Two Special Correspondents separately sent me information about the Jonestown tragedy in the last few days. And looking over what they sent, it seems there is a point to be made.
First, I have long felt that there is no mass suicide in the future of scientology and I haven’t changed that view.
But I believe there are other fates that are the scientology equivalent of suicide (bankruptcy, destroyed families, despair at ever ‘getting up the Bridge’) and that the end story of scientology will be when everyone has been reduced to one or all of those states.
The sign above Jim Jones’ “throne” at Jonestown is an ironic reminder. Jones was not the first cult leader to march his flock over a cliff, and he won’t be the last. But can we learn from what happened there and help prevent a similar sort of destruction to people’s lives in scientology? I believe we can. And we must.
Following is an affidavit written 6 months before the mass suicide at Jonestown. It demonstrates that one CAN observe reality, break away and seek to make it widely known before further damage is done. As we know, this woman ultimately didn’t change the course of events. But what if her voice had been joined by others? What if those in positions to do something had heeded her warnings? She would have inevitably been dismissed by Jones as a “bitter apostate” telling fabricated stories. But that is another lesson to be taken from this tragedy. “Bitter apostates,” “deserters,” “traitors” or “those who could not live up to our standards” are not automatically liars.
This affidavit can be found on a website sponsored by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, here.
I have highlighted some important passages and one of our Special Correspondents provided a summary of comparisons which I include after the affidavit below.
Re the Threat and Possibility of Mass Suicide by Members of the People’s Temple
I, Deborah Layton Blakey, declare the following under penalty of perjury:
1. The purpose of this affidavit is to call to the attention of the United States government the existence of a situation which threatens the lives of United States citizens living in Jonestown, Guyana.
2. From August, 1971 until May 13, 1978, I was a member of the People’s Temple. For a substantial period of time prior to my departure for Guyana in December, 1977, I held the position of Financial Secretary of the People’s Temple.
3. I was 18 years old when I joined the People’s Temple. I had grown up in affluent circumstances in the permissive atmosphere of Berkeley, California. By joining the People’s Temple, I hoped to help others and in the process to bring structure and self-discipline to my own life.
4. During the years I was a member of the People’s Temple, I watched the organization depart with increasing frequency from its professed dedication to social change and participatory democracy. The Rev. Jim Jones gradually assumed a tyrannical hold over the lives of Temple members.
5. Any disagreement with his dictates came to be regarded as “treason”. The Rev. Jones labelled any person who left the organization a “traitor” and “fair game”. He steadfastly and convincingly maintained that the punishment for defection was death. The fact that severe corporal punishment was frequently administered to Temple members gave the threats a frightening air of reality.
6. The Rev. Jones saw himself as the center of a conspiracy. The identity of the conspirators changed from day to day along with his erratic world vision. He induced the fear in others that, through their contact with him, they had become targets of the conspiracy. He convinced black Temple members that if they did not follow him to Guyana, they would be put into concentration camps and killed. White members were instilled with the belief that their names appeared on a secret list of enemies of the state that was kept by the C.I.A. and that they would be tracked down, tortured, imprisoned, and subsequently killed if they did not flee to Guyana.
7. Frequently, at Temple meetings, Rev. Jones would talk non-stop for hours. At various times, he claimed that he was either Lenin, Jesus Christ, or one of a variety of other religious or political figures. He claimed that he had divine powers and could heal the sick. He stated that he had extraordinary perception and could tell what everyone was thinking. He said that he had powerful connections the world over, including the Mafia, Idi Amin, and the Soviet government.
8. When I first joined the Temple, Rev. Jones seemed to make clear distinctions between fantasy and reality. I believed that most of the time when he said irrational things, he was aware that they were irrational, but that they served as a tool of his leadership. His theory was that the end justified the means. At other times, he appeared to be deluded by a paranoid vision of the world. He would not sleep for days at a time and talk compulsively about the conspiracies against him. However, as time went on, he appeared to become completely irrational.
