Cover Story

Documents Released

     In March 1997, the Federal Bureau of Investigation announced that it would release for the first time nearly 39,000 additional pages of documents concerning Jonestown, the Peoples Temple and related matters under the Freedom of Information Act. As these documents become available and are examined, new revelations concerning the mass deaths at Jonestown in 1978 and the killing of Congressman Ryan continue to mount. The documents include 8,603 pages from the FBI’s investigative file and an additional 30,229 pages. The bureau made the papers available based on a 1993 FOIA request filed by Freedom.

At the time of his death, Leo Ryan’s spotlight was trained on one of the darkest corners of the American intelligence establishment—psychiatric “mind-control” experiments, possibly combined with illegal domestic operations. His probe included tests performed at a Vacaville, California, state hospital (above), reportedly involving Donald (known as “Cinque”, top) DeFreeze, a central figure in the 1974 kidnapping of Patricia Hearst. A month before Ryan’s murder, Jack Anderson (right) published a column entitled “CIA May Have Inspired Cinque,” exposing the secret experiments, with Ryan or his committee the most likely source of the information.

     Contrary to what is popularly reported in the media, the FBI files document the Peoples Temple as a mainstream religious congregation, with statements on behalf of the group by a range of political figures including Senators Walter Mondale, Hubert Humphrey, Henry Jackson, Sam Ervin Jr., Warren Magnuson and Mike Gravel, Congressmen Philip Burton, Ron Dellums and Don Edwards, Congresswomen Bella Abzug and Patsy Mink.

     The papers demonstrate wide support for the organization. Actress and activist Jane Fonda wrote: “I also recommit myself to your congregation as an active full participant—not only for myself, but because I want my two children to have the experience.”

     They also show its leader, Jim Jones, as a respected minister of the Disciples of Christ, the Protestant church of former President Lyndon Johnson and millions of other Americans.

     And they show that while the church underwent a long period of harassment, surveillance and infiltration at the hands of government intelligence agents, these intensified once the group, founded in Indiana, relocated to San Francisco, and particularly after its headquarters moved to Guyana.

     Indeed, in 1977 and 1978 came anonymous threats against the Peoples Temple, accompanied by random acts of violence against group members. It was in late 1977 that heavy pressure began on Ryan to visit Jonestown—pressure which built to a crescendo shortly before he agreed to go. Those pushing him to take action against “cults” included psychologist Margaret Singer, while others, among them Tim Stoen, a former member and top aide to Jim Jones with alleged ties to the CIA, pressured Ryan to visit Jonestown. (See “The Real Cult,”.)


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