House of Representitives Report on Jonestown--Findings
May 15, 1979
On the basis of the factual evidence obtained by the Staff Investigative Group, we render the following findings. In doing so we recognize that we are the beneficiaries of retrospect on the events which preceded November 18, 1978. In this respect, we have striven to utilize these advantages without falling victim to the pitfalls accompanying them. We have sought to be objective and balanced but not frozen from judgement. In attempting to be fair and understanding, we have not been timid.
A. Jim Jones and People's Temple
Whatever Jim Jones ultimately became and whatever can be said of him now, there is little clear insight into what motivated him to begin his ministry in Indianapolis in the mid 1950's. Some contend he was always a committed Socialist who used religion as a vehicle to further his political beliefs and objectives. Others hold that Jones began as a genuine believer in Christianity but eventually became a nonbeliever or an agnostic. His own often-expresssed claim that he was the dual reincarnation of Christ and Marx reflects the dichotomy. Wherever the truth may lie on his religious beliefs, at the outset, he was seemingly genuine in his ardent support for such social causes as the welfare of older people, racial integration, and rehabilitation of alcoholics and drug addicts. His advocacy of such causes singled him out, and partially in response to the resistance he encountered in established churches where he had accepted pastorates, he began his own church, the People's Temple. By 1965 he had generated enough notoriety and displeasure in Indiana to cause him to decide to move his activities to California accompanied by a small band of Indiana followers. One reason he chose Ukiah, Calif. and its Redwood Valley area was because he had once read that its unique geographical assets made it one of three locations in the world thought to be safe from a possible nuclear holocaust.
By 1972 he decided to once again relocate People's Temple to the richer and more active political pastures of San Francisco and bought an old church building on the edge of the black ghetto area. A second People's Temple church was established in Los Angeles. In 1974 he began creating in the jungles of Guyana the agricultural community known as Jonestown. What finally drove him there together with the majority of his flock in mid-1977 was the publication of a New West magazine article which exposed many of his operations, a fact which he saw as part of the alleged mounting conspiracy against him.
Tactics of Jim Jones
The mental deviations and distortions and the psychological tactics which culminated and were most manifest in the holocaust of Jonestown on November 18 were rooted in Indiana and perfected in California. Who and what was Jim Jones? We believe it is accurate to say he was charismatic in some respects; in fact, he was especially adroit in the area of human psychology.
As we have studied him and interviewed those who knew him well and had come under his influence, we have concluded that he was first and foremost a master of mind control. Among the tactics he practiced with engineered precision are the following recognized strategies of brainwashing:
- Isolation from all vestiges of former life, including and especially all sources of information, and substituting himself as the single source of all knowledge, wisdom, and information;
- An exacting daily regimen requiring absolute obedience and humility extracted by deception, intimidation, threats, and harassment;
- Physical pressure, ranging from deprivation of food and sleep to the possibility and reality of severe beatings. As a compliment to the physical pressures, he exerted mental pressures on his followers which he subsequently relieved in an effort to demonstrate and establish his omnipotent "powers." For example, he inculcated fictional fears which he would eventually counterpoint and dispel and thereby establish himself as a "savior." One of his favorite tactics was to generate and then exploit a sense of guilt for clinging to life's luxuries, for wanting special privileges, and for seeking recognition and reward;
- So-called "struggle meetings" or catharsis sessions in which recalcitrant members were interrogated, required to confess their "wrongdoing," and then punished with alternate harshness and leniency. Interrogation could be gentle and polite, but more often it involved harassment, humiliation, revilement, and degradation. Vital to this strategy were two of Jones' favorite techniques. The first involved an exhaustive and detailed record for each member kept on file cards and generated by his vast intelligence network. A member would suddenly be confronted by Jones with knowledge of some action he was unaware had been observed. Jones would stage his "mystic" awareness of that action and then direct the outcome to his desired end. The second technique was to establish in each of his followers a mistrust of everyone else. Consequently, no one dared voice a negative view-even to the closet family member or friend-for fear of being turned in. Often as not, trusted aides were directed to test individuals by expressing some comment critical of Jones or the lifestyle in Jonestown to see if the person would report the incident. The end result was that no one person could trust another. As a result everyone feared expressing even the slightest negative comment. The system was so effective that children turned in their own parents, brothers informed on sisters, and husbands and wives reported on spouses.
Inherent in these principles which Mr. Jones masterfully and regularly employed was his central strategy of "divide and conquer" through which he consolidated his power over people.
In addition to these tactics, however, Mr. Jones regularly used other devices and methods to achieve his ends:
- Requiring People's Temple members to contribute as much as 25 percent of their income and sign over to the People's Temple their properties and other assets;
- At times dictating marriage between unwilling partners and at other times not allowing cohabitation between married couples;
- Undermining and breaking a child's ties with parents. In progressive degrees the child was led to mistrust the parents and become more and more secretive in his actions and evasive to his parent's questions;
- As a symbol of their trust in him, followers were required to sign statements admitting homosexuality, theft, and other self-incriminating acts; often as not People's Temple members would also sign blank pages which could be filled in later. Depending on Jones' need or objective, such documents were frequently used in attempts to defame defectors;
- Rumor spreading in an attempt to ruin reputations or generally implant disinformation, thereby making true facts difficult if not impossible to establish;
- Infiltration of groups opposed to People's Temple and surveilance of suspected People's Temple enemies;
- Intense public relations efforts ranging from letter-writing campaigns to attempted control of news media in an effort to influence public opinion with a favorable image of People's Temple; like-wise, an aggressive program of seeking out political leaders and other influential members of a community in order to cull their favor and establish identification with them.
