Q291 Transcript

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(This tape was transcribed and summarized by Katherine Hill. The editors gratefully acknowledge her invaluable assistance.)

Mike Prokes: Greetings from Jonestown and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. I’m Mike Prokes, and with me today– wait a second. I’m going to say something about the uh–

Richard Tropp: How’s it going? Do you want to talk louder? (Pause) OK, this is it, right now.

Prokes: Greetings from Jonestown and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. The music you’ve been listening to is played by the Jonestown Express, our brass band, and one of our singing groups, who– whom you may have heard in various churches and night spots, the cultural center in Georgetown. Today, we are very privileged and honored to have with us Don Freed. Don is from the United States, he has written a prize-winning play about the Rosenbergs [Ethel & Julius Rosenberg], he’s written books about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. His books have been used as the basis for great motion pictures, such as The Parallax View. He’s currently involved in an investigation of the truth behind the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, the great civil rights leader. Don has come to visit Guyana, and is impressed with the socialist direction this country is taking. After hearing about the work being done by Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Don became interested in seeing it for himself. We’re with him now, in a lovely setting, at his cottage here in Jonestown. And, Don, first of all, on behalf of those with me, Harriet and Dick Tropp and Lee Ingram, let me say how happy we are to have you here with us.

Don Freed: Thank you very much.

Prokes: You’ve seen the Peoples Temple community in Jonestown. Could you give us some of your reflections and observations, not only on the nature of the project, but of its significance.

Freed: If you look at Jonestown uh, where it’s come from – I was shown the original two buildings, and in the last year this burgeoning plan of buildings and agricultural and semi-industrial uh, patterns of growth uh – if you look at those and then you read some of the oral histories of the people in Jonestown, you’re driven to the conclusion that the most extraordinary material and social experiment is being carried out, basically by a population, a large percentage of which, in the United States, were not considered useful, in fact, might have been considered non-entities. Either too old, too young, too unskilled, uneducated uh, with uh, burdensome personal records, either of addiction or health uh, problems or incarceration in uh, state or federal prison. One way or another, all those with two strikes against them, and who would have been and/or– or were forced out of the North American job market, and indeed, those with no identity who would’ve been forced back upon the institutional lives of the state. And (clears throat) to see these same statistics translated into people singing, as I saw last night, and taking part in uh, very full uh, cultural activity, uh, working during the day in really sophisticated – you would not say “nation building,” except that the relationship to Guyana is quite clear in the sense of identity of Jonestown as a part of Guyana, and Guyana as a part of the world – that seems to be quite clear in the worldview of everybody working here. Uh, to– to see the work during the day in this really sophisticated kind of– This is not like uh– It’s quite unique in that it’s not like uh, American versions of the Oneida community and utopian experiments in the 19th century, which eventually foundered – broke down – because of family problems, and– and– and social problems. Uh, this is not– could not be called a utopia, it seems to me. It really is a sophisticated socialist uh, dialectical materialist experiment. And, the dialectic between the people here, where they’ve come from, in the United States, each one with their story and their past, the heavy, collective past of suffering, you might say, that you find in the oral histories, and then, this sort of existential present as the jungle gives way to schools and dispensaries and agriculture and– and culture. And, with its future orientation, its planning, and its expansion for the future uh, I think no place in the world offers a microcosm of what we loosely call “human nature,” of its amazing plasticity. Uh, this isn’t a model what has been seen in the large scale in China and in Cuba, and in a large scale, on the negative side, I think, in the Holocaust, in World War II. Uh, but here it’s uh, small enough – some thousand or twelve hundred people – as to be able to be measured with the naked eye. One can walk around the community, and so you can– and the single individual here can abstract what’s happening at Jonestown in a way that no traveler to China, for instance, can. And so the impact on the individual visiting here is– it would be as if you were ten thousand people studying China. So you have a– uh, an exponential impact here. And, although I’m talking on at great length, it’s really because I’m at pains to find the words uh, to describe what is essentially an unspeakable experience, though I’ve no doubt it’ll be s– it will be spoken about and written about widely and there will be a steady traffic through Georgetown on the way to Jonestown in years to come.

