I was born gentle into a harsh world, mere days shy of D-Day. Both sets of grandparents had fled pogroms in Eastern Europe, were strictly Orthodox, and spoke only Yiddish. My parents, in rebellion, wound up as Jewish atheists, common enough in New York through the tumult of the Great Depression, then World War II with its horror of The Holocaust.
By the time I was born, my mother had been a card-carrying Communist for four years. I, meanwhile, was writing poems about angels and God by age 8, and no one knew from whence it came. As I matured, I longed to be an artist and an activist both. (Being psychic was wholly unplanned! And I was left as burdened by it as empowered.) I was in D.C. in August, 1963, to hear MLK’s “I have a dream” speech live. It never occurred to me that art and activism could be cast as diametrically opposed.
By the time I was 17, I had landed the first of two mentors who both went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for musical composition. Each in turn had boundless faith in me, as a shy, yet brilliantly gifted girl in a field of ambitious grown men. I was an anomaly.
Meanwhile, my undiagnosed, untreated manic depressive mother (now called “bi-polar”) had taken to screaming out at night, “I wish she would die!” about me. She told me that “You just think you have friends. They will all leave you by the wayside when they find out what you are really like.” She berated me with the likes of, “You’re as cold as ice. You’re incapable of loving another human being.“
My artistic dreams fared no better: “Music is just an escape for you. But it won’t work!” “You can’t compose music all the time. Even Beethoven didn’t compose music all the time!” Finally the coup de grace: “I could commit suicide and you wouldn’t care. You’d just keep playing your music!”
I didn’t leave the house that day. I feared that the price of freedom might be a dead mother.
Yet she told her friends that she loved me dearly, and how worried and frightened she was for me. (“I’m not the one who’s sick! You’re the one who’s sick!“) They thought that she was the best mother in the world! She was like one of those Munchausen-Syndrome-by-Proxy moms before anyone even knew they existed. Nor was there a moment’s retraction or regret. No “I shouldn‘t have said that,” “I‘m sorry,“ or even “Maybe I went too far.” “Mother” (I could never manage to call her “Mom”) was always right.
I was terrified – too young and fragile to absorb, much less combat insanity; and paralyzed that the lunatic was my own mother. Yet it was also surreal. I was frozen. I told no one.
Nor did I tell her, nor my plastic father, of my ambitions, my accomplishments, much less the praise from others. It was like I had one life of promise that I could not sustain, and another one locked into a dark vault of parental abuse. I would retreat to the bathroom and cry my eyes out in despair.
People adopt ways of coping with stress. Mine was stoicism, protective in part, but it also kept me frozen, leaving me prey to further harm. I failed to master self-protection, lest a reactive explosion from within might shatter me.
Finally one night, asleep and unaware of how or why I “cracked.” I awoke unable to compose a note and panicked. I had not yet turned eighteen.
I finished college, then my second mentor got me a full scholarship to graduate school, which unthinkably, I blew. I wondered if I would fail at everything I touched.
Yet, as a wholly unexpected diversion – maybe as Maria’s solace in The Sound of Music, that “When God closes a door, He opens a window” – it was at that very juncture of worldly failure that Spirit began speaking to me.
I know that that is a mystery for most. Except that that inner guidance, unthinkable to even me at the time, came true! The first signpost (as recounted in my book Snake Dance) arrived when barely 18 and knowing nothing of Peoples Temple, I was flooded first with the marvelous opening line of John Keats’ “Ode to a Nightingale”: “My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains my sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk.” Hemlock being the poison of choice for ancient Greek suicide. (Note Jim Jones 16 years later on the final tape: “Step over to the other side, like the ancient Greeks,” although ancient Greece had never before arose.)
It then coursed through my young brain that a huge number of people had died – as if it had already happened – but that I was left to survive. And in its wake, in a then-distant future, I had produced an emotionally wrenching musical work. I saw people weeping upon witnessing the power of that work, as grief poured forth from their souls and they were released from pain. And I too wept. Right there on the street.
And every now and then (again, years prior to Peoples Temple,) I would dream of mass death, unrelated to my then-current life on the East Coast.
