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Jim Jones Drugged The Lawyer Who Stood Up to Him

In this series, Newsweek reconstructs the events leading to the Jonestown Massacre as it happened in 1978, day by day.

November 14, 1978: Jim Jones' two lawyers continued to squabble over how to handle Congressman Ryan's trip.

Charles Garry, who'd represented the Temple for more than a year, didn't believe Jones' conspiracy hype. He'd already papered Washington with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests looking for government files on the Temple leader and the only record he found consisted of four letters Jim Jones himself had sent the FBI, demanding to see his "file". Afterward, Garry brushed aside Jones' paranoid accusations and focused on defending the church from lawsuits brought by former members.

Jonestown Charles Garry
Lawyer Charles Garry in conversation with Jim Jones in Jonestown, Guyana. California Historical Society

There was another lawyer living in Jonestown who concurred with Garry's analysis. His name was Gene Chaikin. Chaikin was working as a real estate lawyer in Los Angeles when he and his wife met Jones in 1972. Jones' message of social justice struck a chord with them and they moved to Northern California to join the church. Chaikin helped negotiate the Guyanese land lease for Jonestown.

But he'd become fed up with Jones' theatrics in Guyana. "I am no longer willing to live in a situation of weekly or biweekly crisis, and the atmosphere of anxiety, hysteria and depression that exist with it," he wrote Jones in a blunt letter. He stopped short of calling Jones insane, suggesting, instead, that he suffered a "lack of balance—both of perspective and behavior." The only way he could make himself heard above the "claque of 'yes people'" surrounding the Temple Leader was by leaving the church.

And he did; while he was doing business in Georgetown, he simply hailed a cab to the airport and flew back to California. But Jones had the upper hand: Chaikin's two children—Gail, 16, and David, 14—were in Jonestown. When he asked Jones to let his children go, Jones refused. Eventually, Chaikin returned to the settlement, where he was subsequently drugged into submission in the Special Care Unit. (Jones would use this technique of always making sure a loved one stayed behind in Jonestown to prevent further defections whenever residents left the settlement).

Jonestown Chaikin family
The Chaikin family, from left: Gene, Phyllis, Gail, David. Gene had tried to leave Jonestown but returned as Jim Jones refused to release his family. California Historical Society

With Chaikin silenced and Garry unable to "crack" the conspiracy against the Temple, Jones was delighted when author Donald Freed introduced him to attorney and conspiracy theorist extraordinaire Mark Lane. Lane had published a bestselling book called Rush to Judgement that pinned President John F. Kennedy's assassination on a shadowy military industrial complex alarmed at the president's liberal policies. After meeting with Temple leaders in Guyana, Lane announced, in early October, that he was filing a multi-million dollar lawsuit against a long list of government agencies he accused of "attempting to destroy the Temple".

Jonestown Mark Lane
Jim Jones and attorney Mark Lane in Jonestown, 1978. Lane was a conspiracy theorist who appealed to Jones' sense of paranoia. The Jonestown Institute

When Garry heard that the Temple had hired Lane as additional counsel, he was furious. He considered Lane an amoral opportunist who was tapping into Jones's anxieties to line his own pockets. After the massacre, Garry accused Lane of being "morally responsible" for the mass deaths because he'd legitimized and ratcheted up Jones's paranoia. Lane, for his part, would spend the rest of his life distancing himself from the Jonestown tragedy, to the point of denying he'd ever represented the church.

Julia Scheeres is an award-winning journalist and author. Her books include Jesus Land and A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown.