[Editor’s note: The diary of Mark Lane was released to author Jeff Guinn pursuant to a FOIA request in the summer of 2017. The release contains several redactions. However, one of the subjects of this serial whose name is deleted is former Temple member Terri Buford. The deleted information from the memorandum – designated by brackets – which is known to the editor has been indicated by red type; her name likely appears in many other sections that have been blacked out in their entirety.]
[This section of Serial 1681 covers page 313-362 of the FBI Report of January 12, 1979.
Federal Bureau of Investigation
Date of transcription 11/28/78
Mark Lane, Attorney at Law, 1177 Central Avenue, was contacted at his residence regarding a copy of the diary he was to have prepared. Secret Service Agent [name deleted] was present during this interview.
Lane made available a manuscript consisting of 49 typewritten pages, double spaced. Attached is a copy of that manuscript.
[Page 1 of diary; page 2 of serial]
by Mark Lane
© November 26, 1978
On Friday morning, November 17, 1978, at the request of Jim Jones, head of the People’s Temple, I met in Georgetown, Guyana, with Congressman Leo Ryan of California and Don Harris of NBC television to discuss their visit to Jonestown. Before the sun set the next day, Jones, Ryan and Harris – and almost 1000 others – were dead, and I was lost in the impenetrable jungle of Guyana, having barely escaped an assassination attempt on my life.
The events of the last weeks are so overwhelming and horrible that it is difficult to remember that until September of this year – two months ago – I have never heard of Jim Jones or the People’s Temple. At that time I was approached by Jones to represent the People’s Temple to file a Freedom of Information Act suit against the United States Government to discover and prevent what Jones and his associates assured me was harassment of their peaceful, communal organization, which had shortly before established an agricultural community in an isolated part of Guyana. In mid-September, at the urging of Jones, I spent two days at the People’s Temple agricultural experiment deep in the interior of Guyana in a place Jones had named Jonestown.
What I observed during my brief visit was a collective made up of approximately 1000 Americans, struggling to create a new life for themselves on this frontier. Jones himself gave the impression of being well-intentioned, but frightened. When I spoke with him he rambled, somewhat incoherently, from one subject to another. I also
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noted that the ruling group in Jonestown was, like Jones himself, white, middle-class, college-educated and professional. The one exception was Jones’ adopted son, John Jones, who was black. The vast majority of those who lived in Jonestown, perhaps 80% of the inhabitants, were black, working-class, poor and poorly educated. Many had subsisted in the United States on Social Security payments and many came from the ghettos of San Francisco or from Watts, in Los Angeles.
To comprehend fully the horror of the end of Jonestown, it is important to understand Jonestown as it really was in the weeks before the massacre. It is necessary to reject the temptation to re-create history to explain the tragic end. I believed then, as I believe now, that many of the residents of Jonestown would have resisted all efforts to force them to return to the U.S. While it is now abundantly clear that those who wanted to leave were, in most cases, not permitted to do so, it appears to be true that many did not wish to leave. Some were hostages, but many imposed the captivity upon themselves. The mass media has “explained” this social phenomenon by asserting that Jones exercised hypnotic control over the mind of these “cultists.” As with all half-truths, such an explanation is at best deceptive.
There is also another side, another truth. An elderly black woman told me in September, 1978, that when she lived in Watts she was afraid to leave her house at night, venturing out once a week during bright sunlight to shop for necessities. She was a captive in her community in America. Another Jonestown resident, suffering from crippling arthritis, was unable to secure decent medical
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treatment at the clinic in his neighborhood. In Jonestown he received excellent and continual medical care. A young black woman told me that her two children would likely be narcotics addicts or worse if they remained any longer in Watts. Even if her children were persuaded to graduate from high school [handwritten addition: “in Watts “] they would probably be functionally illiterate. She spoke with pride of the excellent school system developed in Jonestown, which her children attended. She was equally proud of the adult education program in which she and hundreds of others were learning to read and write Russian.
After returning to the U.S., I met with [3 lines deleted]. In Jonestown she seemed tense and nervous. When I met her later in [one line deleted] she seemed no more relaxed. On the rare occasions when we were alone, she indicated that there was much I did not know about the People’s Temple and Jonestown, [3 lines deleted].
[Several words deleted] she told me the real history of People’s Temple and Jonestown. [Several lines deleted]
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[All but last line of page deleted]
Jones was desperate as it appeared possible that his flock
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might not survive. In addition, he had become physically ill. He suffered from convulsions, and believed that someone [words “might be” struck out; handwritten addition “was”] tampering with his food. Jones planned, he told me, to move the entire group to the Soviet Union; he was aware how embarrassing a situation for the U.S. Government such a move would be and that some intelligence agencies might wish to forestall it. He wondered whether any of his close advisors were working for American intelligence agencies. He then asked me to file applications under the Freedom of Information Act to determine the degree of penetration by American intelligence of the People’s Temple in San Francisco and the Jonestown project. Many of those in Jonestown, however unhappy with a pioneer life that meant poor food, crowded housing conditions and long working hours, nevertheless would not return to the United States. Many of the residents strongly resented being subjected to dictatorial power of one man and his long and frequent rambling speeches, some of which went into the early hours of the morning and at all of which attendance was compulsory. For most of those in Jonestown, the Soviet Union was seen as a panacea. When Russian language courses were made available, hundreds of adults and children voluntarily signed up, even though it meant additional hours of study falling long hours of work.
When it seemed that I might return to Jonestown during November, I asked [4 lines deleted]
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[2 lines deleted]
Charles Garry, the attorney for the People’s Temple, was widely quoted by the news media in his claim that neither he nor others on the field trip were aware of the potential for violence in Jonestown. Such assertions are belied by the facts. On October 6, 1977, some 11 months before I had ever heard of Jim Jones, the People’s Temple or Jonestown, Charles Garry was, on three separate occasions, in international radio communication with Jim Jones. On that [word struck out “occasion”; handwritten addition “day”], Jones threatened to commit suicide after murdering all of the 500 Americans then residing in Jonestown. Garry [words struck out “traveled around the US”; handwritten addition “tried”] to locate the Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana, who was then in America, in an effort to forestall the massacre. Public figures on the Left in America, including Angela Davis, Huey Newton, and Dennis Banks of the American Indian Movement, were asked to broadcast, and then did broadcast, by radio to Jonestown to dissuade Jones from his plan of mass homicide. These events, of course, were known to the American intelligence organizations, to the State Department, to the FCC [handwritten addition “Federal Communications Commission”] and to those activists who had been with Jones and who, by 1978, strongly opposed his operation.
On June 22, 1978, James Cobb, Jr. filed a complaint against the People’s Temple and Jim Jones in the Superior Court of the State of California in San Francisco in which he stated under oath that on March 14, 1978, Jones and the People’s Temple “published an open letter threatening an act of mass murder of the members of People’s Temple under the control of defendant Jones in Jonestown, Guyana.”
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Cobb also swore in that complaint that on April 18, 1978, the People’s Temple published a press release which “explained” the “decision to die” as “the unanimous vote of the collective community here in Guyana.” That information was subsequently made available to the State Department, every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and to the American intelligence organizations.
