JONESTOWN: THE HUMAN STORY
"The C.I.A. played Jim Jones like the strings of a violin. In the end, it wouldn’t matter that the zealots defending Jonestown were good, or that the zealots opposing Jonestown were evil. All that mattered was that they took "the bait," the assassination, and fell right into the frame. The deadly see-saw of opposing zealotries was shoved into motion. When it was all over, a thousand people lay dead. No one was even left to play the dirge."
WHO WERE THE HUMAN BEINGS
It may puzzle some why I "defend Jonestown." What I defend is the people, the community, against their tragic plight. How they were CAUGHT IN A VICE between outside forces bent on destruction, and zealots on the inside itching for martyrdom. These were people who were geographically trapped, militarily defenseless, and so isolated, there was not even a phone to alert the outside world or call in help. The lines were drawn.
Suicide should never have been considered, however dire the straits, especially for a community with children. Yet if they had to fight with their bare hands to stay (and many would have), there would have been carnage anyway. And caused by whom? The very forces who claimed they wanted to "rescue" people!
Key elements of this story were the reverse of what the world was led to believe. It was the PARADIGMS in which the world received the news that were manipulated, reversed, backwards. There was a "fixed deck" before the Congressman arrived at all.
The whole world has long since roundly condemned the suicides, especially in that this was not a "choice" that small children could make. But there was another, equally coercive side the world never saw, which was instrumental in driving the community towards its doom. Namely, how the unspeakably tragic end was provoked from the outside, using a dangerously unstable leader who, nevertheless, had well-founded reason to fear invasion. Military threats, and an actual previous attack (in September, 1977), by allegedly "humane rescuers." Threats they mercilessly pressed ‘til the dam broke. Threats pressed notably by one Timothy Stoen, whose false paternity claim to a small child was calculatingly designed to drive the people of Jonestown to their doom.
The leaders of the anti-Temple faction did not want to "rescue" anyone. They wanted children kidnapped. They wanted Jonestown terrorized by military threats. They wanted to create a siege mentality. They loved the response of a suicide threat. They wanted to make that threat a reality. They wanted people dead.
I begin so forcefully because it is the issue of humanity which so damned the people of Jonestown. The world tripped over the bodies of dead children, and someone had to pay. So it bought the media’s version, the government’s version, the version of "heroes" like Grace and Timothy Stoen, and Deborah Layton. Unsavory people who mysteriously got to live on, while precious children died. I am here to clarify issues of humanity.
I know I confront stone walls long since in place. With facts, realities, that the public never knew. But that is why I am here. To erode the walls of myth, misconception, deception and disinformation. If you believe that the people who brought the Congressman to Jonestown, wished the people of Jonestown well, then what you believe is not only untrue, but were the very prods which provoked the deaths.
In SNAKE DANCE, I am open about every conflict, coercion, violation which I endured alongside with my many wonderful experiences within the church. Peoples Temple was the ultimate enigma. A place you loved so much, you could see in its stunning role model the future of all humanity; yet with failings far more human, painful, and real. I stand raw in the face of ALL of it.
But I also witnessed HOW THE DESTRUCTION WAS PROVOKED by opponents that were all too dangerous and real, a truth I am giving to the world. It is something about which I have no conflict – only a clear conscience and a labor of love fulfilled.
As for my friends overseas, their overwhelming loyalties were to Jonestown, not to hypocritical, scheming "rescuers." Government plant ex-members Timothy Stoen and Jeannie and Al Mills, and their government-based non-member handlers, David Conn and Joseph Mazor did not want to "rescue" anyone. They wanted to destroy them.
A tiny handful of spiteful young women –Grace Stoen, Deborah Layton and Yolanda Crawford—were too self-centered to see that they were used as political pawns. They along with Jim Cobb, angry that his terrorist bent was rejected by the church, were all ripe to be used.
The appetites are not satisfied to this day. Deborah Layton told CNN on the 20th anniversary, that Jonestown was "like a leper colony." She "knew as soon as I saw their faces." Yet the broadcast showed a photo of smiling, beaming teenagers at the close, as though that’s what they were like before "the terrible Jonestown" got hold of them. The reality is that the photo was taken at Jonestown. It is the centerpiece of my own book cover.
Grace Stoen told A & E, like a true "heroine," that, "I told them they would have to kill me to keep me from getting my son back." Then why did she take the round trip air ticket she was sent, and instead of visiting her child, cash the ticket in for her own use? That was only "the last straw." Why did she give the child away when he was a year old, refuse to relocate to be near him, abandon him without even saying goodby, and come back briefly only to sign the child away?
The public has never seen this side. The sanctimonious spitefests that fueled more high-powered players. Why did Ms. Layton and Ms. Stoen think they were given free rein to tell any lie they chose, while scores of rave reviews were offered, but never printed? Because they were so beautiful to look at?
This is a story of very high-powered forces, with Layton and Stoen merely pawns. And it is those forces that were the dehumanizers, not conditions at Jonestown. The people of Jonestown, whatever the deteriorations of their once-revered leader, only wanted to build in peace. (See RAVE REVIEWS.) It was their community – built of enthusiasm, sacrifice, and treasured dreams.
It was political operatives, not real conditions, that generated "the official story" from the start. It was a controlled press, and a handful of diabolical spymasters, who manipulated the world into believing that government-based front people were "the good guys"!! Worse still, they were able to play Jim Jones like the strings of a violin. Threaten mass suicide? O.k., we’ll apply unbearable pressures to be sure it happens! We’ll push the car over the cliff and then drag out its driver, Jim Jones, to condemn him as the devil incarnate.
A & E even reported at the 20th anniversary that Richard Dwyer (purported C.I.A. plant in the State Department), likely waited on the outskirts of the community until 3:30 a.m. in the morning, until everyone was already dead, before calling into Georgetown on a secret radio channel.
Be that true, there seems to have been no motive to save anyone from death, but rather to confirm that it was done (thus "no need to take any further action"?) Was this a confirmation that he and un-named co-conspirators wanted the people of Jonestown to die? Those deaths would help cover-up the framing of the community for the assassination, which would now go unchallenged.
Yet still, to this day, persists the fiction that Jim Jones may have had something to do with Dwyer or the C.I.A. A murky "C.I.A. connection" signaling that Jonestown was "a bizarre mind control experiment." With not a shred of evidence, and copious evidence to the contrary.
Why has no one investigated the relationship between Richard Dwyer and Timothy Stoen, who shuttled back and forth to Guyana to lobby for "Concerned Relatives"? Who threatened to send mercenaries into Jonestown as late as October 3, 1978, as recorded in the official State Department log? Did Stoen and Dwyer share the common motive of wanting the people at Jonestown dead?
Nor has there been any exposé of Stoen’s false paternity claim to Jim Jones’ own son. I personally knew from endless, repetitive meetings, that this claim was false, thus removing Stoen’s motive for something as cruel, frightening, and inhumane as sending mercenaries to invade a peaceful community to kidnap a child.
That was only one facet of Mr. Stoen’s drive to deliberately provoke disaster at Jonestown. It was Stoen who told a Temple member just days before the tragedy, that he was "counting on Jim [Jones] to overreact" to the Congressional visit.
Stoen knew that his "concentration camp" charges would never stick, so it wasn’t that that Jim Jones would "overreact" to. Was he talking about "overreaction" to an…. assassination? And if he was "counting on" an overreaction, which he expected to be mass suicide, how could this "concerned father" deliberately endanger a child that he claimed was his?
Yet it was Stoen who lured Congressman Leo Ryan to Jonestown on knowingly false pretexts, to his death. Stoen, the heart of the anti-Temple campaign. Does this sound like "humane" behaviour to you?
