JONESTOWN: THE TRUTH
History characteristically ‘proves’ only what the discovery
of new information has not yet contraindicated.
It is a process, not an icon graven in stone."
From "SNAKE DANCE: Unravelling the Mysteries of Jonestown"
THE POWER OF THE PRESS
For centuries, the history mill of the culture was driven by books. Now, at the tail end of the world’s most tumultuous century, it is driven by the media. A sheet of newsprint may be distributed one day, and tossed into the trash the next. An image flickers briefly across the screen that "captures the moment." Yet it has the power to perpetuate its essence like smoke fumes across a crowded room. If it is in the media, people believe it. If it is not, it cannot be "newsworthy."
I am a veteran of one of the worst cases of yellow journalism in the entire history of the American media. It was called "Jonestown." Not merely a story, it was a paradigm for a public lynching. The name of the indictment was "Jim Jones ordered..." Who needed to bring this to trial? "The principals are dead," said the press, echoed government, echoed television, echoed the populace. The rest was the sickening stench of death.
It all began with a tiny cadre of reporters, orchestrated by shadowy people the public never met, who by the Summer of 1977, found themselves in an enviable position: a church highly-acclaimed for humanitarian service, yet politically threatening, had moved the bulk of its membership, including its leadership, thousands of miles away to a remote jungle. It was thought to be protective from the onslaught. How quickly "protection" veered into endangerment.
The original smear against Peoples Temple in New West magazine, a fledgling Murdoch publication, simply held up the 25-year record of good works, said, hmm, "liberal, leftist," and tossed it into the trash, in favor of "What is going on behind closed doors?" It was soon followed by "Jonestown: Paradise or Prison," whose "sources" had never even been overseas! The move was on.
Headlines screamed that Peoples Temple was responsible for everything from fraud to murder. Fresh offenses, like phony break-ins and threatening phone calls (all anonymous, naturally), were instantaneously blamed on a group that had already relocated thousands of miles away. Known suicides of peripheral ex-members were dragged out to implicate Peoples Temple as secret extortioners, blackmailers, even murderers.
When a church member, Bob Houston, died in a freak railway accident, foul play was insinuated and placed at the door of the absent church. In a bizarre twist of fate, Houston’s parents were close friends of a Congressman, Leo Ryan. Thus was Congressman Ryan, the most vocal anti-C.I.A. critic in the entire House, conscribed to help lynch Peoples Temple, the most left-wing church in America.
The anti-Temple crew needed next to nothing, from next to no one, to slander Jonestown. All it took was affidavits filled with demonstrably false statements from two young women who had left Jonestown of choice: not starved, not tortured, not brainwashed, just unwilling to share in a pioneer life. Their names were Yolanda Crawford and Deborah Layton Blakey (a/k/a Deborah Layton). Under the direction of Timothy Stoen, former head attorney turned bitter enemy, these two slandered Jonestown with charges of barbed wire, closed circuit t.v., guards to prevent escape, a starvation diet, forced labor, an armed camp, rampant illness, and the like. Abigail Williams, the spiteful heroine of The Crucible, could not have done a better job.
None of the charges were true, as reporters would later see for themselves. Even Congressman Ryan was quoted recently on ABC’s 20/20, addressing the community of Jonestown saying, "I hear many of you saying that this is the best thing that’s ever happened to you."
The Ryan visit confirmed everything that Peoples Temple could never get in the press: a magnificent break from racism, drugs, crime, unemployment, substandard housing and education in the United States; fresh air, a healthful climate, flourishing agriculture, a model school, medical clinic, sawmill, electrical generators, machine shop, animal husbandry, cottages with gardens and landscaping, impeccable sanitation and more. Indeed, a role model for how inner city dwellers could thrive and excel on a worldwide stage. The rave reviews from visiting doctors, educators, Guyanese Cabinet miniters, visiting relatives and more still survive.
But what did it matter? Congressman Ryan was not led into Jonestown for a fair review. He was led into Jonestown to die.
In November, 1978, not only the returning Congressman, but hundreds of others lay dead. The carnage was incomprehensible. Who would tell the truth about what happened?
No problem. The story was all lined up. Had been for a year-and-a-half. All those "brave dissidents" who had exposed Peoples Temple, who forced the Congressional visit. "Obviously they were right." Let’s interview them. Don’t even bother with "the cultists." Talk to the people who tried to "prevent all this from happening."
Thus was the Jonestown Tragedy engraved in history, as an icon graven in stone.
PLANTS, PROVOCATEURS AND PAWNS
"Tried to prevent it"..... or CAUSED it? O.k., let’s talk to these people. The "brave dissidents." These are their names, and this is who they were: "Brave dissidents" or plants, provocateurs, and pawns? Them and their shadowy handlers.
Timothy Stoen: Came to the church in 1969, presenting himself as being far-left wing. Later turned out to secretly be a far-right-wing zealot, who had run spy missions into East Berlin in the early sixties, as per press clippings, and his own copious handwritten field notes.