After the massacre, Garry and others associated with the People’s Temple asserted that they had never known that anyone in Jonestown had any weapons. However, on June 22, 1978, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported that at a press conference, Charles Garry “claimed credit for the elaborate security system at the Temple’s jungle outpost in Guyana.” The article also quoted Garry as saying that he “encouraged them [Temple officials] [brackets in original] to get weapons.” When Garry was asked at the press conference if he knew where the weapons came from, he responded, “No, I didn’t, I did not inquire. I assume they bought them somewhere like people do in this country.” Even prior to that declaration by Garry, Deborah Layton, who had been a trusted Temple functionary in Jonestown, had told the press that the Jonestown area was patrolled by two rings of guards who have access to between 200 to 300 rifles, 25 pistols and a homemade bazooka. This information and much more appeared in an 88-page article written for the National Enquirer by Gordon Lindsay, a Los Angeles investigative reporter. Generoso Pope, the publisher of the Enquirer, was so amazed by bizarre allegations that he submitted the article to a contact of his in the U.S. State Department. I have been told that Pope was informed by the State Department that People’s Temple was a peaceful, pastoral community and that the article contained untrue
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allegations. Pope declined the publish the article.
When I first became involved with the People’s Temple I had no knowledge of any of this information. In my initial two-day visit to Jonestown I was unable to probe deeply into the legitimacy of the operation in Guyana or in the United States. Before my second trip I had learned much of the truth about Jones and the Temple. But at that point I felt I could not abandon those hundreds of people who were in great danger. Whatever the risk to my safety, I had to make every effort within my power to prevent what appeared to be an impending catastrophe. If I was not able to delay the trip by Congressman Ryan and the others, which I tried to do, I felt that my presence with them might reduce the possibility of violence.
[Most of paragraph deleted] told me the bizarre history of the People’s Temple. [Half line deleted]
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[3 lines deleted]
Had that happened, [name deleted] would be in the number of those in what Jim Jones and the New York Times called a mass suicide.
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Friday, November 17, 1978
By Mark Lane
© November 26, 1978
During the first days of November, I received a message from Jim Jones that had been transmitted by private code and Morse Code from Jonestown, Guyana, through international radio, to the San Francisco headquarters of the People’s Temple and then by telephone to me. Jones informed me that Congressman Leo Ryan of San Mateo, California, had written to him stating that he was investigating charges against Jonestown. The charges had been filed by Tim Stoen, a former People’s Temple lawyer and Jones’ confidant. Stoen had organized the Concerned Relatives. This group, while it represented the genuine and legitimate concerns of frightened family members, was created and used by Stoen as a weapon in his effort to destroy the People’s Temple movement and the settlement in Jonestown. Previously Jones had told me that Stoen had been a government-connected leading anti-Communist who for some reason not understood by Jones, had decided to attach himself to Jones and the Temple. Stoen was an advisor to Jones for six to eight years. Various insiders told me that Stoen was [word struck out “often”] the most militant advisor the Jones [words struck out “and that he”; handwritten addition “who”] often counseled him to take questionable [words crossed out “courses of”] action.
Jones urged me to contact Ryan try to postpone the congressional visit so the plans for the commune’s moved to the Soviet Union might proceed unimpaired.
I called Rep. Ryan’s San Mateo office. The next day, Jim Schollaert, who served as a staff member of the International Relations
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Committee of the House, returned my call. I told him the Jones did not wish to receive Congressman Ryan on November 14 and that Jones wanted me to be present if Ryan’s trip took place. I pointed out that I was obligated to represent James Earl Ray before the Select Committee on Assassinations of the House of Representatives on November 16, and that I could not be in Jonestown on the 14th and Washington on the morning of the 16th. I asked the Congressman to consider putting off his visit for two or three weeks so that proper plans could be made to receive him and so that I could be present at that occasion. Subsequently, Schollaert told me that the Congressman had decided to visit Guyana on the 14th and that he was going to attempt to enter Jonestown during that week whether he was invited or not. He said that under those circumstances the Congressman understood that he might be turned away at the gate.
[word crossed out “Subsequently”] I later received a telephone call from Don Harris of NBC television. Some weeks before, Harris and I had worked together on an NBC television series on the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Harris knew me as a determined advocate for my client’s cause in that instance. He said that he had heard many serious charges that had been made against Jonestown and the People’s Temple.
Harris said, “Mark, who are the good guys in this story?” I told him that there might be no good guys, but that the story was far more complicated than it seemed. I told him there were some positive aspects to Jonestown but that there were some very, very severe problems. I told him I was afraid that the situation might be exacerbated if Jones and his advisors, who already suffered from a fortress mentality, felt that they were under siege by the Congress and the news media. Harris said that he was determined to accompany
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I tried to puzzle the matter through and sought the advice of [name deleted] and others. I was committed to doing everything in my power to help bring about the liberation of those in Jonestown who wanted to leave. I was hopeful that a cautious inquiry by a sympathetic Congressman and the presence of the news media might help to introduce some reforms desired by those who opted to remain in Jonestown. At the same time, I was worried that a confrontation with Jones, who was both physically and mentally ill, might result in tragedy. I knew also that there was little I knew about Jonestown that the Congressman in the news media have not already learned. In fact, there was much the Congressman Ryan and Don Harris, who had direct access to Tim Stoen, Deborah Blakey and others who had been to Jonestown, knew about the situation there of which I was uninformed.
Congressman Ryan’s office had informed me that he would not be accompanied by members of the Concerned Relatives. However, I learned from Harris that Ryan was accompanied to Georgetown by the news media and many of the members of the Concerned Relatives.
Then the House Select Committee on Assassinations announced that it would not permit James Earl Ray to testify. Ray was to be denied an opportunity to answer the charges had been made against him before the Congressional inquisition. As result, I was free to travel to Guyana.
Jim Jones urged me immediately to meet with Congressman Ryan, who was already in Georgetown. Charles Garry, the attorney for the People’s Temple, and I were accompanied by Sharon Amos, a People’s Temple member, when we met with Congressman Ryan at the Pegasus Hotel
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in Georgetown on Friday morning. Ryan was accompanied by two aides, Jim Schollaert and Jackie Spierer [Speier], a lawyer on his personal staff. I informed Congressman Ryan that Jim Jones was ill and that this was the least propitious occasion on which to meet him. It seemed to me that the Congressman doubted the accuracy of my statements.
Ryan told me that he and the American Embassy had arranged for an 18-seat plane to fly from Georgetown to the Port Kaituma airstrip located several miles from Jonestown. He said that he had reserved two seats on the plane, one for me and one for Charles Garry. When I asked him who else would be on the plane he responded that there would be several members of the media and some members of the Concerned Relatives. I pointed out that this was a violation of the commitment that Schollaert had made to me, in which he stated that the news media and the Concerned Relatives would not be present. I further told him that the delegation which had been developed by Congressman Ryan might be confrontational in nature and would at the very best be counterproductive. I asked him to put off the trip for at least 24 hours so that I could communicate with Jim Jones and try to calm the community there before the plane arrived. Ryan said that no commitment had been violated but that the situation had changed. He said that since he had secured a larger plane than he had planned, he was selling tickets on the plane to the news media and to the Concerned Relatives in order to cover expenses, as Congress would be angered by a bill for all eighteen seats. I told him that I thought that that approach might jeopardize his entire inquiry. He said he was leaving within minutes from the airport and that Mr. Garry and I could either accompany him or stay behind.