Add into the mix, leader of the smear campaign, Joseph Mazor, who came into Jonestown just weeks before the end to announce that it was he who led the previous mercenary raid, and that the original plan had been mass extermination. "Humane"? A "rescuer"?
Here were three people, Stoen, Mazor, and Dwyer (none of them from Jonestown, two of them leading the opposition against Jonestown), who apparently wanted disaster at Jonestown. Mazor, who claimed a plan for mass extermination, to drive a terrified leadership over the edge; Stoen, who was "counting on" an overreaction"; Dwyer, said to lurk in the shadows until everyone was dead before he notified the Embassy.
So before we tromp too much further over the bodies of dead children, let us begin to re-think, finally, what might constitute "humanity"!
A POLITICALLY PERSECUTED CHURCH
Never before the Spring of 1977 was the humanity of Peoples Temple or Jim Jones questioned, much less demolished in the press. To the contrary. The church had a 25-year-record of acclaimed humanitarian service. Just six months before Jim Jones went overseas, a Testimonial Dinner featured plaques of commendation from the Mayor of San Francisco, the City Council, the State Senate, and commendations from the Lieutenant Governor of California, then-Assemblyman Willie Brown (now Mayor of San Francisco), the San Francisco Police Chief, and more. All for community outreach to every good, humane cause beyond any call. No one got more people off welfare into jobs, helped youth out of drugs and crimes, gave seniors loving care, supported every community group doing good. Not only did no one call Jim Jones "inhumane," but he was awarded accolades like "Humanitarian of the Year," and "One of the 100 Leading Clergymen in America"!
"The real problem" was that the primary agenda of the church was racial and economic equality. A success from the far left that was gaining acclaim in the mainstream! Peoples Temple had also become a forum for every dissident, political prisoner, anti-war opponent, refugees from fascist Chile, apartheid South Africa, Native American reservations, and the like. Bouncing off of the sixties, we were a natural target for both J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. and (via the transplantation to Guyana in the Third World, and the planned re-relocation to Russia) the C.I.A.’s Cold War.
The smear campaign in the Murdoch and Hearst presses destroyed Peoples Temple following relocation, in its absence, through rumor, innuendo, and unsubstantiated allegations (See THE TRUTH.) The sterling record of humanitarian service, along with its "liberal, leftist" politics (as per the original smear) was held up, tossed in the trash, and substituted with ""What is going on behind closed doors?" "Closed doors"? Most were already in Guyana, laughing, playing, and working in the open air. It was surreal.
Suddenly the absent church was guilty of everything from fraud to murder. Jonestown, a place reporters had never visited, was smeared as a hellhole, featuring "sources" who had never been to Guyana either! Unimaginably, the church thought its distant location was protective. Weak lawyers never threatened to sue.
See finally, that the core issue for the attackers was not humanity, but rather politics, and the ungodly combo of a persecutory government and press. Far left wing Peoples Temple, racially integrated, politically persuasive. Here was a group of largely black, inner city residents, who dared to build a new life overseas which was a role model for how inner city dwellers could thrive and excel on a worldwide stage. It was blanketed in rave reviews. (See RAVE REVIEWS.)
But left-wingers don’t garner rave reviews in the establishment press, whatever the reality of their lives. Joseph Mazor, the arch-enemy who admitted orchestrating the smear campaign even though he had never set foot in the church, got on t.v. after the tragedy and announced that "It was considered that Jim Jones would become a major political force in the Caribbean within five years." A "new Castro," an American Castro in the Caribbean (despite the church’s unerring non-violence). A THREAT.
And finally, the last straw: the planned re-relocation of the community to the dreaded Soviet Union. Costly, massively inconvenient, uncertain, yet planned by people desperate to get out from under terrorist threats to kidnap some members, and leave others dead… by their opponents’ own statements.
Surely this would not serve the interests of "humanity." The motive for attacking Jonestown were never "humane," but political; not only political, but patently in-humane, using innocent people as political pawns. However badly Jim Jones may have snapped –and there seems little doubt that he did--, this was not the root of why Peoples Temple was targeted for destruction.
Jonestown was enmeshed in a war – a political war. Humanity did not stand a chance.
THE CHILD CUSTODY DISASTER
Yet the tale was also etched with a very human story of deception, heartbreak, double-cross, and one of the most notoriously false cause celebres to ever dominate the world press: the Stoen/Jones custody case, used to both personally torture Jim Jones, and to lure Congressman Leo Ryan to Jonestown on false pretexts, to meet his death.
I first learned that the real, biological father of John Victor Stoen, born January 25, 1972, was not his "legal father," church attorney Timothy O. Stoen, but rather the leader of Peoples Temple, Jim Jones, in June, 1973, upon induction into the church’s Planning Commission. Both Grace and Timothy Stoen were present, to confirm this as fact, with scores of succeeding rehashes to ensue.
The child, both Grace and Timothy Stoen admitted, was the result of Rev. Jim Jones intercession in the Stoen marriage when Grace threatened to leave Tim, go public, destroy her husband, damage the church. Her handwritten note to Jim Jones complaining of Stoen’s transvestitism is reprinted in SNAKE DANCE.
Marital relations with her husband ceased, and those with Jim Jones, to "pacify" her, ensued. The result was the child. Jim Jones, meanwhile, by testimony of both he and Tim Stoen, also embarked on sexual relations, for Stoen to "come to terms with his homosexuality."
This bizarre triangle was in limbo when I arrived on the scene. Tim Stoen vowed to protect the paternal rights of Jim Jones. Grace, with whom sex with Jones had stopped since her pregnancy, went through sullen, tearful, spiteful sessions about her hostility both towards Jones, and towards their son. When John was just a year old, her hostility was at its peak: The child had developed a nervous tic, and it emerged Grace had been making him parade around with a soiled diaper fastened to his head. That was "it"! Grace gave John up to be raised by others, and never again raised her own child.
She finally broke down and confessed that the real motive behind the tantrums, was that she wanted Jim Jones to take her back to bed! She admitted tearfully that it was "the fulfillment of every sexual fantasy you could have." The truth finally surfaced, she was calmed down, and efforts made to get her more involved in the church. Yet when John moved down to San Francisco with Jim Jones, in 1974, Grace refused to go, instead launching into a tantrum against both Stoen and Jones.
Grace left the church without warning on July 4, 1976, with a boyfriend, abandoning John. She returned but once, then signed for the boy to be sent to Guyana. No one snatched this child away. Sending John to Guyana was only a humane solution to a spitefest which should have ended there.
When Grace joined with anti-Temple leaders Jeannie and Al Mills, to spearhead the smear campaign, she was nevertheless, according to her own husband, given an air ticket to come see John, which she cashed in. But working with the Mills gave her a way to finally vent her spitefest against Jim Jones. Venom was also aired against estranged husband Tim, whom she did not realize was secretly an enemy of the church.
Facts meanwhile emerged to confirm that Tim Stoen, "the most loyal," and "the most far left wing," also the top Temple Attorney and close adviser, strategist and personal friend to Jim Jones, was a veteran of spying missions into East Berlin in the early sixties. It was also Stoen who, according to top aides, had been thwarted in trying to push the church towards terrorism. Mr. Stoen, it appeared, was a classic agent provocateur – a right-wing agent trying to provoke a left-wing group into violence.
Thus gelled a scenario barely believable, yet true: The church’s top attorney appeared to be a dangerous government agent, and "as fate would have it," it was his wife who had borne a child by Jim Jones! Stoen, John’s "legal father," now falsely and knowingly claimed paternity of Jim Jones’ own son, pressing his crusade to lengths which were sadistic, cruel, and endangered of the lives of everyone at Jonestown, not only little John. Indeed, the false paternity claim was the deadly lure to bring Congressman Ryan into Jonestown "to rescue Tim Stoen’s son," only to have the Congressman meet his death at the hands of "parties unknown," in turn provoking the deaths at Jonestown.
Stoen’s drive to create a phony cause celebre out of human mistakes, lies, miscalculations, treachery, fears, vulnerabilities, was completely successful. Little John was turned into "the pawn that would ensnare the king." Well, plus a thousand others. Close to a thousand people lay dead.
How "humane" does that sound?
THE "MEDIA HEROES"
Who were the "media heroes," and what were their real motives?
There were three sets of people attacking Peoples Temple: ex-member government plants, outside government-based handlers; and a tiny contingent of "aggrieved ex-members," ready and eager to be used to bring Peoples Temple down.
We start with Elmer and Deanna a/k/a Jeannie and Al Mills. This couple were veterans of the far right wing John Birch Society. They claimed a "conversion" when they joined the church, remaining for seven years. They were never harmed, in fact did what they pleased, often missing meetings and skipping organizational channels. They left no relatives in the church when they left. However, they ripped off materials on the way out, thus were suspect for intending future harm.
The alarm bells went off in the Spring of 1977. It was discovered that ex-members Mertle/Mills were meeting with one David Conn, never a member, plotting how to destroy the church. Conn tried to bribe/blackmail Native American leader Dennis Banks into publicly denouncing Jim Jones, and bragged of his ties with the Treasury Department. Members of the church had been spying under Conn’s home, and heard the Conns bragging of their "high priority Treasury Department numbers." Conn had "government" stamped all over him.
Conn admitted to The Berkeley Barb not only being close friends with the Mertle/Mills all their years in the church, but also that he had been "investigating" the church throughout those years. The Mertle/Mills had "government" stamped all over them as well. They were even later murdered a mere five days after publicly announcing they wanted off the anti-Temple circuit in early 1980 (to silence them?), murders police called "professional" and "by someone they knew," murders left unsolved to this day.
Next showed up Joseph Mazor, also never a member. He was mysteriously granted a State Investigator’s license, complete with bonding, following release from prison for bogus checks and fraud! Just in time to "investigate" Peoples Temple. Mazor admitted that he had hired an expensive P.R. firm to launch the smear campaign, refusing to disclose either his funding or his employers, whom he admitted were "not present or past members of Peoples Temple." Mazor, who was tracked down to Interpol, was to later "claim credit" for the mercenary raid in September, 1977, terrifying the community with his claim that the original plan had been mass extermination.
Timothy Stoen was the relative late-comer, the Mills not realizing he had turned until late in the Summer of 1977. Stoen had played the ultimate loyalist – chief attorney, top strategist, adviser, close personal friend of Jim Jones, without a single viable grievance. He had encouraged the move of little John to Guyana to protect him from Grace and, like she, had relinquished legal rights to the child.
Stoen’s disturbing background was not uncovered ‘til late in the game. Although claming to be "further to the left than Huey Newton," and relentlessly pushing a terrorist course, his real background was that of a far-right-wing zealot. Stoen was also discovered to have secret bank accounts internationally, and set up lobbying offices in Washington, D.C. to destroy the church. He is suspect for setting up dirty tricks falsely blamed on the church, and he promoted knowingly false stories painting Jonestown as an armed camp. His most high-profile action was the false paternity claim, lodged with particular cruelty, lobbying Congressman Ryan to his cause as a "concerned father." It was Stoen who lured the Congressman to Jonestown on false pretexts, with charges that could never be sustained.
Immediately following the assassination, Stoen contacted the press to "inform them" that a terrorist Peoples Temple "hit squad" would now move to assassinate others. As "proof," a Ryan aide in the San Francisco area had reportedly received death threats just hours after the assassination in Guyana, telling him he was "next." Except no one in the church even knew who the aide was! We were devastated, without even confirmation of what had happened overseas. It was impossible that anyone from the church had made those vicious calls. It only made it obvious that the assassination was planned in advance by opponents of Peoples Temple, and people lined up in advance to make the calls on cue. Nor was it the first such incident. It was at least the twentieth.
This concludes the cast of character who corralled the following tiny group of vindictive ex-members to do their bidding: Grace Stoen, naturally; Yolanda Williams Crawford, Deborah Layton Blakey, Jim Cobb. The latter three signed out affidavits they knew were filled with lies, which Timothy Stoen drew up.
One of Stoen’s more notorious antics was picketing the San Francisco Chronicle with a flyer called "The Nightmare Is Taking Place Right Now," calling Jonestown "a concentration camp," based on the Crawford affidavit about non-existent barbed wire, closed circuit t.v., and a circle of armed guards. More pernicious still, he had Layton swear to "hundreds of guns" (the authorities found all of 39 small arms), falsely painting Jonestown as "an armed camp," which was used to justify violence against the community and lay the pathway for a frame.
The move to recruit the Congressman was on. Here was the "exposé," the "witnesses," the "media heroes." When the tragedy happened, no one bothered to talk to anyone but Stoen, the Mills, and them.
WAS PEOPLES TEMPLE BROUGHT DOWN BY SEX?
The Mills, Conn, Mazor and Stoen could never have brought Peoples Temple down without the tiny, but noisy clique of ex-members to flaunt for the press. They needed people who so hated Jim Jones, that they would be oblivious to who used them, or for what purpose – even the trashing of a thousand poor and minority people who loved their new life. That is why I maintain in SNAKE DANCE that there was NOT A SINGLE PERSON WITH ONE NOBLE MOTIVE WHO WORKED TO BRING PEOPLES TEMPLE DOWN.
But why hate Jim Jones so much? If we finally see this, much of the human story will fall into place.
Jones was a man who flaunted power: political power, spiritual power, even sexual power.
Political power was a positive reality for members of the church, for ideology aside, it translated into a better life for its members, self-empowerment and pride. Spiritual power was also a positive reality for members. The religious basis for an "apostolic," egalitarian life is well-founded in the Acts of the Apostles, and many, especially the elder members, identified as radical Christians who were fulfilling scriptural promise.
Discreditation of the political and spiritual aspects of the church was purely a high-power hack job. The spiteful "ex-member" contingent, who cared nothing about the spiritual, humanitarian, much less political work of the church, did not care, their betrayals being based in sex. Scorned lovers Grace Stoen and Deborah Layton were white, privileged, racist and callous. Jim Cobb was black, but with a bizarre reverse-racist history, and a penchant for white, blonde women whom all claimed abuse, plus his known bent towards terrorism, which had been publicly rebuffed. All felt humiliated, and Jim Jones had to pay.
Whatever purpose they were used for, only their personal spitefests mattered. The fact that they were promoted by high-powered forces, however foul their motives, was only an enticement for them. They would be protected in the press as "brave dissidents."
It was sexual power that was the real thorn for (Grace) Stoen, Layton and Cobb. I have never defended Jim Jones’ bizarre use of sex. But nor would I, or any person of conscience, use something as petty as personal sexual grievances, to use spite and lies to destroy gentle innocents building a better world. People like Deborah Layton, Grace Stoen, and Jim Cobb, were not our "best" people. They were amongst the most selfish, the most lacking in social consciousness or moral conscience.
Yet the real people running the show –the Mills, Tim Stoen, and their government-based handlers—were careful that the issue of sex was never even raised throughout the entire anti-Temple campaign. No one wanted to be asked had they slept with Jim Jones. Even more: No one wanted it asked had Grace slept with Jones, lest Stoen’s "cover," the false paternity claim used to lure Leo Ryan to Jonestown, collapse.
