Q337 Transcript

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(Editor’s note:This tape duplicates the second half of Tape Q 291. The other tape gives a more complete interview with Donald Freed.)

Prokes: Greetings from Jonestown and the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project. The music you’ve been listening to is from the Jonestown Express, our brass band and one of our signing groups. Again, we are privileged to have with us today, Donald Freed, who has come to Jonestown to visit and make a study of the life here. As well as being a famous author and playwright, Don is an anthropologist, a linguist, he’s taught at some of the best universities in the United States, including Yale, UCLA and others. He’s co-director of the Citizens Commission of Inquiry with Mark Lane, whom you may know– recognize as the author of Rush to Judgment. Don has also written a prize-winning play about the Rosenbergs, he’s written books about the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy. His pictures have been used as the basis for motion pictures as well. He’s currently involved in an investigation of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. With me is Harriet Tropp, who is an administrative officer of the Jonestown project, and Dick Tropp, headmaster of the Jonestown community school. Dick, what would you like to begin with?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Originally posted on January 3rd, 2019.

Last modified on January 6th, 2019.
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