I had never heard of Peoples Temple. Fast-forward to 1970, now on the West Coast, I had different plans. But my married lover had just accidentally impregnated his wife with their sixth child (ouch!) and I was distraught. I thought I might have a nervous breakdown. I did not know what would become of me.
Then suddenly, on April 14, 1970, I was sitting, just sitting alone, and an actual audible whisper shot out: “April 19th.” And I was lifted. My heart soared and the pathway was clear, but with no idea what was about to come.
Three days hence, on April 17, Kay, a friend of that time, told me that a friend of hers named David Shular (who himself joined the Temple) had invited her to an upcoming meeting with a Native American healer named Jim Jones. She ignored the flyer; but me, I took it and found my way to the Fillmore that weekend to meet my fate. I arrived and was called out by Jim Jones to join Peoples Temple on Sunday, April 19th.
I was enchanted and amazed. Whatever Jim Jones’ persona later on, his passion to lift, to heal, to transform, left me in awe. I did not know how to wrench myself free from the doomed love affair, but Jim, who brought me to Redwood Valley that very night, derailed my uncertainty with his own absolutes: “You knew this would happen on this date. You belong here. This is your destiny point!” He hurriedly rounded up loyalists to pull me aside and ensure that I would stay. They were also certain that any thought of poetry, music, much less unseen spiritual guides (“That had to have been Jim Jones!”) had to be gone.
Meanwhile, there were no cell phones, no e-mails in those days. I never got to bid my besieged lover goodbye. And though the pull to Peoples Temple was indeed inexorable, the depression alone was unbearable for months. Though I did remember that I had known love. I never at any time demanded Jim Jones’ attention, affection, much less sex. I was unclear whether this man even liked me. And any thought of joining in on “assembly line sex“ – how many? No one even knew – just unnerved me.
So where did my loyalties, my ultimate commitments lie? With hope of again pursuing an independent life, filled with joy, passion, love? With a restless creativity which would never die down? With whatever unseen Power had led me to the doors of People Temple? Or with… Jim Jones? In the long hard wield of time, that might actually come in fourth! But now, instead, it was the imperative.
Already political from birth, I was still a child of the McCarthy age and the imperatives of reversing societal injustice. I was guided to Peoples Temple and there I stayed. But had I any inkling that it was this group that would eventually implode into the mass deaths I had foreseen? That answer would be “No.” Consciously at least, I hadn’t a clue.
I had a great mentor many years back who once told me, “There are three kinds of people in the world: Those who move with, those who move against, and those who are apart from.” The stand-aparts, the stand-alones, even at times the “rise-aboves” are the relative rarities. As a culture, we need such people, or many doors in life would remain shut. Most will not risk differences in motives or accomplishments, either one. But others here and there are just born that way. Like me. I was born that way. “Not Like the Others.”
So how could I fit in in Peoples Temple? Although I was yes, loyal, hard-working, compliant, I never did fit in. I wasn’t social. I was in no clique. I never manipulated. I never curried favor. I never jockeyed for position. Nor did I ever think that I was there to take. I thought that I was there to give, to serve. I look back and now think, maybe too much – way too much. I was left prey to cultist vultures who would attack-attack-attack rather than even talk to me.
But supposed to be there? “You belong here”? Very much so. I was just apparently there for some other, distinct purpose than were others. As has been borne out. All while I felt for our collective plight. I felt for every knock, every boost, every crisis, every victory. Being noisy or being mute is no barometer of what people feel. I felt with all my heart for this work (which was so very constructive!) to succeed. For others.
That I also wound up so outspoken in tragedy’s wake, that indeed I was the only one to ever investigate the very two-sided tragedy at Jonestown, was itself an anomaly, I suppose that my goal in life is to arrive at what is authentic and true, even though overriding accepted norms. So much has seemed like happenstance, that I can only think that destiny can indeed land us into unfamiliar, if challenging roles. But I get ahead of myself a bit.
Mr. Jones was likely right with his “This is your destiny point!” flourish. No, not because he favored me personally (obviously not at all!) much less that it was clear then what it meant. I just seemed slated to foresee and record what would happen. His own avowed mission (at least in the States) was to prevent it.
