Rep. Leo Ryan was the first Congressman in history to die in the line of duty, and within three days, Clement Zablocki (D-WI), the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, had taken the first steps towards launching an official investigation into the deaths at the Port Kaituma airstrip and in Jonestown.
Six months later – on May 15, 1979 – a Staff Investigative Group of the House committee presented its report to the committee. The 782-page report, entitled The Assassination of Representative Leo Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy, spends only 37 pages to actual analysis and recommendation. Reprints of newspaper articles, copies of the Freedom of Information Act, the Privacy Act and other federal regulations, as well as legal opinions supporting the investigation of cults fill over 500 pages of the report. The remaining 200 pages reprint letters from chairman Zablocki to various government agencies, and their responses. State Department documents form the bulk of this section.
Much of the report’s compilations of documents and findings were classified at the time of its release, and placed under seal for 30 years. The table of contents of the House report – printed separately here with red type added to indicate which parts were withheld from release – is the only indication of how extensive the classification went. Efforts seeking release of this material are ongoing.
The Foreign Affairs Committee held a single hearing in May 1979 the day its report was released. Staff investigators testified, reiterating the opinions expressed in their report. They urged an overhaul of the exemptions in the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts. They also suggested that Congress review IRS guidelines for tax-exempt churches. Despite the advice of several specialists in constitutional law, who found no legal distinction between churches and cults, the investigators called for a “concentrated program of research and training on cults.”
In early 1980, the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Operations held two days of hearings to examine how the State Department had implemented changes in Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act reporting in the wake of Foreign Affairs Committee recommendations. At least three relatives of Leo Ryan, two of Ryan’s aides, and a number of members of the Concerned Relatives organization attended the first day of the hearing, and several of them – both from Concerned Relatives and from Ryan’s staff – testified about their frustration with the State Department. Two minor State Department officials appeared on the second day of the hearing two weeks later to attempt to answer the questions. Representative Bill Royer, Leo Ryan’s successor, was not a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee – much less the subcommittee – but was permitted to lead much of the questioning.
A longer discussion of the congressional response to the Ryan assassination, taken from A Sympathetic History of Peoples Temple and Jonestown by Rebecca Moore, appears here.
The Assassination of Representative Leo J. Ryan and the Jonestown, Guyana Tragedy: Report of a Staff Investigative Group to the Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, House Document No. 96-223, May 15, 1979, 96th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.
Table of contents – with classified sections highlighted
Analysis and recommendations
The Death of Representative Leo J. Ryan, People’s Temple, and Jonestown: Understanding a Tragedy. Hearing by Committee on Foreign Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives, May 15, 1979, 96th Congress, 1st Session. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.
Review of the Implementation of Recommendations Relating to the Death of Representative Leo J. Ryan. Hearings by House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Operations hearings, February 20 and March 4, 1980, 96th Congress, 2nd Session. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1980.