9. Rev. Jones insisted that Temple members work long hours and completely give up all semblance of a personal life. Proof of loyalty to Jones was confirmed by actions showing that a member had given up everything, even basic necessities. The most loyal were in the worst physical condition. Dark circles under one’s eyes or extreme loss of weight were considered signs of loyalty.
10. The primary emotions I came to experience were exhaustion and fear. I know that Rev. Jones was in some sense “sick”, but that did not make me any less afraid of him.
11. Rev. Jones fled the United States in June, 1977 amidst growing public criticisms of the practices of the Temple. He informed members of the Temple that he would be imprisoned for life if he did not leave immediately.
12. Between June, 1977 and December, 1977, when I was ordered to depart for Guyana, I had access to coded radio broadcasts from Rev. Jones in Guyana to the People’s Temple headquarters in San Francisco.
13. In September, 1977, an event which Rev. Jones viewed as a major crisis occurred. Through listening to coded radio broadcasts and conversations with other members of the Temple staff, I learned that an attorney for former Temple member Grace Stoen had arrived in Guyana, seeking the return of her son, John Victor Stoen.
14. Rev. Jones has expressed particular bitterness toward Grace Stoen. She had been Chief Counselor, a position of great responsibility within the Temple. Her personal qualities of generosity and compassion made her very popular with the membership. Her departure posed a threat to Rev. Jones’ absolute control. Rev. Jones delivered a number of public tirades against her. He said that her kindness was faked and that she was a C.I.A. agent. He swore that he would never return her son to her.
15. I am informed that Rev. Jones believed that he would be able to stop Timothy Stoen, husband of Grace Stoen and father of John Victor Stoen, from speaking against the Temple as long as the child was being held in Guyana. Timothy Stoen, a former Assistant District Attorney in Mendocino and San Francisco counties, had been one of Rev. Jones’ most trusted advisors. It was rumored that Stoen was critical of the use of physical force and other forms of intimidation against Temple members. I am further informed that Rev. Jones believed that a public statement by Timothy Stoen would increase the tarnish on his public image.
16. When the Temple lost track of Timothy Stoen, I was assigned to track him down and offer him a large sum of money in return for his silence. Initially, I was to offer him $5,000. I was authorized to pay him up to $10,000. I was not able to locate him and did not see him again until on or about October 6, 1977. On that date, the Temple received information that he would be joining Grace in a San Francisco Superior Court action to determine the custody of John. I was one of a group of Temple members assigned to meet him outside the court and attempt to intimidate him to prevent him from going inside.
17. The September, 1977 crisis concerning John Stoen reached major proportions. The radio messages from Guyana were frenzied and hysterical. One morning, Terry J. Buford, public relations advisor to Rev. Jones, and myself were instructed to place a telephone call to a high-ranking Guyanese official who was visiting the United States and deliver the following threat: unless the government of Guyana took immediate steps to stall the Guyanese court action regarding John Stoen’s custody, the entire population of Jonestown would extinguish itself in a mass suicide by 3:30 p.m. that day. I was later informed that Temple members in Guyana placed similar calls to other Guyanese officials.
18. We later received radio communication to the effect that the court case had been stalled and that the suicide threat was called off.
19. I arrived in Guyana in December, 1977. I spent a week in Georgetown and then, pursuant to orders, traveled to Jonestown.
20. Conditions at Jonestown were even worse that I had feared they would be. The settlement was swarming with armed guards. No one was permitted to leave unless on a special assignment and these assignments were given only to the most trusted. We were allowed to associate with Guyanese people only while on a “mission”.
21. The vast majority of the Temple members were required to work in the fields from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days per week and on Sunday from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. We were allowed one hour for lunch. Most of this hour was spent walking back to lunch and standing in line for our food. Taking any other breaks during the workday was severely frowned upon.
