From the moment Peoples Temple learned that Rep. Leo Ryan was planning to come to Guyana, with press and relatives in tow, the leadership was divided as to how the congressional party should be received: should they try to block his entrance altogether; should they allow the congressman and his staff in, but keep everyone else out; or – the view that ultimately prevailed – should the people of Jonestown demonstrate they had nothing to hide and let in everyone.
The debate went on for two weeks, and did not end until November 17, with Ryan and most of his party on the ground at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Along the way, the community had held meetings, passed resolutions and signed petitions against the visit.
Part of the Temple’s problem was, they did not really know who Ryan was. A three-term congressman – he won his race for re-election to a fourth term during the few weeks between his decision to go to Jonestown and his death there – representing a district on the Peninsula below San Francisco, he was best known for the Hughes-Ryan Act designed to rein in the CIA’s covert activities. He had constituents who had emigrated in Jonestown, but his interest in the Temple might not have been sparked if his friend Sam Houston – the father of Temple member Bob Houston, who died in a railway yard two years earlier – hadn’t asked the congressman to look into the group.
To assist the leadership in Jonestown formulate a response to the impending visit, an anonymous Temple worker – likely someone in San Francisco – put together a fact sheet on Leo Ryan. It describes the congressman as a liberal in a “generally Republican district” that voted for Gerald Ford by a 53-47 margin in 1976. Ryan’s voting record, “with only a few exceptions, is straight liberal.”
Despite all the positions that Jim Jones would have found himself in agreement with Ryan – for cuts in defense spending, for cuts in military aid to South Korea, for a ban on chrome imports from Rhodesia – the congressman had two blemishes: “He voted for military aid to [Chilean dictator Augusto] Pinochet, and was against opening up the House assassination investigations (King and JFK assassinations).” And it was the blemishes that Jones focused on.
In a November 7 announcement to the community regarding Ryan, Jones said, “We may have the invasion, not with guns, but with hostile racists, one hostile racist congressmen that voted for Pinochet who cruelly killed the president of Chile [Salvador Allende] and represents all anti-black feeling.” During a reading of the news on November 10, he described Ryan as someone “who has voted sharply in racist terms and fascist terms, who is a supporter of Pinochet of Chile.”