Established himself as the top Temple attorney -- confidant, strategist and close personal friend of Jim Jones.
Married Grace Stoen in 1970, a self-centered young woman who wanted nothing more than to be the wife of a prominent attorney. Socialism? Interracial equality? Sacrifice for a cause? Not in her lexicon.
Marital adjustment? Rocky. As shown in her handwritten note to Jim Jones, she was upset, "pissed" as she put it, that her new husband was secretly a transvestite. Marital relations ceased. She threatened to divorce Tim, leave the church, and ruin us all in the press. Jim Jones, in hindsight most ill-advisedly, stepped in, to pacify Grace sexually. A child was born: John Victor. Tim Stoen vowed to protect the paternal rights of Jim Jones to the death. Grace neglected, rejected, then finally abandoned the child in 1976 without so much as "goodbye." She returned briefly, only to reject the child to his face, and sign away her parental rights, as did Tim Stoen. It was a matter of record.
Other duties: Founded a tiny, shadowy group within the church called "The Diversions Department," geared towards "dirty tricks" such as anonymous phone calls, threatening letters, manipulating politicians, and the like. According to a top aide, Stoen also pushed for terrorist contingencies that he deliberately kept from Jim Jones, allegedly "to insulate him from liability." These included suggestions about poisoning the water supply of Washington, D.C., encouragement to build bombs, and regular rifle practice.
It seemed that Mr. Stoen fit the classic description of an agent provocateur.
The "cause celebre" used by right-wing zealot Timothy Stoen, to lure anti-C.I.A. Congressman Ryan to Jonestown was, naturally, little John. The public Mr. Stoen had shed all his hats but one: "concerned father." "That child was my entire life," said Stoen to ABC’s 20/20 just weeks ago, for its 20th anniversary special. Aging, grey, seemingly benign, the bittersweet words touched America’s hearts.
It was Stoen who formalized the "concentration camp" charges into a flyer which is reprinted in SNAKE DANCE: Unravelling the Mysteries of Jonestown. He founded "Concerned Relatives," along with Steven Katsaris and Sherwin Harris, both with daughters over 21, and with antipathy towards their fathers both pre-dating and having nothing to do with the church. These three, not a one with legitimate claims to relatives in Jonestown, whipped up a tiny contingent of frightened relatives to a fiery heat, and served as a pressure group to lure the Congressman overseas.
Elmer and Deanna Mertle (a/k/a Jeannie and Al Mills): No longer on the scene. They were murdered at their home in Berkeley in February, 1980, a mere five days after publicly announcing they wanted off the anti-Temple circuit. Now their true role could be revealed. Except someone made sure they could never tell the tale.
Ah, but what "valiant" people they were! Leaders of the original set of "brave dissidents" flaunted in New West. The Mertle/Mills were everywhere. Their children were carefully trained to talk about being threatened with guns, or beaten; their parents quick to supply the I.R.S. code, chapter and verse, for how to remove a church’s federal tax exemption.
Their other complaints? "Irregular notarizations," "misappropriated rest home funds," long hours of organizational work, letter-writing to politicians, questionable guardianships of children, spankings. Every complaint was either laid at the door of top Temple attorney, Tim Stoen, with all suits dropped when they realized he was "one of them"; unprovable, but useful to whip up government investigations; vague but usable for bad press; slanderous, but our weak legal staff did not sue; innuendoes, insinuations, unsubstantiated rumors.
The press loved it.
Their murders remain unsolved to this day. The Berkeley police surmised they were done by "someone they knew," for it was the early evening, and there were no signs of forced entry or burglary; and noted that the killings were very "professional": dum-dum bullets, "execution style," and with no traceable clues.
David Conn: Never a member of the church, but admitted being close friends with the Mertle/Mills all the years they were in Peoples Temple. A young woman, Betty Carroll, who had lived with the Mertles identified Conn from a television acreen, as having visited with the Mertles across the years.
Temple spies had tape-recorded David, and his ex-wife Donna, bragging of having "high priority Treasury Department numbers." This happened while they were actively planning to destroy the church along with the Mertles, beginning with smears in the press.
In March, 1977, Conn approached one Dennis Banks, at that time leader of the American Indian Movement, to try and blackmail him into turning against Jim Jones. Banks had been helped by the Temple, the church having paid the funds to bail his wife out of jail. Banks was fighting extradition back to a South Dakota jail himself, where he feared he would be killed.
David Conn told Banks that he was working with Treasury Department agents, I.R.S. agents, Grace Stoen, and numerous others to "expose" Rev. Jim Jones. That if Banks would publicly denounce Jones, he, Conn, would prevent Banks’ extradition. If he did not, "it would go badly for him." Banks refused. he told the church what had happened. He drew up an affidavit. He participated in a press conference to expose David Conn.
This was a man with nineteen children. Banks had no reason to reveal what Conn had threatened to do except integrity and honor.