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I pleaded with him to postpone the trip for two hours so that I might make radio contact with Jim Jones and inform him of the new circumstances in order to alleviate the terrible anxiety which might be present when the group arrived unannounced. At first he refused to postpone the trip for two hours; finally he agreed.
I returned to the People’s Temple office in Georgetown and made immediate contact with Jim Jones by radio. I tried both to calm him and to tell him who would be visiting Jonestown. He was very much agitated and declared that he would never allow that group into Jonestown. I told him that I understood his feelings but that there were so many positive aspects of the Jonestown community that it would be worthwhile for the American people to learn of the experiment there and that if the project could be seen by Americans, flaws and all, there might be a genuine sympathy for the struggles of the people in Jonestown. He seemed unimpressed and nervous. I told him that the alternative would be a well-publicized scene of the relatives and the Congressman being turned away at the gate and that this might well result in Congressional hearings being held by the Committee. Both Charles Garry and I told him that if he viewed the opening up of the community to the outside world as a positive experience, it would, in fact, become a positive event. Jones finally agreed to allow the delegation to enter Jonestown.
On the plane I sat next to Charles Krause of the Washington Post. He appeared to be totally uninformed of the charges against the Jonestown community.
Many of the charges had been published in magazines and newspapers and many of them were a matter of public record in sworn
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complaints and affidavits submitted to various courts and lawsuits then pending against the People’s Temple and Jim Jones. New West, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and various small publications in California had published numerous articles and stories dealing with the horrors of Jonestown. Charles Garry himself had been quoted in the California press as having said that there were guns in Jonestown, and Deborah Blakey, a former member of the Jonestown community, had talked of the large number of automatic weapons that were there. I believed then, as I believe now, the Washington Post was criminally negligent for sending a reporter to that scene without briefing him about the problems which might lie ahead. Krause asked me if I thought that all of the people in Jonestown were content to remain there. I told him that I thought that 90% of those there would not wish to return home. He looked at me with concern and asked if I meant that perhaps 10% of those were being held there against their wishes. I told him that he was an investigative reporter and he had the obligation to raise those questions in Jonestown with the people who were there. He said that my tone indicated to him that there were problems ahead and that he was surprised that I was so critical of my client’s cause.
The pilot announced that he could not land the craft at the airstrip in Port Kaituma because the dirt appeared to be too soft and too wet. We circled over Jonestown and for some reason the pilot changed his mind and decided to attend a landing. We landed without incident and then found ourselves surrounded by a number of very grim-looking men from People’s Temple. They were led by Johnny Jones,
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the adopted son of Jim Jones. One of the men carried a weapon. Later I learned that the man with the rifle was a Port Kaituma police officer, but since he was dressed in a short sleeve shirt and slacks, he had appeared to be a member of the People’s Temple welcoming team. Johnny Jones announced in a firm and angry voice that “only Lane and Garry come ahead; the rest stay here.” Then to me Johnny Jones said, “I want you to order those people back onto the plane.” I told him that I had never previously ordered a Congressman to do anything and reminded him that the airstrip was public property not owned by People’s Temple. I also said that it was very hot on the plane while it was on the ground and that would be a terrible error to herd the invited guests, albeit reluctantly invited, back onto the plane. Garry and I entered a large heavy truck and were being driven toward the muddy, bumpy road to Jonestown just seven miles away. After we had traveled perhaps one mile, we were met by a tractor driven by People’s Temple personnel. Harriet Tropp, a young, recent graduate of law school and a trusted advisor to Jim Jones, leaped from the tractor, ran up to Johnny Jones and said, “There are new orders.” The Congressman, his aides and Dwyer can come along with Lane and Garry.” Richard Dwyer was [word struck out “employed”; words added “Deputy Chief of Mission”] at the U.S. Embassy and he too was on the plane. It was impossible to turn the truck around because of the condition of the road, so we backed up most of the way to the airstrip. At that point we were joined in the truck by Congressman Ryan, his aide Jackie Speirer and Dwyer. It became clear that Jim Jones had not been informed that an officer from the Ministry of Information of Guyana [Neville Annibourne] had also been on the plane and he was added to the group permitted to enter Jonestown. When we arrived at Jonestown, I introduced Congressman Ryan and the other guests to
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Marceline Jones, who was married to Jim Jones. She offered to take the group on a tour of the school, nursery, and health center. Congressman Ryan graciously declined, saying that he would like to take the tour later, but would now like to visit with some people whose names he had in his attaché case. I walked with him and Jackie Speirer to a table in the open air community center and asked Harriet Tropp to arrange for the Congressman and his aide to meet with those on his list. There were seven names on the first list which Congressman Ryan produced; the last name on the list was Gene Chaikin. Chaikin was not part of the greeting party, which caused me great consternation. I never did see Chaikin that day or the next, and was only later that I was informed that his body was found among the other victims of the massacre.
When the Congressman was settled and his inquiry under way, I asked the person in charge of the radio room, which served as the office of Jonestown, if I could speak with Jim Jones at once. I was immediately handed a telephone. Jones, who was in his cabin, began conversation by saying, “This is just terrible. It is a terrible thing. We’re being invaded. They’re trying to create an incident to keep us from moving to Russia.” I said that I did not think that was Congressman Ryan’s intention, but that even if it were, as long as we were all calm, relaxed and open, there need be no incident. Jones said, “Wait till you talk to Tim Carter. You’ll tell you what Stoen is planning.” I told Jim that the relatives and the news media were being kept waiting in the hot sun at the airstrip down the road. I urged him to permit them to visit, believing that
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the presence of the news media might provide additional security for Congressman Ryan. Jones said, “You mean you want all of them in here?” Again, I was conflicted. I was hoping for a modest relaxation of the conditions in order to best serve the interests of the almost 1000 Americans who were there. (In the preceding year approximately 500 new settlers had arrived.) Yet, I was frightened of the possibility of a confrontation. I knew that Gordon Lindsay, who was known to Jim Jones as the author of the article written for the Enquirer attacking Jonestown, was present on the plane. I thought his presence in Jonestown would, in and of itself, constitute a provocation. I was also concerned for Lindsay’s safety. I suggested that everyone at the airstrip be permitted to enter Jonestown with the exception of Gordon Lindsay. Jones agreed to the suggestion and informed Johnny to send the truck for everyone except Lindsay.
Ryan seemed genuinely impressed with his meetings with many Jonestown residents. He kept producing additional slips from his attaché case with the names of other residents to whom he wished to talk. In most cases, the individuals were found and gave glowing accounts of their days in Jonestown.
When the media personnel and the four relatives of the Jonestown residents arrived early that evening, the tension mounted. Dinner was served for the guests in the community center and a marvelous program of music, singing and dancing was presented by many of the Jonestown residents. Congressman Ryan was called upon to speak and he said that although he had heard some complaints against the community, he had spoken with many people since his arrival and that they had told him the Jonestown was the best thing that had ever happened in their lives. There seemed to be an immediate and
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spontaneous response as people rose to their feet and gave the Congressman for deafening and prolonged ovation.
Don Harris saw little of the performances that evening. A tall and strikingly good looking man, this jungle outfit appeared to have been tailored at Brooks Brothers. He was a fine, hard-working, serious reporter and in Jonestown he stood out as a media star. Later, I learned from him that during the performance he walked slowly around the perimeter so that anyone who wished to meet with him alone and to express a desire to leave would be able to do so.