The ultimate anguish was that however sex was used, it was tiny children who wound up paying the price. It was undoubtedly the last thing Jones expected. He thought he was training people to be dedicated to a cause, defusing the trappings of romance. The raw reality, however bizarre, even fated to backfire, was that Jim Jones used sex to build "a school for martyrs." He ideally wanted single young people unencumbered by building their own personal lives: families, careers, personal ambitions, egos. He wanted them to be free to give their lives if needs be. Even Grace Stoen got up and said, "I know that you only went to bed with me to bring me to socialism," a stance she agreed with at the time she said it.
But Shakespeare was right: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." The backfires from people who felt that sex was used for manipulation rather than love, were indeed "furious," despite that Deborah Layton and Grace Stoen would rather bring down a thousand innocents than ever be honest about what ailed them. They had no loyalty to the human service work. Freeing precious seniors from the slums, or getting children out of harm’s way from crime and drugs, meant nothing to them. They only had to "get back at" the man who had spurned them. Tim Stoen and the Mills were only too glad to both let them vent their fury, and to protect against revealing its true source.
These sad, pathetic women who still spew venom to this date, only illustrate what prolonged vitriol does to the human soul. Although I heard both demand more sex with my own ears, it is no endorsement of sexual practices that were bizarre, misguided, and a prescription for disaster, to ask these women to finally "come clean," rather than trampling over dead bodies anew to make their own twisted personal "case."
That said, what Jim Jones did with sex was an exercise in every wrong way to relate to human beings, for real dedication to principle has to come from the heart and the soul, not from the gonads. A terrible object lesson for how volatile life can get when sex comes into play, and how fearful the price!
Timothy Stoen was "counting on" a disaster at Jonestown. Richard Dwyer hung around the community, with no intercession, to be sure that process was complete: "mission successful." Joseph Mazor wormed his way into Jonestown, only to tell the terrified community that the original plan for the mercenary attack a year earlier was "to knock out the electrical generators, kidnap [certain] children, and then kill all the adults."
Jim Jones, it is clear from the final tape, feared that the people of Jonestown were going to die from an impending invasion, not wanted it. "Die in dignity and peace," he urged. "Before we had a choice. Now we have no choice. Either we do it or they do it." I am not here to defend the zealotry of preferring suicide to the cruel dismantling of that wonderful, hope-affirming community, or indeed, suicide under any circumstances (even people facing live machine guns should have the right of choice), only to show that that fear was legitimate, forced upon that community by calculating, a-moral Cold War spymasters.
Ironically, there were undoubtedly many at Jonestown who were willing to give their lives (not necessarily by suicide at all, but out of love for the community) to defy the cruel efforts to destroy that pioneer community. (See FINAL WITNESS.) Nevertheless, it is also clear from the final tape that Jim Jones was in anguish over the deaths, however they happened.
Contrast that with the deliberate, calculating, a-moral actions of Timothy Stoen, Joseph Mazor and Richard Dwyer. And Mazor and Stoen were leading the anti-Temple campaign!! The one with all the "heroes," and the "public sympathy."
Who was the public sympathizing with? Joseph Mazor, revealed to be an Interpol member by a document authored by Louis B. Sims, known to be a key persecutor of other religious groups? Timothy Stoen, the agent provocateur who was "counting on Jim to overreact"? Richard Dwyer, from the American Embassy, suspected as a C.I.A. plant in the State Department?
Finally, after the bodies were dead and cold, Mazor got on t.v. to announce that "It was considered that Jim Jones would become a major political force in the Caribbean within five years." Thus were the people of Jonestown, largely black and poor, including hundreds of children, considered "expendable" to politics.
Little children died, and the public vote of support went to "concerned father" Timothy Stoen. The Cold War spymasters won.
DREAM OF A LIFETIME
Public perceptions were manipulated on one pivot: What kind of a place was Jonestown? If they could not monopolize the press with horror stories, they would not escape investigation of what really happened that night. Or questions about why the conspirators were so intent on destroying a place which was in fact, beautiful.
Jonestown was not just a beautiful place. It was a miracle. (See RAVE REVIEWS.) No more racism, no more unemployment, drugs, crime, substandard housing and education, urban decay and neglect. Young people trained for professions and trades of choice. Seniors were loved and respected, given beautiful care, and fully integrated into the community life. Food was home-grown, plentiful and delicious. Cottages were painted in fresh bright colors, and landscaped with fruit trees. Young children could run and play in the fresh air, older folk roam about with no fear of mugging. The model school was run by tens of people with advanced degrees, with children learning enthusiastically, including foreign languages. The sanitation was meticulous; the cultural life creative and full.
Jonestown was the role model for how inner city dwellers could thrive and excel on a worldwide stage. It made a lie out of every myth of foreordained underachievement, inferiority, or lack of hope. More, even, it was a way of life that radically broke the barriers of race, class, and culture. It was the "apostolic" dream that could only be a vision in the United States. In Jonestown, that dream was a reality.
Once one understands that Jonestown was not a hellhole, or a "concentration camp," but rather a miraculous community visitors called "a paradise," "a utopia," "a superior society," "a credit to humanity," and "like coming to another planet," the entire dynamic shifts. It is no longer a place to be "rescued" from, but rather a place to be defended. Not a place its inhabitants were "forced" to, or "held hostage," but one they cherished and chose.
What do the attacks against the community look like then? Attacks sustained by reporters who never even investigated on site? Attacks supported only by two affidavits, Yolanda Crawford and Deborah Layton respectively, both drawn up by Timothy Stoen and full of lies? Attacks orchestrated by people who had never even set foot in the church? Attacks followed upon by investigations dropped for lack of evidence, illegal cut-off of pensioners’ social security checks, harassments, dirty tricks, bogus "relatives" like Timothy Stoen, mercenary threats, one actual military attack?
What does the OVERRIDING CONTEXT look like now? The world embraced the Mills, the Stoens, Layton, Cobb, as "the good guys." What if they were not "good guys" at all, but rather persecutors?
And what was the human context of the Congressional visit? Should no one at Jonestown have been upset about the Congressional visit for legitimate reasons? Outrage, at both the vicious smears, and the arrogance to bust in with a "media circus," not a single one of them black, to invade the lives of peaceful residents? Helplessness at having the full weight of the press, the government, the law, brought to bear upon peaceful people already dogged by persecution? Shock that despite all the beauty of Jonestown, and the rave reviews, that the wave of persecution, like a tsunami, was now about to engulf the community physically? Raw fear at what the schemers and plotters had in store for the community that night? After all, they had already demonstrated that they were extremely dangerous people.
It is true that the great majority at Jonestown were enthralled by a leader who had become both too powerful and dangerously unstable. But they also felt that Jonestown had finally broken them free of the "brainwashing" of racism, drugs, crime, and other scourges in the culture from which they had come. It was to lead to excruciating (and in the eyes of the world, incomprehensible) dilemmas of choice.
The true historical perspective is this: Destroyers were closing in from the outside. High-powered people, ill-intentioned people, dangerous people. They used "aggrieved ex-members" as their front, to control the press, and to bring the full weight of government against people who were, in fact, a credit to humanity.
On the other side, on the inside, were persecuted people who loved their new lives, and who felt increasingly powerless against the onslaught. The press, who had never investigated on site, had already closed in. They and the Congressman had already been poisoned against the community to such a degree that visiting reporters claimed that people who were smiling weren’t really happy, that people who were cheering were "orchestrated," that even children must have somehow been "brainwashed" to give the appearance of contentment.