In the process of manipulating the control board of this extraordinary system Jones suffered extreme paranoia. One can speculate that while it may have been initially staged, his paranoia ultimately became a self-created Frankenstein that led not only to his fall but the tragic death of more than 900 others, including Representative Leo J. Ryan. His paranoia ranged from "dark unnamed forces," to individuals such as Tim Stoen and other defectors from the People's Temple, to organizations such as the Concerned Relatives group, and ultimately to the U.S. Government in the form of the CIA and the FBI--all of which he ultimately believed were out to destroy him.
Further, in establishing this analysis of Jim Jones it is worth noting that he apparently had several bisexual perversions. Finally, there is some irony in the fact that although he controlled considerable wealth (estimated at $12 million) he sought out special privileges but none of the usual trappings of wealth such as fancy cars or expensive houses. In short, Mr. Jones was more interested in ideas than in things. He was not driven by greed for money but for power and control over others. That control continues to be exerted even after his death on the minds of some of his followers. It is graphically illustrated by the suicide of Michael Prokes, one of Jones' closest associates, during a March 13, 1979, press conference in California in which he defended Jones and cited the achievements of People's Temple and Jonestown.
Motivation of People's Temple Members
The tactics and techniques of Jim Jones outlined above found fertile ground and were greatly facilitated because of the background and motivation of those who joined People's Temple. Generalities, of course, are always difficult if not dangerous. However, on this basis of the information which has come to us in the course of this investigation one can draw the following general profile of many who became People's Temple members and followers of Jim Jones:
- Some of the young adults were college graduates out of upper middle-class backgrounds which provided privilege and even luxury. Their parents were often college-educated professionals or executives. Frequently, their families were active in demonstrations against the Vietnam war, campaigns for racial equality, and other social cuases. In some cases, the young People's Temple member had been alienated by the "emptiness" of his family's wealth.
- A larger number, especially young blacks, had their roots in the other end of the American social and economic spectrum. The products of poor ghetto neighborhoods and limited education, some had been drug addicts, prostitutes, and street hustlers.
- An even greater percentage were elderly, again perdominately black, who had come out of the San Francisco ghetto. They found in Jim Jones an abiding and protective concern. Despite the harshness of life in Jonestown, they regarded it as preferable to the poor housing they had left behind. They also found a warm sense of family and acceptance within the People's Temple community that they did not have before joining.
- A goodly number of middle-class blacks and whites came out of strong fundamentalist religious family backgrounds and were attracted by what they saw as the evangelical nature of People's Temple.
- By contrast, many of the younger people had little if any religious motivation in joining People's Temple. Rather, they tended to be compelled by humanitarian interests. Altruistic and idealistic, they were impressed by Jones' involvement in social causes and what they saw as the "political sophistication" of People's Temple. To the extent that a religious motivation was involved, it was seen chiefly in terms of Jones' seeming concrete application of Judeo-Christian principles. Over time, the dimension of their motivation was not only nonsectarian but eventually became embodied in the Socialist-Marxist-agnostic philosophy which Jones espoused.
People's Temple as a "Church"
Out of the findings outlined above regarding Jim Jones and members of his People's Temple, emerges one additional finding. It relates to the question of whether or not People's Temple was a "church" in the generally accepted sense of that word. Again, on the basis of testimony and compelling evidence collected in the course of this investigation we offer the following conclusion on that question:
- Although People's Temple may have been a bona fide church in its Indiana and early California origins, it progressively lost that characterization in almost every respect. Rather, by 1972 and following in progressive degrees, it evolved into what could be described as a sociopolitical movement. Under the direction and inspiration of it founder and director and the Marxist-Leninist-Communist philosophy he embraced, People's Temple was in the end a Socialist structure devoted to socialism. Despite that fact, People's Temple continued to enjoy the tax-exempt status it received in 1962 under Internal Revenue Service rules and regulations. The issue of People's Temple's status as a "church" is also significant in connection with First Amendment protections it sought and received. Obviously, the latter issue is a difficult and complex matter beyond the purview of this committee and its investigation.
Also outside the parameters of this committee's inquiry is whether in fact People's Temple was a "cult." Once again, recognizing that the problem is complex and laced with emotions and strong connotative overtones, the committee's investigation went only to the extent of seeking the opinions of respected legal scholars.
B. Conspiracy Against Jim Jones and People's Temple?
Was there a conspiracy against Jim Jones perpetrated by the U.S. Government or some other organization? That was one of the questions on which the Staff Investigative Groupattempted to obtain evidence during the course of this inquiry. On the basis of the information received, the following findings are offered:
- Jones' idea that there were elements opposed to his views and objectives dates back to his early days in Indiana. In fact, it was the adverse reaction he encountered relative to his racial integration and other policies that led him to establish his own church, the People's Temple
- When the People's Temple relocated in Ukiah, Calif. in 1965 Jones' complaints of opposition increased. They ranged in progressive degree from alleged vandalism against People's Temple property, poisoning of his pets, and various threats against Jones, to a shooting attack on Jones' life (from which he "miraculously" recovered by his own power). No substantiation was ever found on any of these complaints reported to and investigated by Ukiah police.
- The mood of Jones' allegations of anti-People's Temple conspiracy grew darker when the group moved to San Francisco in 1972. At that time its chief target was the media as well as unspecified "forces." Reported attempts to dissuade Jones from the notion were apparently unsuccessful.
- Jones' idea of a U.S. Government plot against him, embodied mainly in the CIA and FBI, took full bloom after he and the vast bulk of People's Temple members moved to Guyana in 1977. Opposition of the Concerned Relatives group was eventually attributed to CIA backing as were periodic "alerts" he called to protect the People's Temple Jonestown community from mercenaries in the jungle around Jonestown.
