FBI Releases Peoples Temple Records under Freedom of Information Act

Almost eight years after being filed, a Freedom of Information lawsuit seeking access to all FBI files on Peoples Temple and Jonestown has finally borne some fruit. The lawsuit, brought by Fielding M. McGehee III and Rebecca Moore – the managers of this website and editors of the jonestown report – followed the FBI’s inability or unwillingness to review numerous FOIA requests made in the late 1990s.

Earlier this year, the FBI released all of the Peoples Temple documents it collected in the aftermath of the deaths in Jonestown, without deletions or withheld pages. The release affects about 35,000 pages, although fewer than ten percent of the pages previously released had included deleted material or were withheld in their entirety.

The release did not represent a victory for the plaintiffs on the claims of the suit, such as that the privacy and national security exemptions cited by the FBI on records that are more than 30 years old should no longer apply. Rather, McGehee and Moore learned that Temple Receiver Robert Fabian had turned over a complete, unexpurgated set of these records to the California Historical Society in 1983 when he completed his investigation of Temple assets. Records which have been previously made public – even if, as in this case, the FBI did not release the documents itself – cannot be withheld from other requesters.

The release only affects Temple-generated documents which the FBI collected and indexed. It does not include the documents – code-named RYMUR, or Ryan Murder – generated by the FBI and other federal agencies into the investigation of Rep. Leo Ryan’s death and the Jonestown survivors who were suspected of culpability. Of the approximately 10,000 pages of that investigation, a substantially higher percentage of pages are affected by blackouts or complete denials. The court has yet to rule on any of plaintiffs’ claims for complete access to these records.

The documents which were released earlier this year may be found here. Inventories of the documents, prepared by this website, may be found here for PT Sections A-1 through C-2; here for sections C-2 (continued) through FF-3; and here Sections FF-4 through SS-1. A rough index – prepared by the FBI in 1979 – defining sections A-1 through Y appears here (the second half of the FBI Guyana index will be up soon).

The inventories are a bit cumbersome and contain some inaccuracies on specific page numbers. Both defects stem for them fact that the inventories were based upon an earlier release of the Temple documents and have not yet been updated to reflect the new release. Anyone interested in navigating these records should contact this website for further assistance.

The managers of this site thank Don Beck for posting the documents in their entirety on the web.