCoy wanted to spend an entire week at the project to probe beneath surface appearances of well-being, but U.S. Ambassador John Burke vetoed the idea. McCoy confided to us that he also wanted to recruit spies within the organization, to inform the Embassy of Temple activities. “But of course,” he admitted, “that would have been illegal.”
Suspicions at the Embassy finally prompted Ambassador Burke to cable the State Department requesting permission to urge the Government of Guyana to “exercise effective jurisdiction” over Jonestown. In other words, Burke wanted the U.S. government to allow him to suggest action to a foreign government. His telegram followed an aborted police raid on Jonestown, “just to see what was there,” according to McCoy. The Guyana government reportedly stopped the raid, although individuals in Guyana deny a raid was ever imminent. The police never went in because “no one ever complained,” said Skip Roberts. “No one told us they were being beaten or tortured.”
The State Department turned down Burke’s request, saying that:
Jonestown really was too far away in miles and terrain for any government to oversee internal activities, although officials visited almost weekly. A few pages from the Jonestown guestbook, published in the House Committee report, show a constant flow of outsiders into the project. People from neighboring areas, as well as visitors from the capital and from the U.S. all traveled the muddy road cut through the heart of the jungle.
The major link the community had with the outside world was the shortwave radio. Peoples Temple radio conversations ranged from the subjects of continuing education and licensing for R.N.’s an x-ray machine and electric sterilizer, to red T-shirts, beehives, training cassettes about farm animals, and tractor parts. Often the content was more political, with drafts of press releases or public statements communicated from one continent to the other. The group’s public “Response” to the Concerned Relatives’ “Accusation,” for example, was dictated from Guyana over the radio.
Because the amateur radio service is a public medium, anyone could listen in to Peoples Temple radio transmissions. And just about everybody did, including the Federal Communications Commission.
Acting on a tip from a San Francisco ham radio operator, the FCC’s San Francisco office began monitoring Temple radio communications in April 1977. The office began taping conversations that same month. The next month, W.E. Ours, Chief of the FCC’S Enforcement Division, asked the San Francisco office to “continue daily coverage.” The agency cabled GuyTelCo, Guyana’s communications company, with the call letters of a Temple member operating in Guyana. And shortly thereafter, the FCC sent notice of agency rule violations to two licensed amateurs in the U.S. associated with the Temple.
Throughout the next year, the FCC monitored Temple radio activity closely. By November 1978, the commission had logged between forty and sixty hours of conversation. After November 18, it turned over 25 cassettes and four reels of tape to a federal grand jury. In the meantime, it had assessed fines against Temple operators, and sent further notices of rules violations in March, April, May and October 1978.
The FCC cited Temple licensee Ben Bowers with using a code, operating out of the authorized frequency, and failing to give his call letters at ten minute intervals. Additionally, the agency charged Bowers with conducting business communications. Over a year later, the FCC warned another Temple amateur, Elton Adams, against carrying on business traffic, that is, “any transmission or communication the purpose of which is to facilitate the regular business or commercial affairs of any party.”
Peoples Temple felt the violations were minor, and justified. Although it did not solicit funds or attempt to defraud anyone, it did go out-of-band for private conversations, it did fail to give the call letters with required regularity, it did allow unlicensed people to use the radio, and it did use codes for transmissions. The people in Jonestown, Georgetown and San Francisco believed the importance of their work mitigated these infractions. They wrote to the FCC in May 1978:
Peoples Temple saw FCC interference as a threat to its existence. A letter from a lawyer in Washington, D.C. to one of the Temple’s attorneys made the threat explicit. James M. Weitzman of Stambler and Shrinsky wrote on November 6, 1978, that:
Although business communications troubled the FCC, one engineer noted that, “We haven’t found anything wrong other than the business-type traffic … It’s the out of- band bit we need to hang them.”
Transcripts of conversations between FCC engineers show that their investigation aimed at “hanging” Peoples Temple. For example, on September 9, 1977, one engineer remarked that he “want [ed] to get a good tape about their talk of a conspiracy.” And again on September 23, one noted “more talk about conspiracy and terrorists.” On September 15, the FCC recorded a conversation between Maria Katsaris and her father. On September 19, the intercept caught a Temple reference to a favorable article appearing in the Communist weekly People’s World. At the end of the two-page transcript, an engineer added that Temple callers had changed bands by a few kilohertz.