- Jones' two lawyers offer contradictory opinions on the question of a possible conspiracy against People's Temple and Jones. For example, Mark Lane told the committee's investigators: "***there is no doubt in my mind that various people sought to destroy Jonestown and that people in various government agencies manipulated Jones. Jones, himself, saw the efforts to manipulate him into an overreaction but somehow he was unable to control his own responses ***. I believe that a responsible investigation by the Congress would seek to determine why various elements within the United States Government including those in the State Department withheld from Congressman Ryhan and the rest of us who accompanied him to Jonestown the fact that they knew the place was an armed camp and that Jones was capable of killing the Congressman and many others." On the other hand, Charles Garry said: "***I want to unequivocally tell you in the year and a half since July 1977, with the years of experience I have had with governmental conspiracy and government wrongdoing, particularly the FBI, I found no evidence to support any of the charges that were made by People's Temple. I found no evidence to support any of that."
- Granting the strong likelihood of Jones' paranoia, compounded by his manipulative abilities, Jones staged and exploited the idea of a conspiracy as a means of generating fear in his adherents and thereby gaining further control over them. The tactic also served to keep any opponents on the defensive and even had the apparent effect of sensitizing the U.S. Embassy in Guyana.
- No conclusive evidence is available to indicate that the CIA was acquiring information on Mr. Jones or People's Temple. In this same connection it should be noted that under Executive Orders 11905 of February 18, 1976 and 12036 of January 24, 1978, which prohibit intelligence gathering on U.S. citizens, the CIA was legally proscribed from engaging in any activities vis-a-vis People's Temple.
- The Department of Justice, on the other hand, has indicated to the Staff Investigative Group that the FBI did look into an allegation from a constituent of Senator S.I. Hayakawa that "Jim Jones was coaxing individuals into traveling to Georgetown, Guyana, where they were being held against their will for unknown reasons." The FBI interviewed the constituent, but found that "relatives of the constituent had traveled to Guyana voluntarily, and no evidence of forced confinement was developed." The investigation was thereupon terminated "because no violation of the Federal kidnaping statute had occurred."
The Staff Investigative Group was also informed by the Criminal Division of the Justice Department that it received a "citizen complaint" in December 1977, claiming "that a relative was being held in bondage in Georgetown, Guyana by Pastor Jim Jones." The facts spelled out in the complaint indicated no criminal violations within the Justice Department's jurisdiction. Accordingly Justice's information on the complaint was sent to the State Department.
C. Opponents and Media Intimidated; Public Officials Used
As part of Jones' constant and pervasive effort to control people and events, the evidence obtained by the Staff Investigative Group established that he persistently intimidated and harassed those who left People's Temple and anyone else, especially the media, who he felt were opposed to his interests. This clear pattern of intimidation and harassment was reinforced and compounded into success by the widely held belief by People's Temple defectors and opponents, that government officials were friendly toward People's Temple or had in some way been compromised. Consequently, attempts at early efforts to alert the public to the nature of People's Temple's activities were largely ignored and/or rejected.
Typical of some of Jones' tactics to intimidate and harass People's Temple defectors who were actively opposed to him were the following:
- Undermining of their credibility as witnesses by spreading falsehoods and releasing the so-called "confession" they had signed while members of People's Temple;
- Fear campaigns generated through break-ins, late night phone calls, and unsigned letters threatening beatings and even death. One such break-in carried out against a couple who had left People's Temple was done with the help of their daughter who remained in the organization.
As a result of such tactics People's Temple defectors were frequently frozen in fear and severely hampered in their efforts to counteract Jones. The problem is illustrated in the following example which points up the desperate lengths to which opponents of People's Temple were driven as well as the degree to which officials in San Francisco appear to have been involved. Afraid to contact any public officials for fear that they were tied-in or friendly to Jones, one individual went to the length of writing consumer advocate Ralph Nader because he could not think of anyone else he could trust. The letter to Nader outlined many of the allegations against People's Temple which were later proven true. It also indicated that the letter writer feared for his life. it closed as follows:
If you want to help us, please write in the personal column of the Chronicle to "Angelo" and sign it Ralph and then we will respond and talk to you.
Rather than do that, Nader sent the letter to the District Attorney's Office in San Francisco. By some means, the letter filtered back to People's Temple and the writer soon thereafter received a threatening phone call that said "We know all about your letter to Angelo."
In another instance People's Temple defectors hired a private detective to surreptitiously observe their meeting with Jones' representatives in a public subway station. Their objective was to have an eyewitness in the event of violence.
With respect to Jim Jones' and People's Temple efforts to stifle the San Francisco media some of the following methods were employed:
- The threat of law suits. In almost all instances in which this tactic was used it was based on the People's Temple possession of copies of stories in draft form prior to publication obtained through break-ins or provided to People's Temple by infiltrators within the media's office.
- Threatening phone calls to reporters and their families, accepted by one as serious enough to warrant relocating children, moving into hotels, and obtaining guns for self-protection.
- Extensive letter-writing campaigns intended to dissuade publishers and editors from printing stories being prepared by aggressive reporters. The soft-sell nature of this tactic was aimed at creating diversionary arguments contending that the story in question would reflect badly on San Francisco or prevent People's Temple "from continuing its good work with the 'disaffected and disaffiliated' in society." One such campaign produced letters supportive of People's Temple from San Francisco Mayor George Moscone, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, the head of the San Francisco school system, and members of the California State Assembly. It would appear that such campaigns were particularly effective with the San Francisco Chronicle and the National Enquirer.
- Encouraging San Francisco merchants and businesses to remove their advertising from "offending" publications. The chief target of such an effort was the New West magazine immediately prior to its publication in August 1977, of an article critical of Jones. The editor of the magazine persisted and the article is generally credited with breaking Jones' stronghold on San Francisco and led him to go to Guyana immediately before it appeared.
- The picketing of newspaper offices which had run stories on Jones regarded as anti-People's Temple. One such effort, combined with the threat of a law suit, led to the cancellation in 1972 by the San Francisco Examiner of an eight-part series of articles, only half of which had already appeared. The end result was to make most editors and publishers highly sensitive and cautious regarding any critical stories involving Jones and the People's Temple.