After the performances ended and some of the guests had retired, Tim Carter, a militant supporter of the Temple, the man who had run the Georgetown office while I was there in September, told me that he had infiltrated the Concerned Relatives group in San Francisco. He said that Tim Stoen had told him that they formed a “Traitor’s Committee,” and that it was the purpose of this committee to destroy Jonestown. Carter said that Stoen said that if one person could be persuaded to leave Jonestown with Congressman Ryan that the entire community would be destroyed. As Carter spoke to me at the community center, Don Harris walked quietly through the muddy streets of Jonestown.
The next day I was to discover that two people had approached Harris and asked him to make arrangements for their exit. It is clear now that this exchange had been carefully observed. I have no doubt now that at that moment Don Harris’ death warrant had been sealed.
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by Mark Lane
© November 26, 1978
Early Saturday morning, Jackie Speirer, Rep. Ryan’s staff attorney, began the day by examining the community kitchen facilities. Ryan returned to his post at a table in the open-air community center, a structure comprised of a large tin roof held aloft by wooden poles. He continued to interview selected residents. Soon Don Harris told me that two people had decided to leave. Dwyer, of the American Embassy, asked if their passports could be made available so that they could return to the United States. The tension mounted among the members of the ruling group. Indeed, the better the relationship between the Congressmen and the Jonestown people, the more panicked and hostile became the leaders of the community. Yet, for most of the residents, the loss of two residents was not a matter of concern.
Early in the afternoon, Charles Krause of the Washington Post approached a large building designated as Jane Pittman Gardens. He knocked on the door and said he wanted to interview the people on the inside. The door was not opened and a voice from the inside said but no one there wanted to be interviewed. Other members of the press corps rushed over to that building. A rumor quickly circulated among the reporters that people were being held hostage in that building to prevent their speaking freely to representatives of the media and the government. Krause’s persistence
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was viewed as a deliberate provocation by Johnny Jones and others associated with the leadership. Johnny Jones said, “These are people’s homes; you have no right to insist upon looking into their homes and interviewing them if they do not wish to see you.” Krause, who has a low-key manner, remained at the door, stated that he would like to talk to the residents.
By the time I arrived on the scene, a number of other reporters, including Ed [Tim] Reiterman of the San Francisco Examiner, were already there. Johnny Jones was vehement in condemning the media for insensitively probing into private homes where they were not invited. I explained his position to the media, and the media’s position to him, in an effort to alleviate the strain. At that point Reiterman said that if I was permitted to enter to ask the people if they wanted to be interviewed and they declined, he would be satisfied. Johnny Jones agreed that proposal. I knocked on the door, identifying myself, and asked if I could come in for a moment. A woman’s voice said, “Of course, Mark, you’re always welcome.”
Many elderly black women were lying in bed; some were sewing, some were resting. I walked around the room and asked each of those present if she wanted to talk to the news media and each declined. I told Reiterman what I had done and he seemed satisfied. Krause, however, was persistent and wanted to know why he was not allowed to enter. I told John Jones that I thought that although the room was terribly crowded with double bunks (it reminded me of the hold of the slave ship, an impression which I did not share with him), it would be better for the media to enter and see the people. He reluctantly agreed and representatives of the news media toured the house.
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In retrospect it is difficult to know what specific event, if any, provoked the massacre. Perhaps this one was the turning point. More likely, this strain helped create the atmosphere in which the Parks’ family departure was seen to be the provocation.
The leading group in Jonestown was frantic with the rumor that a whole family of six had opted to leave. Congressman Ryan told me that the Parks family had decided to leave Jonestown. He told me also Jim Jones should not see this departure as a reflection upon the community since people move from one country to another and couples divorce. Don Harris told me that he believed that if 1200 had originally founded Jonestown and 60% of them were left two years later, he would consider the project a resounding success. I related this information to Jim Jones, but he was cold and unresponsive. It seemed to me he heard little of what I said. Jones walked over to the members of the Parks family. He told them that they could leave at any time, but if they chose this occasion to leave, they would be lining up with the U.S. Government against the people of Jonestown. He said that their departure at this time with the American Embassy and a member of the Congress would be seen as a victory for Tim Stoen against socialism. He urged them to stay just a short while longer and said that they could leave any time they wished in the days ahead. Two of the young girls in the family began to cry. The son-in-law began to resist Jones’ blandishments.
Ryan, who was close enough to observe but not close enough to hear the conversation, spoke to me. “Jim Jones is the genius who built this place and it has many positive aspects. He is Jonestown’s greatest benefactor.” And then he added, “But he is also its greatest enemy. His desire for absolute power can destroy
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this place. He demands too much.” I was struck by the objectivity and accuracy of Ryan’s assessment.
More than an hour after Jones began his conversation with the Parks family, he asked me to join the discussion. He said, “Mark, they have decided to stay, but they want to do something for them.” Jim looked exhausted but somewhat victorious as he walked away. Dale Parks spoke to me. “We are willing to stay another week if you will give us a letter in which you personally guarantee that we will be allowed to leave in one week. Will you give us such a letter?” I replied that I would gladly give them such a letter but that I thought it would be valueless. I said, “If you’re free to leave at any time, the letter adds nothing. On the other hand, if you are not free to leave, the letter signed by me will not get you out of here.” I told them that I would not be there a week from that day and that even if I were that I could not guarantee their ability to leave. I suggested that Dwyer of the American Embassy might be able to help.
We called Dwyer to the group and I briefed him on the circumstances. He said, “Oh yes, I can arrange this when I come back in three months.” One of the members of the family said, “Three months? I will not wait three months.” Dale Parks and his father both looked at me and said, “What can we do, what should we do?” I said to the family, “If you really want to leave, then leave now.” I looked up to see Jim Jones looking directly at me. He looked at me differently than he had ever looked before. I did not experience a fully comfortable moment in Jonestown thereafter.
A few minutes later Don Harris told me that he discovered something of the greatest importance that he wanted to share with me. He urged me to remind him to give me that information just before
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he left, that it was important for my safety to have it. As I was chatting with Leo Ryan and Karen Layton, a young man brushed past us to the Congressman and said, “I wish to make a declaration.” Rep. Ryan began to arrange for the departure of Larry Layton. As they sat there talking I could not know that within two hours Larry Layton would be charged with the murder of Congressman Ryan, nor could I suspect that Dale Parks, whose release from Jonestown I just arranged, was to disarm Larry Layton at the Port Kaituma airstrip after my friend Don Harris, Leo Ryan and three others were murdered there.
Karen Layton seemed astonished that her husband was planning to leave. She said, “Larry, are you leaving? Why are you leaving? Why haven’t you told me about this?” He didn’t answer her. He signed the papers that were before him and walked away silently.
As Ryan talked to me about the [word crossed out, illegible; word added “pain’”] of families being split apart, a tall, powerful man approached Ryan from the rear, placed an arm around Ryan’s throat and held him in a headlock, while he placed a hunting knife with a serrated edge on the Congressman’s chest. As he grabbed him in a headlock, he said, “You mother fucker, I’m going to kill you!” Ryan, thinking the man was joking, said, “Okay, that’s enough fooling around, you can let go now.” At that moment Ryan saw the knife for the first time and his manner changed. I reached in with my right hand and placed my thumb under the assailant’s wrist and began to apply pressure to move the hand which held the knife away from Leo Ryan’s chest. Several people crowded behind the assailant and grabbed him in a headlock. They pulled him backward onto the floor of the community center with Ryan falling on top of him. I tried to maintain my hold on the assailant’s wrist and in
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the melee that followed the knife was dislodged, the assailant taken away and the Congressman, looking distraught and frightened, remained on the ground.
