Unanswered Questions about Jonestown

[Editor’s note: This chapter comprises pages 46-53 from the larger study, The Cult Awareness Network: Anatomy of a Hate Group, by Tom Whittle. It is republished with permission.]

In 1978, before the messy deaths of more than 900 people in Jonestown, Guyana, the Citizens Freedom Foundation (CFF), parent of the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), was bouncing off the ropes. Not only did it lack funding, but it was coming under investigation and increasing attacks due to growing recognition of the criminal nature of its central activity: deprogramming.

For deprogrammer Ted Patrick, a founder of CFF in 1974, it was becoming more and more difficult to operate and stay out of jail. And within the organization, divisiveness and discord ruled. CFF’s days were numbered.

In the months prior to Jonestown, however, CFF’s  “guiding lights” – psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West and psychologist Margaret Singer, both with acknowledged CIA connections – were working out a new strategy. It would promote the false notion that “cult brainwashing” was more absolute, dangerous and insidious than any other form of “brainwashing.”

Jonestown was the proverbial blessing in disguise for CFF.

With complete disregard for what actually occurred, West, Singer and CFF-connected minions sprang into action to “interpret” the event: Jones had “brainwashed” everyone at Jonestown who then willingly engaged in “ritual suicide.”

They have continued to push this propaganda line to this day, despite no evidence to support it and voluminous evidence to the contrary.

And in an ironic and gigantic switch that is a story in its own right, a former president of CAN raised “Jonestown mass suicide” as a battle cry against religions for more than a decade. The little-known fact is that this same woman – the daughter of U. S. Congressman Leo J. Ryan, who was slain on his fact-finding mission to Jonestown – had sued the government shortly after her father’s death, charging that Jonestown was a CIA operation. Her lawsuit charged that it was the CIA that practiced mind control at Jonestown, not Jim Jones. But that was before her about-face occurred.

A Strange About-Face

The congressman’s daughter – Patricia Ryan – has forcefully and vocally exploited her father’s death at Jonestown. It has become the national media platform from which she and the Cult Awareness Network have denounced a broad range of religious movements.

Patricia Ryan became president of Cult Awareness Network in 1990, serving in that capacity to 1993. She remains on its Board of Directors to this day.

Ryan and the Cult Awareness Network do not talk about the time when she and her two brothers and two sisters – after a full year investigating who should be held responsible – sued the Central Intelligence Agency over their father’s death by still-unidentified gunmen. The Ryans alleged that the CIA had conducted mind control experiments on the members of the religious colony at Jonestown and that the U.S. government was responsible for their father’s death.

Today, in concert with CAN and Cynthia Kisser, Patricia Ryan has invoked the memory of her father’s death while campaigning against the spirit of his causes. During the 1993 siege near Waco, Texas, Patricia Ryan was quoted by the Houston Chronicle as urging the use of “whatever means necessary… including lethal force” against the Branch Davidians.

If Patricia Ryan once believed that intelligence officials were behind the Jonestown tragedy, what caused her about-face? And why is she not talking about it? At one point she was convinced, and then she changed her mind – or it was changed for her.

Her reversal puts her completely at odds with her father’s position. A Freedom source close to Rep. Ryan reported that he was threatened whenever he attempted to investigate CIA involvement in Jonestown. Did Patricia Ryan received similar threats?

If the Ryans could prove that the CIA conducted mind control experiments at Jonestown and covered it up with an elaborate “cult suicide” deception, the CIA would indeed have been in hot water – so hot the agency presumably would have done almost anything to cover up its involvement.

The Ryans’ claim against the government, filed in the U. S. District Court of the Northern District of California on July 31, 1980, asked for $1481 for Rep. Ryan’s funeral expenses, general damages of $3 million, plus costs.

The lawsuit charged, “Prior to his November [1978] fact-finding mission to Guyana, decedent had many times unsuccessfully attempted to learn from the United States Department of State of the true circumstances and events occurring at the Jonestown colony in Guyana.

“The United States Department of State knew prior to November 14, 1978, of vital information concerning said Jonestown colony and withheld this information from decedent despite his many requests for such information.

“Said information included knowledge by the Department of State of… the existence of a large supply of mind control narcotics at the Jonestown colony which were being used in mind control experiments, initiated by the United States Central Intelligence Agency upon citizens of the Jonestown colony.”