Conn, when interviewed by the alternative press, said he had been investigating Peoples Temple all the years his friends, the Mertles, were members, because he was "concerned about black people being ripped off" -- a thin claim given that he had just tried to blackmail a minority leader to his death!
Joseph Mazor: The trickiest card in the deck, Mr. Mazor was seemingly everywhere. Although sporting a 75-page criminal history, largely for bogus checks and other fraud, he was mysteriously able to obtain a State investigator’s license from the State of California, in May, 1977 -- just in time to "investigate" Peoples Temple. His purported motive was "concern for children."
He admitted in September, 1977, that it was he who had hired Russom, Lowry & Leeper, an expensive San Francisco public relations firm, to orchestrate slandering the church in the press. He claimed that his original employers were not present nor ex-members of the church, but refused to disclose who they were, or the source of his funding. Now, he said, he was an employee of the Mertles.
By late in the Summer of 1978, Mazor had emerged to convince our legal counsel, Charles Garry, that "there was no conspiracy," and that Stoen had merely "ripped off a million of dollars" upon exiting the church, accounting for his cross-continent travel, lobbying offices in Washington, and the like.
He wormed his way into both Garry’s ear, and the church’s new attorney, one Mark Lane (noted "conspiracy theorist") to claim that it was he who led the mercenary raid against Jonestown in September, 1977. Mazor’s fantastical claim was that they had approached the community with instructions to knock out the electrical generators, to facilitate the kidnap of certain children. But that when they approached the comunity, they found no barbed wire or other oppressive conditions, so they simply contented themselves with sniping for several days, then left. That he felt used, and wanted to now help us in exposing Stoen. I heard his confession on tape with my own ears.
Then, off the record, we were told, Mazor had told the horrrified assemblage at Jonestown, that his full instructions had been to "kidnap the children, and then kill all the adults," i.e. mass extermination. The people of Jonestown were justifiably terrified.
Mr. Mazor was tracked down to membership in Interpol, the international police organization housed adjacent to the F.B.I. in Washington.
Mark Lane: Came in at the last, claiming to "save" Jonestown by filing suits against the federal government. Although there is no evidence he was in on the attacks from the beginning, many factors make him suspect. He was personally responsible for leading Joseph Mazor into Jonestown. He secretly siphoned off Teri Buford, a top aide, just three weeks before the end, and both are still suspect for having possibly absconded with Temple funds. He pretended to be our leading advocate, when in fact, he had secretly turned before the tragedy with no one’s knowledge.
Mr. Lane, although widely known as a "conspiracy theorist," especially in relation to the Kennedy assassination, is in fact the attorney for hatemongerers such as Willis Carto, one of the nation’s most notorious racists and anti-Semites.
That concludes all the known leaders of the smear campaign against Peoples Temple. From all appearances, they were an assortment of government agents (Stoen and the Mertle/Mills) and their government-based non-member handlers (Mazor and Conn). (
The original reporters, Phil Tracy from New West, and Marshall Kilduff, doubling on New West and the San Francisco Chronicle, worked diligently to smear the church with no rebuttals allowed. Tracy made a two-hour interview with Jim Jones before he left the country, and did not use a single word. Indeed, he told Jones, "The media can make monsters of whomever they choose."
Additional reporters, like Tim Reiterman of the San Francisco Examiner, were added to keep the pressure on, with escalating smears across the front pages of the monopolized two-paper Hearst press in San Francisco. Let no one doubt it: The Examiner and Chronicle were co-publishing every Sunday, as the "S.F. Examiner-Chronicle."
That completes the kings and queens running the show, and their helpful knights in the press. What of the pawns, the poor "ex-members"? The original group in New West were but ten: The Mertle/Mills; Grace Stoen and her boyfriend Walter Jones; four young people who had left the church. These eight left the group racially imbalanced, as turncoats against Peoples Temple were overwhelmingly white; so two elderly black women were added to flesh out "the black wing" of the anti-Temple contingency. Elderly people were treated so well in the church, such people were difficult to find, but Birdie Marable volunteered to complain bitterly that her husband, who never even attended services, wasn’t healed of cancer!; and Laura Cornelius, said she donated a watch in an offering and now wanted it back! Actionable?
Who were these people?
Grace Stoen: Long separated from her husband, Timothy Stoen, veteran of both a failed marriage and a broken relationship with Jim Jones, having rejected and abandoned her own child John, now realizes that her spitefest against Jim Jones could come alive in the hands of the ubiquitous Mertles. She decides to join the anti-Temple contingent and press for the return of her child. She is joined by her boyfriend Walter Jones.
Jim Cobb: Rejected by the Temple for instituted a reverse-racism boot camp, complete with military training, against all church teachings but at the Temple-sponsored dorms, he had left with seven other college students in 1973. Now four of them emerged in New West, as "indignant ex-members," eager to bring the church down. By the time of the tragedy, Cobb was asking millions of dollars for spurious charges, in a suit authored by none other than Stoen, suing his own former client against every professional tenet of ethics.