Finally, as to the question of whether or not certain officials had in fact been compromised by Jones, the Staff Investigative Group believes the evidence is mixed. What is indisputably clear and solidly based on evidence is that many such officials were perceived of by Jones' opponents as extremely friendly to or enthusiastically supportive of Jones, thereby precluding them or their offices from pursuing actions against Jones in an impartial manner. In this regard, it should be kept in mind that Jones had endowed himself with the cloak of official legitimacy through his appointment by Mayor Moscone as director of the San Francisco Housing Authority. In addition political figures in San Francisco appear to have been enticed by Jones' ability to turn out hundreds of his followers to attend rallys, conduct mailings, man phone-banks, and otherwise provide support to political election campaigns, including some direct contributions.
Similarly, the media were not immune from Jones' wiles and attemped flatteries. For example, Jones made contributions of various sums totaling $4,400 to the San Francisco Examiner, the San Francisco Chronicle, and 10 other newspapers to be used as they saw fit in the "defense of a free press," Although the Examiner returned the money to the People's Temple, the management of the Chronicle sent the check to Sigma Delta Chi, the national journalism society, which in turn rejected suggestions that it be returned to People's Temple.
D. Awareness of Danger; Predicting the Degree of Violence
One area on which this inquiry concentrated under Chairman Zablocki's mandate dealt with the questions of whether (a) Representative Ryan had been adequately advised of the potential for danger, and (b) how accurately anyone could have predicted the degree of violence employed. On the basis of evidence gathered we have reached conclusions on both counts:
- Representative Ryan was advised on more than one occasion of the possibility of violence inherent in his trip to Jonestown. However, he tended to discount such warnings with the thought that his office as a Congressman would protect him. Moreover, he was apparently willing to face whatever danger might be present, citing as a reason his own previous investigative experiences and his determination not to be influenced by fear.
- The warnings Mr. Ryan did receive regarding the prospect for violence came chiefly from his own staff and the Concerned Relatives group. When the issue was raised in the State Department briefings prior to the trip, Mr. Ryan did not challenge State's assessment that potential danger was "unlikely." In fact, State's briefings for the Ryan Codel dwelled almost exclusively on the legal problems relative to the trip as well as the logistical difficulties involved in reaching the remote and isolated jungle compound.
- No one interviewed by the Staff Investigative Group ever anticipated the degree of violence acutally encountered. Many expected that there might be adversarial encounters, arguments, or shouting; the worst anticipated was that someone might "get punched in the mouth."
- From a variety of sources, Representative Ryan and some representatives of the media were cautioned that they were regarded as adversaries of People's Temple and Jones. They were further informed that Jones was paranoid. It is appropriate to note here that Mr. Ryan apparently did not advise anyone in the State Department or the U.S. Embassy in Guyana that one of the purposes of his trip was to help possible defectors leave Jonestown with him on November 18.
- Some members of Mr. Ryan's staff as well as the media group had gut feelings on the possibility for violence. They ranged from advising Mr. Ryan that Jones had a "capacity" for violence, to a general concern based on allegations of guns in Jonestown, and finally, to the thought that a bomb might be placed on the plane on which the entire party flew to Guyana. At the most extreme end of such intuitive hunches and feelings was Miss Jackie Speier's premotion of fear that led her to write her own will.
- To the extent that violence was considered a possibility by the Ryan Codel, there is evidence to suggest that Mr. Ryan may have looked on the accompanying media group as a "shield"; conversely, to the extent there was any apprehension in their ranks, the media regarded Mr. Ryan's status as a Congressman as their best protection. For other members of the media, the principal potential danger considered was the jungle against which they protected themselves by taking special supplies.
E. U.S. Customs Service Investigation
One key element relating to the question of whether the Ryan Codel had adequate awareness of the potential for danger as well as the degree of violence which ultimately ensued involves a 1977 U.S. Customs Service investigation of reported illegal gun shipments and other contraband to Jonestown. In the course of this inquiry, therefore, the Staff Investigative Group obtained evidence which warrants the following findings on the subject:
- Working on allegations interspersed amid many "bizarre" tales about People's Temple, the investigation was begun in February 1977. One of the allegations contended that more than 170 weapons once stored in Ukiah had been transferred to People's Temple San Francisco headquarters and then possibly on to Jonestown.
- The investigation was compromised 1 month after it began, not through any inadvertence on the part of the Customs Service, but when an individual conveyed some information on the matter to Dennis Banks, head of the American Indian Movement, in an effort to dissuade Banks from any further contact with Jones. That conversation was apparently taped and word was passed to Jones. Complete details of the investigation's report were further compromised when a copy of the report was sent to Interpol. From Interpol it was by normal procedure, shared with the Guyanese police. According to information provided us, Guyanese Police Commissioner C. A. "Skip" Roberts reportedly showed a copy to either Paula Adams or Carolyn Layton, two of Mr. Jones' trusted aides, one of whom passed the information to Mr. Jones.
- Although the Customs Service investigation was not diluted or diminished in any way, it is clear that it was carried out in an unusually sensitive mode because of what was perceived to be Jim Jones' considerable political influence in San Francisco. Surveillance relating to the investigation was virtually impossible to carry out because of the tight security screen Jones placed around the Geary Street headquarters of People's Temple in San Francisco.
- The investigation was concluded in August-September 1977 after a shipment of crates destined for Jonestown was opened and inspected by the Customs Service in Miami in August 1977. Shortly thereafter a report on the investigation was filed with negative results. Nonetheless, investigators apparently felt enough residual suspicion to send copies of the report to Interpol and the U.S. Department of State "because (the) investigation disclosed allegations that Jones intends to establish a political power base in Guyana, and that he may currently have several hundred firearms in that country***."