Given such a scenario, and that ongoing military threats were being pressed by the exact same people bringing the media circus to Jonestown, I understood the rallying cry of "We’ll DIE before we are forced back to oppressive conditions in the United States!" I understand it as much as Patrick Henry’s "Give me liberty or give me death!" I understand its pleas for justice, and its heartfelt cries of self-determination and pride. Had it ever come to an open military confrontation, the world might have understood it too.
What no one could understand, of course, was mass suicide, whatever the circumstances. Such a decision must be made by all or none. Death should not occur by "majority rule." The most heart-wrenching thought to me is people forced to die, however dire the straits, especially the coercion of children.
Yet the reality was also different than anyone presupposed, and genuinely excruciating: The Congressman had been assassinated, and whether the community was guilty or not, it would surely be blamed. Jonestown would be forcibly dismantled at the least which, given the inevitable fury, would be an agonizing, traumatic, even violent process. Many people would not be forced back under ANY circumstances.
People were unarmed, defenseless against military attack. They faced a brutal attempt to destroy the dream of their lives at the least, genocide at the worst. (Remember, this was a community that had already been threatened with "mass extinction.") If they were forced back to the States, the youth would want vengeance, and endless havoc would have ensued. The elderly would be thrown into devastating shock, and many die cruel, sad, deteriorating deaths.
Moreover, not only raw zealotry, but passionate loyalty to a beautiful new life, undoubtedly did inspire many to sacrifice beyond the call, and an itching for martyrdom in others. Many undoubtedly believed, as Jim Jones said on the final tape, that this would "set an example forever." They could not believe that such a magnificent, revolutionary community would forever go unsung.
Surely, no one with either a heart or a conscience, could read FINAL WITNESS, and not believe that there were people in Jonestown of a breathtaking humanity. Who did not have their lives forcibly wrest from them, but gave their lives in a spirit of courage, conviction, inner strength, and prayers for an ailing world.
The dilemma that persists forever, even for people like me who seek the WHOLE truth, is not knowing what would have happened had they waited out the night; plus knowing that people undoubtedly died in varying states of consciousness, including the coercive effects of peer pressure and siege mentality. No one should be forced into death when life is to be had – that is an anathema!
Yet the question, "Was it a choice between suicide or genocide?," even the possibility of that being the case, must be examined. Was this mere madness, or a reaction to a real threat? Was Jim Jones’ zealotry on the one side, counterbalanced by Cold Warriors’ zealotry on the other? Was genocide intended for those people that night, whatever they did? The world, having condemned the people of Jonestown as "brainwashed," owes those trapped, framed, precious people that much. America is owed that much, too – to understand the plotting, scheming, and real threats, even crimes (such as the assassination) on the part of a government oppressing its own people.
Certainty, genocide could have been in the offing. Would the people of Jonestown have survived the night, even had they done nothing? The presence of Richard Dwyer, waiting to be sure everyone was dead, could have signaled a willingness to kill people and then call it whatever they liked: "suicide," "murder," whatever. The community was geographically trapped, militarily defenseless, so remote and isolated, there were not even any phones to alert the outside world or call in help.
Anything could have been done – indeed, perhaps was. There are many open questions about whether desecrations were done to the bodies, even after death. The coroner’s reports are a disaster of negligence, botching, fraud, deliberate desecration of bodies, or all four.
I find it believable that slaughter was the intention: to cover up the C.I.A.’s role in the airport massacre (be that proven to be the case); to prevent what would have been a hellish retribution by returnees to the States; to prevent the people of Jonestown being elevated to "martyrs"; to kill off the egalitarian hope they considered such a "threat."
Be that the case, there may be psychological bases to comprehend (if not condone) suicide, for the sake of dying together in unity, love and peace -- bases relating to real and legitimate terrors, rather than mindless "brainwashing." It can never be less than agonizing, because "be that the case" may be unknowable. But the harsh reality pervading the complexities still remained this:
The reality was that this was such a heartbreaking lose-lose situation, for people who had come so far, that there is no reaction that either compels or defies comprehension. Would it have been more compassionate to expect everyone in the community, including children, to act like the followers of Gandhi in the face of an invasion? Many times I have thought "yes," but I quaver at being the final judge. So maybe we should finally relate to the cruel and inhumane outside pressures which drove these valiant people over the edge!
This question may never resolve shy of a confession of what the C.I.A. intended for the people of Jonestown that night, not only what Jim Jones intended -- for given the known volatility of the Congressman’s visit, the C.I.A. surely had "contingency plans" of their own, its even being reported from within the military that body bags were all ready before the Congressman had even arrived! Moreover, the community had been attacked before in broad daylight, a year earlier, with people going peacably about their daily business; and now it was on the heels of the assassination of the U.S. Congressman, going into the middle of the night!
Such devastating realities were themselves so profound a testament to the injustices done not only Jonestown, but the aspirations of minority peoples everywhere, that it becomes more comprehensible (if not condonable) whatever framed and trapped people did that night in the throes of shock, terror and disbelief.
Surely there were zealots on both sides of this political war, far left and far right. The key distinction was that the people in Jonestown wanted to continue building in peace, and their opponents wanted them destroyed. The great majority’s loyalties were to their cherished community, not to cruel political operatives, with their set-ups and frames, racism and smears. The common view is that "most people were not able to escape" (though a small scattering of people did run into the jungle, and never reported being pursued). But I believe the reality was that most people at Jonestown did not want to "escape." However ghastly the suicides, this was their home, these were their "brothers and sisters," and they wanted to face whatever came together. The world termed it "brainwashing," but given the extreme, legitimate threats engulfing the community that night, perhaps it would be cruel and wrong to judge.
Thus were the people of Jonestown CAUGHT IN A VICE, between hostile outside forces and zealotry from the inside. On the heels of an assassination, with the military surely closing in. These were brave, committed people who had lived with good purpose. No one should condemn them as "cultists," or "brainwashed," much less "psychopaths."
Even in relation to Jim Jones (which some have cited as a "genius/monster" syndrome), he was a great flame in their midst, a flame now veering dangerously towards burn-out. But these were good people, and what held them was not the burn-out but the flame. Many perfectly "normal" people have great difficulty absorbing even the failing health and strength of a parent, without added stresses of an assassination, the law closing in, and decimation of their hopes, dreams and future!
I leave it to God to determine who and what caused the death of each child. Let God judge Jim Jones, a man who lived years of human service before leading his own into the infamy of mass death. And let God certainly judge Timothy Stoen, Joseph Mazor, Richard Dwyer, David Conn, and Jeannie and Al Mills, people who did not seem to care whether the people of Jonestown lived or died.
The latter, the Mills, did not even get to live themselves. They were killed off A MERE FIVE DAYS after trying to leave the anti-Temple circuit! Evidence points to them having been killed by their own agency, the "hit" being highly professional, by "someone they knew," and leaving no traceable clues. If the conspirators were not safe from their own, how safe were the people of Jonestown that night? I hate suicide. Much less coercion. Much less the involvement of children. Life is too precious to be politicized by any side. Yet I also can relate to the fear, the pride, the determination to live free or die.
Yes, this was a leader, a community, who had made damning mistakes in countering a cunning enemy. Yes, zealotry trumped even the will to physically survive. Why was a suicide threat ever made (regarding the child custody case)? Its intended message was "Leave us alone," yet in a remote, isolated jungle, where people were sitting ducks, it served as a magnet to attract, not deflect, attacks! But do errors, however grave, even zealous, justify others’ deadly intentions against them? Should we overlook those intentions, and dehumanize the people terrified by them, as "brainwashed"? Should we never expose whether their fears were, in fact, real?