Cobb has one other notorious claim to fame. As the Congressional investigating committee told me personally, Cobb was the "official eyewitness" of "the Peoples Temple assassins."
Even had he done the impossible feat of i.d.-ing men come towards him with guns as he fled for his own life, the reality was one step worse: a news clipping reprinted in my book quotes Cobb bragging that he was on the opposite side of the plane when the shooting erupted. He never even had the shooters in his line of vision! There were no eyewitnesses who identifed the assassins.
Yolanda Crawford: A young black woman returns from Jonestown after a two-month stay. She didn’t want a pioneer life, and left without issue. By now, Tim Stoen has come on board, and has her fill out an affidavit full of lies.
The Crawford affidavit is pushed to smear the church, augmented by numerous "dirty tricks,’" such as an anonymous 3 .a.m. phone call to a Jonestown relative, threatening to burn his home down if he opposes Jim Jones, naturally inflaming him and driving him towards Stoen.
Awaiting the next "defection," Stoen then sets up "Concerned Relatives," designed to perpetuate bad press about Jonestown, and pressure Congressman Ryan to travel to Jonestown to "rescue his son."
Deborah Layton (then Deborah Layton Blakey): Deborah Layton leaves Jonestown in May, 1978, after being rebuffed sexually by Jim Jones, abandoning her terminally ill mother to return to the States. This was the real bonanza for Stoen, the Mertles, and their entourage.
Her lies about "hundreds of guns" were printed in the press as gospel, along with horror stories of a slave labor camp, starvation, and worse: an armed camp, all ready to kill others -- even themselves. It seemed not enough for this new "media heroine" to turn against Jim Jones. She could not resist slandering and smearing the precious, innocent people of Jonestown, largely from the inner cities, who loved their new lives. Ms. Layton was located "at one of the finest restaurants in San Francisco" the night after the tragedy, according to the press. She had nothing to say about dead children, only more invectives against Jim Jones. Then picked at her dessert.
WHY WAS PEOPLES TEMPLE UNDER ATTACK?
How could a church so acclaimed for humanitarian service be subjected to a vicious smear campaign? Just six months before Jim Jones departed from Guyana, a Testimonial Dinner was held at the church, where Jones was presented with plaques from the Mayor of San Francisco, the City Council, the State Senate, and accolades from the Lieutenant Governor, Police Chief, Assemblyman Willie Brown (now Mayor of San Francisco) and more. The singing was vibrant. These were people capable of great joy.
But Peoples Temple was also an endangered species. A far-left wing church wending its way into the mainstream. This was bouncing off the sixties, with J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. and the C.I.A.’s Cold War. The reasons for the attacks were political.
Peoples Temple was a casualty of the civil rights struggle and the Cold War. It was not attacked because of its failures, but rather because of its success. We were interracial, socialist, acclaimed, with a powerful leader who was making inroads into the mainstream. The final desperate move to relocate the entire community of Jonestown to the then-Soviet Union was "the last straw." We "had to be stopped."
Stoen made his C.I.A. sympathies, if not outright affiliation clear, in his spying mission to East Berlin in the early sixties, proof of which is offered in my book. The Mertle/Mills made their affiliation clear by an eight-year conspiracy with David Conn, known to be a Treasury Department agent, quoting the I.R.S. chapter and verse, on how to revoke a church’s federal tax exemption, and threatening a leader of an Indian reservation. Could the F.B.I. be far behind?
Joseph Mazor, "the slippery one" -- what of him? Only days after the tragedy, he announced on t.v. that "It was considered that Jim Jones would become a major political force in the Caribbean." Plans to relocate the community to safety in the then-Soviet Union could not have helped matters. Mazor was also the one who came right into Jonestown just weeks before the end to threaten "mass extermination."
America never knew the political side, because the story of "an insane cult leader" better fit the media’s purposes. The truth was that Jim Jones was a tireless voice for minorities in America. Peoples Temple was on ongoing forum for every left-wing cause, person, or outreach in the culture, even welcoming foreigners of every anti-fascist, anti-racist, socialist view: Pinochet’s Chile, apartheid South Africa, the dreaded Soviet Union, and native dissenters, too -- Angela Davis, Jane Fonda, Daniel Ellsberg, Huey Newton, just to name a few.
I was there week after week, for years, as Jim Jones excoriated corporate America. His passionate commitment was to bring about social change. We were always non-violent. But change is change. Jonestown was the most constructive manner of change possible -- A NEW WAY OF LIFE. It was working. It garnered scores of rave reviews which still survive. They couldn’t leave it alone. They had to threaten it first with the press, then with harassments, then with gunfire on a bright sunny day. How much more the peril upon the assassination of a United States Congressman, moving towards the threatening, uncertain night!
Had the community been left alone just one more month, a scouting party had been lined up to go to the then-Soviet Union to find land to resettle the community to safety, at the invitation of the Soviet government. Do you see no interest on the part of the intelligence agencies? How could they NOT have been interested?