- The copy of the Customs Service report was received in the State Department's Office of Munitions Control on September 1, 1997 and on September 6, 1977 a copy was forwarded to the Department's Bureau of Inter-American Affairs. although standard routing procedures provided that a copy should have been sent to the U.S. Embassy in Guyana there is no indication a copy ever was sent. In addition, only the Guyana desk officer saw the report: none of the more than 26 State Department officials we interviewed saw the report until after November 18, 1978, although one professed "awareness" of it earlier.
F. Conspiracy To Kill Representative Ryan?
Relative to the likelihood of a People's Temple-Jim Jones conspiracy to kill Representative Ryan, the Staff Investigative Group has reached the following conclusions based on evidence available to us:
- The possibility of any prior conspiracy tends to be diminished by the fact that Gordon Lindsay, a reporter whom Mr. Jones regarded as an arch enemy of People's Temple, was not allowed to enter Jonestown with the Ryan party.
- Still not to be discounted entirely, however, is the possible existence of a contingency conspiracy. In this connection, there are reports of an "understanding' in Jonestown that if efforts to delude Ryan as to the true conditions at Jonestown failed he would have to be killed, supposedly by arranging for his plane to crash in the jungle after leaving Jonestown. While circumstantial evidence is available on this theory we have not found any hard evidence.
- Providing some moderate credence to the idea of a contingency conspiracy is the fact that the Jonestown mass suicide/murder ritual started before the Port Kaituma assailants returned to confirm the shootings of Representative Ryan and others.
- Also lending some substance to the contingency conspiracy theory are unconfirmed reports that a large shipment of cyanide, used in the mass suicide/murder, arrived in Jonestown 2 days before Ryan's visit. Also related is the reported statement of a Jonestown survivor that several days before Mr. Ryan arrived in Jonestown he heard Jones say that the Congressman's plane "might fall from the sky."
- In an effort to obtain detailed information on Mr. Ryan's upcoming trip, Jones placed a phony defector within the ranks of the Concerned Relatives group in San Francisco 1 month before the Codel's departure for Guyana. The "defector" was seen back in Jonestown when the Ryan party arrived. The late awareness that the defector was false produced a heightened sense of danger in the minds of some making the trip.
G. The Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act
Throughout this investigation there were repeated references made as to the pervasive role of the Privacy Act and, to a lesser degree, the Fredom of Information Act in the tragedy at Jonestown. The Staff Investigative Group made a careful and thorough review of the issue which resulted in the following findings:
- The Privacy Act figured prominently in several important aspects of the State Department's and U.S. Embassy's briefings and relations with the Ryan Codel and their handling of all matters relating to People's Temple.
- Officials within both the State Department and the Embassy clearly tended to confuse the Privacy Act with the Freedom of Information Act, thereby inhibiting the comprehensiveness of written reports and exchanges of information.1 One key Embassy official, for instance, was operating under the mistaken assumption that People's Temple was seeking cables reporting on consular visits to Jonestown under provisions of the Freedom of Information Act.
- Representative Ryan's legal advisers contended that the State Department's interpretation of the Privacy Act was unreasonably narrow and restrictive and further felt that fact had ramifications on what the Codel wished to accomplish. Those differences, which began in Washington and continued in Guyana, resulted in somewhat strained relations between the State Department and the Codel.
- The State Department's interpretation of the Privacy Act led them to deny Ryan access to certain information and documents relative to People's Temple. That problem could have been avoided or at least alleviated if Mr. Ryan had followed the Department's advice to obtain a letter from the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs authorizing him such access under an exemption clause in the act. That exemption provision permits disclousure to any committee of Congress "to the extent of matter within its jurisdiction." Reflecting the State Department's lack of knowledge of the law and its application, it is pertinent to note that on February 28, 1979, the State Department was unaware of the exemption provision in denying to Chairman Zablocki requested information germane to the investigation.
- Prior to the Codel's departure, the U.S. Embassy in Guyana reflected its own acute sensitivity regarding the Privacy Act by urging that Mr. Ryan be fully informed of the act's limitations. That sensitivity was reinforced by the Embassy's request that a Department legal expert accompany the Codel, a request denied by State because of travel freeze restrictions and the heavy press of other work.
- Among the Embassy officials interviewed there is almost unanimous agreement that the Privacy Act is complex, difficult to understand, and confusing. Accordingly, they believe that regular guidance is required to guarantee proper implementation.
- Initial State Department guidance on the Privacy Act provided to the U.S. Embassy in Guyana was so highly techhnical and legalistic that it had little if any practical value, a problem compounded by subsequent communications. It was not until November 18, 1977, almost 3 years after the Privacy Act became law, that the Embassy was provided with what could be regarded as practical guidance. However, even that communication contained the following prefatory comment: "Due to its rapid passage by Congress in December 1974 without hearings, less than the usual legislative history exists to guide executive departments in interpreting history exists to guide executive departments in interpreting it.***." Available at that time was a 1,500-page volume, "Legislative History of the Privcacy Act of 1974," which incorporated committee reports, markup sessions, excerpts from floor debate and other pertinent source materials.
- In day-to-day operations and application, the Privacy Act impacts more on the State Department's consular section than on its diplomatic officers.
- Given the confusion surrounding the Privacy Act and the lack of practical and understandable guidance, it appears that Embassy consular officers in Guyana found the act difficult to implement properly. In contrast, most of their Washington counterparts, in both political and consular sections of the Department, did not perceive the Embassy's problems and felt the guidance provided was adequate.
- Also contributing to those official's ability to effectively implement the Privacy Act vis-a-vis the People's Temple was the understanding they held that as a religious organization People's Temple merited added protection under the act. Disregarding for now the question of whether or not People's Temple was a religion, few of the officials knew that the act's prohibition on maintaining records describing the exercise of the first amendment rights also provides and exception for matters pertinent to law enforcement activities. Further, there appeared to be little general awareness among State Department Personnel of other exemptions provided in both the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act from mandatory agency disclosure of information.