Understand finally, how and why these people died. Or as the author of FINAL WITNESS told the world, it was "this hour of our own demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error which was not our intent, beyond our intent…." Think of the cruel political operatives who wanted that. Who were "counting on" it to happen. Who claimed a "mass extermination" plan for an attack in broad daylight upon a peaceful community; and now what fate following an assassination, going into the middle of the night? Who lurked in the shadows to be sure each child had already died.
There are many reasons to question whether the people of Jonestown may have been framed for the assassination of the Congressman. As detailed in THE TRUTH, a second vehicle had suddenly barrelled on in, with shooters in military uniform disembarking with a symmetrical, perfectly-coordinated military formation. There were no credible eyewitness identifications (the "government eyewitness" admitted never having the shooters in his line of vision), and eyewitness journalists described it as a highly trained team of professional assassins, who proceeded calmly, brutally, and in complete silence to disarm Guyanese police on site, shoot out the tires of the plane, and calmly massacre the wounded. The killers used dum-dum bullets, which shatter on impact and are rendered untraceable.
The entire operation was beyond the capacity of anyone at Jonestown, which was in no way, shape, or form a "paramilitary" camp. Moreover, it is clear again and again on the final tape, that not only had Jim Jones not "ordered" the assassination – he didn’t even know who fired the shots!!
Moreover, the assassination was not witnessed at Jonestown. The airstrip was seven miles away, and reports of the assassination were sketchy. It shows up on the final tape as "They saw it happen, and ran into the bush…" In other words, the reports came not from "Jonestown killers," but from Jonestown witnesses of the actions of others!
As for violence, it was always an anathema for this church. Indeed, the initial response to the smear campaign was definitive in that regard:
Moreover, this was a community who expected to be framed:
Why, then, did the community not see the frame at the end? Panic, even terror took over, as the dams holding back a violent reaction had already broken: the vigilante actions of Don Sly ("Ujara") and Larry Layton. Be this a frame, Jonestown slid into it as easily as a flapjack being tossed over the flame. The community was already a tinderbox that had snapped, now making the unthinkable believable.
But a whole professional hit team? "Ordered" by Jim Jones? So well-trained that they executed a perfect military formation in complete silence??? That is a whole different scenario, requiring systematic training, at the least, for which there has never been any evidence. Indeed, there is tons of exculpatory evidence the public never knew. And there was no motive. To the contrary. It would seal the community’s doom.
Who was it who had the real motive to kill the Congressman? Congressman Ryan was impressed by the community, as film shown right on network t.v. (ABC) confirmed. The community was obviously not a "concentration camp" -- to the contrary. And scores of people knew the truth about the paternity of the child. How long would Stoen’s stories hold?
Meanwhile, Leo Ryan was not any ordinary Congressman. He was the most vocal anti-C.I.A. critic in the entire House, having passed the Hughes/Ryan amendment, forcing the C.I.A. to report covert activities to Congress. His anti-C.I.A. crusade ran from expose of the C.I.A. hiring mercenaries in the 1975 Angolan Civil War, investigation of notorious "MK Ultra" mind control experiment, and investigation of C.I.A. infiltration of domestic groups. The first two factors were diabolically twisted into disinformation following the tragedy; and the last, C.I.A. infiltration of domestic groups, might well have included Timothy Stoen!! The same Timothy Stoen who had already lined up Ryan to "rescue his son" over a year prior to the tragedy!!
Why did far-right-wing Stoen target Ryan to bring to Jonestown? In a single night, the C.I.A. was free of two thorns in its side: Leo Ryan and Jim Jones. Logic can speak thousands of words – combined with evidence, all the more.
HEARTS AND MINDS
The human heart is not a monolith. Most of us feel many things at once under relatively normal circumstances. How much greater the turmoil in a community under siege, in the wake of an assassination, in a deep, dark jungle, going into the middle of the night!
Yet even people as anti-Jim Jones as his son Stephan, have told the media that "most people went willingly." It is not natural for people to willingly die. And it is repugnantly un-natural for them to sanction the deaths of their children. So how can we penetrate the hearts of the people who did?
The world, in flailing for an explanation, with only media pickings to choose from, long since acceded by default, to "explanations" such as "brainwashing," "drugs," or "duped." The hammer driving these nails into the Jonestown coffins was labeled "Jim Jones ordered…"
Any detailed examination of the airport massacre reveals that Jim Jones did not "order" the assassination. So must we not consider that the suicides were not the monolith the world was told? Moreover, such "explanations," left the people of Jonestown with no will, no humanity, no heart. "Brainwashed."
Was that the reality at Jonestown? It is something that has faced little challenge, but now, as in SNAKE DANCE, I will try:
For the great majority at Jonestown, their community broke them FREE of "brainwashing": free of racism, unemployment, drugs, crimes, substandard housing and education, urban filth and decay. These were people who had an inspirational new life that was real. These were not gullible people who believed "promises." What they had in Jonestown was a reality (see RAVE REVIEWS). It was beyond their wildest dreams, and very happy.
The end was terrifying, surely, and eyewitnesses who escaped reported a community thrown into a paralyzing state of shock. Yet it was also true that many people at Jonestown would have willingly died in defense of the community. One of the most heart-rendering aspects of what happened was that they never had that chance, that CHOICE.
Not because military defense was possible. Understand, if it indeed came to that, to military defense, they had no chance whatsoever of defending themselves. NONE. A tiny cache of small arms, ".22 caliber and none automatic," according to both Guyanese and American authorities. Whatever might have been done militarily, those people were helpless.
But so long as people survived, lived on, even the decimation of their community could have lived as a reminder of what REALLY happened, not the malignant myths that were preserved in newsprint.
And most important by far, no one can underestimate the value of human life, or the choice to live, however dire the straits. These were not Kevorkian cases of certain deaths to come from terminal illness, or aborted fetuses whom the entire culture contests whether it is the taking of human life. Every life that could have been saved at Jonestown was a real, whole human life with a future, especially the lives of the children. Shy of certainty of a complete wipe-out, must not life take precedence? Even in the face of a complete wipe-out, must not precedence still be given to CHOICE?
But then one also probes the reality: Even facing military attack? Trapped in a jungle with no way out and no way to call in help? With seniors? With children? Facing, at best, a wrecked future? Having given everything to build a whole new world, only to see it destroyed overnight? See how difficult such questions are. They are excruciating. Choose one. Choose one all together. Hold hands and pray when the military arrives? But someone will break ranks. Or many. They will break ranks to fight. Even to kill. Look. They thought it had already happened. They thought their own had killed the Congressman. Because of Ujara. Because of Larry. (See THE TRUTH.)
So even add penance into the brew. This group was historically, unerringly non-violent. This alone, presumed culpability for the assassination, was a horror. The prospect of a military confrontation with Guyana, the host country, all the more. You don’t fight your host country. That’s an anathema.
Nor could they fight militarily. They were defenseless against the expected retaliation. Moreover siege mentality. Moreover peer pressure. Moreover training to stand together at all costs. Moreover, the urgent necessity to decide, and to decide quickly. In such a situation, even doing nothing is "a decision," because doing nothing was perceived as an endangerment.
And undoubtedly most tragic of all, the suicide contingency had been discussed before, with a leadership resolved to follow through if needs be. Many who genuinely loved Jonestown and vowed never to be dragged away, were undoubtedly prepared to put their lives on the line; and the hopelessness of achieving that with weapons, may have given them a resolve to follow through on the suicides.
Undoubtedly, many were paralyzed by the shock of that process beginning. But the reality is that any intercession would have had to have been made much earlier in time – with the mindset. There was no way to turn the tide now, once the white heat of crisis had already burned human flesh, at the airstrip! Surely whomever sent the assassins to the airstrip knew that – whether Jim Jones, as the world believed, or the C.I.A., as is believed by this writer.