Not only in us, but in Congressman Leo Ryan, the most vocal anti-C.I.A. critic in Congress of his day. It was he, in the Hughes-Ryan amendment of 1974, who forced the C.I.A. to begin reporting covert activities to the U.S. Congress.
Look at who was sacrificed. Look at who died. Leo Ryan. Jim Jones. Who even cared about the loss of over 900 additional lives at Jonestown? The lives of over 900 people, mostly minorities of no means, was considered "expendable." What tragedy on top of tragedy. How indifference and callousness with regard to human life was a tragedy all its own.
PRESS ATTACKS FOLLOWED UPON WITH VIOLENCE
Peoples Temple was concerned, even alarmed, when the press smears ballooned unchecked. A remote jungle, with no phone even to respond. But the worst was yet to come. The press smears were not an end, but merely a means. Once people’s names are destroyed, you can follow upon with investigations, even harassments, such as the illegal cut-off of Social Security checks to elderly parishioners, and investigations in the D.A. offices of numerous counties, all of which were dropped for lack of evidence.
Worse still. Past investigations and harassments, you can resort to physical violence. Once a community, however peaceful, is labelled "an armed camp," even "terrorist," you can attack them in "self-defense." Once you’ve repeatedly claimed that violence is on the other side, you can even commit murder and shift the blame. Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, perfected that craft all too well: "Repeat a lie often enough, and people will believe it." The whole nightmare of World War II began with framing a military attack on the Poles. U.S. involvement in Vietnam featured the Gulf of Tonkin.
Calling Jonestown "an armed camp" was not simply untrue. It was a strategy. Jonestown was falsely painted as "an armed camp" to justify violence against it, and to lay the pathway for a frame.
The first sign of offensive violence against the community of Jonestown came in September, 1977, barely a month after the press smears had begun. As my book details, the Stoens’ attorney, Jeffrey Haas, had just traveled to Jonestown to serve legal papers. A few days later, shooting into the community began. One bullet whizzed past Jim Jones’ head and had to be picked out of the wall of his cottage. I spoke with three eyewitnesses.
Jonestown’s state of siege had officially begun. From that time on, Tim Stoen continually threatened to send in more mercenaries to kidnap "his son," threats that were even recorded in newspaper editorials and State Department logs, as reprinted in my book.
A zealous leadership cried out, "We’ll DIE before we are forced back to the United States!" The mass suicide contingency plan was hatched.
The most cruel twist was that the people of Jonestown, the very great majority, wanted passionately to stay. They loved their new lives, and were angered at attempts to wreck their community with lies, harassments, and callous government agents whose motives were purely political.
Their "lovely utopia," as a visiting relative had dubbed Jonestown, was being turned into a death trap, by pressures both from without and from within. These good, decent, even heroic people, were increasingly, from then on in, caught in a vice.
Every option and liability had been explored in the event of another mercenary attack. They were geographically trapped: Escape routes to Venezuela through the jungle were investigated and deemed too dangerous. Contrary to false reports of "hundreds of guns," the community was militarily defenseless, as both Guyanese and American authorities discovered in doom’s wake. The community was so remote there were not even phones. In the event of a new attack, the people of Jonestown had no defense, no escape, no lines of communication or rescue.
Panic, pressures, and preparations ensued. Undoubtedly there were those who resented this, or downplayed the dangers. But far more felt that not only their lives, but their entire lives’ purpose, accomplishment, and future was at stake. Jonestown, according to scores of visitors, was "a paradise," "a superior society," "like coming to another planet," "a credit to humanity." It was a mecca of expansion, innovation, visitors and good cheer. The children got an A-1 education. The young people were trained for trades and professions of choice. The elderly enjoyed a healthful retirement, with love and solicitous care. Every visitor prior to the Congressman’s party raved about the beauty and accomplishments of Jonestown. But somehow, that never filtered its way into the pages of the U.S. press....
THE CONSCRIPTION OF CONGRESSMAN RYAN
Timothy Stoen could have lobbied anyone in Congress, once he set up his offices in Washington. Why Leo Ryan? Ryan was made to order: A Congressman from a county near San Francisco; friends of Sam and Nadene Houston, parents of the deceased Bob Houston, from the church; his own daughter, Shannon, was in a so-called "cult." but also much more: a walking nemesis for the C.I.A.
Everyone around Stoen knew the truth about little John, well including Deborah Layton. But no one had the character or integrity to tell that to the Congressman. They let him bring the full weight of the United States government to bear, accompanied by a media circus of presspeople, not a single one of them Black, to barge into people’s homes,to dissect whether seniors were "putting on a show" by smiling (NBC’s Steven Sung), or young black teenage girls "reading a script" when they were asked the most invasive details of their lives (Ryan aide Jackie Speier), or how black and white, young and old, could possibly enjoy a evening together without being "drugged" or "hypnotized" (Washington Post’s Charles Krause); and especially... to "rescue Tim Stoen’s son."