Also charged in the lawsuit: “The Jonestown colony was infiltrated with agent(s) of the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.… [S]aid agents were working with the Department of State and the Central Intelligence Agency to use the Jonestown colony as a mass mind control experiment as part of the Central Intelligence Agency’s MK ULTRA program.”

The lawsuit identified by name two Americans in Guyana as CIA agents – Phillip Blakey, an aide to Jones, and Richard Dwyer, deputy chief of the U. S. Embassy in Guyana – and noted that massive quantities of mind control drugs were found in Jonestown after the mass killings, a fact also reported by news media.

Blakey had traveled to Guyana earlier in the 1970s to select the site for Jonestown and to begin clearing land for the settlement. Blakey was one of the few survivors of Jonestown. Dwyer, who was at the airstrip when Rep. Ryan was killed and who evidently returned to Jonestown after the airstrip murders, also survived.

Despite compelling reasons to continue, the Ryans’ lawsuit against the CIA was dismissed by the court for reasons that were never fully revealed, and the killers of Leo Ryan were never brought to justice. And Patricia Ryan is still not talking about whatever it was she discovered about her father’s death.

Investigation of Mind Control Experiments

Rep. Ryan was co-author of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, in 1974 law which sharply curtailed CIA covert activities internationally. A former aide to Rep. Ryan told Freedom that the measure was, not surprisingly, enormously unpopular with the CIA.

A relentless investigator and adversary of intelligence agency-sponsored “mind control” activities, Rep. Ryan carried on persistent correspondence with the CIA regarding its MK ULTRA experiments – various “mind control” tests done with drugs and other means to alter human behavior. He fought to find out if such experiments on unwitting or unwilling human beings were still occurring after the agency assured Congress they had stopped in 1963.

In one such letter, dated September 27, 1978, Rep. Ryan asked the agency to confirm or deny that it had experimented on prisoners at the California medical facility at Vacaville. His letter referred to Donald DeFreeze, known as “Cinque,” a Vacaville inmate later to become notorious in the Symbionese Liberation Army’s abduction of Patricia Hearst.

About a week later, on October 5, Jack Anderson’s column headlined the story, possibly leaked from Rep. Ryan’s congressional committee, “CIA May Have Inspired Cinque.” The article describing CIA tests at Vacaville in which DeFreeze claimed he was given mind-control drugs in order to kidnap someone from a rich and powerful family.

In any event, Ryan’s committee was not regarded favorably by the agency. A source once close to Rep. Ryan told Freedom the CIA wanted to get rid of the congressman. He believes that the agency deliberately lured Rep. Ryan into a trap at Jonestown. “He was a real pain” to the agency, the source said, because of his forceful and effective insistence that the agency be accountable for its actions.

On the fact-finding trip to Jonestown on which Ryan was murdered, did he note the massive quantities of psychotropic drugs in Jonestown’s medical clinic? These reportedly included more than 10,000 injectable doses of the powerful psychotic drug Thorazine. What would his report about the settlement have stated? We will never know.

Ted Patrick and Others Exploit the Massacre

After Jonestown, there was no more Leo J. Ryan to oversee CIA covert actions. And to return to the activities of the CFF, “Cult” became a household word synonymous with evil. New life was breathed into the Citizens Freedom Foundation in the world of deprogramming, allowing wholesale criminal acts and violations of constitutional rights by the likes of Ted Patrick, Galen Kelly, Joseph Szimhart, Rick Ross, Steven Hassan and others.

In a press conference in Miami on November 21, 1978, just three days after the killings, Ted Patrick exploited the massacre to incite fear and drum up business, claiming that “cult followers” in the United States numbered more than 50 million – nearly a quarter of the country’s population.

As the violent deprogramming floodgates flew open, money poured into the coffers of deprogrammers and CFF. Patrick and his cohorts were in their heyday.

It didn’t last. By 1986, law enforcement officials and others were beginning to take a new interest in the criminal nature of deprogramming. CFF rapidly changed its name to Cult Awareness Network that year to distance itself from its violent past and to further brand the American consciousness with the word “cult.”

In the years following Jonestown, CFF and later CAN, particularly under Cynthia Kisser, in pursuit of their own profits further forwarded the “brainwashing” falsehood promulgated by Louis West and Margaret Singer.