Jim Jones did not hate me; he just could not tolerate what my “belonging” in Peoples Temple came to mean. I certainly never wanted mass death!; and Jim Jones would not have said that he wanted it either. (The whole “self-fulfilling prophecy” can get twisted.) But then, despite both of us, “Fate won.”
This is what happened, via my enigmatic “Cassandra” tale:
Some years in, but four years before the tragedy, in 1974, when Guyana was still barely-cleared brush, Spirit came to me in force and successively dictated word-for-word the epic poem, “Allegory,” unfolding vividly (and, as it turned out, accurately!) what would happen in Guyana, November 1978. I was in awe of the unseen Spirit, yet also shocked – not just at what I was told inwardly, but fear of the wrath of Jim Jones! I hoped against hope that either it had somehow come from him, or that he would at least discern enough of my state to comfort me, reassure me, not burst into a rage that I was somehow traitorous or wanted everyone dead!
In trepidation, I wrote a brief note reminding him that he had told me, “You can write one great work”; that I believed that this was it; but that it was about “your death and the death of many of our people,” and that “it frightens me.” Then I held my heart in my hands as he briefly, sharply looked at me like I was mad, and did not respond.
Within months, I thought I might burst[!], and gathered together a small group for a reading of “Allegory.” An avid listener passed it up the leadership chain, and that’s when all hell broke loose against Laurie. In disgraceful breaches of humane norms, rife with bullies at his back, Jim finally let loose with, “You want me to die, don’t you?” I didn’t want anyone to die. I was horrified.
Yet apparently, even people who were there for the worst assault against me, in L.A., never grasped that I was not just a scapegoat, but the wrong scapegoat. I was the straightest straight-arrow Peoples Temple had. I, perhaps more than anyone, stayed clear of sex, manipulations, fantasies, delusions, notes I never wrote, thoughts I never had, demands I never made, or whatever else I eventually learned in horror, were post-tragedy smears behind my back. I finally found a ringleader in late 2006[!], only to wind up appalled when he refused wholesale to defuse the lies!
I could not handle the bizarre power plays back then, not just on the part of Jim Jones, but by sadistic bullies at his back, some of whom survive to this day and it appears that they never changed.
This started just days after Jim got wind of “Allegory.” He railed at me, “Read! I command you to read,” like writing poetry was an act of royal treason! Not only was there no “defense” I could offer, but it was from the start, twisted:
To my astonishment, he suddenly shot out, “Is it sex that you want?” Writing poetry? Sex? Related? How? It literally took me decades to piece together the fibs concocted to protect Jim Jones and smear Laurie – anything to eradicate that a shy, soft-spoken young woman could possibly know what she knew, or wrote what she wrote, or – the worst! – that the haunting reverie of mass death could possibly turn out to be true.
No. I had to want Jim Jones dead because he was not screwing [excuse] me. I had to be a callous iceberg who gleaned no sympathy, even in the face of flagrant abuse. I had to be a delusional lovesick cow or a rampant manipulator or someone who plagued the poor leader with endless narcissistic notes.
I look back now and think that people must be really threatened to act that way. But I had no way to defend myself. What would I say? “God made me write the poem”? (To people who some of them thought that Jim Jones was God?!) I was frightened of being labeled traitorous or delusional as is. I could not stand, though nor could I run. I would have felt like I was abandoning people, however they were treating me. I did not know that the tragedy would happen, but I feared it would. I stayed put.
And indeed, a few short months after the anti-poetry assault, I found myself – a quirk of wrong place at the wrong time? – turned into a scapegoat for whomever’s actual transgressions, at that time sexual ones.
Kill two birds with one stone: Scapegoat someone wrongly, but with enough aggression and harm, and then who will believe anything they have to say? Discredit the messenger so as to cripple the message.
Scapegoats are easy. Truth not that much.
