Many conspiracy theories about what “really” happened at Jonestown have emerged since 18 November 1978. This article examines the role of the Green Berets in the deaths in Jonestown as asserted by the conspiracy theorist John Judge in 1985.
Conspiracy theories often have a life of their own, independent of and in many cases despite of, any supporting evidence. In some sense, they are like Plato’s allegory of the Cave. As in the allegory, some things remain hidden despite the projected shadows dancing on the cave walls. Without seeing what is behind or outside the cave, one may never know what is real. We are left chasing the pallid shadows within the cave allowing only conjecture as to the validity of our perceptions. The evidence in front of us can only explain so much and that which is behind us that remains, or so it seems, eternally out of sight. Sometimes, we need only turn around, or in this case, look at the evidence.
In such a vacuum of evidence – or where little evidence exists – conspiracy theories (and not “theories” in the scientific sense of the word) easily give way to the splenetic imaginations of conspiracy theorists. Their unsupportable claims are emboldened by a trickle of facts that tend to stretch the scope of any known detail and eagerly suggest nefarious alternatives to any “official” story. These theorists run amok with assertions and claims that generally go unchallenged and unchecked, especially those found on the Internet. In recent years, the Internet has become the repository for all things conspiracy from JFK to 9/11. If it had happened within recent memory, one can only imagine the hundred-fold increase in websites dedicated to the conspiracies of the Lincoln assassination – and “yes,” a few already exist. It is the conspiracies that may have a wild assertion or claim to fill a gap in the official historical record that sometimes turn out to be right. These, nonetheless, are rare. Therefore, any treatment suggesting an alternate history should not be dismissed out of hand, but instead reviewed and researched. Wild accusations are not necessarily untrue, only unexpected and improbable. Improbability, however, is not impossibility. Jonestown is no exception to this treatment.
The Black Hole of Guyana: the new truth about Jonestown?
In 1985, Jonestown researcher and theorist, John Judge, rhetorically asks in the preface to his work on Peoples Temple “If the discrepancy between the truth of Jonestown and the official version can be so great, what other lies have we been told about major events?” Judge’s piece, The Black Hole of Guyana: the Untold Story of the Jonestown Massacre, not only challenges the official story of Jonestown, it seemingly demolishes it. By amassing over 290 citations to back his claims – with many listing multiple sources for the same detail – Judge has done something amazing. He has rewritten history… or has he?
First, to be fair, The Black Hole of Guyana was written in 1985 – well before the Internet – and it does not appear to have been updated since it was originally penned; however, the text is still available online despite the research community accumulating years of evidence in the interim. Given the amount information currently available online, in books, and the number of witness available who are willing to speak on the matter, it is rather odd that an update has not been forthcoming. In tackling Judge’s points, modern research could have been more fruitful than imaginable. One could only imagine what could be discovered if the depths of Judge’s case were made today with the vast resources available. For example, the FBI has released a second, albeit redacted, round of documents that were not available in 1985. Moreover, there have been numerous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) releases by the Air Force and the Army since Judge’s work was written thanks to researchers pressing on with the endless quest for answers regarding all things Jonestown. Their FOIA requests have not been in vain, as each has filled a gap in historical record and it is this information that help place The Black Hole of Guyana in context with what is known, and what is clearly inadmissible speculation.
John Judge, nevertheless, has too many assertions in his online tome to challenge all of them without writing a volume as thick as Homer’s Odyssey. This may be seen as fault or even a purposeful evasion of the bulk of the work. This point is duly noted. The position of this piece is not to dismiss all of the work presented by John Judge, but instead place in context the part for which this researcher is most familiar. Judge, like most conspiracy theorists studying Jonestown, finds fault with the CIA, the FBI, the military and numerous other governmental organizations and not those ultimately responsible. This is too wide a net to cast to address adequately in a few pages. For this reason, this piece shall focus solely on the role of the Green Berets that have been implicated, even if obliquely, in the deaths of those in Jonestown.
Green Berets in Jonestown
Judge asserts that the Green Berets were in Guyana and that they had a hand in the murders of over 900 Americans, however, he is careful not to claim directly that they killed anyone. In fact, Judge only makes the suggestion that the Green Berets were there – in or around Jonestown – at the time of the suicides, hiding in the Jungle, and that the death count increased due to their presence. It is up to the reader to connect the dots. Here is what Judge has to say about the Army’s elite Green Berets.
It seemed the first reports were true, 400 had died, and 700 had fled to the jungle. The American authorities claimed to have searched for people who had escaped, but found no evidence of any in the surrounding area. At least a hundred Guyanese troops were among the first to arrive, and they were ordered to search the jungle for survivors. In the area, at the same time, British Black Watch troops were on “training exercises,” with nearly 600 of their best-trained commandos. Soon, American Green Berets were on site as well. The presence of these soldiers, specially trained in covert killing operations, may explain the increasing numbers of bodies that appeared.
Most of the photographs show the bodies in neat rows, face down. There are few exceptions. Close shots indicate drag marks, as though the bodies were positioned by someone after death. Is it possible that the 700 who fled were rounded up by these troops, brought back to Jonestown and added to the body count?
Reading the text above, one might suppose that the Green Berets appeared “soon” after people started dying in Jonestown. The source cited by Judge for this is the book White Night by John Peer Nugent that states “By Monday morning, November 20, more than 300 U.S. military people were on the ground in Guyana.” The number reported here is untrue if only because by the 20th, there were too few personnel on the ground. The important detail here is that Nugent does not claim that any of these troops were Green Berets, Air Force personnel or even Boy Scouts. He simply does not say who they were.