Negative publicity particularly stirred interest at the FCC. San Francisco Engineer in Charge Serge Marti-Volkoff reported August 25, 1977, that:
Marti-Volkoff told our private investigator John Hanrahan that those activities included “gun-running, narcotics and moving funds out of the country illegally.” He said his information came from the Intelligence Division of the San Francisco Police Department. It sounds, however, very much like the U.S. Customs Service report. Marti-Volkoff added that he had seen no documents substantiating the “nefarious activities.”
Case data about Peoples Temple included everything the FCC could get its hands on. One engineer overheard a television talk show.
The FCC was interested in a lot of things, considering the fact that it was limiting its inquiry to violations of the amateur radio service. Conversations about Rosalynn Carter’s trip to Venezuela, Jim’s meeting with Jimmy Carter, the erroneous data that the Black Muslims owned the Peoples Temple San Francisco headquarters, as well as transcripts of personal conversations and press releases clog the FCC case file.
FCC communications dated April 29, 1978, show a typical conversation about Peoples Temple.
Other conversations took on a more vindictive tone.
The monitoring engineers couldn’t understand how Peoples Temple stayed on the air. One commented, “high powers in D.C. friendly with this group.”
We especially tried to track down a somewhat cryptic message dated September 11, 1977.
J. Jerry Freeman, the Engineer-in-Charge at the FCC’s Norfolk, Virginia station, explained to John Hanrahan that he had received a call from a duty clerk at the FBI. The clerk forwarded a complaint made by a ham operator because the ham had been unable to reach Freeman. The engineer wrote a letter to John, saying:
Freeman’s explanation satisfied us about that particular message. But in trying to unravel its meaning, we found something else. John Hanrahan called Norman Blumenthal in the FCC General Counsel’s office, to ask him about the FBI. John reported:
We heard about the FBI from another source at the FCC. When Hanrahan read through thousands of pages of documents at the Private Radio Bureau, he asked staff attorney James McGrath about listening to the FCC’s tapes of Temple communications. McGrath said, “The FBI would have the same tapes.” Pursuing this, Hanrahan
Hanrahan believed McGrath made an honest mistake.
Beginning in the fall of 1977 and continuing throughout 1978, numerous U.S. hams complained to the FCC about Peoples Temple. One of the earliest complaints – a letter forwarded from Senator Barry Goldwater’s office – observed that the group might be involved “in either a membership brainwashing campaign or perhaps revolutionary activity.” In addition to providing the first reports about Peoples Temple radio traffic, ham radio operators continued to feed the FCC information. A May 16, 1978 FCC cable remarked:
It is clear from the complaints that the hams knew exactly who, and what, they were monitoring. On October 12, 1978, the amateur who initially contacted Senator Goldwater informed the FCC that:
The Concerned Relatives also listened to Temple radio communications. Tim Stoen called the FCC in the fall of 1977 and “complained of violations of FCC regulations by the Temple’s radio station,” according to a State Department report on its performance. The FCC advised Tim to make a written statement, but “heard nothing more from Stoen.” However, Tim later used intelligence from international shortwave communications in the lawsuits he filed against Peoples Temple. An amended complaint in Steven Katsaris’ suit, for example, cites information obtained from radio transmissions on September 20, 1977, and April 11 and May 1, 1978.
The FCC notes the large number of complaints it had received in a response to one writer in April 1978. The FCC added, though, that it had “been unsuccessful in establishing probative evidence of recent alleged wrongdoing.” This was in spite of daily coverage. Another letter, from the Chief of the Field Operations Bureau to the surgeon who assisted Larry Schacht performing a Caesarean section, observed that, “I am not aware of any reason why emergency medical traffic for which no remuneration is received should not be permitted between U.S. amateurs and [Peoples Temple radio in Guyana].”
The FCC drew a clear distinction between emergency traffic and regular business traffic. It was the latter which the FCC used to “hang” Peoples Temple. In April 1978, a year after the agency had first begun to intercept the church’s radio communications, the Commission clarified its guidelines on phone patches and on third-party business communications. The clarification made no distinction between profit-making and charitable organizations: a commercial message was a commercial message, regardless of who made it.
