Final Witness

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Laurie Efrein Kahalas, a Peoples Temple survivor

After all these years, a magnificent surprise. Tucked into the many thousands of pages of newly-available government files, one Brian Czuk has included in documents released onto the internet, a single, apparently unsigned note written at Jonestown in the final hours of life.

I have never contended that everyone in Jonestown died in the same frame of consciousness. I do not doubt that many were conflicted, bitter, or even terrified. Yet as I have said in other parts of this site (THE TRUTH, and OPEN LETTER), the raw reality was that the survival of life at Jonestown was far from assured WHATEVER they did at the last.

A Congressman had been assassinated. The military would be sure to close in. The people of Jonestown had been blamed for that assassination, instantly, sans evidence or proof, whether members of that community had pulled the triggers at all. It was the quickest media event in history. A whole community was publicly lynched before an arrest had even been made.

I believe the community of Jonestown, as well as Jim Jones, were framed for the assassination of Congressman Leo Ryan, and that that alone was a prescription for carnage. I believe it perhaps even more than those at Jonestown who believed that our own people, not outsiders, had felled the Congressman with his party of reporters, aides, and so-called "defectors" -- a term, as the whole world knows, which was characteristically used throughout the Cold War.

Indeed, Peoples Temple was a casualty of the Cold War. Interracial and egalitarian through the civil rights stuggle, socialist through the battles with the Soviet Union, with a powerful, charismatic leader who reached out his and our arms, to every left-wing cause, person, and project that came down the line. Moreover, it was working, it was successful. Jonestown was blanketed in rave reviews, which still survive to this day.

The "last straw" for the church’s high-powered opponents, was undoubtedly the community’s desperate attempt to relocate to Russia at the end. How could such an expensive, massive, complicated re-relocation even be considered? The answer was as simple as it was drastic: the people of Jonestown had already been attacked by mercenaries from out of the jungle a year before the tragedy happened. Ongoing threats were continual, even recorded by one Timothy Stoen in newspaper editorials and State Department logs. Jonestown was "marked for death." The people there felt it was only a matter of time.

Can you see, can you even begin to consider, that Jonestown was threatened with death that final night, irrespective of what they did? Why do people kill? One of the main motives recognized throughout the world and throughout all time, is people killing to cover their own tracks. As the whole world now begins to see, the actual film taken of the assassination of Congressman Ryan featured men all dressed alike, in Army uniforms, disembarking from a second vehicle that had suddenly barrelled on it. They disembarked in a symmetrical, tightly-coordinated military formation called "a squad diamond." These were highly-trained professional assassins, not spontaneous, chaotic, ad hoc amateurs from the community of Jonestown.

To what lengths would a clandestine military operation go to cover its tracks? They might have destroyed a community of innocent civilians, the disempowered ones of the culture -- poor, largely black, of no stature or means. They might have done that and then labelled it whatever they liked: "suicide," "murder," whatever. Who would investigate? Who would care? Jim Jones and Peoples Temple had already been decimated in the press. "Crazy cult leader" was all any investigator would have considered.

But the murder of a United States Congressman would have to be accounted for. And 900+ witnesses with challenges, protests, and alibis would never be allowed to pass. The people of Jonestown were endangered that night. Whatever endangerment they faced within the community, danger, deadly danger from the outside, could only ensue IN ANY CASE.

In the midst of all that chaos, havoc, panic, terror, and yes, confusion (for the airstrip scene was seven miles away), came this one voice who penned a note of humanity to a disbelieving world. Her testament was of the SPIRIT in which those precious people died. If you think no one died in peace at Jonestown, you must rethink. If you think the people there were not deeply human, in a way which transcended the crass, cynical, cruel coverage of their lives, think again. If you think there were not people capable of transcending their own fate into a great prayer for humanity, "May the world find a way to a new birth of social justice," then think again. Listen to this one voice. It could be hers. It could be mine. It could even be your own. Could you face that moment as did she?

Did she speak for everyone? We can never know. But I know within my own heart that she spoke for the BEST of Jonestown -- the highest, the most courageous, the most committed, the most clear and sane. There were those in Jonestown who passed on in love, in unity, "hugging and kissing and tears and silence and joy."

I have only seen the transcription of this note, the FINAL WITNESS, with its official cover letter from the State Department of the United States. I have not seen the handwriting, so no positive identification can be made. Whoever it may have been, GOD BLESS MY FRIENDS. GOD BLESS THEM, AND MAY THEY REST IN PEACE.

This one missive, sent from out of the murky past into the clarity of a new day, I am so proud to honor. "Let all the books be opened." "I hope that someone writes the WHOLE story." This was my intent in writing "SNAKE DANCE: Unravelling the Mysteries of Jonestown."

I am printing FINAL WITNESS in full. Listen to the heart. To her heart, to my heart, to the heart of the human soul. It has found a resting place. I am so proud, so moved, to reveal it and give it honor. This was the best of Jonestown. Let God, and people everywhere, take this as finally, "a moment of silence to honor the dead."

"To Whomever finds this note

Collect all the tapes, all the writing, all the history. The story of this movement, this action, must be examined over and over. It must be understood in all of its incredible dimensions. Words fail. We have pledged our lives to this great cause. We are proud to have something to die for. We do not fear death. We hope that the world will someday realize the ideals of brotherhood, justice and equality that Jim Jones has lived and died for. We have all chosen to die for this cause. We know there is no way that we can avoid misinterpretation. But Jim Jones and this movement were born too soon. The world was not ready to let us live.

I am sorry there is no eloquence as I write these final words. We are resolved, but grieved that we cannot make the truth of our witness clear.

This is the last of our lives. May the world find a way to a new birth of social justice. If there is any way that our lives and the life of Jim Jones can ever help that take place, we will have not lived in vain.

Jim Jones did not order anyone to attack or kill anyone. It was done by individuals who had too much of seeing people try to destroy this movement. Their actions have left us no alternative, and rather than see this cause decimated, we have chosen to give our lives. We are proud of that choice.

Please try to understand. Look at all. Look at all in perspective. Look at Jonestown, see what we have tried to do. This was a movement to [give] life to the newest of the human spirit, broken by Capitalism, by a system of exploitation and injustice. Look at all that was built by a beleaguered people. We did not want that kind of ending -- we wanted to live, to shine, to bring light to a world that is dying for a little bit of love. To those left behind of our loved ones, many of whom will not understand, who never knew this truth, grieve not. We are grateful for this opportunity to bear witness -- a bitter witness -- history has chosen our destiny in spite of our own desire to forge our own. We were at a cross-purpose with history. But we are calm in this hour of our own demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error that was not our intent, beyond our intent.

I hope that someone writes this whole story. It is not ‘news.’ It is more. We merge with millions of others, we are subsumed in the archetype. People hugging each other, embracing, we are hurrying -- we do not want to be captured. We want to bear witness at once.

We did not want it this way. All was going well as Ryan completed first day here. Then a man tried to attack him, unsuccessfully. At same time, several set out into jungle wanting to overtake Ryan, kids, and others who left with them. They did, and several killed. When we heard this we had no choice. We would be taken. We have to go as one, we want to live as Peoples Temple, or end it. We have chosen. It is finished.

Hugging and kissing and tears and silence and joy in a long line. Touches and whispered words as this silent line passes. Determination, purpose. A proud people. Only last night, their voices raised in unison, a voice of affirmation and today, a different sort of affirmation, a dimension of that same victory of the human spirit.

A tiny kitten sits next to me watching. A dog barks. The birds gather on the wires overhead. Let all the story of this Peoples Temple be told. Let all the books be opened. This sight -- a terrible victory -- how bitter that we did not, could not, that Jim Jones was crushed by a world that he didn’t make. How great the victory.

If nobody understands, it matters not -- I am ready to die now. Darkness settles over Jonestown on its last day on Earth."



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