- The legal recourse Jones and People's Temple had under the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act to obtain Embassy cables had the chilling effect on Embassy personnel of making their communications to the State Department on People's Temple less candid than they might have otherwise been. That effect was reinforced when the Embassy learned on December 2, 1977, that People's Temple had in fact filed a total of 26 actions under the Privacy Act, for documents relating to specified People's Temple members. As a byproduct of these restraints it is reasonable to conclude that the Embassy's inhibitions to more candidly and accurately report their impressions of the true situation in Jonestown ultimately influenced the State Department's ability to more effectively brief the Ryan Codel. Also not to be discounted is the strong possibility that, knowing the law and the effect it could produce, Jones used the legal claim actions as a tactic in order to achieve the very effect it did.
- Overall, many State Department officials appeared to be highly aware of the civil and/or criminal penalty provisions of both acts. That fact reinforced their perceived image of both acts as threatening and troublesome in that failure to comply could present them with serious personal legal problems. In turn, that thought made them doubly cautious in their dealings with People's Temple.
H. Role and Performance of the U.S. Department of State
The role and performance of the State Department in this matter was the central issue earmarked for investigation in Chairman Zablocki's mandate to the Staff Investigative Group. The points of reference surrounding that issue span 4 years and are complex and many. Given this reality, a major part of the investigation was devoted to this aspect of the issue. The following conclusions and findings based on evidence gathered are:
- The U.S. Embassy in Guyana did not demonstrate adequate initiative, sensitive reaction to, and apprecitation of progressively mounting indications of highly irregular and illegal activities in Jonestown. The Embassy's one attempt to confront the situation and affect a solution did not occur until June 1978. Essentially embodying what could at best be described as the Embassy's heightened suspicion of problems with People's Temple, the effort was made in the form of a cable to the State Department requesting permission to approach the Guyanese Government and "request that the government exercise normal adminintrative jurisdiction over the community, particularly to insure that all of its residents are informed and understand that they are subject to the laws and authority of the Government of Guyana***." The State Department, failing to detect any linkage between Log 126 and the then recent defection of Temple member Debbie Blakey and other incidents, rejected the request in a terse cable because such an overture "could be construed by some as U.S. Government interference." (Debbie Blakey defected from the People's Temple in Georgetown, Guyana on May 12, 1978, with the assistance of U.S. Embassy officers Richard McCoy and Daniel Weber. Prior to her departure to the United States, she submitted a written statement to the Embassy warning, among other things, of the possibility of a mass suicide in Jonestown.)
- The Department's negative response to Log 126 had the net effect of reinforcing the Embassy's already cautious attitude in all dealings with the People's Temple. Despite the fact that an affirmative response was anticipated, the Embassy surprisingly made no effort to challenge the Department's negative decision. Equally surprising was the Department's failure to contact the Ambassador and determine what specifically triggered his request. Testimony from Department witnesses indicates that the lack of specificity in Log 126 was the primary reason for the negative response in Log 130. Such specificity (e.g., Blakey defection) was deliberately avoided, according to the Ambassador, because of Privacy Act considerations. The upshot of this exchange was a lamentable breakdown in communication with neither side making any further efforts to discuss or follow up on the matter.
- Mitigating factors were present wihich require acknowledgment. For example, it is understandable that the Embassy did not have an investigative or judicial function. It also felt compelled to abide by U.S. laws as well as strict State Department rules and regulations while simultaneously respecting the hospitality of Guyana. Embassy personnel were also faced with the challenge of trying to remain objective in the face of two opposing groups of Americans often presenting contradictory stories; a factor reinforced by numerous letters, articles, and documents reflecting equally pro and con dimensions on Jones and the People's Temple. Out of that balance the Embassy concluded only that People's Temple prior to November 18, 1978, was a "controversial" or "unusual" group.
- Nevertheless, absent in the Embassy's dealings with People's Temple were the vital elements of common sense and an honest and healthy skepticism. Despite the acknowledged handicaps under which it worked the Embassy could have exerted sounder overall judgment and a more aggressive posture. One important result of such an effort would have been more accurate and straightforward reporting on the People's Temlple situation which, in turn, could have given the State Department a stronger and wider base on which to draw in biefing Representative Ryan and his staff. In this connection, the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act, each of which was discussed in a previous section, played important roles.
- It is proven beyond doubt that Jones staged a show for selective visitors to Jonestown which made it difficult to get a realistic and accurate picture of what was actually happening there. The aability of the Embassy to break through this facade was severely hampered by several factors. First, the "Embassy provided in advance to People's Temple, the names of most but not all of the individuals who were to be interviewed by visiting consular officers. That practice allowed Jones to rehearse those people on what to say and how to act. Second, such "staging" practices were greatly facilitated by the limited time spent in Jonestown by visiting U.S. Embassy officials-an average of 5-8 hours on four different occasions between August 30, 1977, and November 7, 1978.
- In conducting normal consular activities in Jonestown and in other interactions with People's Temple, Embassy officials were restricted by constitutionally mandated safeguards prohibiting interference with free exercise of religious beliefs and with legally sanctioned religious organizations. Recognizing that this issue is not within the direct purview of the committee's investigation, we nevertheless note (as observed earlier) that many People's Temple members were originally motivated less by religious considerations than by a general social idealism. In addition, it is clear that People's Temple had little specific dimension or few surface trappings which would have made it a "church."