That August, the Commission made its position on Peoples Temple explicit when it advised Elton Adams that:
The letter concluded with the threat that if business transmissions continued, “enforcement sanctions such as monetary forfeiture, or, if necessary, revocation and/or cease and desist proceedings” could result.
The FCC’s warning came on top of a new communications problem. The Maritime Mobile Net refused to carry phone patches for Peoples Temple, saying the FCC had told it Temple calls were illegal. One of the group’s lawyers complained to the FCC, but the agency denied the charge, and added that it had no control over the communications network. Maritime Mobile Net could refuse service to anyone. This meant that Peoples Temple calls had to be routed through the San Francisco office. Direct calls were no longer possible.
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Concern about the community’s financial security equaled concern over the ability to communicate. In 1977 and 1978, two government agencies threatened that security.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) district office in San Francisco asked postal officials in the summer of 1977 to alert it immediately of any address changes marked Guyana. The Postal Service went a step further and, according to a USPS routing slip, ordered all U.S. Treasury checks destined for Guyana returned to Treasury. It wasn’t until the late Congressman Phillip Burton (D-Calif.) wrote several times, and included the Postal Service note, that SSA finally solved the problem in December. Normally all SSA and SSI (Social Security Insurance) checks are forwarded, and the Treasury Department notified.
In the spring of 1978, more checks were misrouted. Letters poured forth from Peoples Temple, and SSA quickly solved that problem as well.
The SSA interim report detailing its action on Peoples Temple revealed that the San Francisco office “went to extraordinary lengths to ensure Social Security Administration was notified when a member who was entitled to social security benefits moved abroad. This action proved very effective.” When members who had been entitled to SSI benefits left the U.S., Social Security moved to stop the payments. Later, SSA discovered that in all but ten cases, SSI payments stopped in August or September 1977. No SSI payments had been mailed outside the United States; nor should they have been.
Another threat to the Temple’s financial security came from the Internal Revenue Service. On February 21, 1978, the IRS informed the Temple it was conducting an examination “to determine if it receives income from any activity which may be subject to income tax.” The IRS District Director asked for organizational documents, financial statements, payroll tax returns, and copies of licenses and permits to operate commercial activities.
Temple leaders and their lawyers considered this more harassment, and decided to challenge the examination at every step. The lawyer on the case, Marshall Bentzman,
Bentzman met with a representative of the IRS in April and learned from him that “publicity gave rise to our inquiry about the church.” Nevertheless, Bentzman felt confident that the IRS couldn’t prove the Temple earned more than 25 per cent of its income from unrelated business activity, the crux, he felt, of the inquiry. An April 29 report by a Temple member said that Bentzman “feels what they are after is to determine our political activity.” He also suggested asking Congressman Burton to look into why IRS was conducting its examination. The attorney and Temple leaders believed an informer had talked to the IRS, and that the agency had little solid information.
Even before the IRS letter arrived, individual Peoples Temple members had written asking if they were being audited. The IRS responded that it was not auditing any individuals. An undated, unsigned “UPDATE ON CURRENT HARASSMENT BY INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE” noted that more than 80 Temple members had been called in for audits during the Viet Nam war. The Update also claimed that “this latest move is undoubtedly organized, as the notice of it came on the same day [original italics] that an attempt was made to serve papers (both here and in the U.S.) on Jim.”
In 1977, Temple members also wrote to IRS to object to intimidation they experienced. Richard Tropp wrote in March to the Treasury Department’s District Director about David Conn. Conn had told Dennis Banks that the Treasury Department was investigating Peoples Temple. Conn “is reportedly ‘out to get’ us,” wrote Tropp, who added: “We wanted to bring this matter directly and immediately to your attention. We consider this a form of harassment.”
Probably describing the same incident, Temple leader Mike Prokes wrote a month later that:
The IRS replied that it was not conducting an investigation of Peoples Temple.
When the National Enquirer began nosing around in June 1978, Peoples Temple again saw the long arm of the Concerned Relatives. A reporter called John and Barbara in August. A few days later, Tim Stoen called John. He wanted
Gordon Lindsay, “a very nasty reporter of English vintage,” according to Barbara, talked to John for an hour,
John wrote that Lindsay
Gordon Lindsay referred to Jim Jones’ “concubines” in his conversation with Barbara. John concluded that Carolyn and Kimo would be mentioned in the article, adding in a letter to me, “We both assumed that the truth would one day become public, and in a painful way.” He continued:
But the article never came out. Temple “Feedback” dated September 30, 1978 proclaimed that “Gordon Lindsay’s article now completely stopped.” The man who stopped it, Mark Lane, became a kind of folk hero to the members of the Temple.
