What The Military Didn’t Do:
Debunking One Conspiracy Theory

The U.S. military mission to remove the bodies from Jonestown concluded on November 27, 1978 as the last flight headed to Dover. Even today, though, rumors persist that American Special Forces, or Green Berets, were in the jungle around Jonestown and possibly complicit with the happenings in Guyana that ended the lives of so many Americans. But the rumors of Special Forces hit squads, CIA experiments and KGB involvement in Jonestown are just that – rumors.

Documents released by the CIA are, for a better term, “lacking” in details about Jonestown. However, one declassified document does indicate that the only link to the CIA appears to a cable sent at 9:18pm on November 18 from an unknown location to an unknown location detailing the attack on Congressman Ryan. A Washington Post reporter claimed the cable was shown to him – and him alone – and then taken away. The State Department and the CIA have released no such cable, and if the document does exist, it would indicate only that someone knew the congressman was dead five hours after the attack.

The “Special Forces” reportedly seen in the Guyanese jungle by some may have been of less sinister origins than subsequent speculation or claims. Issued on November 21 at 6:30 Zulu time, a SITREP, or Situation Report, states that as of November 19, the “total number of Guyanese force in the area [of Matthews Ridge] now number 110 men,” then adds, “[t]ravel by government forces [the Guyanese Defense Force] is currently being hindered by heavy rain.” This is the first clue that armed forces were on the ground headed towards Jonestown and would have been seen in the area. The report also stated, “It is believed that many of the cult’s members are currently wandering in the heavy jungle surrounding Jonestown.” With this sentence, we now have a motive for the GDF to go into the jungle around Jonestown – to look for survivors. On the 25th, another SITREP noting the activities of the previous day, the 24th, states,

Guyana Defence Forces and US military continue to search for additional survivors, however; ground patrols, native guides, interviews with farmers near Jonestown, search of rivers and helicopter search using bullhorns have failed to find any survivors, additionally, State [Department] has authorized payment of rewards to Amerindians for finding American citizens.

The use of “ground patrols” by both Guyanese and American military forces to search for survivors explains the armed personnel seen in the jungles around Jonestown. What remains unclear, however, is which units were responsible for the search and rescue operations in and around Jonestown. Nevertheless, what is clear is that the military’s role was not a vast government conspiratorial experiment on the people of Jonestown. Assertions to the contrary do not stand up to a critical analysis of the available evidence. In other words, conjecture and assertion do not make a substantive case and only disparages the work performed in the most trying and underappreciated mission of the decade.

Today, the Jonestown Institute still receives emails inquiring about the Special Forces that parachuted into Jonestown, or Green Berets patrolling the site before, during and after the tragedy. These questions speak to the anti-government element in society that needs a scapegoat capable of such a horrific act. The military is a soft target for such critiques. An analogous event is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Many people believe the CIA or the government was responsible. It is argued that the reason people are attracted to the conspiracy theories around JFKs death is that people refuse to believe that “a nobody” like Lee Harvey Oswald could have killed man who was, by all accounts, larger than life. For JFK to die, there had to be a greater purpose. The same holds true for Jonestown. For so many people to die, they needed to have their life, and premature death, mean something. They had to be the victims of something grand, something hidden, something like: the government needed to quash their socialist utopia before it spread.

None of these theories holds water. The victims of Jonestown were the victims of Jim Jones. The Army and Air Force personnel sent to Guyana were neither complicit in, nor responsible for, any of the deaths in Jonestown. Their mission was humanitarian, and the only conspiracy that exists is in the mind of those who do not wish to accept the truth. In remembering the victims of Jonestown, let us not forget those who brought them home.

(Chris Knight-Griffin is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. His other articles in this year’s edition are The U.S. Military In Guyana: The Untold Story and FOIA Tapes Show U.S. Embassy Knowledge, Confusion During Ryan Trip. His complete collection of articles on this site is here. He may be reached at jonestownresearch@hotmail.com.)