I helped him up and noticed that there was blood on the right front side of his shirt as well as on his right trouser leg. As he sat on a bench, I asked him if he was wounded. He said, “I don’t know, I just don’t know.” I opened his shirt and looked at the right side of his chest but there was no wound there. The hand that held the knife had been cut during the struggle and it was the blood of the assailant that spotted Ryan’s clothing. As I looked up I saw that Jim Jones had quietly observed the scene. I told him to call the police at once, that we had just witnessed an attempted murder. He said he would do so but never did.
Over Congressman Ryan’s protest that it was not necessary, I asked Jim Jones to call the doctor at once. The doctor never arrived. (The doctor did not arrive until long after the Congressman had departed and then apparently to bring a vat of poison Kool-Aid.) At that point it was decided that Congressman Ryan would go back to Georgetown, that Dwyer would ride with him to the Port Kaituma airstrip to arrange for an additional plane in the morning and that he, Dwyer, would return to Jonestown that evening.
Before the truck to Port Kaituma left, Don Harris told me that there were automatic weapons in Jonestown. A police officer in Port Kaituma the previous evening had told him. Don asked me to assess the mood in Jonestown and I told him that I was very worried. He asked me, “Do you think Jones may try to pull off a ‘mass suicide?'” I could only answer, “I hope not.” Don then put his hand on my
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shoulder and said, “Why don’t you come back with us now?” I answered, “I came here knowing that there were serious risks involved and with the dual hope of getting as many people out as I could and of calming the troubled waters. I think I have to stay and help Dwyer process those who want to leave tomorrow morning.” We shook hands and he left. I was never to see Don Harris again. Leo Ryan and I walked together to the truck which was to take him back to the airstrip at Port Kaituma. He thanked me for my help and said he hoped that his presence had not created a problem. “I hope you’re not mad at me for coming,” he added. I told him that although I had originally felt it would have been better if he had not come, his conduct was so open and friendly that perhaps it would all work out well. I said, “It is as if you opened a window to a room which had been sealed off for years. Most people here I’m sure were pleased at that opening. I hope it does not drive the leadership into a fit of paranoia.” At the truck we shook hands and he said, “You saved my life back there. When you get to the West Coast, let’s have dinner together.”
Upon my return to the community center area, Jones summoned Charles Garry and me to meet with some of his advisors. “This can be the best day in the history of Jonestown,” I said to Harriet Tropp. “Some people who want to leave are leaving. The positive aspects of Jonestown have been seen and filmed. The Congressman has told me that he will write an objective report and that there will be no hearings.” She looked at me and screamed, “You’re crazy, you’re crazy.” And thus the meeting began.
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Jim Jones began by describing the situation as terrible. He did not order the attack on the Congressman, he said, but he would no doubt be blamed for it. (I concluded by them that Jones had ordered Don Sly, the man who had earlier attacked Ryan, to kill him. If Sly had wanted to kill Ryan initially he could have plunged the knife into the Congressman’s back several times before any of us could have interceded. Instead, he held him in a headlock, placing the knife flat against his chest. By telling Ryan what he planned to do, he gave us adequate time to prevent the attack.)
Jones continued: “The men who left here all did it because they love me so much that they want to destroy the enemy. They are going to do that now and although I am innocent, I will be blamed for that.” I told him that Dale Parks, his father and his brother-in-law left because the conditions were too harsh for them, that while they would not publicly criticize Jones, neither would they commit crimes on behalf of Jim Jones. Jim waived my comments aside and said, “But others will.” He said, “When Larry Layton embraced me it was a cold embrace and I knew then that he was going to kill. Therefore, I must take action now, the people demand it.” The people were sitting quietly and patiently at the community center demanding nothing. I said, “Jim, you cannot take some action based upon a premonition or a vision or a feeling.” Jim replied, “We have proof that they are going to shoot down the plane – shoot up that plane.” I felt certain then that Jones had ordered Layton and others to kill a number of people.
In reconstructing the events now, I believe that Jones gave me that information just minutes before the shooting at the airstrip which took the lives of five people. At that point, Maria Katsaris,
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one of the women [handwritten addition illegible], with whom Jim Jones lived, entered and asked to see Jones alone. He stood up, walked over to her and they shared a whispered conversation. Jones then addressed me. “You and Garry go to the East house. The people are very angry about what you have done here. Go there at once.”
Jim McElvane accompanied us on the walk to a cottage some distance from the community center. I did not notice whether McElvane was armed, but since he was six feet, eight inches tall and weighed approximately three hundred pounds, it hardly mattered. Just after Charles Garry and I entered the East house, a man was dispatched, apparently to guard us. It was Donald Sly, the man who had just assaulted Congressman Ryan. Several minutes later, a group of eight-to-ten men came running down from the direction of the community center toward our cottage. They were shouting, “Let’s get them. Let’s bring them up. Let’s get them now.” Since Charles and I were the only apparent “them,” I turned to Charles and observed, “This does not look good.” But the men ran past the cottage in which we were held and into a small guard shack a few feet away, from which they removed large numbers of semiautomatic rifles. One man carried three, others carried two. Two young strongly-built men struggled with what apparently was an ammunition case, which they carried up toward the community center. The other men carrying numerous weapons ran up the hill toward the community center.
We heard Jim Jones broadcasting over the public address system. We were some distance from the center so we could not catch every word, but I heard him say, “There is great dignity in death. We must all die.” Later he said, “Tim Stoen it is not our only enemy, there are others.” Later I was informed that a survivor of
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the massacre said that Jones announced at the meeting that there were to be murders at the airstrip.
Within minutes, two young black men came running down from the community center toward the East house. One of them told Sly that he could then report to the community center. One of them, a man named Poncho [nickname of Garry Dartez Johnson], who had been the master of ceremonies at the performance the evening before, called my name. On my previous visit to Jonestown I had spoken with him about my work in the investigation of the assassination of Dr. King. I came out of the house to where he was standing and I was followed by Charles Garry. Poncho said, “Man, we are all going to die. There is great dignity in death. This is the way to struggle against fascism.”
I said to him what I would have said to the group at the community center had I been allowed to be present at the final meeting. I said, “There is no dignity in suicide. Suicide is the absence of struggle – worse, the denial of struggle.” He stood there smiling at me benignly as I continued. “Poncho, killing children is not a struggle against fascism. It is fascism.” He did not hear anything I said. He appeared to be calm, relaxed, almost euphoric. He repeated, “Man, it’s beautiful to die, we are all going to die now.”
I was particularly concerned with his use of the pronoun “we” and wondered if Charles and I were included in it. I decided not to put that question to him directly because I felt that the answer might be terribly disappointing to me. Instead, I said, “Well, Poncho, if you have made up your mind, I guess there is nothing I can do, but at least you will know that Charles and I will be able
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to tell of the last minutes of Jonestown.” I had injected a new thought into the discourse and he shook his head and looked at me for a moment. Then he said, “Mark, you are a good writer, that’s right. You tell the world about it.” He then put his arms around me as well and said goodbye. As they started to leave I called to them. “Poncho, how do we get out of here?” He said, “When it’s all over in a few minutes, just call a plane.” I said, “I don’t have a plane and you don’t have a phone. How do I walk out of here?” Poncho pointed toward the hill behind the East house and said, “Walk up that hill over the crest and down the hill: that’s where you’ll find the road.” Poncho and his associate ran back toward the community center and Charles and I ran in the opposite direction up the hill as instructed.
