Who was Richard Dwyer? Where was he on November 18? Was he CIA?

Richard Dwyer was the Deputy Chief of Mission (DCM) at the American Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, at the time of the Jonestown tragedy. In that capacity, he would have worked as liaison between the Embassy and all American citizens with interests in Guyana. In 1978, that meant members of Peoples Temple and, to a lesser extent, the Concerned Relatives.

Dwyer was also the American Embassy official who accompanied Rep. Leo Ryan’s party to Jonestown on the weekend of November 17, 1978. He returned to the Port Kaituma airstrip with Ryan and was slightly wounded during the attack that killed the congressman and four others.

Nevertheless, there have been questions about Dwyer’s whereabouts at that moment, largely fueled by references made by Jim Jones during the final tape. “Take Dwyer on down to the East House,” Jones says. “Take Dwyer.” A moment later, he repeats: “Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him.” After a pause, he says: “Dwyer? I’m not talking about Ujara [Don Sly]. I said” – and he is emphatic about this – “Dwyer.” However, since there is proof – in the form of Dwyer’s wounds – that he was at the airstrip at the time, this is almost certainly a case of misidentification.

Rumors that Richard Dwyer was actually with the CIA instead of – or in addition to – the Foreign Service swirled around all senior members of the American Embassy, including then-Ambassador John Burke. There were reasons for these beliefs, beyond the general political paranoia of the 1970s and the specific paranoia of Peoples Temple: while details remain unclear to this day, the CIA had been deeply enmeshed in trying to exert influence over Guyana’s nascent governments which were born after the country gained independence from Great Britain a decade earlier.

Dwyer himself seemingly admitted his role when two members of the Temple – Tim Carter and Sharon Amos – asked him directly, and, as Carter said, “He did it blithely, without apology or rancor.” A letter from Carolyn Layton to her parents also alluded to the assumption by the Temple’s leadership that whenever they were talking to Burke, Dwyer, McCoy or any of a number of others, they were talking with the CIA, and gauged their comments accordingly.

The CIA’s position on all of these issues is to neither confirm nor deny their validity.

In short, the rumor that Dwyer was CIA is with foundation but without proof.

Dwyer died in 1991. A 1990 interview with him by the Foreign Affairs History project is here.

Originally posted on December 9th, 2020.

Last modified on December 12th, 2020.
Skip to main content