Government Records Continue to Disappear

Efforts have failed to obtain detailed information about the Joint Humanitarian Task Force (JHTF), an informal group of U.S. military personnel who volunteered for duty to evacuate the bodies in Jonestown following the deaths of 18 November 1978. After filing requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) with about two dozen military agencies – and attempting to trace the operation through the records of commendation medals awarded to Jeff Brailey, one of the JHTF volunteers – the editors of the jonestown report received two documents: a short press release from Dover Air Force Base, Delaware, about the overall evacuation efforts; and a four-page informal critique of the operation from Fort Bliss, Texas.

Substantive records apparently no longer exist. Indeed, as one FOIA caseworker pointed out, the informality and urgency with which the volunteers moved in and out of Guyana may have resulted in a relatively insignificant paper trail, and the evidence of that apparently disappeared years ago.

The Internal Revenue Service has been unable to locate any tax records – including applications for tax exemption – for Peoples Temple or any of its corporate entities.

The editors of the jonestown report asked the agency for all records in its possession related to Peoples Temple Christian Church; Truth Enterprises; the Apostolic Corporation; and TRI Smith Builders, the last three of which were corporate manifestations of the Temple. At the request of the IRS, we later provided the Federal Employee Identification Numbers (EIN) for each entity. Nevertheless, in a letter of 26 October 2002, the agency said, “We have no record of [the] organizations… therefore, we have no documents responsive to your request.”

A similar request to the California State Franchise Tax Board yielded similar results. In a request filed under the state’s Public Record Law, the editors of the jonestown report provided EIN for Peoples Temple and two of its corporate entities.

The agency was able to locate – and release – one application for tax-exemption from the Apostolic Corporation. However, in a letter of 12 November 2002, the tax board said it was not able to provide any documents on Peoples Temple “since the file has been purged of any public information.” A second letter of the same date said that the agency located two corporations using the name Truth Enterprises, but that “due to the extended inactivity [of the corporations], these files have been purged and are no longer available.”