As we got part way up the hill over the rough terrain, I heard Jim Jones’ voice cry, in tones of deep anguish, “Mother, mother, mother, mother, mother, mother.” Then there was silence. The silence was shattered by some eighty-to-ninety rounds of ammunition which apparently were fired from automatic or semiautomatic rifles. Charles and I moved up the hill. I gave him my hand as he stumbled in a ravine and then on some vines. I knew that Charles was 70 years old and that would take all of our combined energies to get us both through the jungles of Guyana and back to America. I knew the bush had been described as the last completely unexplored jungle in the world. I knew that among the terrors in the jungle were jaguar, ocelot, scorpions, vampire bats and boa constrictors. I knew that the 24 hours ahead were to hold many terrors for us.
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by Mark Lane
© November 26, 1978
As we fled from the sounds of murder in Jonestown, Charles Garry and I saw a field of cassava plants ahead. We crossed a ravine and forced our way between spiked plants, stumbling over vines, tugged at by odd and sticky vegetation and low jungle growth. I carried a small bag with a shoulder strap. Consequently, both of my hands were free. Charles carried a heavy briefcase. At one point, as we were but halfway toward the crest of the hill, Charles almost collapsed. He said that he could go no further without a break. I told him that I would never abandon him and that we would both walk out of there together. I urged him to summon all of his energy so that we could conquer the crest of the hill before people in Jonestown, having their murder assignments there, might turned their attention toward the east and see us. I took his briefcase and his hand and together we made it to the top of the cassava field. After a brief rest we descended until we were close to the road. There, between the dense bush and the cassava plants, we paused to observe any possible activity on the road. I asked Charles what he carried in his briefcase to make it so heavy. He handed it to me and I saw the People’s Temple files with which his briefcase bulged. He explained, “I’m still their lawyer, you know. They never sent me a letter discharging me.” I allowed as to how the firing squad probably carried a similar message but he would not hear of it.
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We began to move slowly out of Jonestown making headway near the bush and using the cassava for light cover. Suddenly we saw three men on the other side of the road. Two were carrying wooden foot lockers on their backs. Charles later told me that he thought they had been armed with long guns. I whispered to Charles to follow me and I dove headlong into the bush. We fought with vines and were cut by plants with razor-sharp spikes as in panic we forged deeper and deeper into the jungle. We were by then almost exhausted and it was too dark to see more than a few feet ahead. I changed direction and walked until it was too dark to see where we were. Charles and I then fell to the jungle floor. It was just seven p.m. and we knew that first light was almost elevn hours ahead.
As the rain dripped from the 150-foot canopy formed by the tree tops, it seemed as if someone or something was moving inexorably toward us. Suddenly I saw a flashlight coming toward us. We hid behind a fallen log and waited. The flashlight came closer, then flickered out and then on again. It was a giant firefly.
We knew that the jungle was home for many creatures that crawled, including scorpions, tarantulas and varieties of poisonous spiders. We knew that cats, including the dangerous and bold jaguar, were about. We knew that snakes, including the small and lightning fast deadly variety, abounded and that boa constrictors were plentiful. I had heard that the vampire bats that traveled at night in large flocks had been seen in the area. When they bite into flesh they secrete an anticoagulant that keeps the blood flowing and the wounds from healing. Yet, with human killers roaming the area, the bush was more hospitable than the road from Jonestown.
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I reached into my luggage and found a package of cough drops. After I purchased them in New York, I was displeased to note that the first listed ingredient was sugar. Here in the bush the sugar provided a meal. Charles and I each sucked on a cough drop and followed the main course with the vitamin C pill that Charles carried. For dessert, a penicillin tablet, also provided by Charles, was taken with the hope that the bleeding wounds we had suffered as we thrashed through the underbrush might heal without infection. We talked quietly through the night, often jolted into a panic of silence by the sound of something approaching, hesitating and at last retreating.
Charles seemed confident that as soon as the sun rose he would lead us directly to the road. He said that he had an excellent sense of direction. My reason told me that we were lost, perhaps hopelessly lost. I blamed myself for having led us so deeply into the jungle in a panicked response to those men on the road who may not have even seen us and who, even if they had, might have been more intent upon escaping than harming us.
Now we were alone. I was strangely comforted by Charles’ certainty that he knew exactly where the road was and at the same time annoyed by what was projected as his contempt for the hazards of the bush.
It was dark; so dark that I literally could not see my hand before my face. At the JFK airport in New York, I had purchased a watch because the one I had been wearing persisted in stopping regularly. The new watch was the first one I ever owned that had a light switch. It was more than a little reassuring to be able to
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clock the time and see some small light every few minutes through the night. Charles said that he had to urinate and he stood up and took a few steps. I urged him not to walk around as we might be separated and he might step on a snake. It was then that I knew how important it was to me that I was not alone, although my reasons told me that my companion’s presence in no real way increased my chances for survival. Yet when I talked to Charles about simple matters, and he answered, the cold sweat, the rapid heartbeat that I was so aware of experiencing subsided. It was as though panic began to give way to reason because there was another human being present.
I thought of my father, about to celebrate his 87th birthday within a week and how the news of my death might affect him. In nature, as it was intended for us, children bury their parents. In war and in the violent society that we had become, all the rules for life and death had been rendered useless.
I thought of my lady, [name deleted] and how the quiet terror that I had lapsed into on the floor of the beautiful and deadly place would be outdone in Memphis by her anxiety and fear. I thought that I just wanted to see her one more time to say the things that I should have said long ago.
I remembered clearly then how she had begged me not to go to Guyana, saying that my life would be in danger if Jones ever was driven by madness to action. At that time I told her that I felt an obligation to so many good and decent people that I had met in Jonestown. She smiled and asked me if I was not interweaving my sense of adventure with my obligations. I denied it then. Now
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in the jungle I wondered if she was right. I knew that whatever thirst for adventure I might have had by then had been satisfied. I just wanted to be home.
The stars came out and we could see them through the trees. Then the moon; the light was sharp as contrasted with the darkness and the jungle floor and was scattered in odd patches by the swaying treetops. Too soon the moon and the stars were gone and two urban lawyers were again enveloped in total darkness.
Mosquitoes attacked us, biting through our clothing and buzzing in formation about our heads. It was only much later that the possibility of malaria was brought to my attention. Ants and flies bit us as well. As annoying and painful as those bites were, it was the thought of snakes and large cats that terrorized me in the darkness. We could see nothing. We were vulnerable to any attack. We were defenseless. The last time I felt such an absence of control over my own destiny was when I was placed in a Southern jail for demonstrating for equality some years before. Then too, I knew that I was entirely at the mercy of events I could not control, could not begin to influence, and could not even understand.
Panic and hopelessness returned with the blackness. I struggled to use reason; to conjure up a method which could take us out of there. I prayed that Charles knew the way. Part of me believed that he could not be so sure and yet wrong. But logic told me that even those who knew the bush would probably be lost if they were with us.