22. The food was woefully inadequate. There was rice for breakfast, rice water soup for lunch, and rice and beans for dinner. On Sunday, we each received an egg and a cookie. Two or three times a week we had vegetables. Some very weak and elderly members received one egg per day. However, the food did improve markedly on the few occasions when there were outside visitors.
23. In contrast, Rev. Jones, claiming problems with his blood sugar, dined separately and ate meat regularly. He had his own refrigerator which was stocked with food. The two women with whom he resided, Maria Katsaris and Carolyn Layton, and the two small boys who lived with him, Kimo Prokes and John Stoen, dined with the membership. However, they were in much better physical shape than everyone else since they were allowed to eat the food in Rev. Jones’ refrigerator.
24. In February, 1978, conditions had become so bad that half of Jonestown was ill with severe diarrhea and high fevers. I was seriously ill for two weeks. Like most of the other sick people, I was not given any nourishing foods to help recover. I was given water and a tea drink until I was well enough to return to the basic rice and beans diet.
25. As the former financial secretary, I was aware that the Temple received over $65,000 in Social Security checks per month. It made me angry to see that only a fraction of the income of the senior citizens in the care of the Temple was being used for their benefit. Some of the money was being used to build a settlement that would earn Rev. Jones the place in history with which he was so obsessed. The balance was being held in “reserve”. Although I felt terrible about what was happening, I was afraid to say anything because I knew that anyone with a differing opinion gained the wrath of Jones and other members.
26. Rev. Jones’ thoughts were made known to the population of Jonestown by means of broadcasts over the loudspeaker system. He broadcast an average of six hours per day. When the Reverend was particularly agitated, he would broadcast for hours on end. He would talk on and on while we worked in the fields or tried to sleep. In addition to the daily broadcasts, there were marathon meetings six nights per week.
27. The tenor of the broadcasts revealed that Rev. Jones’ paranoia had reached an all-time high. He was irate at the light in which he had been portrayed by the media. He felt that as a consequence of having been ridiculed and maligned, he would be denied a place in history. His obsession with his place in history was maniacal. When pondering the loss of what he considered his rightful place in history, he would grow despondent and say that all was lost.
28. Visitors were infrequently permitted access to Jonestown. The entire community was required to put on a performance when a visitor arrived. Before the visitor arrived, Rev. Jones would instruct us on the image we were to project. The workday would be shortened. The food would be better. Sometimes there would be music and dancing. Aside from these performances, there was little joy or hope in any of our lives. An air of despondency prevailed.
29. There was constant talk of death. In the early days of the People’s Temple, general rhetoric about dying for principles was sometimes heard. In Jonestown, the concept of mass suicide for socialism arose. Because our lives were so wretched anyway and because we were so afraid to contradict Rev. Jones, the concept was not challenged.
30. An event which transpired shortly after I reached Jonestown convinced me that Rev. Jones had sufficient control over the minds of the residents that it would be possible for him to effect a mass suicide.
31. At least once a week, Rev. Jones would declare a “white night”, or state of emergency. The entire population of Jonestown would be awakened by blaring sirens. Designated persons, approximately fifty in number, would arm themselves with rifles, move from cabin to cabin, and make certain that all members were responding. A mass meeting would ensue. Frequently during these crises, we would be told that the jungle was swarming with mercenaries and that death could be expected at any minute.
32. During one “white night”, we were informed that our situation had become hopeless and that the only course of action open to us was a mass suicide for the glory of socialism. We were told that we would be tortured by mercenaries if we were taken alive. Everyone, including the children, was told to line up. As we passed through the line, we were given a small glass of red liquid to drink. We were told that the liquid contained poison and that we would die within 45 minutes. We all did as we were told. When the time came when we should have dropped dead, Rev. Jones explained that the poison was not real and that we had just been through a loyalty test. He warned us that the time was not far off when it would become necessary for us to die by our own hands.
33. Life at Jonestown was so miserable and the physical pain of exhaustion was so great that this event was not traumatic for me. I had become indifferent as to whether I lived or died.