As far, as Peoples Temple was concerned, Lane possessed impeccable credentials. He had long supported liberal causes, and had discovered conspiracies in the John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King assassinations. Lane, along with author Don Freed, expressed his belief in a conspiracy against the Temple, thereby legitimizing the group’s fear. And both Lane and Freed offered proof of the conspiracy.
Don Freed, a liberal journalist who had worked with Lane, introduced the lawyer to the group. The Temple’s San Francisco attorney, Charles Garry, brought in Freed because the Temple was searching for a sympathetic writer to tell its story.
Freed visited Jonestown in August 1978. He described government conspiracies to an enthusiastic group of listeners. A commentary filed in the Jonestown library observed that Freed claimed the murders of Martin Luther King, John and Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X were all connected. “It is important to crack them,” the commentary reported
Freed went on to describe his and Lane’s work on the King assassination.
Temple leaders discussed their fears about the National Enquirer article with Freed during his visit. The writer confirmed their suspicions, as Carolyn indicated:
Freed did more than just talk. He provided a flesh-and-blood conspirator, according to Carolyn.
The conspirator: Joe Mazor, the private investigator for the Concerned Relatives.
That September, Mazor went to Jonestown with Mark Lane. Mazor apparently decided to play one side against the other. The Temple considered hiring Mazor through Charles Garry’s office, so that he would be bound by attorney-client privilege. But Mark Lane thought “Mazor could be trying to set us up or just greedy. Strongly advises we don’t let him work for us.” “Feedback” for September 27 notes “Paying Mazor the 2500 we owe him, cash but getting receipt.”
Mark Lane’s trip was equally profitable, resulting in the promise of a $20,000 retainer from the Temple. He used $7500 to obtain the National Enquirer article, although the Los Angeles County District Attorney investigated the possibility that Lane already had the article in his possession when he took Temple money for its “purchase.” Lane and Freed both began negotiations with the Enquirer, and eventually the article died. September 30 “Feedback” says that, “Mark got highlights of it and it was horrible – everything was in it – you name it, he said it.”
The Enquirer deal marked the beginning of a public relations “counteroffensive” Lane and Freed planned. The Temple believed they would contact independent producer David Wolper about making a film on Jonestown. Notes in the FBI’s Don Freed file from Temple material outline the strategy:
The strategy included carefully-planned press conferences. Freed suggested holding “a mini-conference on the sly with some of the sympathetic press and that then they should have their stories ready to be released when the real conference took place so that something good would be ready at that time.”
Mark Lane had already given one press conference. On September 20, he told reporters assembled in Georgetown, Guyana that none of the charges made against Peoples Temple were true. He added:
In San Francisco, Lane gave a similar press conference on October 3. He announced plans to file suits against the FBI, CIA, IRS, Department of State, and the U.S. Postal Service for conspiracy against Peoples Temple. He also described an attack on the settlement which parallels Joe Mazor’s account of his first visit to Jonestown.
An article in the February 1979 edition of Esquire Magazine cited a memorandum which listed what Lane agreed to do for the Temple to earn his retainer. According to the memo, Lane planned to file Freedom of Information Act requests on the Temple’s behalf. The memo did not mention any lawsuits against the government.
A tape recording made in Jonestown revealed that Lane explicitly told his audience to expect legal action. He promised:
He explained that a suit against the government filed in federal District Court
Lane had barged onto another lawyer’s turf. Charles Garry was defending the Temple in at least five lawsuits, and pursuing a civil suit against Tim Stoen, when Mark Lane made his promises. Garry had worked for Peoples Temple for a year and a half. Lane told Temple members in California, according to Temple notes made October 11, that, “Peoples Temple needs to get another representative, that no matter how hard this one tried, anyone could do better.” Lane convinced Gene Chaikin, himself a lawyer, that Garry was senile and could not handle the cases properly. In a memo to Jim written a week before the suicides, Chaikin recommended dropping Garry and hiring “a competent civil defense attorney … I don’t care so much about his politics unless they are very hostile.”
When Mark Lane returned from his visit to Jonestown and announced to the press that he represented Peoples Temple, Garry was furious. In early October, Garry told the Temple he would no longer represent it if Lane were also counsel. Marceline Jones responded by saying Jim was extremely ill. Jim called Garry a few days later and begged him to come to Guyana. Garry waited, and when he heard about Leo Ryan’s plans, he contacted Ryan’s aide, Joe Holsinger, to find out what was going on. Pat Richartz, Garry’s aide, told him he’d better go down to Guyana and work things out with Jim personally. On November 15, the day after Congressman Ryan left San Francisco for Guyana, Garry flew to New York to make his own connecting flight to the country. At Kennedy Airport he met Mark Lane, who greeted him with outstretched hand. Garry turned on his heel and decided he wouldn’t go if Lane were going. But again, Pat Richartz told Garry he’d better settle the matter personally with Jim.
When Garry arrived in Jonestown, he found Jim very sick, both mentally and physically. The Temple leader had lost thirty pounds in the year since Garry’s previous visit.
Annie worked as Jim’s personal nurse, administering the drugs stocked in Jim’s small refrigerator. She talked about her role in a note to Jim:
John Jacobs, who co-authored Raven, found the note in Jim’s cabin after the suicides. He felt it indicated that Annie really did resent caring for Jim, that it was indeed a burden. Knowing Annie, though, we feel she meant what she said. She wrote the note because she felt she had communicated some frustration to Jim; now she was apologizing. Additionally, on our visit to Jonestown after the suicides, we found two drawings by Annie taped to Jim’s bedstead. One was a humorous get well card “from Uncle Zeke and the Gang.”
Jim’s condition was evident to everyone: his lawyer, the U.S. Embassy staff, Annie and Carolyn, Marceline, and all those who remembered him as he’d been – strong and kind and righteous – rather than what he’d become. Embassy Consul Richard McCoy remarked, “I knew he was irrational the day I met him. By May 1978, it was clear he was on drugs.”
Two other Embassy officials who went to Jonestown ten days before Ryan’s arrival reported that Jim exhibited erratic behavior, slurred speech, and mental confusion. During the visit, Consul Doug Ellice and Vice Consul Dennis Reece found Jim wearing a surgical mask during lunch. He appeared to need help in standing up during a luncheon meeting.
Mental aberrations accompanied Jim’s physical illness. Vague suspicions and doubts blossomed into outrageous accusations. Jim was cracking up. A stronger person would have fought back – through the courts, in the press, with public appearances and group rallies, with an aggressive public relations program. And Peoples Temple did fight in these ways. Jim, though, was beginning to lose control of himself and his community.
In a set of “Instructions/Revelations” presumably given by Jim a month before the suicides, he said:
By instituting strict discipline, and creating a climate of fear, Jim sought to regain his lost control. Field workers had their breaks at unscheduled times. No one knew when a day off was coming. This was to prevent conspiracies and flight. Jim told the group that the Guyana Defense Force would shoot to kill if anyone ran away.
Other terrors lurked outside of Jonestown. “One person trying to go through the jungle was found recently torn up by a tiger,” Jim told them, “also trying to cross the border.” He went on:
Danger hid within the community as well. “There is an element in here trying to kill me,” Jim said. He warned the group:
The security force was “to rove constantly. That is the rule of the day.” But as security increased, so did trouble with the security force. Jim required the Jonestown police force to take weekly classes in self-analysis. “They can’t be walking around like gaudy asses and making mistakes like two did the other day and arrest some woman and run her ass clear across to the piggery.” A personal note to Jim “not to be read allowed [sic] unless you wish” described another problem:
Jim exhorted his followers to report incidents and problems. Several tapes and letters include the apology, “I guess I should have reported it.” Jim reminded the group that reporting is honorable in a communist society because “here you’re reporting to protect the people.”
And underneath it all, a current of resentment and discontent bubbled. After November 18, survivors talked to each other and learned they shared criticisms of the final days. Mike Touchette said he would take a bulldozer out into the jungle, park it, and read a book in secret defiance. One person drank gasoline in a suicide attempt. Some tried to escape.
Tommy Bogue tried, but security guards caught him on the road to Matthews Ridge. As punishment, he says, he and his friend were shackled in chains for three weeks and forced to chop wood for 18 hours a day. He said that others who tried to escape were placed in a coffin-like box for several days. They were checked by the medical team at least Once a day. Others who were disaffected or unruly had to dig ditches. “Those who didn’t work, didn’t eat.”