Prokes: From your observations, Don, how would you account for the change in people’s lives who’ve come here and who have had problems in their past?

Freed: Uh, these p– people feel (stumbles over words)– I think you’d have to use the word “love” as a– as a catalyst. Uh, there seems to be a (Pause) context here of– of energy uh, that draws upon work and love, uh, and I would say, also a chance to express uh, through work and through a kind of ideology uh, a growing and a changing ideology, of negative feelings and aggressive feelings, hostile feelings towards conditions of oppression, which were expressed in the past through self-destructive acts in the United States. That is, there was no vocabulary for the individual sufferer in North America, and so uh, poor health, uh, either through masochistic uh, uh, I say enjoyment, but institutional support because of poor health uh, institutional life in– in prison or through uh, drug or alcohol addiction or through violence of one kind or another uh, and thr– and– and accompanying guilt, uh, this paralyzes uh, people uh, who now have been released. And where they hate and where they express hostility towards conditions which sadistically and– and persistently ruin their lives, undermine their lives and their families, they now express anger and outrage and frustration without guilt and in good faith and in a systematic view uh, which could be called the socialist worldview of the class struggle, so that individual resentments and frustrations are abstracted up into the world of the class struggle, and the guilt is removed and the anger is liberating and is translated into the community and nation-building uh, that lies before them. Uh, (Sigh) so, where i– i– in this sense, it’s impossible to talk about “love” and “hate” because what starts out as hate quickly turns over into work and into energy and into constructive building, which in turn is love, and which reflects back then uh, on environment and institutions which support the children, support the seniors, support uh, uh, those who’ve been culturally deprived, and provides uh, an outlet– you see great talent here, for instance, on the part of people who would otherwise uh, might at the outside have taken part in a drama club in uh, state prison. That would’ve probably been the extent of their cultural activities. But here you see that what we would in the individual psychology call “hate” or “love” instead is a field of energy, a dialectic of struggle and of care uh, which is reflected outwards towards uh, sort of class– uh, a class family around the world, and inwards towards the members of the Jonestown community, ranging from the infants to the seniors.

Prokes: We’re talking with Don Freed, the famous author and playwright and investigator of conspiracies, such as those that took the lives of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Kennedys. Don, I just have one more question I’d like to ask. I know the others are anxious to ask you questions. But uh, we’ve never viewed our cooperative lifestyle and community here necessarily as a panacea. If it serves to inspire others to achieve good things, we’re grateful, but you called it a “microcosm.” D– Does that mean that what we’re doing here could be applied to most any community or society successfully?

Freed: Uh, Jonestown is a gamble in human nature. We’ve been told from the beginning (clears throat) that if you take people, even from the uh, best-educated and best-supported class and put them uh, apart in an arbitrary community, that soon the strongest will have garnered the power, and soon there will be slaves, and soon there will be masters, soon there will be war, and we will see a deadly and monotonous repetition of all of the ills of the super-industrial state, because, we are told, that is human nature, that is its African genesis, that is its territorial imperative, that is its “poison genes,” as Arthur Koestler has called it, and that is its killer legacy. Uh, that cannot be true because Jonestown exists. And here, you see people, many of them not from the educated class, not who have been highly civilized in a rich home environment, and yet you see the essential lineaments of civilization here of co– not just cooperative work uh, but a kind of multi-lingual approach. Everybody is able to speak everybody’s language. The different generations speak different languages. The different work– workers from different fields speak different languages. The different tasks of administration and organization and work all have different languages, and yet I see the people here at Jonestown move amphibiously, if I may use that word. They work with the children, they work with the old people, they work with the doctor, they work in the field, they work in the jungle, they work in the handicraft, they work– Well, what this requires is– this is extremely sophisticated human behavior uh, across a wide scale of uh, languages and skills. Uh, it shows that the monotonous and routinized life of workers, as we have been taught to believe was the only way to work and live, is a pitiful caricature of what could be. And Jonestown gives the lie to all of those myths and, in fact, shows the– what Norman Mailer called “the renaissance locked in the unconscious of the dumb.”

