In early October 1978, attorney Mark Lane and screenwriter Don Freed held a joint press conference in San Francisco with four members of Peoples Temple and a small number of reporters in attendance. An unknown member of the Temple reviewed the tape, and its transcript was among the thousands of pages recovered in Jonestown following the deaths less than two months later. The original tape has not yet been identified among the hundreds of tapes also recovered, if in fact it still exists.
There seem to be widely differing motivations for each of the parties attending the event.
Lane and Freed are anxious to talk about the conspiracy against Peoples Temple – and more to the point, about Joe Mazor, the then-still unnamed conspirator who had apparently switched sides to ally himself with Jonestown – and Lane is eager to discuss the lawsuits which he says he will file on behalf of his client against numerous federal government agencies. “To those who have wondered why the Peoples Temple has been silent during all the long time of these attacks,” Lane says halfway through his prepared remarks, “I can just say that the silence has ended, and the offensive has begun, and before the dust settles, we are going to learn a great deal about the conduct of the United States government against this religious organization and against their experiment, in Jonestown.
At the same time, however, there have been several recent developments in the Martin Luther King assassination affecting James Earl Ray, whom Lane now represents, and he spends a great deal of time reviewing those developments.
The members of the press corps are interested in the King assassination story only insofar as it impacts Lane’s more basic charges of conspiracies with federal agencies to attack, discredit and destroy government critics, especially those on the left. The media reserves the bulk of their questions, then, to probe Lane’s assertions of shadowy agencies, secret bank accounts, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” passing among Temple enemies, and of course the name of the conspirator in Lane’s hip pocket. The lawyer reveals few names or particulars, pledging to do so at the time the suits actually find their way to court.
In the meantime, the members of the Temple struggle to be heard at all. The first of them isn’t introduced until the second half of the press conference, and more than once, Marceline Jones – the only Temple member in attendance who later died in Jonestown – asks if they can return to the reason for the event which (in her view) are the attacks against Jonestown and the Peoples Temple movement which her husband founded. And at the end of the press conference, when Marceline is cut off in mid-sentence, it is Lane who interrupts her.
The Temple member who transcribed the tape inserts a few editorial comments, noting that Maralee Beck, a woman reporter with Channel 5, asks a question in a “snide” tone and – later, when the reporter notes that she is still confused about something – adds “you could probably drop an A-bomb on about one and she’d still claimed confusion.”
Lane points out several errors that the press has made about Guyana in general – errors which he says stem from an uncritical acceptance of the charges of the Concerned Relatives and a deep antipathy towards Jim Jones – but Lane makes a critical mistake himself, when he speaks about access to Jonestown. At least twice, he talks about a railroad running between Georgetown and Jonestown; he also talks about American Embassy personnel arriving in Jonestown in a car and offering the car to anyone who wants to leave the community; finally, he talks about Georgetown being “only 100 miles away,” and while that is 24 hours away by boat, it is only “about four or five hours by almost any other means of transportation.” Each of these comments suggests traffic between Jonestown and Georgetown was much less difficult than it actually was, with the implication that access – and by extension, unsanctioned departure – was much greater than it actually was.