Peoples Temple in the News (2006)

The following is a summary of news stories from late 2005 through October 2006 related to Peoples Temple and Jonestown.

• The pursuit of fundamentalist Mormon and polygamist Warren Jeffs to his heavily-guarded compound in Texas – and his eventual arrest in late summer 2006 – evoked numerous comparisons in the national media to Jim Jones and Jonestown. The stories include:

FLDS: Town reaches uneasy peace with polygamist sect
by Karen Brooks, The Dallas Morning News, June 15, 2006

New film by ex-wife takes aim at FLDS
by Ben Winslow, Deseret Morning News, August 27, 2006

California State Senator Jackie Speier

• California State Senator Jackie Speier has lost her bid for the Democratic nomination for the office of Lieutenant Governor. Ms. Speier, who is completing her final term as a Democratic State Senator representing Burlingame south of San Francisco, was defeated in the June primary by State Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi.

Sen. Speier came to national attention during the Jonestown tragedy of November 1978. As a legislative assistant to Rep. Leo Ryan who accompanied the congressman on his trip to Guyana, she was severely wounded at the Port Kaituma airstrip during the attack which killed Ryan and four others on November 18.

Ms. Speier included that experience in her campaign material. The introduction to her campaign site opened with these words:

“In 1978, I dared to survive what should have been a fatal shooting. While on a congressional fact finding mission in Guyana, our party was ambushed by followers of the Reverend Jim Jones. I was left for dead and spent 22 hours on the tarmac waiting for help to arrive. It is this defining moment that helped me fully appreciate the importance of fighting… fighting for what you believe in and the essential importance of never giving up, no matter what the odds against you. It taught me that we all must strive to make a difference.”

Similarly, the Democratic state senator opened her campaign biography with these words:

“Senator Jackie Speier’s legacy as a policy-maker and public servant in California for over 25 years is one of leadership, passion and courage. Her remarkable commitment to public service was forged in tragedy 25 years ago on a remote airstrip in Guyana and continues through today in her dual role as a State Senator and recently named Assistant President Pro-Tem of the California Senate.

“Jackie’s story and her ferocious commitment to public service truly began that day in Guyana in 1978. As a young congressional staff person she nearly lost her life in an attempt to uncover facts regarding the Reverend Jim Jones and his People’s Temple followers. Over 900 people died that fateful day including Congressman Leo Ryan. Jackie was shot five times and left to die. As she has said many times, those 22 hours of waiting for help to arrive, alone on the tarmac molded her philosophy, her zest for work and life, and allowed her to see that no one is guaranteed a tomorrow. It is this extraordinary event that has shaped her legislative agenda and overcome special interest forces in order to steer a course of progress on behalf of all Californians.”

Sen. Speier will leave the State Senate due to term limits, although her website’s thank you note to campaign workers vowed that “it’s not my last campaign.… [W]hen my term in the State Senate expires, I will look for new opportunities to serve the great people of California.”

News stories from the campaign during which the issue of Jonestown was raised include:

Empowering women
by Linda Davis, Contra Costa Times, March 7, 2006

Speier Visits Waverly St.
Asian Week, San Francisco, March 3, 2006

In guv’s race, no one wants to be a politician
by John Wildermuth, San Francisco Chronicle, March 31, 2006

State Sen. Speier to keynote Commencement
San Francisco State News, April 12 2006

Jackie Speier, Candidate For Lt. Governor, Faced Many Hardships
KCRA News, Sacramento, May 17, 2006

Bay Area Sikh Community hosts fundraiser for Democratic Lt. Governor Candidate
The Panthic News, May 21, 2006

Grads encouraged to better society, humankind
San Francisco State News, May 27, 2006

Candidates line up to run for California lieutenant governor
by Tom Chorneau, San Francisco Chronicle, May 28, 2006

Adversity won’t keep Speier down
by Patty Fisher San Jose Mercury News, June 14, 2006

• In December 2005, Eddie Mills, the son of Al and Jeannie Mills, was detained by California police in connection with the murder of his parents and sister Daphene almost 26 years earlier. A few days later, the prosecutor in the case declined to press charges, and Eddie was released. He has since returned to Japan where he lives with his wife and two children.

Al and Jeannie Mills – who were known as Elmer and Deanna Mertle during their years in Peoples Temple – left the church in 1974 and became two of its most vocal critics. They founded the Human Freedom Center as a refuge for other Temple defectors and were active in the Concerned Relatives organization which was founded to focus media, political, and government pressure on Jim Jones. Because of their defections and their high-profile campaigns against him, Jones often lashed out at the Mills, calling them traitors and threatening retribution against them.