Prokes: We really need several hours to derive the benefits of this man’s vast knowledge and understanding in a number of fields: sociology, social anthropology, psychology, the arts, and– well, you name it. Don, what’re you working on now?

Freed: (Sighs) I’m working on several projects. The Martin Luther King case is coming to a climax. I’m working on that. I’m working on something called The War Against the Panthers, which is a study of what was done uh, to the black liberation movement by a– literally a war of counterinsurgency by American Secret Service and American secret police in the 1960s. I’m working on a popular history of the Central Intelligence Agency, uh and, I’m working on a new approach to Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Prokes: Thank you very much for being here with us. Don Freed: author, playwright, and investigator of conspiracies. He’s just told you what he’s now doing. We’ll be talking with him next week on some of the things that he’s described. Dick and uh, Harriet, Lee: I’m sorry you didn’t have time for a few questions (laughs), but uh, we’ll hear from you in the next broadcast. Until then, we invite you, as always, to write us with your comments and suggestions on the Peoples Temple work here in Guyana. On behalf of Comrade Jim Jones, Don Freed, and all of us here in Jonestown, all the best.

(Tape silence for several moments)


Part II:

Mike Prokes: Wait, wait, wait. Don’t– (Pause) Greetings from Jonestown and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. The music you’ve been listening to is from the Jonestown Express, our brass band, and one of our singing groups. Again, we’re privileged to have with us today Donald Freed, who has come to Jonestown to visit and make a study of the life here. As well as being a famous author and playwright, Don is an anthropologist, a linguist. He’s taught at some of the best universities in the United States, including Yale, UCLA, and others. He’s co-director of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry, with Mark Lane, who you may know– recognize as the author of Rush to Judgment. Don has also written a prize-winning play about the Rosenbergs. He’s written books about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy. His books have been used as the basis for motion pictures as well. He’s currently involved in an investigation of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. With me is Harriet Tropp, who is an administrative officer of the Jonestown project, and Dick Tropp, headmaster of the Jonestown community school. Dick, what would you like to begin with?

Richard Tropp: Uh, thank you, Mike. Uh, Don uh, your dedication in probing and uncovering the cover-up of the assassination of Dr. King, I know, is based not only on a desire to get at the truth, but upon a love and respect and understanding of Dr. King and his desire for a world of brotherhood and in it– I would say, in a sense an understanding of the nightmare of injustice that claimed Dr. King might help to illuminate Dr. King’s dream for a different sort of world. And, Don, you have said that uh, the Peoples Temple community represents what Dr. King – had he lived – might have recognized as the next step towards the realization of his dream of brotherhood, and I was wondering if you might elaborate a little on that comment.

Freed: It would be interesting, wouldn’t it, to compare Resurrection City, as he had planned it for Washington D.C. in the spring of 1968 uh, where his Poor People’s March was headed – multi-racial, anti-imperialist, demanding economic justice, and militantly non-violent – it would be interesting to take that blueprint, as it was emerging when he was cut down in Memphis, and compare it with Jonestown, ten years later, as it exists. And, there is more than a dialectic there, it seems to me. In many ways, there is an identity. The style of leadership is different uh, uh, and that is bound to be (clears throat). And some of the vocabulary is different because of the radical Christian orientation uh, of the old Southern movement as em– it emerged into its Northern and pre-socialist phase at the time of the King assassination. But if you make allowances for that, I think the most fascinating correspondence could be made between Resurrection City and Jonestown, because the people here are (quiet laugh) very much citizens of Resurrection City, whether they were there or not. Uh, this is ten years later. It is not in the shadow of the nation’s Capitol – uh, just the opposite – but then there have been many gunshots uh, in those ten years uh, that tend to create a distance between the nation’s capital and its poor.