We asked several survivors about the “box.” It was used only “one or two times,” said one. “No,” said another, as they discussed it among themselves. “It was used more than that. A couple more times.” The first responded, “I didn’t know that.”
The “box” was fairly mysterious. Stephan Jones told Penthouse:
Tim Carter complained to the Guyana Chronicle that “when it is used in mental institutions, it is called psychotherapy. When it is used in Jonestown, it is called an underground prison and a horror chamber.”
Behavior control and modification replaced corporal punishment at Jonestown. The spanking ceased the last seven or eight months in Jonestown, according to Tommy Bogue. Stephan Jones agreed. “You didn’t even spank children – that was a taboo.” Jim threatened individuals who didn’t “smile and give encouragement.” He warned, “You will hear it next from the floor if some of you don’t change your patterns in this way.” The community used the “box,” drugs, and most frequently, the learning crew or public service for changing or disciplining anti-social behavior.
The learning crew did the dirty work in Jonestown. Those jobs included cleaning bathrooms, showers and sidewalks, cutting grass, hauling wood and bricks, and digging ditches. Some children, especially teenagers, comprised the crew. Evaluations show the infractions, and the improvement, people made.
Of course, the crew supervisors evaluated themselves as well, and were much harsher in their reviews.
Drugs provided another part of the social control. Jim encouraged the medical staff “to see that those who have proved themselves incapable of their own controls … have medical controls placed On them.” On October 16, 1978, he asked people to “put your name in and we will help you by some mood elevation medication … You will not be brought on the floor,” he added.
People had grown unhappy, but there seemed to be nothing they could do. Stephan Jones admitted that:
Jim must have sensed the dissatisfaction when he asked the group, “Why in the hell would anyone think about going back to the united States when we’ve got right now proof of the CIA being after us?” Another time, he explained they would be going to the Soviet union soon, and anyone who didn’t want to move could go back to live in “fascist USA.”
It was an idle promise. No one could go back. At least five lawsuits and one criminal complaint remained pending against Jim and individuals in the Temple. Jim asked Charles Garry about the likelihood of jail if he were to return to the U.S. “He needs to know by name the ones you think could be indicted,” a list of “Questions [to you] from Jim” wondered.
Other pressures made a return unlikely. The FCC seemed certain to cut off the project’s communication lifeline. Guyanese journalists told Temple leaders that the U.S. was pressuring Guyana to expel the group. Joe Mazor revealed a plot against the church. The Concerned Relatives threatened to hire mercenaries.
And then, on November 1, Leo Ryan publicly announced his intention to visit Jonestown. Peoples Temple wavered between letting him come and denying him access. On November 4, it finally set three conditions for his visit: that the delegation be balanced, with people sympathetic to Peoples Temple accompanying the Congressman as well as critics; that no members of the press be in attendance during the visit; and that Mark Lane be present.
As the Temple’s representative, Lane wrote Ryan to request that he change the dates of his visit. Lane pointed out:
Ryan responded that the visit would continue as planned. His aide, Joe Holsinger, told the press, “A Congressional delegation does not wait upon the pleasure of Mark Lane.”
Ryan was determined to go to Jonestown at any cost, although he knew it could be dangerous. He knew of Debbie Blakey’s affidavit and believed mass suicide was a real possibility. The State Department told him on November 13 of the existence of weapons in Jonestown, although the agency added, no violence had ever been directed against visitors. Debbie Blakey accompanied him to that State Department meeting. He knew of alleged illegal activities, especially since the Los Angeles District Attorney asked him to interview some Temple members about the extortion complaint he was investigating. Ryan knew of Jim’s 1973 lewd conduct arrest. The FBI found notes concerning it in his briefcase on the Port Kaituma airstrip. The Concerned Relatives had lobbied Ryan for eighteen months, beginning with Robert Houston’s account of his son’s involvement in Peoples Temple. Leo Ryan fully knew of the danger. The Washington Star reported that “all sources agreed that Ryan knew he was embarking on a dangerous journey when he ventured out to the Jonestown settlement.”