Be it a frame, the C.I.A. played Jim Jones like the strings of a violin. In the end, it wouldn’t matter that the zealots defending Jonestown were good, or that the zealots opposing Jonestown were evil. All that mattered was that they took "the bait," the assassination, and fell right into the trap. The deadly see-saw of opposing zealotries was shoved into motion. When it was all over, a thousand people lay dead. No one was even left to play the dirge.
Nevertheless, reasons (variously, for each) that they "went willingly" undoubtedly included the following factors. All are drastic, but the hour itself was drastic, and the responses all too human:
a) they believed Jim Jones when he said that the military was about to brutally close in; b) their own experience of a previous attack had convinced them; c) they would rather die than have their new way of life, which they so loved, decimated; d) a military defense was impossible; e) the post-assassination climate was so inherently terrifying, that solidarity, however tragic, gave them courage to take that step; f) paralytic shock when the process began; g) paralytic guilt at fleeing when loved ones were left to die; h) that they so revered Jim Jones as their protector and benefactor, that even in death, they would put their lot with him; i) training to stand together at all costs; j) that dissent would be tantamount to "parricide" (murder of one’s father); k) Jim Jones was known to have exceptional psychic abilities, which commanded the absolute trust of some; l) it was the only way left to express their passion for their groundbreaking community; m) they would rather die than be dragged back to oppressive conditions in the States; n) they believed they were taking a stand for human freedom; and o) rage at their imminent destruction, disempowered by despair.
Some of these motives were grounded in fear, others in love, and the mix as a whole was psychologically complex. Nor can any historical assessment be complete without acknowledging that their fears, their apprehensions, were real. And that their pride, their defiance, their love, was real as well. The cardboard profile given to the world, which negated love, and implied that fear was solely of Jim Jones, not outside forces, was a false view which negated a humanity at Jonestown which was full, rich, and real.
The fear, indeed, had been whipped up to a fiery heat, by Joseph Mazor, an arch-enemy, who came right into Jonestown, "claimed credit for" the previous mercenary raid, and announced that the original plan had been to "kidnap children, and then kill all the adults." Or Stoen’s mercenary threats directly to the State Department in Georgetown, Guyana, as recorded in their log a single month before the end.
If the public never understands how diabolical, how cruelly dismissive of human life such threats were, then it will never understand the pressures that THE PEOPLE OF JONESTOWN BELIEVED, WITH CAUSE, were in play that treacherous night.
What else governed Jonestown’s hearts? Still more:
Another factor, re-enforced for years, was political:. Be the role model. Transcend your own interests, your own egos, to stand for everyone in your shoes: poor people, black people, the inner cities of the United States, oppressed people in the Third World. Many at Jonestown had committed themselves to stand to the death because it was never just words, or the dictates of their leader. Jonestown was a role model for how inner city dwellers could thrive and excel on a worldwide stage. Who could transplant a thousand largely poor and minority people and give them a fresh, wholesome new life? (See RAVE REVIEWS.) This stood alone in the entirety of American history.
Thus were people convinced to be that political instrument. If you die rather than be dragged back to oppressive conditions in the States, you will be a martyr for others, a sacrifice to bring about a better world.
Enough people in Jonestown believed that -- even wanted it – to sway the entire group into that devastating final act. They were proud that some group, somewhere, had gotten it together to be the advance garde, and were proud to play their part. Others, simply happy for a better life personally, may have given that lesser priority. Others believed that mass suicide, under any circumstances, would discredit, rather than accomplish, such a goal. But there they all were – trapped.
By the end, Jonestown was so caught in a symbiotic escalation with the very forces persecuting them, that it did not occur to them that "political expendability" was a trap that worked both ways. Giving political ideals, beliefs, mindsets, group loyalty, however lofty, precedence over the pure and simple value of preserving individual human lives whatever may come (let us be clear: the fear cited on the final tape was a legitimate one of invasion, but the decision to stand "all for one, one for all" was a political decision), only played into the hands of opponents who also considered the lives at Jonestown expendable for political reasons, even if coming from the opposite end of the political and moral spectrum. The stand for martyrdom on the part of Jonestown zealots, and the "better dead than red" philosophy of the Cold War zealots, still both resulted in corpses!
Thus did solidarity itself became a noose around their necks. Jim Jones, on the final tape, took personal responsibility for violence he didn’t even initiate (the assassination), and challenged others to do the same: "I don’t know who shot the Congressman. As far as I’m concerned, I shot him. We can’t separate ourselves from our own people." All for one, one for all. We were already chanting prior to the exodus, in San Francisco, "If they take one of us, they’ll have to take us all!" All that much more intense in Guyana. The solidarity was intense, absolute, passionate, committed. Also deadly dangerous…. It was a "role model" any future group might follow at its peril!
Nor was pragmatic reality absent, something which Jim Jones, who had shepherded the awesome task of building that community, had in abundance: "Don’t say you’re winning when you’re losing," came onto the final tape as well. He said there was "no way to survive," and the reality was that there wasn’t.
Yet undoubtedly, the lines between survival of the community, and survival of the community’s physical lives, were tragically blurred. And given the extraordinary efforts to build that advance garde community, there was no overriding voice to claim that protecting physical life at all costs take precedence over preserving the community.
Jonestown was already drowned in press smears by reporters who had never even visited. The world never saw that for so many at Jonestown, the community WAS their lives. It was the best, even "the only real life" so many had ever known. No one had ever broken away from oppressive ghetto conditions like this. Moreover, they were already dogged at every turn by "monsters": a yellow press, persecutory government, clandestine military forces, a Congressman persuaded by lies, smears, and government agents, to bring in a media circus to drag people away. It served to make loyalties fiercer, siege mentality fiercer. Who could stand up and say, let the "monsters" win? Just go quietly. In another time, era, and place, that might have happened. But not at Jonestown.
Last were factors borne of cultural background and broad experiences of life: They believed that the people working against them, who had already monopolized the press, and brought the entire weight of the federal government against them, also had racial genocide on their agenda. Especially against black political dissidents. And there they were, trapped in a jungle and already subjected to military attack. It was believable to the people of Jonestown that if they did not take their own lives, others might take their lives for them.
One can call it "paranoia," but given those circumstances, it took on a terrifying reality! The burden had already been placed upon the people of Jonestown to defend themselves against a fully "loaded" press and government machine, fueled by racists who had vowed to destroy their way of life! Given the treacherous cross-currents that night, genocide was an understandable fear. Richard Dwyer standing by until 3:30 in the morning to be sure everyone was dead, would appear confirmation of the reality!
To abbreviate this, one must acknowledge the legitimacy of despair. Not despair caused by life at Jonestown, which most loved. Rather despair foisted upon people who had come so far, done so much, sacrificed so much, lived such a beautiful life, only to have it decimated in newspapers, television, and the very halls of government. To have a Congressman with a media circus, not a single one of them black, arrogantly bust into their community, with the intent to destroy.
Despair at Jonestown was powerful that night. The feeling that "we don’t stand a chance." For some, laying down their lives, rather than having them taken, seemed the only way to mold their own fate, given such a stacked deck. People like Joseph Mazor and Timothy Stoen who deliberately forced that juncture, were morally culpable for provoking the deaths. Yet it was they who had the ear of the press, they who had the ear of government, they had the man lurking in the shadows, calmly waiting for the death process to conclude before he radioed in. How much more cause for despair?
No repugnance at any act of Jim Jones erases the reality of such monstrous plotting to destroy innocent lives. So finally, who shoulders blame for the deaths at Jonestown? Whose hearts suffered the most, and why? Can you not honor sacrifice? Can you not stop calling people "brainwashed," and honor that tragic and complex a sacrifice?