I could not handle the bullying; and along with a mob screaming, “You can’t defend yourself!” I did not stand a chance that night. Yet even while devastated by the horror in L.A., I seemed to realize that however this seemed so personal, the real rub was “Allegory.” So when Sharon Amos, fanatic extraordinaire, came to me with a lame, “Jim is sorry about what happened. It was a new therapy,”[??] I instinctively shot back, “Tell Jim that I destroyed my poetry. All except the poem about his death. I need to know from him that it’s all right to keep it.” Jim was sitting up front. Sharon went up to him stiffly, returning with, “He said yes.”
That was at best an uneasy truce. People did not realize, but he was relentless in his fury and mistrust of me, and that it was all about… Laurie must want me dead! He was playing for keeps, even though I was clearly “the wrong enemy.“ So when I finally approached him shyly with, “I don’t think I can handle what happened in L.A. I’m starting to cry all the time,” he looked away from me, muttering “Someone may need to talk to you,“ and…. walked away! No one seemed to care if I could still live or breathe so long as I had no power.
Another year later, he was screaming at me over the church-wide P.A. system[!] that he would “f–k me with a bulldozer” and then that, “The people here are saying she [meaning me] must want you to die, Father. Why don’t you just drop me in boiling oil?” I fell to the ground weeping, “Why are you doing this? You’re losing me, you’re losing me, you’re losing me…”
And he personally did lose me. I finally told Mr. Jones that “I would rather you had put a bullet through my brain” than endure “those bizarre ordeals with no redeeming value.” Then lo and behold, suddenly I was treated with great respect! (Hint to anyone: Stand up to bullies!)
Shortly before Jim Jones left to Guyana for good, he sent someone to me with, “Jim wants to know if you have something to confess.“ I didn’t. I just realized that Jones’ paranoia was intact whatever I said or did.
I did try to sound an alarm following the widely-reported “grape juice test” in early 1976, where people were fooled into believing they were drinking a poison. I wrote him that if anything like this happened, it would not be in the States, but in Guyana and only if/when our backs were up against the wall militarily (as actually did happen). But that he had to know that by then, Peoples Temple would be divided into “two families” – the family of death in Guyana and the family of life in the States (= survivors.) That “the family of life” would be left massively bereaved and up against a hostile world. So what were his plans, his contingencies (if any) for this?
Jim sent an aide to me to say something palliative like, “Jim says that now you’re really thinking,” but it was apparently an illusion that he would do anything about it. (When tragedy struck, we in San Francisco did not even get a goodbye note.)
I just could not go when finally bidden to go to Jonestown myself (“You can leave tonight if you like” = a choice). I was alarmed at the group coming under media/political attack, and I wanted fervently for Jonestown to succeed. But whenever I imagined going there myself, I felt suffocated.
“Allegory,” meanwhile, remained locked into raw fear. But then, a single month prior to the tragedy, I suddenly felt impelled to re-surface the work. I read it to Marceline Jones, Jim’s compassionate wife, in anguish over were we facing a happy future or were we facing this. She looked ashen, then said quietly, “It’s beautiful. You keep it.”
Finally, mere days following the tragedy, drowned in grief, I opened “Allegory” to “The song rises from a thousand unmarked graves…” Finally I knew, for certain, what I had done. I was there. I was taken there years earlier. I was shown through “Allegory,” exactly what would happen, in detail. I am still in awe of whatever Personage presaged this and flooded my doomed friends with Grace from another world, whatever the scorn spewn from this one.
I just want anyone reading this who, either out of ignorance, callousness, or (God forbid) enjoyment, has spread, heard or believed foul gossip about me, thinking that I was stupid, guilty, deluded, manipulative, or whatever you thought: I will forgive you if you figure out how to apologize. But you will have to ask for that forgiveness. I’m not here to play saint to scoundrels.
Please also remember that I am the only one to ever question the official story of the assassination, with startlingly different facts brought to light. I had thought (apparently wrongly!) that by exposing the tale of abuse against me myself – as I did in my book Snake Dance – that that would somehow “inoculate” me from backroom smears enough to move forwards with investigative work credibly, should that be possible.
I don’t know what was the bigger shock: That the outlandish smears – from fellow survivors! – stretched out for decades post-tragedy, or that it ever became possible to proceed with hard evidence, but both happened in spades! Meanwhile, I have yet to see the former defused or the latter credited.