Meanwhile, a Temple member had been sent Stateside to Stoen’s camp, to look into their plans. Stoen told him that he was "counting on Jim [Jones] to overreact" to the Congressional visit. What did "overreact" mean? And why "count on" an "overreaction" in a situation which you yourself have defined as potentially dangerous? What of that small child there who is allegedly yours? What of all the children?
What of the Congressman whom you have lied to, telling him that a beautiful community was a "concentration camp" to serve your own political ends? Where would his chess piece fall in causing the "overreaction"?
WHAT HAPPENED AT THE AIRSTRIP
What did happen at the Port Kaituma airstrip? The people of Jonestown, as evidenced on the final tape recorded there, were never entirely clear. The airstrip was seven miles from the community, not in plain sight. The panicked reports filtering in were much sketchier than those observed by the eyewitness journalists on site. People lay dead on the airstrip, they said. No names of shooters were offered, nor how the attack had looked.
What of the charge that launched the public lynch mob: "Jim Jones ordered the assassination"? What was released publicly of the final tape is unequivocal on that point again and again. A panicked, anguished, and horrified Jim Jones:
The American media took that tape, which was already severely spliced, with strange echoey background, and extracted bits and pieces to suit the official story. The coverage never included the above eight quotes. Anyone could listen to them. Anyone could question. They just never did. "Jim Jones ordered..." was an icon graven in stone. You don’t chip away at icons.
What really did happen at the Port Kaituma airstrip? Jim Jones believed his own people had shot the Congressman. Why? Because Don Sly (known as "Ujara"), an ex-Marine who had confessed to fantasies of being a hitman, had tried to knife the Congressman when he was about to leave. Because Larry Layton, depressed about his sister’s defection and his mother’s death, had gone off half-cocked with a gun. It seemed logical to conclude that whomever had killed the Congressman came from Jonestown.
That was an assumption, borne of panic and fear. The same assumption the newspeople made. But what really happened?
We have several ways to know what happened. The most clear, objective piece of evidence was the several-second film taken on site by NBC photojournalist Bob Brown, filming until he himself was killed. I first saw it on television at the first anniversary of the tragedy in 1979. I was startled to see a second vehicle suddenly barrel on in, and what looked like a symmetrical, perfectly-coordinated military formation disembark -- their brutal, coordinated assault, as they closed in at point blank range.
Sitting on my right was an Army veteran who said, "I know what that is. It’s a squad diamond formation. You learn that in basic training."
On my left was a woman whose husband had been "identified" as one of the killers. She peered at the screen and said, "I don’t see Tom. None of those men are Tom."
The official media story was suddenly in trouble. There was no "basic training" in Jonestown, nor any military training at all. This was a peaceful, defenseless community, which had been deliberately, falsely, portrayed as "an armed camp." I’ve talked with military people since, who volunteered on their own, that the disembarkation was in a "diamond" formation. The film has been analyzed. I know that no one from Jonestown assassinated the Congressman, and the matter will not be dropped.
The eyewitness journalists’ reports even confirmed that these were highly-trained professional assassins. Bob Flick, NCB newsman: "Calm, silent, brutal, methodical, carefully planned and mercilessly executed." They blasted the Congressman at point blank range, then calmly walked on through, shooting the witnesses. The clipping is in my book.
The eyewitnesses also all agreed on another point: The shooters did not come from the Temple truck. They came from a second vehicle that had suddenly barrelled on in.
Forensics were rendered hopeless, because the killers used dum-dum bullets, which shatter on impact and are rendered untraceable. This was a technology completely unavailable to the people at Jonestown.
Contrary to official Justice Department findings, there were no eyewitness identifications of the killers. Jim Cobb, the official source, admitted to the press that he never even had the shooters in his line of vision.
Who shot the Congressman? All of America has seen little snippets of Bob Brown’s film for 20th anniversary coverage on various stations. Even to the naked eye at a second’s glance, it is clear that the shooters were dressed alike and they were all wearing Army uniforms. That fact alone would rule out anyone from Jonestown as the alleged potential assassins.
WHO KILLED THE CONGRESSMAN? This isn’t "t.v," folks. It’s not media hype, or at least it shouldn’t be. This was real life. Real evidence. All it ever needed was one person in the mainstream media with normal vision to say, "Look, the Emperor has no new clothes!" No more than that.
The most poignant twist of irony was that in the chaos and confusion, with two men already going off as vigilantes, Jim Jones believed it was his own people who had done this.
This was not the Jim Jones of earlier days. When the press attacks first broke in the States, his response was:
Jim Jones knew all too well how people without stature, money or position, minorities and the poor, can be subject to false charges or frames. That canny predisposition to look for, even expect, frames, resurfaced in a letter written to all of Congress in the Spring of 1978:
Yet when the horror of the assassinations closed in on the people of Jonestown, no one could stop to launch an investigation! Panic and urgency prevailed. Jim Jones, horrified that an unerring record of non-violence had apparently been shattered by his own, and expecting the worst repercussions in military reprisals, gathered together his flock, urging them to "die in dignity," rather than face a slaughter: "They are not taking our lives from us. We are laying down our lives. We are not taking their lives. We just want peace."