The Cult Awareness Network even paraded witnesses to make their point – false witnesses as it turned out.

Garry Lynn Scarff stated under oath that he had been used for years by the Cult Awareness Network to lie about Jonestown and the People’s Temple. Although he had never been a member of the People’s Temple, he wove an elaborate tapestry of falsehoods about his alleged involvement for audiences at CAN conventions – and for the news media.

In his words, “Eventually, my embellished story group to the extent that I had fathered a son in San Francisco by my girlfriend who was a member of the People’s Temple and that my girlfriend had taken my son to the People’s Temple in Guyana; that my father was a member of, and lived at, the People’s Temple in Guyana; the Jim Jones had forced me to orally copulate his penis in front of the People’s Temple congregation in San Francisco; that I had appeared in a pornographic movie; that Jim Jones and I attended Fidel Castro’s birthday party in Cuba; that my ‘son,’ my son’s mother and my father were subsequently murdered during the Jonestown massacre; and many other blatant lies.”

According to Scarff, CAN members and deprogrammers, including Adrian and Anne Greek, Bob Brandyberry and Kent Burtner, “praised me for my performance, even though they knew that my stories were totally false and have actually been concocted with their advice and encouragement.… The Greeks, Brandyberry, Burtner and I had a good laugh about how the story caused so many persons in the audience to cry.”

Murders, Not Suicides

So, behind all this smokescreen, what is the truth about Jonestown?

The Guyanese government’s top pathologist, who was also the first doctor to Jonestown after the tragedy, concluded that the overwhelming majority of the deaths were murders, not suicides. Dr. C. Leslie Mootoo, then chief medical examiner of Guyana, examined the bodies of many victims and determined that some of them had died from cyanide injections in portions of their bodies they could not have reached themselves.

In an interview with Freedom, Dr. Mootoo said he determined that at least 187 had died from injections. There may have been and probably were more deaths by injection. In his words, after 32 nonstop hours of work under arduous conditions, “we gave up.” Forensic assistance reportedly promised from the United States never arrived. Those individuals may have been injected against their will, he said, an added, “Those who were injecting them knew what they were doing.”

Despite such evidence, despite the finding of a Guyanese jury that virtually all of the people and Jonestown had been murdered, the Cult Awareness Network continues to spread false tales of “mass suicide” at Jonestown.

One survivor of Jonestown, who spent the night of the mass murder hiding some five miles away at the airstrip where Rep. Ryan was slain, said that there was so much gunfire coming from the Jonestown settlement that it sounded like a war was going on. So much for CAN’s “mass suicide” story.

San Francisco attorney Robert Brocklemen, representing two families of Jonestown survivors, stated that his clients had heard gunfire “all night and for several days” after the massacre. Brocklemen said that a corner on the scene had confirmed dozens upon dozens of the bodies had gunshot wounds.

Skip Roberts, Guyana’s assistant commissioner of crime, alluded to reports of gunfire when he told author Alan W. McCoy that he had been “very nervous that when the bodies were sent back to the U. S. It might turn out that five hundred were shot…” [Alan W. McCoy, The Guyana Murders, (San Francisco: Highland House, 1988), page 20] Roberts also told McCoy that his men had been reluctant to examine the cause a suspicious bloodstains due to the “very offensive” condition of the bodies, which had putrefied for days in the steaming jungle.

Five-Day Search Finds No More Bodies

According to documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, an extensive five-day search of the surrounding jungle had found no more People’s Temple members, dead or alive.

But suddenly, on the morning of November 24, 500 more bodies turned up. The After-Action Report by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who ran the Jonestown cleanup, clumsily explained that the count changed “because of the bodies being stacked and widely dispersed.”

This begs many questions. Why were the bodies “widely dispersed” if, as CAN promotes, they all voluntarily committed suicide?

How did the bodies get stacked, and who stacked them?

The newspaper reports upon which CAN relies for its propaganda are even more absurd than the After-Action Report. Pronouncements from Army public relations officers claimed the reason the bodies were missed in the original count was that they had been stacked three and four deep. The government PRs, contradicting their own Joint Chiefs of Staff, did not say that the bodies were dispersed, but rather that they were underneath the originally counted bodies.

Dr. Mootoo, the first pathologist to arrive on the scene after the tragedy and the only person to do on-site autopsies, told Freedom no bodies were stacked.