Now it’s late in life. I’m tired. I’ve heard everything. I have been called deluded, lovesick, manipulative, steeped in sick fantasies, wanting the leader dead, colluding in my own torture – nay, putting it in writing! – all 100% false. I have been told that I had it coming to me. Someone apparently even spread that I “enjoyed” it – an incident that I wrote brought on fears of gang rape! I saw a survivor leering and laughing at how I was tortured, in a nationally-released film as late as 2006. A survivor I had given 20 years of good friendship to, landed on me to my horror, “Who cares about you, Laurie? You’re not even worth a gossip session.” Another strung me along for a whole decade of pretend-friend charade while stabbing me behind my back. Another one complained to me bitterly that, “Why did I have to say that this [the abuse] was wrong? Why not someone else?”
Maybe because anyone humane should know the difference? This has been abhorrent! Not just then, but now. And this is not even a complete list.
If any survivors out there want to make amends, I’m right here and I welcome it. Otherwise, I’m done. I have grieved for whoever lost loved ones. I wept for years myself. But human cruelty then and human cruelty now is still human cruelty. Even major tragedy did not teach people that? Tragedy, for all its pain, is supposed to make people better.
Meanwhile, I had to do an exhaustive research project (“In Plain Sight”) in the face of: I must have wanted Jim Jones dead! I must be defending Jim Jones! I was secretly traitorous! I was fanatically loyal!
But say, how could that all even co-exist?
So which “side” am I on? Well, I’m not on a side. I am with the tragic overview from the high Spirit Who showed me the event years in advance, and dictated “Allegory” to me. It is the pure stark tragedy of it. It is what I saw when I burst out weeping in the street all the way back in 1962, not even knowing who would die, when, how, why, or what that could possibly have to do with me.
Yet I also remain astounded at the unquestioning embrace of the official story by those who should care the most: the survivor group. Even though the first several seconds of the assassins’ disembark were finally released to the public, no one but me ever even questioned, “Who were those assassins?” Because there was/is no way to match them against the accuseds, nor were there any confessions at Jonestown. I clinched that to a certainty. Not even Jim Jones (terminally ill by then, miles away from the attacks, and dependent upon unreliable aides) knew the identities of the killers. He said so seven times on the final tape!
Good God – this was an unsolved Congressional assassination! I finally solved it myself in exhaustive detail; but it bruised me that no one else even asked or cared. Especially when I have been so thorough, so credible, and so willing to address questions that were never before posed.
Understand, I cannot fully grasp “why me” with the investigative work any more than “why me” with the precognitive art work. This was truly happenstance, since for a whole year following the tragedy, I believed that it was men from Jonestown who had killed the Congressman because there was nothing else to go on.
But then, at the first anniversary of the tragedy, November 18, 1979, to my shock[!] the complete “snuff film” of the ambush (filmed by Bob Brown of NBC before he was slain) was shown right on TV, on a local station in New York (most other survivors were still in California) called WPIX, channel 9. At which point it was clear that this was a military op (I happened to be watching with an Army veteran), hardly an ad hoc hit by bumbling amateurs from Jonestown. The veteran sitting on my right i.d.’ed the attack formation on screen as a “squad diamond.”
We know for sure that I did see that snuff film because in my book Snake Dance, published years before I learned that any of the filming had been retained, I detailed being told that the attack formation was a squad diamond.
By the time of publishing Snake Dance in 1998, I felt it unlikely that the snuff film had not been confiscated. Especially since I had gone to the Congressional investigating committee all the way back in January, 1980 to demand that they blow up the film – which they acknowledged was in their possession – to identify and/or rule out the assassins. The reception was predictably hostile. So I thought it likely that I had provoked confiscation of the NBC on-site filming.
Apparently – I did not know until late 2006 – a scant six seconds of filming of the assassins’ disembark were saved and later publicly released, perhaps to verify the brutality of the sneak attack, not realizing what could be gleaned from the short span.
I was shocked that even that much was now in the public domain! When I identified the squad diamond military formation in Snake Dance, it was a “Hail Mary” at best. I expected that it was something that I would not be able prove due to confiscation of evidence.