The world never heard those words, or had the opportunity to determine whether such words came from "a murderer."
Nor is it difficult to prove that Peoples Temple was framed. There is evidence. But as we all know, evidence is a legal matter, and "proof" a political one. Politics: our modern amalgam of government and the press. What people are led to believe. The whole world screamed that the people of Jonestown "must have been brainwashed," but what of the public? The most simple, self-explanatory evidence never hit the pages of the U.S. press, nor found its way into official investigations.
The whole world has been led to believe something false for twenty years and counting. Perhaps by now, we might recognize that condemning the people of Jonestown for being "brainwashed," while congratulating the press for never examining the evidence, does not pass scrutiny.
One leading question remains: If Jim Jones and the people of Jonestown had realized that they were framed for the assassination of the Congressman, would mass suicide still have been the result?
The tragic answer, I surmise, is "Yes." All the more certain a brutal military response if were needed to perpetuate a cover-up. I cannot know what would have happened that night, had the community simply waited and done nothing, but I have spelled out the many gruesome possibilities in my book.
One thing certain is that it would not have protected the lives of those at Jonestown. It would have further endangered them. Given a frame, and a military desperate to perpetuate the cover-up against protest, challenge, or alibis, violence against Jonestown would have been all that much more a certainty.
THE SUICIDES AT JONESTOWN
I do not, never have, and never would defend mass suicide. Life is precious, especially the lives of children. Yet I cannot say I do not understand the desperation, the anguish, the despair, the panic, the fear. I understand it all too well.
I understood as well, the enormous joy and pride of that community’s accomplishments, which were chronicled in scores of rave reviews. I understand that many there would NEVER HAVE BEEN FORCED BACK TO OPPRESSIVE CONDITIONS IN THE UNITED STATES UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. I understand that they were subjected to lies, harassments, even violence, beyond the pall. I understand that treacherous, callous people, with no better motives than variously, personal spite, or political calculation, brought this group down and drove those precious people to their deaths.
I also understand that the real killers of Congressman Leo Ryan were never brought to justice. I understand that the people who sent them, who planned, and paid for that highly-trained team of professional assassins, have never been exposed or punished.
I understand a lot. So please do not condemn me for not understanding whatever it is the populace has been led to believe.
This piece ends with a message left to world from Jonestown, which I have separately entitled, "FINAL WITNESS." You may not understand it, because it is not what you were led to believe. But hear the cry from her heart. And from mine.
COVER-UPS, DISINFORMATION, DEAD ENDS
Certain agencies of the United States government had a serious problem in the wake of Jonestown. It was not just any Congressman who lay dead. It was Leo Ryan, known to be the most vocal anti-C.I.A. critic of his time. No sooner were the bodies cold, when his aides, Joseph Holsinger and Jackie Speier, began suspecting that maybe it was the C.I.A. who did him in. And maybe it was.
There was only one "solution": Turn Jim Jones into the C.I.A. No, worse. Say that all of Jonestown, that beautiful community that scores had so highly-praised, was secretly (for those who had not eyes to see) a C.I.A. mind control experiment, like MK Ultra. Jonestown was secretly a hotbed of C.I.A. activity, Jones-sanctioned and directed, leading the poor brainwashed victims astray all along.
The disinformation tale was hatched: The secret C.I.A. agent in the group was one Philip Blakey, who had recruited mercenaries for C.I.A. in the 1975 Angolan Civil War.
Philip Blakey, understand, was not even an American -- he was British. He came into Peoples Temple as an emigrant teenager, to marry Deborah Layton Blakey, whom he had met at a posh British boarding school. He was one of the very first settlers at Jonestown. His role in that tiny initial crew was to ferry supplies up and down the river to sustain the early efforts of clearing the land, building homes, and starting into agriculture. He was continually both visible and indispensable.
The "C.I.A. plant" story was both transparent and foul -- designed by dead-end specialists to go nowhere. But I could never track down until recently, why it was Angola that was chosen for this preposterous tale. The answer finally emerged: The expose of C.I.A. involvement in the 1975 Angolan Civil War, as reported by newsman Daniel Schorr, was spearheaded by one Congressman Leo Ryan! It was his first breakthrough in coralling the renegade deeds of the C.I.A.
How fitting to use that episode to inflame the Ryan family and aides. Jim Jones was part of that? They would buy it hook-line-and-sinker. It would inflame them beyond the pall. They would never look anywhere else.
And they never did. The "expose" of one Philip Blakey, used to recruit mercenaries for the C.I.A. in the 1975 Angolan Civil War, was institutionaled in a lawsuit pressed against the federal government by the Ryan family, along with additional wild charges of Jonestown mind control experiments and MK Ultra.
The Ryans, family of the prestigious murdered Congressman believed it, so why not the world? It’s twenty years now and counting. Suddenly A & E thinks they are "pioneers" by dignifying the disinformation rather than dismantling it!