The U. S. Army’s theory the 509 bodies could have been hidden under 405 other bodies was never explained or substantiated. An examination of photos of the bodies taken shortly after the tragedy showed no stacking, although some bodies had apparently been dragged into neat rows by the killers.

It was never explained how people in the throes of cyanide poisoning or shot by bullets could have neatly arranged themselves. Nor, for that matter, was it explained how the victims could have so widely dispersed themselves, when one of the effects of cyanide poisoning is loss of muscular coordination.

While the word “cult” as today come to be synonymous with Jonestown – due to calculated redefinition of the word by Cult Awareness Network propagandists – the People’s Temple was, until Jonestown, viewed as part of mainstream Protestantism.

It was founded in Indianapolis, Indiana, by Jim Jones, an ordained minister of the Disciples of Christ, and moved to Ukiah, California, in 1967, then to San Francisco and, in 1977, to Guyana.

Religious scholar J. Gordon Melton noted, “Jim Jones’ People’s Temple, labeled a ‘cult’ after the deaths in Jonestown, was in fact a congregation within mainline Christianity. It was a full member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) which in turn is a member of the National Council of Churches.

“Liberal Protestants heralded it for its social action program, and during the mid-1970s, several denominations such as the United Methodist Church devoted an entire adult Church school lesson to extolling its virtues.”

CAN has refused to examine the myriad contradictions raised about Jonestown and has generously worked to cloud the issues whenever they are raised by others. Why is CAN hanging onto the “mass suicide” theory? What does it stand to lose if it gives up?

CAN would fall like a house of cards, because its own invented reason for existing would vanish.

Award Shows CAN’s Hypocrisy

A discussion of the Cult Awareness Network and Jonestown would not be complete without mentioning CA’s “Leo J. Ryan Award.”

In a glaring case of Orwellian 1984 Newspeak – and a bitterly ironic betrayal of the late congressman’s memory – the Cult Awareness Network has presented the “Leo J. Ryan Award” to a leading anti-religious hatemonger each year since 1981.

Ryan’s life work was the antithesis of CAN and of those who have received the award bearing his name. As a California state legislator, concerned about conditions in African-American communities following the 1965 Watts riots, he went to Los Angeles incognito and became a substitute teacher in a Watts high school. To look into the state prison system, in 1970 he had himself strip-searched and incarcerated for eight days in the maximum security wing of Folsom state prison to see what life in prisons was really like. As a U.S. Congressman, Ryan led efforts to make the intelligence community, particularly the CIA, accountable for its actions. Throughout his public career, he championed the rights of the individual.

After Ryan’s death, the Cult Awareness Network usurped his name for its award to the person who has done the most to violate the rights of the individual. A sampling of CAN’s award-winning human rights violators:

  • Psychologist Margaret Singer. Debunked by her own professional body, the American Psychological Association, and in the courts, Singer has made a living by peddling her discredited theories to CAN and its deprogrammers.
  • Psychiatrist Louis Jolyon West. West is notorious for his association with CIA experiments involving LSD and other drugs, for his racism, and for his failed but high-priced deprogramming attempt of an English nobleman. Giving the Leo J. Ryan award to West is a bitter irony in light of the congressman’s efforts to expose CIA mind-control activities.
  • Reporter Richard Behar. In the most outrageous instance of CAN’s hypocrisy, CAN presented the award to journalist Behar for a defamatory article on the Church of Scientology. It was a setup from beginning to end: Behar’s sources were CAN referrals, principals or affiliates; he sent out advance copies of the story to his CAN friends; he even made deprogramming referrals to CAN and its sister organization, the American Family Foundation, before he wrote the article. He was CAN’s fair-haired boy who did exactly what CAN expected of him. And once he delivered, CAN gave him the Leo J. Ryan Award, final proof that the article stage as a one-sided smear from the start.
  • CAN’s own Executive Director, Cynthia Kisser. Last year, so many former supporters jumped ship to distance themselves from impending investigations by governmental and law enforcement agencies, CAN could not find anyone to give the award to. So, in a move so lacking in good taste that shocked and offended even CAN members, Kisser presented the award to herself.

(A Scientologist for 44 years and veteran investigative journalist and author, Tom Whittle has received numerous awards for reporting and editorial excellence. His complete collection of writings for this site appear here.)