In early 2007, heart in throat, I meticulously freeze-framed the newly-released film, and – as printed in successive freeze-frames in the In Plain Sight project – the squad diamond was indeed there, as well as views of the assassins which definitively rule out the assassin i.d.’s given out both publicly and in the FBI report. (To be more frank, black isn’t white, for one thing.)
The reported FBI i.d.’s are clearly wrong; and I’ve done no guesswork on that. I have been specific and thorough as to why in my “In Plain Sight” project. I want people to understand that, as it also goes to motive. My motive. Namely, that I have wanted the authentic truth period.
That is (of course!) part of why it has been so wrong to be recklessly discredited by the rumor mill. It is not only deeply personal offense. It has assaulted my credibility, my highly credible work about a major world event.
I subsequently also obtained the schematic of the airstrip at the time, the FBI reports, additional NBC footage, news reports of the time, autopsy and inquest reports, and much else. Thus was I able to reconstruct the airstrip scene with certainty in the “In Plain Sight” project, detailing that it was impossible that the assassins at the Port Kaituma airstrip were from Jonestown.
It even became clear why none of the so-called “eyewitness i.d.s” were credible. Blocked lines of vision; already airborne in a different plane; i.d.‘ed people on the airstrip earlier, and did not even see the attack! And the sole “government eyewitness” (as told to me personally by the Congressional committee) by his own admission, fleeing in the opposite direction a hundred yards away and would have had to see through the body of a plane!
Shocking? Well, how shocking is it that it is so provable, yet no one but me ever even looked?
So who did commit the killings at the Port Kaituma airstrip? Well, this was a CIA “black op,” admittedly a screwy one. A “look-alike, kill-two-birds-with-one-stone frame”? Yes! Just blame the CIA for that, not me!
But why the CIA? Not complicated. Declassified documents reveal that they had been fixing elections in Guyana for eleven years prior, to keep it out of Cuba’s sphere. It was still the Cold War. Peoples Temple was poised to re-relocate to the then-USSR, while also befriending Cuba. Congressman Leo Ryan, for his part, passed the Hughes-Ryan Amendment to the Foreign Relations Act of 1974, forcing the CIA to report black ops to Congress. In a remote jungle locale, killing the Congressman and framing it on the cult leader turned out to be doable.
Tragically, neither side, Jones nor Ryan, did their opposition research. This was a political assassination and a political frame. No one needs a “conspiracy theory.” The facts here were not at issue, just not publicized at the time. Anyone needing proof can just go to my “In Plain Sight” project.
Almost more shocking, the people of Jonestown died not knowing that they were being framed. I find that chilling and doubly sad.
I have also been able to isolate/analyze the “psychotic trigger” in Jim Jones which made mass suicide even thinkable, in my piece “The Notorious Incident.” I have thought it important to know (not justify, no – but know) how/why this happened, in its horrendous emotional parameters. Since for all the avalanche of pages on this subject, no one else – scholars, psychiatrists, ex-members, whomever – has deciphered this. I have.
OK. I’m sorry if facts do not go over well with the survivor group, or even the public for that matter. Facts will always take precedence over bias, presuppositions, or vitriol. I wanted a clear slate for the dead, who can no longer speak for themselves. And that work I’ve done. All that matters now is to rise above. “Not Like the Others.”
Meanwhile, I’ve had to navigate a whole other strand in my consciousness: the phenomenal gift from the higher planes of both recording the Jonestown Tragedy in advance, and how it arrived via a linguistically radiant text. As well as finally, a meltingly beautiful musical setting of the poem (which is re-printed in full at “Premonitions,” in the Jonestown.com sub-section), a work now well in progress.
Maybe the ultimate “nothing left to lose.” (Though I am also astoundingly lucky to have a happy marriage long range – go, Dan!) But “Allegory,“ the oratorio, is (like a tragic opera) beautiful, and I am grateful, moved, and proud to proceed. I might even call it “God [or whatever higher Power had approached me] getting the last word.”
This world is a troubled place. Unlikely it will be me who sets that all alright. But God willing, I will secure my place.