I asked Charles how far from the road he thought we were. He
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said that he thought we were not more than 150 yards away. This confirmed my own belief. I had heard of a plane that crashed in New England. The survivors were but a half-mile from a road which would have taken them to safety. They died in a forest after having circled in vain for days.
I felt sympathetically toward Charles and I decided to share the information that I had secured from [name deleted] [Terri Buford] with him. Of course, since he had been counsel for the Temple for a year and a half and I had only two months before learned of the existence of the People’s Temple, Garry presumably knew far more about the criminal conspiracy to murder than I did. But he was so determined to maintain the Temple as a client that I wanted to brief him about the possibility of additional potential problems.
Before telling him about my frank exchanges with [Buford] I swore him to absolute secrecy. He asked if he might share the information just with Pat Richartz, his legal assistant. Since Ms. Richartz was not noted for discretion, I was firmly opposed to that proposal. I said, “Charles, a human being’s life may depend upon your absolute commitment to secrecy.” He agreed to tell no one. He kept his promise only until he returned to San Francisco and there, at a large press conference, he announced, “Mark Lane’s source was [Terri Buford].” He described her as [line deleted]. He thus endangered her life and mine as he violated the attorney-client rule regarding privileged information. Charles Garry had been known for his fierce loyalty to causes committed to social change and progress. His legal career
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was replete with his stated opposition to what he referred to as “finks, spies and informants.” More in sorrow than in anger I puzzle as to why he decided to become an informant and turn his back upon a long record of dedication to principle. I can only hope that Garry’s lapse was caused by the terrible trauma of our shared experiences at Jonestown.
At first light I made a proposal to Charles about how to escape from the jungle prison. I thought of our assets – two intelligent men facing the most important test of our lives. I recalled that in my shoulder bag I carried a toilet article kit which contained a small precision pair of folding scissors. I had purchased them at an airport store more than a year before when a salesman told me it would be useful to trim my mustache. I had never used them. Just before leaving the United States I purchased three pairs of white undershorts and they were in my bag, still sealed in their original package. I proposed that we cut the undershorts into strips and that we carefully mark the trail leading from our base – the place where we had camped for the night. In that fashion we could always retrace our steps back to the base, confident then that each new foray would begin approximately 150 yards from our destination. At dawn, Charles was impatient. He said he knew exactly where the road was and did not wish to waste time with strips of cloth. I begged him to humor me. After I got two pair of shorts into strips, Charles left for the road. He walked quickly, wanting to get out of there at once. I trailed behind, placing strips on vines and trees every few feet. I had handed a number of markers to Charles but he refused to place most of them due to his
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abundant optimism. Forty-five minutes later we were hopelessly lost in what has been described as the last unexplored jungle in the world. We tried to find our way back to the base but we had moved so quickly, had used too few markers and it was so dark and dense in the bush, that we were unable to locate the cotton strip trail. At that desperate hour we were lost, almost hopelessly and irretrievably lost. Then, at 7:45 Sunday morning, we heard running through the bush. In the green, dripping rain forest, overgrown by vines and undergrowth and covered by a triple canopy draped across hardwood trees, it was impossible to determine from which direction the sounds came. We froze and listened. Within moments I heard the reports of some fifteen to twenty shots being fired. I heard more screaming and more sounds of people thrashing about in the jungle. We were afraid to move for it was impossible to move quietly. Moving there meant crushing fallen branches, breaking vines, repelling plants with sharp thorns. Often it meant stumbling and falling. We remained still. We were both lost and in danger of being found. I felt my anger surge against Charles; his false confidence might cost us our lives. But, together, patiently, we searched for the cotton trail. At last he found a cotton strip, and I found another and finally we were back at the base. This time I was firm. Charles was chastened by our close call and by then as respectful of the bush as I was. Using the base as the hub to which we could always return, we set out in the opposite direction from the previous foray. This time we marked the trail every five feet. In time we found the road.
Carefully and cautiously we moved, keeping the cassava and banana trees to our left and the bush to our right. We were near the road but not on it. Much later, at a bend in the road, we saw
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the guard house. What we did not know was whether it was occupied by armed guards. Charles and I held a whispered conference in the bush. We agreed that very likely the post had been abandoned. We heard sounds of a helicopter and then a light fixed wing plane. I suggested that we remain in the bush another night theorizing that surely by the next day American military trucks would turn the road into a highway. We were, after all, contemplating the lives and deaths of approximately 1000 Americans. (A week later, the first vehicle had not yet arrived.) Charles said that he would not spend another minute there. He dropped his briefcase, picked up a pole that had been used to prop up a banana tree heavy laden with fruit and looking like Don Quixote, he bravely rushed the guard house. He tore open the door, prepared to spear anyone who might harm us. No one was there. A few small piglets rooted about the shack. I picked up our luggage and together we ran for freedom down the road to Port Kaituma less than 10 miles away.
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by Mark Lane
© November 26, 1978
In an eight-month period beginning in June, 1977, almost 1000 Americans left their homes to settle in the interior of Guyana. Women, men and children of varying ages fled from the ghettos of America to pursue a dream in a jungle clearing. The news media and the opinion makers, including spokesmen for organized religion, have begun the obligatory ritualistic condemnation of cults to explain this phenomenon.
Jim Jones pursued power. His manner was disarming and sympathetic but his goal was to control. When he felt Jonestown slipping from his grasp he sought to demonstrate the ultimate power that his charismatic leadership could wield. Had his suicide been followed by the voluntary deaths of all of his followers his destiny would have been fulfilled. Unable to arrange for that conclusion, he ordered the mass murder of hundreds of men, women and children, confident that the American government in the American news media would accept his simplistic explanation of the event.
Jim Jones was a faith healer who never healed by faith. He sent his legions quite literally into the garbage cans of his intended victims and into their bedrooms to rummage about for facts about them so that he could later appear to have received the information in some mystic fashion. A consummate confidence man is well-equipped to understand
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and empathize with the bureaucrats in the editorial offices and in Washington. He presumed they would buy his final flim-flam and help them convert mass murder into a mass suicide rite. In that fashion this matter could be forgotten after a few sincerely uttered words about the evils of cults and brainwashing. With that explanation of the deaths America need not ask why a thousand of its sons and daughters felt they had to journey elsewhere in a search for human dignity, or why they believed that the government was indifferent to their concerns. Yet no question is settled until it is settled properly.
As the massacre was ending, an undetermined number of people fled from Jonestown into the inhospitable bush. As day after day passed, the American government made no serious effort to rescue them, thus providing evidence that the original assessment of the Jonestown settlers had validity. Had they not been poor blacks involved in what they perceived as an experiment in Socialism, perhaps their government might have been more responsive. Indeed, had they been the corpses of fallen prisoners of war rotting in the earth of Viet Nam, they would have been retrieved with dispatch and ceremony.
As word of the deaths reached the United States, the New York Times proclaimed in banner headlines on November 21, 1978, that hundreds had died “in an apparent mass suicide.” The New York Post reported “400 In Mass Suicide –
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Smiling Cultists Line Up For Poison.” By the next day the New York Times was referring to the “mass suicide” and was publishing data from psychologists “to explain the mass suicide in Guyana.”
Five days later the Associated Press posed the question, “Ask why more than 900 people obediently took their own lives at the prophet’s behest. The answer can only lie in another jungle of the human mind.”