The three members of the Mills family were shot in their Berkeley home in February 1980, more than a year after the deaths in Jonestown. Nevertheless, their murders raised the fear that Temple “hit squads” – ex-members who would supposedly avenge the deaths in the Jonestown community against its perceived enemies – had become active. Those rumors dissipated when the police turned their attention to Eddie as a suspect.

The initial investigation was eventually shelved, but early in 2005, the police re-focused their attention on Eddie, who was 17 at the time and who was in the house when the shootings occurred. He was left unharmed. According to several surviving members of the Mills family, the police asked them to turn over any evidence they may have of Eddie’s involvement. Family members answered police questions, but – since they maintained their belief in Eddie’s innocence – felt there was no evidence to turn over to officials.

The reason for the renewed “cold case” investigation was unknown, since apparently no new evidence was uncovered, nor have advances in forensics technology assisted in reviewing existing evidence.

Nevertheless, Eddie was arrested at the San Francisco airport on December 3 upon his return to the U.S. for the first time in several years. He spent several days in the Redwood City jail before being transferred to the East Bay. On December 8, the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office declined to file charges, citing a lack of evidence, and Eddie was released.

Coverage of Eddie’s arrest is here. A story about the police officer who pursued the case – and who focused his attention on Eddie – is here.

For earlier news stories of the Mills’ 1980 murders, see The Mae Brussell Website.

In addition to news articles, Jonestown and Peoples Temple is often mentioned in the mainstream media both as cultural icons and in serious considerations of religious issues.

1. News about Jonestown generally

San Francisco Examiner archives to Cal; 5 million items biggest donation ever to UC Berkeley library
by Rick DelVecchio, Chronicle Staff Writer, April 5, 2006

Los Angeles Times promotes “cult apologist” recommended by Scientology
A news perspective with analysis from cult expert Rick Ross, April 13, 2006

2. Jonestown in cultural references

Mises on Everything
by C.J. Mahoney, Ludwig von Mises Institute – Auburn, Alabama, 7 December 05

Conspiracy book is filled with the usual suspects and some unusual ones
by Lisa Tolin, Winston-Salem Journal, December 29, 2005

Beware of Cyberstalkers
by Clint Van Zandt, MSNBC, February 6, 2006

Pimping Suicide, Pimping Jesus
by Rob Kall, OpEd News, March 27, 2006

In Defense of Christ and True Christianity
by Anthony Wade, OpEd News, March 27, 2006

Art gets ready for the end of the world
by Richard Dorment, The Telegraph (Britain), April 8, 2006

Hurry Up, Rapture
by Number Six, Watching the Watchers, April 16, 2006

Operation Apocalypse:  “888” Results
by Captain Eric H. May, Al-Jazeerah, August 11, 2006

3. Citing Jonestown in serious articles

Tantalizing Clues to Alcoholism in Suicide Bombers
by Doug Thorburn,, August 2005

Remembering the 60’s: Same issues, different times
by Carol Wolman, OpEdNews, December 3, 2005

Loose Cult Talk: There just might be a better way to solve theological disputes
Editorial, Christianity Today, March 15, 2006

Islam and Co-existence
by Habib Siddiqui, Media Monitors Network, March 13, 2006

How I Found My Buddhist Path …along the Infinite Corridor
by Jim Rosen, MIT Technology Review, Mar/Apr 2006

Irrational Iran: Like Saddam, Iranian leaders have wholeheartedly embraced terror as a weapon of foreign policy
by Hugh Hewitt, World, April 22, 2006

Prominent Evangelical Succumbs To Community Racket
by Frederick Meekins, American Daily, April 25, 2006

Bush’s Lost Chance
by Eleanor Clift, Newsweek, May 19, 2006

Mass Conversion: Dynasty cult Suicide
by Premendra Agrawal,, 16 October 2006

Finally, Casey McKinney reviewed Never Drank the Kool-Aid, a book of essays by writer Touré.

4. Guyanese perspectives

Foreign Trade Minister calls on PNCR to disclose all on Jonestown tragedy
Religion News Blog, reprinted from GINA (Guyana Information Agency), November 22, 2004

An Analysis of Jonestown
by Neal Osherow, August 25, 2006