Neither the building of Jonestown, nor its destruction, were "the work of one man." It took a whole culture, a whole social and political fabric, a whole machine of persecutory government and press with all their nasty plots, agendas, set-ups and smears, to destroy the village that had raised the children of Jonestown.
The proof of the pudding often comes after the fact. Both media and government had succeeded in claiming that "insane cult leader" covered this situation quite nicely. Why make anything up, when this story already served so well?
There was just one serious loose end. Understand, the C.I.A. had a major problem regarding the assassination. Congressman Leo Ryan was so passionately anti-C.I.A., that his aides and family immediately thought that the C.I.A. had killed him. And as likely as not, they did.
Yet the assassins were supposed to be from Jonestown, not the C.I.A. There was only one "solution." Turn Jim Jones into the C.I.A. No longer enough to methodically detach the monster from the real world, much less realpolitik, he must now be linked with the suspect intelligence agency. An agency Jim Jones would undoubtedly rather have had his eyes gouged out than join.
Joseph Holsinger, a Ryan aide, was making noises to look into the C.I.A. So was Jackie Speier, the aide who accompanied the Congressman to Jonestown, who specifically suspected Richard Dwyer. Patricia Ryan, a Ryan daughter, became so enmeshed in the C.I.A. stories, that she turned into an anti-cult activist, sporting wild charges allegedly linking Jim Jones with the C.I.A.
Disinformation hell was born, complete with Dracula Jones and demons of the deep. That the stories were devious, illogical, easily disproved, unimaginably "perfect," mattered not. People were vulnerable. They wanted answers.
The disinformation stories hinged on two lies: 1) Jonestown was a violent place with a violent leader, who "ordered" the assassination as a logical extension of "hundreds of guns" and "hit squads"; 2) Whatever brave anti-C.I.A. crusader Leo Ryan had been against, Jim Jones was for.
The first premise was considered "already proven," in that both media and government went with the "Jim Jones ordered…" story straight down the line, evidence not even entering in. There was no need to "prove" what you have already persuaded the whole world to believe. The jungle was thousands of miles away. No one would touch disassembling the story with a ten-foot pole.
Violent intent thus "proven," no one even NOTICED that NBC’s Bob Brown’s filming of the assassination on site at the airstrip, revealed a highly trained team of professional assassins, or questioned whether the attack was even within the capability of anyone living at Jonestown.
The question now became merely, could this extremely violent, "brainwashed" group of people have been orchestrated by the C.I.A.? The shadowy disinformation mongerers concocted the perfect tale to personify "Yes."
First, who was "the C.I.A. plant" within Jonestown? Well, that was charged to Philip Blakey, who "recruited mercenaries for the C.I.A. in the 1975 Angolan Civil War." Wow. It took me years to track down why, of all C.I.A. misdeeds, they chose that. It turns out that Leo Ryan’s original crusade against the C.I.A. was the expose, through newsman Daniel Schorr, of …..the C.I.A. recruiting mercenaries for the 1975 Angolan Civil War!
As for Philip Blakey, he first came to Peoples Temple as a British teenager, to marry Deborah Layton. He was one of the first settlers at Jonestown, who ferried supplies up and down river. He was continually both visible and indispensable. This was a bizarre and preposterous choice of "C.I.A. plant," but his inaccessibility as a foreigner, his having been the former brother-in-law of Larry Layton (who went off as a lone vigilante with a gun), and his role as captain of the Temple boat (which was used to concoct completely baseless "rumors of the escape of Jim Jones") were undoubtedly factors that led to an otherwise arbitrary choice of Philip.
It was also undoubtedly thought that if the Ryan family and aides were fed something as inflammatory as involvement in the 1975 Angolan Civil War, Leo Ryan’s first crusade, they would be so horrified, they would fall for it hook-line-and-sinker, and never look anywhere else. This proved true.
The second "hook" into Ryan’s various anti-C.I.A. crusades, was the C.I.A.’s notorious MK Ultra project – a sinister mind control experiment. No one ever even noticed that the main source pushing this disinformation was the Cult Awareness Network, featuring Louis Jolyon West, long suspected to be in on the MK Ultra program!!!
One only has to glance at the cover of SNAKE DANCE, a collage of smiling photos from Jonestown, to see how preposterous this disinformation was. There was never any evidence, much less proof for this charge, and had the newspapers only been willing to print the materials in RAVE REVIEWS, materials that all went through my own hands, the MK Ultra mess would never have taken hold.
Yet the Ryan family wound up pressing a suit against the federal government with all those wild, false charges: Philip Blakey, MK Ultra, mind control experiment, "Manchurian candidates," and the like. Naturally, it was an impossible suit to press, its premises having been designed by dead-end specialists to go nowhere.
WHAT SHOULD BE DONE
Humanity has never been served. Neither has justice. People’s first amendment rights, fourth amendment rights, religious rights, freedom of speech, civil rights, human rights, freedom from invasion, freedom from government harassment, were crushed, like a steamroller over 900+ innocent lives, right into their graves. These were people who were smeared, slandered, libeled, threatened, harassed, "investigated," militarily attacked, set up, framed, all without recourse, then condemned in the eyes of the world as "brainwashed"!
It is true that Jim Jones was dangerously destabilized, but without deliberate, severe and escalating provocation, the catastrophe at Jonestown might never have happened. Whatever the precious people of Jonestown believed at the end, undoubtedly a mix of not only conditioned mindset but terrifyingly immediate crisis, "brainwashed" was surely a cruel, wrong tag to put upon them, pushed by people with cruel, wrong motives, and wrapped in subterfuge, deceit and violence.
Nor was this only an injustice against the people of Jonestown. These were wayshowers, role models. They built a community that was a model of racial harmony, humane social services, integration of the old and young, self-empowerment of the disadvantaged, proof of every lie of economic exploitation or myth of the conformities of industrialization. The release of human potential, the essence of freedom upon which our nation was built. A stand for minorities, for the poor, for the underclasses, for equality for all people.
It was this promise, with its realization of hopes and dreams, that was crushed at Jonestown. Yes, their leader was fanatical, destabilized, too powerful, physically ill, as well as driven mad by evildoers so wicked as to weave deadly plots against innocents. I am not here to defend Jim Jones’ fanatical personality, much less his deterioration in the final months overseas. Yes, I have gone through my own ordeals of despising Jim Jones, and no one should think I have not. Yes, what they happened will be controversial forever, even though the act they believed sealed their fate, the assassination, was (I believe evidence will confirm) a frame. Yes, the same unity and solidarity which built that magnificent community also drove its inhabitants to their graves.
Yet even the Congressman acknowledged that "What is being done here is significant, valuable and worthwhile, even of great significance on a world- wide basis." Was it the fault of those at Jonestown, that because of false witnesses and smears, America never learned what was so manifest, that even someone as lied to as Leo Ryan, could see it for himself? Or that his brutal killing by "parties unknown" guaranteed that the world would not learn the truth of both what happened that ghastly night, and why?
It is time to reverse "the official story," redeem those precious people, and to honor the sacrifice of not just their deaths, but their lives. The imperative is simple. It is only difficult to erode the walls of myth, deception and disinformation.
It is also time to bring the evildoers behind the Congressional assassination to justice -- time to call for a new Congressional investigation of the assassination. That chapter, never challenged in court, is long overdue for a public hearing.
I pray that the doors will open for all this to happen. It’s the human thing to do. It should be done in the name of Humanity. It should be done in the name of God. It should be done for America. It should be done to ensure that nothing as horrendous as this ever happens again.
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