- There was a laxness in State Department procedures for distributing certain important documents relative to People's Temple, thereby inhibiting the opportunity for taking appropriate action. Chief among these was the U.S. Customs Service report on possible gun shipments to Jonestown. Others include the April 10, 1978, affidavit by Yolanda D.A. Crawford, a People's Temple defector, describing beatings and abuses in Jonestown; the affidavit signed in May 1978 by Debbie Blakey, another People's Temple defector, describing suicide rehearsals and other serious charges; and finally the New West magazine article of August 1, 1977, which exposed Jones. A wider awareness of these and similar materials would have significantly enhanced the State Department's ability to evaluate the situation. As a reflection of the problem it is interesting to note that a number of State Department officials interviewed readily volunteered the observation that prior to his trip to Guyana "Mr. Ryan knew more about People's Temple and Jonestown than we did."
- State Department organization and day-to-day operations created a distinction between its consular activities and its diplomatic responsibilities. Inadequate coordination between those two functions led to a situation in which matters involving People's Temple were regarded almost exclusively as consular. Despite mounting indications that the People's Temple issue was spilling over into the United States-Guyana diplomatic area, the mentality persisted of relegating it to the consular side.
- In the area of crisis management following the tragedy of November 18 the State Department and Embassy performed with distinction. Particularly praiseworthy in this regard were the brave and dedicated efforts of Richard Dwyer in aiding and providing leadership under trying circumstances to survivors of the Port Kaituma shooting. Equally admirable were the Department's and Embassy's efforts in evacuating the wounded, providing assistance to others, and keeping Washington officials adequately informed of developments. Also commendable was the competent and efficient work of Department of Defense personnel in assisting the wounded and others and returning them to the United States.
- As to allegations that a female member of People't Temple in Guyana had engaged in a sexual liaison with former U.S. Consul Richard McCoy and had made tape recordings of their sexual activities in an attempt to compromise McCoy, it is our firm judgment, based on our findings, that such allegations are false.The woman in question has in fact testified and signed an affidavit categorically denying all such charges. She further stated that, "To the best of my knowledge, no member of People's Temple engaged in any sexual activity with Richard A. McCoy" and that the People's Temple relationship with McCoy was one of "mistrust and strained discussion though not openly hostile." Nor is there any evidence to indicate that any other person affiliated with the U.S. Embassy in Guyana had at any time been compromised by the People's Temple.
I. Involvement of the Government of Guyana
On the issue of People's Temple involvement with the Government of Guyana, the Staff Investigative Group renders the following incomplete findings:
- There is evidence of a strong working relationship between the People's Temple and some officials of the Government of Guyana, especially in the areas of customs and immigration. It is obvious that a special privileged status allowed People's Temple to bring that special privileged status allowed People's Temple to bring items into Guyana outside of the usual customs procedures, often with cursory inspection at best. Many shipments were inspected perfunctorily or not at all. It is likely that People's Temple brought large sums of money and guns into Guyana in suitcases and false-bottom creates as a result of such customs inspections. As a matter of fact, some of these concerns were expressed by Guyanese officials.
- Guyanese immigration procedures were also compromised to the advantage of People's Temple on several occasions, chiefly in two key areas. First, People's Temple members were able to facilitate entry of their own members or inhibit the exit of defectors by having access to customs areas at Timehri Airport in Georgetown closed to all other citizens. Second, clearly arbitrary decisions were made to curtail the visas and expedite the exit of individuals regarded as opponents of People's Temple. Only upon the strenuous efforts of the U.S. Embassy were some of these decisions ultimately reversed and then at the last minute.
- There are in the investigative record repeated charges of a sexual liaison between People's Temple member Paula Adams and Laurence Mann, Guyana's Ambassador to the United States. It has encounters with Mann. Transcripts of some of those tapes were apparently made for Mr. Jones and periodically turned over to high officials in the Guyanese Government.
- There is also evidence, incomplete and inconclusive, that unknown officials of the Guyanese Government may have taken action to influence the outcome of the Stoen custody case proceedings in the Guyanese court system.
- Testimony from some witnesses suggest that support extended to the People's Temple by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Ptolemy Reid was born of an ideological compatibility with an endorsement of the Temple's Socialist philosophy. While such support was exploited in the sense that it had the ultimate effect of furthering People's Temple objectives, it did not appear to be generated for illegal reasons.
- Note-In reference to these findings regarding the relationship of the Government of Guyana to the People's Temple, the Staff Investigative Group was precluded from confirming or dispelling various allegations by the refusal of the Guyanese Government to meet and talk with the Group, per Chairman Zablocki's requests of March 2 and 16, 1979. Consequently, to our regret, some of the findings noted above must remain partial and incomplete. There is no doubt in our mind, however, that our inability to interview Guyanese Government officials leaves this report with a conspicuous void.
J. Social Security; Foster Children
Although this inquiry's scope did not require investigating allegations that the People's Temple stole or fraudulently used its members social security benefits, some information regarding these charges did surface during the course of the probe that is worth noting.
At the time of the tragedy of November 18, 1978, a total of 199 social security annuitants reportedly lived in Jonestown. Altogether their annuities amounted to approximately $37,000 per month. It is readily apparent that this income contributed substantially to the maintenance of the Jonestown operations. The Social Security Administration (SSA) is presently conducting a review of its responsibilities and performances in paying benefits to Temple members. In this regard, the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare has submitted an interim report to the committee. In essence, the report indicates that to date no wrongdoing on the part of the temple has been discovered. It does cite, however, four cases that are being investigated because the beneficiaries' checks were being forwarded to Guyana from the United States without Social Security Administration's records revealing their correct addresses. The Social Security Administration review is continuing and upon its completion the committee is to receive a copy of the final report.
The interim report indicates, inter alia, that the Social Security Administration is responsible for administering Section 207 of the Social Security Act (43 U.S.C. 407) which provides, "the right of any person to any future payment under this title shall not be transferable or assignable, at law or in equity***." Consequently, whenever a social security annuitant requests that his or her checks be mailed to someone else's address the Social Security Administration looks into the possibility of assignment. Such an inquiry was launched after Temple members moved to Guyana and asked that their monthly payments be mailed in care of the Jonestown settlement's post office box address.