Richard Tropp: Very true. I remember I was at Resurrection City in 1968, and I know very well what you mean by “being under the shadow of the Capitol.” Uh, it was quite an experience. And uh, I appreciate your comments along those lines. Again, today, we are talking with author, investigator Don Freed, who we’re privileged to have here with us in Jonestown, and he has brought the truth to people around the world about the murders of President Kennedy, his brother Robert, the Rosenbergs, and now Dr. Martin Luther King. Don, I’d like to ask you, how does your interest in Peoples Temple in a sense fit in with these other interests? Now you’ve mentioned that there’s a kind of dialectical relationship between the achievement of Jonestown, as a kind of model, a kind of representation of socialist cooperation, of uh, human liberation, in a sense, of evolution of uh, a community consciousness. How do you see that– uh, that achievement related to, in a sense, the attempts by what we have been exposing ourselves as a conspiracy, as organized efforts to try to tear it down.

Freed: I suppose it’s inevitable, and it is a function of a social reorganization uh, for there to be uh, attempts to destroy it. Why? Be– I think several reasons. First of all, there’s a change in the relationship of power, either actually or in– as in this case, symbolically. But the difference between the actual and the symbolic in the highly-technologized, media-oriented culture such as the United States is very thin. A model like Jonestown can be spread quickly these days. It does– no longer takes word-of-mouth. Uh– There is media, and it spreads quickly. And so it’s dangerous in that sense, in that it undermines the regnant myths of the American culture. And besides that uh, there is a sort of mysterious hostility and envy towards any new, fresh attempt that gambles on human nature, and that is– that uh, rises above cynicism and despair, and operates not on any blind, optimistic hope, but on a functioning, day-to-day uh, actualization of the group’s potential. And, in that respect, that mystery I think is best summed up by that most mysterious of villains, Iago [of Shakespeare’s Othello], who as he lies in wait to kill Michael Cassio, a– the lieutenant whom he envies. He states to himself – but for the audience – “there is a beauty in his daily life which makes me ugly.” And I think that uh, that somehow is true. You know, the more guilty people become uh, the more violent they become. And, as the war in Vietnam uh, escalated, the guilt in the United States and the violence escalated uh, at the same time. And I think here, where people who have been thrown away, who have been labeled as “rejects” uh, from the system uh, where they– together with de-classed intellectuals make a community, a new community like Jonestown, there has got to be a response from power. And there will be, and there is. And it will take many forms. Now, in the United States, you know, we do not have a category of political prisoners or political crimes or even political uh, uh– even political epithets. You– You can call people “Reds,” but it isn’t done in the uh, more polite press. It’s done differently. There’s an attempt to criminalize political people, and that’s true whether it be the Black Panthers or whether it be the Peoples Temple or whether it be the– even the Communist Party in the 1950s. And so, always we see the use of what’s being called “sexpionage,” uh, dirty tricks. Watergate was a good example of s– of some of them, just a part of the panoply. But, to criminalize the political insurgent or those with a different perspective – social and political perspective – rather than give credence and argue it out on the basis of the ideas, rather than test it in the arena of civilized dialogue, there is the unfair attempt to criminalize those who are making the leap into a new kind of community.

Richard Tropp: Very true, I– I agree with that. And, in a sense, that’s almost the– a kind of archetypal theme, in many respects, throughout history: the people who are trying to extend to new frontiers are– are going to be in– you know, in a sense, persecuted.

Freed: It’s instructive– when J. Edgar Hoover sought the most violent epithet he could find to characterize Martin Luther King, Jr., he called him “the most notorious liar in the country.” Well, if you assume from that statement that Martin Luther King’s philosophy of justice, peace, non-violence and love, if you assume that that was an ideology – and it was – then you understand Hoover’s statement. I mean, after all, Martin Luther King, if– you could call him all sorts of things, if you hated him, why would you think up that particular epithet? What– What would that mean, why would that be– uh, come to mind even? But he called him “the most notorious liar in the country,” therefore implying that what he was saying – and we all know what he was saying, from his public speeches – could not be true. Because if it was true, then J. Edgar Hoover and his worldview was doomed.

