“People Critical of Guyana”: A Contemplation

by Sherwin Harris

There is a document generated by Peoples Temple which lists the names of those people considered critical of Guyana. It is a long list – upwards of 400 names – and underscores the names of 25 people whom the Temple identified as members of Concerned Relatives or otherwise part of a conspiracy against the Temple. While I recognize almost all the names, it is true that some of whom – while probably concerned – did not join with us, for whatever reason. It was always a disappointment to me that we could not gain more members. Particularly after the Jonestown leadership wrote in an Open Letter to Congress in March 1978 that “it was better even to die than to be constantly harrassed from one continent to the next,” I had hoped that family members would flock to our group. It was not to be, though, and I hope that no one suffers regret for not having done so.

We were, of course, not hostile to Guyana. Our position was stated succinctly a flyer I had designed and co-wrote called “This Nightmare Is Taking Place Right Now.” And while at the time it seemed to be extreme – particularly the reference to Jonestown as a concentration camp and the accompanying illustration – we were desperate to garner attention and support.

When I visited the Temple house at Lamaha Gardens in November 1978, I learned that residents there were particularly offended by it, and just as they were aghast to learn that I had authored it. It was as if the great enemy they had been warned about had showed up in front of them, and he turned out to be harmless. I was just Liane’s concerned and loving father.

I did tell them I thought that, as masters of propaganda, they would appreciate the piece. We were indeed being barraged by Temple propaganda, tales of persecution, child abuse by relatives, Jonestown as “Paradise” and the like. In the fall of 1977, Charles Garry referred to Jonestown as Paradise, when in fact he knew better. At the request of the Guyanese Police, I was present at his debriefing, when he told of a radio communication the previous December between Jim Jones in Jonestown, and him and Angela Davis – among others – at the Temple headquarters on Geary Boulevard in San Francisco. He testified that both of them had talked Jones out of committing the White Night suicide/murders over the imagined persecution Jones was experiencing. And the persecution? The Temple was being billed $200 by the City of Georgetown for a telephone pole, damaged in an auto accident by a Temple member. I was shocked by this confession, and further distressed to contemplate how little it would have required to trigger “White Night.” In retrospect, I understand how completely inevitable it was to be.

Originally posted on March 17th, 2019.

Last modified on March 22nd, 2019.
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