I don’t really know what "brainwashing" is -- perhaps the extremes of what we all go through in life anyway: conditioning. The incessant, senseless repetitions. Years ago it was "bizarre murder/suicide ritual," "bizarre murder/suicide ritual," "bizarre murder/suicide ritual." Then it moved into "Jim Jones, C.I.A., MK Ultra," "Jim Jones, C.I.A., MK Ultra," "Jim Jones, C.I.A., MK Ultra."
Now it moves into nothingness: senseless rehashes and warmed over horror stories by people like Timothy Stoen and Deborah Layton, who were white, privileged, disdainful of black people, and never behaved much better than Nazis. Yet ABC, NBC, AP, NPR, CNN, Fox and others, did not think so. These people were "credible." What would a 20th anniversary of a tragedy be without them?
No one has ever even bothered to inquire whether the disinformation stories have a source. I mean any original source whatsoever. If you want to slander and smear people into oblivion, at least cite a source.
There has NEVER been any source cited for the disinformation -- only an origin point. The Cult Awareness Network. Manned at various times by people alleged to have participated in the notorious "MK Ultra" experiments. You can trace the poisoned well of the Ryan family suit back to them.
Who is the "cult"? The cultists or the anti-cultists? Intelligent people wonder.
THE NEED FOR HISTORICAL RECTIFICATION
The revision of history is a complex, daunting assignment. I have authored this piece because to re-write history, we must first comprehend how it was written. Would you want to un-write or re-write a true, unbiased account? Of course not. But that was never the process at work. It was the deliberate destruction of human lives -- as high-powered as it was cynical and cruel. The people who "wrote the book" on this matter to date had no honor, no integrity, and a reckless disregard for either facts or truth.
But history cries out to be revised for other reasons as well. This was a juncture, or rather a clash, of powerful historical and cultural elements that were a part of, are still a part of, have molded and still do mold our ongoing journey through life.
Who will curb the power of the press? Who will monitor the secret workings of government? Who will protect the civil liberties of minorities? Who will protect the rights of smaller or non-conventional religious groups? Who will even protect the rights of ordinary people who strike out for a better life?
Who will even demand that PROOF of crimes be offered before conviction in the eyes of the world? What happened in the reporting of Jonestown was never justice. It was never better than a lynching, and by vigilantes whom any fair assessment could roundly discredit.
How should history judge the course of the Cold War as well? For Jim Jones’ zealotry was only one side. The other was Cold War zealots like Stoen. America considered it won a great victory -- yet how was this "victory" so soiled? Surely there was nothing noble about driving a thousand innocent people to their deaths! Moreover, minorities, young and old, even children, people without a chance in the environments from which they had come. Who had finally broken clear to an oasis free of racism, drugs, crime, unemployment, substandard housing, urban neglect and decay. Were these precious people merely made "expendable" in the doing away with the terrible Jim Jones?
Ordinary people should care. This is a human question, a cultural question, a religious question, a political question, a humanitarian question, a question from the past that can haunt the future as well.
What price human liberty? Patrick Henry once said, "Give me liberty or give me death!" and he is revered. Was the liberty of the people at Jonestown any less precious than the liberty of our original patriots?
PLEA FROM THE HEART
It is not only I, or the people of Jonestown or their relatives, who have suffered all that has been done. The whole culture suffers when the media, the government, or both, trample upon human bodies and souls. I favor saving lives, even in the direst of circumstance. The bitter fruits of Jonestown have taught me this. I have been willing to experience the excruciating pulls of standing by the brave souls who died, especially those precious children, while at the same time taking courage to re-examine the extremities which cost their lives. I have been willing to examine every conflict, every coercion, every violation, along with the sweetest and most moving dissolution of racial and economic barriers I have ever experienced, or ever could hope to experience, in this life. Peoples Temple was the ultimate enigma. A place you could love so much that you wanted the entire world to recognize in this stunning role model its own future; yet ofttimes caught in failings far more human, painful, and real. I am willing to stand raw in the face of ALL of it.
But what I will not do is judge. The best of the people at Jonestown was the best of humanity. The sacrificed much, they suffered much, they gave all so that a new standard for human achievement could be set. I grieved the deaths greatly. I could barely speak of the children for years without dissolving in tears. Yet I honor those valiant, giving, loving, precious people. I honor them. I honor them forever.
Just this week past, an unexpected discovery. Mountains of new government records were released on the internet by one Brian Czuk. Scavenging amongst them, I found a rare treasure. Someone, just prior to giving up her own life, had written a note. No, more -- a eulogy for what was to her, a hallowed place. It was accompanied by an official letter from one James L. Ward from the State Department, dated March 27, 1979. This is authenticated and real.
It was transcribed into type, so I could not see the handwriting. Whoever was its author, surely this was a courageous, compassionate, and humble soul, powerful of conviction and tender of heart. It goes as follows:
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