Harriet Tropp: Don, you’ve just come from Washington from congressional hearings, where James Earl Ray is testifying as to the events of April of 1968. Could you share with our audience here in Guyana some of the facts that your committee has brought to life surrounding that terrible tragedy?

Freed: We have been able to determine that the 15-year persecution by the FBI of Dr. King, which employed 24-hour-a-day surveillance, both at home and abroad, ceased just literally minutes before the gunshot rang out. That the Memphis Police Department uh, surveillance, which included several black firemen who were followers of Dr. King and a black warrant officer named Ed [unintelligible; sounds like “Redded,” “Reddig,” or “Reddick”], that that surveillance was canceled at 4 p.m., two hours and one minute before the assassination, and it was cancelled by the Director of Fire and Police in Memphis [Frank Holloman], a man who for 25 years had worked at the high levels of the FBI, and eight of those last years had been in Mr. Hoover’s office. Uh, we determined that the FBI conducted a secret media campaign to move Dr. King from the Holiday Rivermont Hotel, a very secure, big, downtown hotel, where he was on March 28, 1968, to move him from there to what was in effect a shooting gallery, the Lorraine Motel, opposite a row of flop houses in uh, downtown Memphis. Uh, we have determined that a intelligence squad – called the “Destroy King Squad” in the Atlanta office – that that squad was put in charge of the investigation of the murder. That the FBI allowed James Earl Ray, though they had his fingerprints and his radio, with his Social Security number on it, and his name, within three hours of the murder on April 4th– it was not until April 17th that his name was first given to the public. In other words, Mr. Ray, we have determined– his role in the conspiracy was that of a patsy or a fall guy. Uh, he was not murdered after the fact, like Lee Harvey Oswald. Instead, he was given several weeks to escape. He was finally captured by Scotland Yard, based on information from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but with no input or help whatsoever from American law enforcement.

Prokes: Don, we just have a couple of minutes. Uh, I wanted to ask you a question that I think you partially answered before, but to personalize it a little: why do you think there are some elements which seek out and attempt to hurt such dynamic leaders as Martin Luther King, John Kennedy, even Jim Jones, who devote their lives to serving humanity?

Freed: You know uh, human beings uh, live by uh, their interests and by their ideologies, uh, whether they specify them or not. (Sigh) And they feel that their life and their lifestyle and their security and uh, their integrity in their world is threatened when an alternative is set up which calls into question their reasons for living and uh, their rationalizations of power. Uh, and if they’re– uh, they are defined by their– by that power and by their control over others, if– if their personalities have been formed in that kind of context, either through inheritance or through deviation, and that is then called into question because an opposite model is set up, a comparison is made, there is a– usually a hysterical reaction, though it may be quite organized and planned, and it’s often called “intelligence,” in one of the ludicrous misuses of the wor– any word in any language. It is called “intelligence.” In fact, what it is, is secret and paramilitary repression of a countervailing idea as embodied by certain leadership. And those who verbalize uh, the new idea which attracts people, they draw the lightning, they become the target, and in the forlorn hope that by silencing them, you will somehow make go away a reality which threatens the integrity of a doomed group.

Prokes: Thank you, Don. We’ve been talking with Donald Freed, author, investigator, playwright, anthropologist, linguist. I could go on and on. We appreciated having him the last week here in Jonestown. We want to wish him the best of luck in his work. On behalf of all of us here in Jonestown, we want to invite you to write us, or call us, with your comments and questions on our work here in Guyana. The address in Georgetown is Post Office Box 893. Until next week, from all of us to all of you, all the best.

End of tape.

Tape originally posted July 2011