The U.S.Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana was asked by the Social Security Administration to query Jonestown residents as to why they wanted their checks sent to the settlement's post office address and whether any of the beneficaries had assigned the right to future payments to the People's Temple.
In response to the Social Security Administration's request, U.S. Consul Richard McCoy, during January and May 1978 visits to Jonestown, determined that the post office box address was being used for the convenience of the beneficiaries, that each annuitant interviewed was receiving and controlling the use of his monthly payment, and that none had assigned their checks to the Temple. McCoy's successor, Douglas Ellice, accompanied by Vice Consul Dennis Reece, also checked into social security matters during a November 7, 1978, visit to Jonestown.
McCoy did find Jonestown social security beneficiaries who were heavily influenced to turn over their monthly benefits to the Temple. Nevertheless, in his estimation, these individuals volutarily gave their money to the Temple. In addition, he reported that all of the beneficiaries he saw in Jonestown appeared to be adequately housed, fed, and in relatively good health. Given these findings, the Social Security Administration decided to continue the procedure of mailing the monthly checks to the Jonestown post office box address.
Section 1611 (f) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. 1811 (f)) stipulates that:
***no individual shall be considered an eligible individual for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits, for any month during all of which such individual is outside the United States***
According to the Social Security Administration interim report:
***as soon as it was learned that members of the People's Temple were moving to Guyana, the Social Security Administration district office in San Francisco, working with postal officials and officials of the People's Temple, went to extraordinary lengths to ensure Social Security Administration was notified when a member who was entitled to social security benefits moved abroad. This action proved very effective. When members who had been entitled to SSI benefits left the United States, action was taken to stop the SSI payments.
To date, the Social Security Administration has discovered only one instance of a Temple beneficiary going to Guyana without notifying Social Security Administration authorities. This individual's checks were received and cashed by her husband who continued to live in the United States. The Social Security Administration has found nothing to indicate that the failure to report the wife's move to Guyana involved People's Temple officials.
The Staff Investigative Group has been informed by the Social Security Administration that its ongoing review of payments to Temple members is focusing on the following:
(a) Did any of the Retirement Survivors Disability Insurance (RSDI) beneficiaries living in Jonestown die there before November 18, 1978, without the knowledge of the Social Security Administration?
(b) Were any SSI payments made to a beneficiary for months after the month that individual left the United states? (As mentioned earlier, such payments are illegal.)
Some 656 social security checks were found uncashed and undeposited in Jonestown after the November 18 tragedy. According to one State Department official, the vast majority of the approximately $160,000 in checks recovered in Jonestown were August, September, and October 1978 social security checks.
The Social Security Administration claims it will be several months before the process of identifying the remains of the Jonestown dead is finished. At last report, 173 social security beneficiaries have been positively identified as dead. Eight others are known to have survived. The balance of 18 are still unaccounted for but the presumption is that they are among the unidentified deceased.
Possibly as many as 150 foster children have been alleged to have died in Jonestown during the mass suicide/murder ritual of last November. Senator Alan Cranston's Subcommittee on Child and Human Development is conducting an investigation of these charges with the assistance of the GAO. Preliminary indications are that 12 California foster children may be identified as having died. Greatly complicating the identification process is the fact that neither dental nor fingerprint records exist on most of the children. At this writing, it is hoped that the GAO investigators may be able to provide at least a preliminary report of their findings to Senator Cranston's subcommittee by the end of May 1979 for a hearing that will be held in Los Angeles.
The Staff Investigative Group was informed by State Department witnesses that the U.S. Embassy in Guyana was never asked by California welfare officials to check on the welfare and whereabouts of California foster children reportedly living in Jonestown. The U.S. Embassy, however, was aware that some foster children may have been living there and asked the Department of State to determine whether it was legal for such wards of the State to leave the United States. One Department witness stated that he queried appropriate California authorities and was told that court permission was required to take them out of the State. This same official also discerned some reluctance on the part of these authorities to talk about the subject.
K. Future Status of People's Temple
Although it was beyond the purview of the inquiry as mandated by Chairman Zablocki, the Staff Investigative Group obtained evidence and impressions relative to the possible future status of People's Temple and some related matters which the Group believes are useful to establish for this record.
Accordingly, it is our judgment at this time that the possibility of People's Temple being reconstituted cannot be discounted. This belief is based in large measure on the distinction seemingly held by surviving People's Temple members between Jim Jones as an individual and what People's Temple represented as an organization.Thus, while some remaining People's Temple members express varying degrees of regret, dismay, and disapproval over what Jim Jones did, they still seem to embrace the principles and objectives which they believer People's Temple sought to achieve. There is also some evidence to suggest that a power struggle may be underway within the ranks of surviving People's Temple sought to achieve. There is also some evidence to suggest that a power struggle may be underway within the ranks of surviving People's Temple members in an attempt to establish a new leader. Only time will determine whether in fact such a development may take place.
While the existence of a reported "hit squad" whose purported purpose is to eliminate Jones' staunchest opponents cannot be concretely documented it should not totally discounted. this group has been described as including some of Jones' most zealous adherents. There is evidence to suggest Jones and some of his key lieutenants discussed and had "understandings" to eliminate various individuals, including national political leaders. Time may diminish the possible threat of this factor in any and all future activities and investigations aimed at People's Temple.
1. Much of the confusion over these two acts results from the sometimes conflicting principal purposes for which each was enacted. The Privacy Act guarantees the privacy of public records maintained on an individual and limits access, except for the concerned party, to these records by other individuals and government agencies. The Freedom of Information Act guarantees an individual access to records pertinent to the operations of the Federal Government but safeguards the privacy of individuals cited in those records. (Back)
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