34. During another “white night”, I watched Carolyn Layton, my former sister-in-law, give sleeping pills to two young children in her care, John Victor Stoen and Kimo Prokes, her own son. Carolyn said to me that Rev. Jones had told her that everyone was going to have to die that night. She said that she would probably have to shoot John and Kimo and that it would be easier for them if she did it while they were asleep.
35. In April, 1978, I was reassigned to Georgetown. I became determined to escape or die trying. I surreptitiously contacted my sister, who wired me a plane ticket. After I received the ticket, I sought the assistance of the United States Embassy in arranging to leave Guyana. Rev. Jones had instructed us that he had a spy working in the United States Embassy and that he would know if anyone went to the embassy for help. For this reason, I was very fearful.
36. I am most grateful to the United States government and Richard McCoy and Daniel Weber, in particular, for the assistance they gave me. However, the efforts made to investigate conditions at Jonestown are inadequate for the following reasons. The infrequent visits are always announced and arranged. Acting in fear for their lives, Temple members respond as they are told. The members appear to speak freely to American representatives, but in fact they are drilled thoroughly prior to each visit on what questions to expect and how to respond. Members are afraid of retaliation if they speak their true feelings in public.
37. On behalf of the population of Jonestown, I urge that the United States Government take adequate steps to safeguard their rights. I believe that their rights are in danger.
I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct, except as to those matters stated on information and belief and as to those I believe them to be true.
Executed this ___ day of June, 1978 at San Francisco, California.
Deborah Layton Blakey
The observations of our Special Correspondent:
a) Loyal followers on base subjected to hard physical labor seven days a week.
b) Followers fed very little.
c) Leader makes an exception for himself and his immediate family, has his own food supply.
d) leader makes hysterical attempts to bribe or threaten critics.
e) leader uses code and specialized communications to converse with outside bases.
f) Leader lectures followers for hours each day. They are expected to agree with everything leader says.
g) Leader is loses track of what is fiction and reality.
h) leader uses terms, fair game, and traitor to describe those who disagree with him.
i) (Not in this affidavit but Leader finds fanatical lawyer. Jones hired Mark Lane) Lane would continue to make excuses for Jones after his death blaming U.S. Government for pushing his mentally fragile client over the edge.
j) Leader has special security details at main base.
k) Leader always arranging new, bizarre, and dangerous tests of loyalty for followers.
l) Leader holds family members of his followers as hostages. Becomes unglued when they escape.
m) Leader isolates followers at base and has shows arranged to fool visitors.
n) Leader obsessed with outside government agencies who conspire against him. Jones feared the CIA, DM, the IRS.
o) Leader has payments to followers confiscated, in this case the elderly’s social security checks. In Scientology they target real property, inheritances and credit lines.
p) Leader harms the well being of elderly followers by depriving them of proper food,rest, and other care.
s) Leader trys to keep hold of children for cult purposes.
t) Leader thinks that they were previously one or more important historical figures.
As I said at the outset, this is not scare-mongering to try to convince anyone that there is a mass suicide on the horizon at the Gold Base.
But one thing I do agree with Jim Jones about is the quote he had hanging over his seat of honor.
It is enlightening and somewhat sobering to look back at the events of Jonestown and note the striking parallels — many of which are found in every cult — and gain some further insight into how people end up “drinking the KoolAid.” And thus better understand how it is that apparently rational people will descend into bankruptcy or tear their families apart or keep running on the treadmill of the Bridge to Nowhere. It’s NOT unique to fundamentalist scientology.
If there had been enough exposure of the true story of the People’s Temple and Jim Jones could it have prevented the tragedy? Possibly. But surely, nobody would disagree that if there WAS a chance of averting the disaster by publicizing what was going on, then it should have been done. It is why I am determined to continue to make the truth about what goes on in fundamentalist scientology as widely known as I can. If it saves a single family from destruction or one person from bankruptcy or someone from going into complete apathy about ever being happy again, it is worth the effort.