Ryan’s colleagues in Congress tried to dissuade him from making the trip. The chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Clement Zablocki, advised him that he could not go to Guyana unless other members of the committee accompanied him. Ryan found another – Edward Derwinski of Illinois – but his ally had backed out by November 1. Another Congressman who almost joined Ryan, Don Edwards of California, told Ryan the trip
“Certainly no one could have talked him out of his trip to Guyana,” wrote reporter Karen Feld, who met with Ryan shortly before his departure. Ryan had made up his mind. He wanted to verify personally the “deplorable” conditions in Jonestown.
Ryan’s altruism and dedication were mixed with a desire to be in the right place at the right time: where the media was. After the Watts riots in Los Angeles, he lived with a black family in the ghetto and taught at an inner-city school. He spent a week in Folsom Prison and wrote a play about it when he got out. He sped to the Teton Dam when it collapsed, to help the people there, and traveled to Newfoundland to protest the slaughter of baby seals.
His media consciousness also extended to his trip to Jonestown. As early as September 15, when he first told the State Department of his plans, he mentioned that at least one reporter would accompany him. By November 1, when he notified Jim of his intent to visit the agricultural project, an NBC camera crew was making arrangements to go with him. The crew of four were the only reporters out of the nine traveling with Ryan who had obtained visas to enter Guyana.
The State Department, especially Richard McCoy who was by then Guyana Desk Officer in Washington, D.C., told Ryan not to take members of the press or Concerned Relatives with him. Their presence would make it that much harder for Ryan to get into Jonestown.
As it was, Peoples Temple suspected Ryan of bad faith because he was bringing the press. It was that perception which led the group to specify its three conditions for allowing Ryan into Jonestown. When Ryan arrived in Guyana, the church issued a statement claiming that his visit was “staged for the purpose of manufacturing adverse publicity for the Jonestown Community.”
Ryan had already made several provocative statements. As he left the San Francisco airport, he told reporters, “If they set up objections that can’t be met without any discussion, the conclusion has got to be obvious … that they are failing to show cooperation with an honest effort to obtain information. And that indicates they have something to hide.” According to Holsinger, the Congressman planned to lead a group of Concerned Relatives and the media to the Jonestown gate to “show that people were not free to come and go.”
Peoples Temple did not see this as “an honest effort to obtain information.” The Congressman made no attempt to satisfy any of the Temple’s conditions. He had ignored the group’s lawyers, refusing to negotiate with Lane and snubbing Garry. His party included bitter enemies of the Temple. Almost everyone who’d filed suit flew to Guyana with Ryan. Tim Stoen declared, “We hope to liberate at least some of the people who are down here against their will.” Ryan added that he planned to “force” the issue.
“I think they believed we were there to destroy them, destroy the community basically,” Steven Sung, an NBC soundman wounded at Port Kaituma, observed a few days after the massacre. Skip Roberts blames one person for that: Tim Carter. Radio Barbados aired a Canadian Broadcasting report that said Jimdecided to end Peoples Temple “after receivinginformation that he would have been killed.” Tim Carter, “the trusted Peoples Temple lieutenant who gave that information to JimJones,” according to the CBC, had infiltrated anti-Temple groups inCalifornia by pretending to defect from the church. He returned to Jonestown a few days before Ryan arrived. After learning “that Bishop JimJones was going to be killed … [he] communicated that information to Bishop Jones.”
Jimhimself excited fears by saying that a Congressman “who’s close to the John Birch Society” would be coming. He described Ryan as “so far right he can only be called a fascist.” And he said Ryan supported “the people who killed [Chilean President Salvador] Allende.” “My opinion is to tell him to stick it,” he told an enthusiastic crowd one night.
Church members in California wrote Ryan many letters trying to dissuade him from making the trip. One writer observed:
Leo Ryan did not recognize his limitations. In the United States, he was a Member of Congress, with certain rights and privileges. In Guyana, he was merely a U.S. citizen attempting to visit other U.S. citizens. The State Department and the U.S. Embassy tried to impress upon him the fact that Jonestown was private property, and that he had no legal right to demand entrance. On November 9, the State Department bluntly told two of Ryan’s assistants, Jackie Speier and Jim Schollaert, “the Congressional Delegation would have no official authority in Guyana.”
“For a Congressman to barge in there is not the proper way,” Charles Garry said as Ryan left the United States. “This is these people’s homes.”
When he left for Jonestown on November 17, Ryan still did not have permission to enter the community.