June 15, 1978, Affidavit of Deborah Layton Blakey,
This affidavit was written four weeks after Deborah Layton's escape from Jonestown and became front page news across the country. Six months later and just four days before the tragedy. Deborah was giving testimony before State Department officials requesting help for the 900 held against their will in Jim Jones' encampment in Guyana.
Affidavit of Deborah Layton Blakey
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 for 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 the reincarnation of 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 extrasensory 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 genuinely 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 knew 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 criticism 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 from [sic, 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 rumoured 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.
This is a mixture of the truth with some lies. Holding a child ransom would work as leverage, but the child clearly resembles Jim Jones, so the possibility of Stoen having an emotional stake is an abstract motive. If this is hostage taking, it is working in reverse. Despite rumors, Timothy Stoen didn't care about paddling adults or the sensory deprivation done to children, since all that went on in the good days, back when Stoen was head attorney for the Temple. At issue here is the balance of corrupt powers. Stoen is reported to have been responsible for running the Temple's welfare fraud operations. Since the exploitation of government programs is a double-edged trough that feeds elected officials as well, Stoen batted 500. The assassination of Mayor Moscone and Supervisor Milk nine days after the Jonestown death ritual indicates that something did go awry. But the fact that Tim Stoen is back to being an elected official in Northern California today means that whatever it was, it was forgivable. This reminds me of a needlepoint pillow that reads: You Will Always Be My Friend---You Know Too Much.
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 5:30 P.M. that day. I was later informed that Temple members in Guyana placed similar calls to other Guyanese officials.
Jim Jones' "special" relationship with the Guyanese government is clearly on display here, where a spoiled child throws a fit, using unconscionable, nonproportional threats to get his way. Could the bilateral fallout from this event fail to come to the official attention of the American embassy, with demands for a solution to the "leadership problem" be ignored? Influence and control over local officials could be purchased cheaply in Guyana as long as competing interests didn't drive up the price to the level of capitalist countries.
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 than 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.
There simply is no need for this level of labor in even the least mechanized, most labor intensive types of farming, which by nature is a seasonal business, with a great deal of work at certain times of year--in the spring when planting, and the fall for harvesting---but next to nothing during other times of the year. But here a claim is being made for a seven-day work week year round. A tropical climate could support rotating two, or even three crops in a single year, but the impoverished soils here could barely produce a single crop before it would need to be planted over in a cover crop meant to be tilled in to replenish the soil. The image of rich fields of orange trees covered over in glossy fruits is a Floridian fantasy dependent on the chemical fertilizers of agribusiness. Even the mainstay of the commune's diet---rice and beans---could not be self-produced, in as much as Jonestown was six miles away from the nearest body of water, and extracting well-water too costly for an artificial rice plantation. Images seen of residents---Jim Jones included--formed up in bucket lines to irrigate crops, appear to me to be the result of sporadic emergencies, when an extended dry spell threatened to destroy an immature new planting. Normal irrigation would be better supplied by a hose and a little water pressure.
As shown in many images, much of the labor pool seems to have been kept busy in low-production tasks such as repairing old clothes, or in making small toys, gifts or novelties for sale by street vendors in Georgetown, in a type of work often associated with occupational therapy for the developmentally disabled. Honorable work for some, but not especially interesting or rewarding to the commune.
There is a dearth of picture evidence showing any system of food production at Jonestown above that of a model show enterprise. A "piggery" for instance, made no economic sense, since livestock crops would fare just as poorly locally, and for the cost of importing grain or soybeans you might as well import frozen Jimmy Dean sausages and cured ham. However, the smoke house, and the old country black man enjoying being in his element, did make for some nice promotional material. There are occasional printed references to the shooting of dogs, but I find no bullet wounds on them. And the three I know of offhand look as though a much faster-acting poison aerosol cyanide was used to kill man and dog. There are zero words about gays dying or surviving, and also zero word about the hen house
The vast unbroken canopies of undulating forest seen in aerial imagery of the Guyanese interior remains that way for a reason---and not because the native Amerindian population is too lazy to improve it, or lacking in ambition to try for gains, but it's proven that the return on labor is too low to warrant it.
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 also 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.
Here is the giveaway I think: If Jim Jones was obsessed about his place in history, he was smart enough to realize it wasn't going to happen because of his success in building a thriving socialist Utopia independent of capitalist machinations, but more likely to be due to just its catastrophic opposite. Given the rushed and temporary nature of the set up (with even the ceremonial multi-purpose building having a dirt floor, and barely 40-watts of fluorescent illumination spaced on beams every 15 feet) I imagine Jones wasn't experiencing a defeat here, but the rigors of a great success, as he guided the unfoldment of a terminal experiment plan that went according to the letter.
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.
Talk like this would get unwieldy when dealing with a population of over 1,000. Are they sure the true count wasn't more like 500, or 600 participants, with the remaining number of identities being a profit sidebar Jones was keeping exploiting welfare fraud without the knowledge of his project evaluators? This is the logical explanation for the irrational increase in the number of reported deaths following the ritual---a breach in the sacred wall between the covert and the publicly related.
If you look at NBC cameraman Robert Brown's work recording the performances and speeches in the pavilion on Nov.18, you will see that it is consistently done in a highly controlled style limited to tightly framed close ups of the action. Avoided at all times are any expansive, or sweeping overviews which would allow a witness to judge the presence, or absence of the true size of the crowd. This minimalist approach could allow for 200 to stand in for 1,000 when capturing the effect of a thunderous standing ovation---if the intent were to deceive, and anything other than straightforward objectivity would be deception. Review the film yourself, and ask,"did this just happen by itself, or by design."
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.
Jonestown was run by a tight cadre of a half-dozen experienced women who appear fully versed in how to get what it is they want out of any man, even a homosexual megalomaniac who was diminishing daily into a cartoon figure. For these elite women to claim that they lacked the communication, or coordination skills to collectively manage, manipulate or exploit the situation, but were powerless as it got out of hand like a runaway train, merely peers to the working class, if not the dependent class, is simply not the case. Stephan Jones said his mother had already taken over most of the management of daily affairs, reducing the work day to eight hours, five days a week---which connotes a high degree of authority.Everything that happened at Jonestown happened for a reason and according to plan, with the only clear example of a system failure being the slaughter of Susan Amos and her children in Georgetown.
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 in 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 lives 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 15 day of June, 1978 at San Francisco, California.
(signed) Deborah Layton Blakey
Copyright © 1999, 2000 Deborah Layton. All rights reserved.