At this point only two eyewitnesses to the deaths have given public accounts. One, Stanley Clayton, said that the people were “surrounded by armed guards and forced to take poison.” He said that “hundreds had to be forced” and that “sometimes the poison was administered intravenously by nurses and sometimes by the doctor.”
Clayton said that when Christine Miller told Jones, “I have the right to do with my life what I want and you have no right to take it away from me,” Jones replied, “I can’t leave any member of my family behind.” Clayton said that the “entire group was then surrounded by dozens of guards armed with pistols, rifles and crossbows.” Clayton said that Jones and the guards pulled those who resisted toward the poison pots.
The other surviving witness, Odell Rhodes, also stated that “armed guards ringed the assembly hall.” He also said
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that infants and children, many crying, were led to a table at the assembly hall where a nurse squirted cyanide down their throats with a syringe.
I do not doubt that some, including Jim Jones, voluntarily took their own lives. It appears, however, that many were murdered. In the cases of those who were shot, or injected with the poison over their objections, the crime of murder is apparent.
But even for others, ordered to drink the poison with crossbows, pistols and semi-automatic rifles pointed at them, the question [handwritten word added “evidently”] was not whether to live or die but in which manner they would die.
For Jones and the New York Times, the deaths can be explained as ritual suicide. For those concerned with the facts, the matter appears to be far more complex.
While the carnage continued in Jonestown, at the headquarters of the People’s Temple in Georgetown, the capital of Guyana, four more bodies were found. Sharon Amos and her three children were found in a bathroom with their throats slit from ear to ear. Near the bodies was found a relatively dull meat cleaver. These deaths too were described as “suicides” by the American authorities and news media. How the feat could have been accomplished was not explained. Quietly the authorities in Guyana arrested a veteran member of the People’s Temple and charged him with the four murders.
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The difference between suicide and murder may be felt in terms of long range effect. If a number of armed, well-financed and experienced killers are at large there may be need for some concern. Especially is this so in view of the Jim Jones “Last Stand” plan.
Many contingency plans which were to be put into action upon the death of Jim Jones had been developed. Those who were in the inner circle of leadership in Jonestown, Georgetown and San Francisco were aware of the Last Stand plans and all were committed to carrying them out. Many of them have survived the massacre.
If Jones had been arrested the Temple leadership was obligated to respond by kidnapping public officials. At present only Larry Layton has been arrested in connection with the murder of Congressman Ryan and others. I have been assured that Layton is so poorly regarded by the present leadership that it seems unlikely that anyone will be kidnapped due to his arrest.
In the event of a major shootout or “mass suicide”, the Last Stand plans call for the initiation of a five-stage program:
Stage One – All of the “defectors” are to be killed. A “defector” is any former member of the People’s Temple. High on the list are former prominent Temple members, especially those who have spoken out against the Temple since leaving. The person who has been
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given the assignment [handwritten addition “to carry out this program”] presently resides in the San Francisco headquarters of the Temple. Many letters from that person to Jim Jones discuss the assignment. The letters were signed with the code name TEKO [Editor’s note: “Teko” is the code name for Temple leader Sandy Bradshaw]. TEKO also purchased weapons in the United States and shipped them to Guyana.
Stage Two – Newspapers, radio and television reporters who had published hostile statements about the Temple were also to be killed. Among those named as future targets were Lester Kinsolving, Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy.
Stage Three – If it appeared that the Temple was being credited with having accomplished a revolutionary act on behalf of socialism and against the American government by carrying out the program of “mass revolutionary suicide,” the survivors were to identify with the act. However, if the “mass suicide,” having been accomplished, was disapproved out by the public, then the Temple survivors were to declare Jones a fascist or a paranoid and disassociate from the act. The group’s total lack of contact with reality can best be understood by their failure to understand that many would be appalled at mass murder even when disguised as suicide.
Stage Four – To politicize the event, U.S. public officials were to be killed after the suicide. The Secret Service,
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charged with the protection of public officials, it is now deeply concerned with that possibility.
Stage Five – Large sums of money were to be given to the Soviet Union. When the Soviet diplomats were informed by the Temple [handwritten addition “several months ago”] that several million dollars were to be given to them, they declined. They suggested instead that Jones give the money to UNICEF. Jones was upset by the response and said, “This is a slap in the face.” Just after the massacre, three Temple loyalists were arrested with half a million dollars, weapons and letters to the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown. One of the three men had previously been instructed by Jones to shoot Jones in the head to be sure that he was dead. After the death of Jones had been assured, the men were to pursue their journey by canoe. Their destination was the Soviet Embassy in Georgetown. After having completed that task they were to return to San Francisco with instructions.
The Temple had amassed more than ten million dollars, none of which was maintained in Temple accounts. Most of the money was secured through offerings which resulted from fake faith healing sessions and from property donations.
Very few of the Temple leaders knew that Jones kept three million dollars, almost all in one hundred dollar bills, in his cabin in Jonestown. Few also knew that in one numbered Swiss bank account was kept $1,622,794.00. In another he
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kept $3,550,000.00. Another two million dollars was maintained elsewhere. These numbered accounts were ostensibly under the control of Esther Lillian Mueller, an elderly and irrational woman who Jones had chosen for her inability to understand the nature of the documents which she signed. Very likely she died in Jonestown thinking she was a pauper, not realizing that she was a millionaire.
These overseas bank accounts were established upon the instructions given by a former activist in the Temple who now offers himself to the news media as a virtuous and principled critic of the Temple’s wrongdoings.
A well-financed, armed and experienced group of committed men and women must now decide if there has been enough killing. Perhaps the shocked response of the entire world to the madness of Jonestown will deter them from carrying out the Last Stand plans. Perhaps the death of Jim Jones will free many of the men and women who were tied to him through emotional, pseudo-political and sexual actions and commitments. If not, the future may hold some terror. If so, we need only contemplate the past and ask – Why?
Why did the State Department insist that all was well at the pastoral, peaceful community in Jonestown? Since the FBI monitored the radio communications between Jonestown and San Francisco, how was it possible for hundreds of weapons to have been collected and purchased in the United States and [handwritten condition “illegally”] transported to Guyana?
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Why was no effort made to provide security for Rep. Ryan in the face of all that the national police agencies knew about the volatile situation in Jonestown?
Were personnel of intelligence agencies in Jonestown and at the Temple’s residences at offices in Georgetown and San Francisco, as Jones suspected?
Knowing all that the agencies of the U.S. government knew about the possibility of violence in Jonestown, why were the media, the Congressman and the relatives not warned about the danger?
What could have been done to prevent the murders? My own [crossed out word “modest”; handwritten addition “inadequate”] effort saved six lives and postponed the death of Leo Rysan for a short time. The U.S. Government knew that Jones was involved in serious discussions with the Soviet Union to transport the Americans at Jonestown to Russia. Jones understood that the Jonestown residents would not constitute a collective in the Soviet Union but that each person or family unit would be assigned to a city and given a job and a place to live.
Most of the people at Jonestown did not wish to return home to a ghetto and looked forward to a new life in the Soviet Union. An arrangement to facilitate such a move could have resulted from meetings between Soviet and U.S. officials. The results might have been acutely embarrassing to an administration which has focused so sharply upon human rights violations
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in other countries.
Yet the lives of almost a thousand Americans, a Congressman and some fine reporters might have been saved. Instead of negotiation the U.S. Government, knowing the risks, chose confrontation. The result is clear. The question is – why?