No mystery airlifts
What is known is that that the Air Force and Army personnel airlifted by the 437th Military Airlift Wing, including eight members of the 31st Aero-medical Evacuation Team in addition to one Navy pathologist, arrived as early as the 19th. The first such flight took off on 19 November at 0805Z or 3am local time. The medical team and several teams of Air Force Combat Controllers (CCT) were there to pick up and treat the victims of the Port Kaituma shootings and secure the aircraft returning with the injured and the medical crews. A second mission on 20 November was sent to establish communications and pick up the dead, including the body of Congressman Leo J. Ryan and the reporters killed at Port Kaituma. By this point, only rumors swirled around Guyana about the possible mass suicides in Jonestown and there is no mention of troops in the remote enclave. The record also shows that there are no massive airlifts reported capable of transferring Green Berets undetected. Every flight has been accounted for during the operation.
The role of the Special Forces deployed to Jonestown
There were American Special Forces deployed to Jonestown, but not for the mission Judge would have us imagine. The only Special Forces deployed to Guyana were the 6 CCT members of the 437th ALCE (Air Lift Control Element) who were in Guyana between 20 November and 27 November. These were the Air Force CombatControllers whose job it was to provide aircraft communications (think air traffic controllers) and aircraft security. In fact, the count for Air Force personnel finally reached 69 officers and 297 enlisted by November 24 and thereby exceeding the 300 count attributed by Judge and Nugent to be on the ground by the 20th. Those groups arriving after the 20th consisted of the four Air Force 437th Security Police that arrived on the 23 of November and of course, the Army’s Graves Registration units.
Fluctuating numbers, but no Green Berets
The number of American military personnel in Guyana fluctuated from day-to-day as the airlift flights entered and left Guyana during the height of the recovery operation. During this period, no Green Berets are ever reported by personnel on the ground. In addition, with the press swarming the sites in Guyana before the State Department could get a handle on the situation, no one mentions these troops. There are no photos at the main airport or at the Port Kaituma airport showing Green Berets or any evidence of their presence. Neither the Guyanese forces entering Jonestown, nor the survivors that literally walked out of Jonestown (Tim Carter, Mike Carter, Odell Rhodes, Mike Prokes, Hyacinth Thrash to name a few) make any mention of the Green Berets purportedly conducting “covert killing operations” outside of Jonestown. Such an oversight by the people on the ground in Guyana and by the rest of the world seems astonishing. How could an army post enough men to corral over 700 people hiding in the jungle and then slaughter them in a neat orderly fashion? Since only three victims in Jonestown had gunshot wounds, Judge also does not explain how the covert killers may have operated. With their mission complete, and as if by magic, the men whose number would have to be in the hundreds, simply disappeared without a trace. It begs the question “How did one lone researcher find out something the rest of the outside world did not?” Such a claim, if determined to be true, would bring down a government. Surely, at least one reliable witness must exist. But, where are they?
The phantom troops of the Green Berets – examining the “evidence”
To bolster his case, Judge states, “Close shots [photographs] indicate drag marks, as though the bodies were positioned by someone after death” because the bodies were lined up in “neat rows.” As a consequence, he rhetorically asks, “Is it possible that the 700 who fled were rounded up by these troops, brought back to Jonestown and added to the body count?” The euphemism of being “rounded up” and “added to the body count” barely masks what it implies – murder. The correct answer to such a non-sequitur is a resounding “no.” First, no American soldiers have been placed at the scene. Second, “drag marks” do not indicate the presence of soldiers; let alone no such marks would denote what patch the perpetrators might have been wearing, if any. Third, how does Judge suppose these phantom troops would have done their dastardly deed? He does not tell us except to say that they are trained in “covert killing.” But what does that mean? To buttress his claim that there were Green Berets on the ground in Guyana Judge cites the presence of Charles Edward Beikman.
Charles Beikman – loyal member, but not a Green Beret
Beikman, a Jones devotee, was staying in Georgetown, the Guyanese capital when the suicides and murders in Jonestown began. Judge points out that Beikman was “…a Green Beret who was to stay with [Jones] to the end.” This is an odd claim especially since the source cited, pages 181-2 of The Suicide Cult by Marshall Kilduff and Ron Javers, makes no such mention of the Green Berets. Kilduff and Javers’ work only mentions that Charles Beikman was arrested by Guyanese security for the attempted murder of a “twelve-year old girl” in Georgetown. In fact, Beikman was never a Green Beret, and even if he was a Green Beret at the time, he was never in Jonestown during the murders. Sadly, Charles Beikman was another one Jim Jones’ pawns. He was loyal, trusting to a fault, and he may not have understood the ramifications of his actions at the time. Stephen Jones describes Beikman as a “simple man” which underscores this point. He may have been illiterate and undereducated, but he was a good man in a bad position and used for the twisted principles of others including Sharon Amos, the Temple member in Georgetown who ritualistically cut the throats of her own children. Beikman would never have made it into the Green Berets and the evidence supports this. At this point, one may be tempted to make a comparison to Forrest Gump – the big-hearted simpleton who stumbles through life only to win a Purple Heart in the Army during Vietnam – except Beikman never joined any armed service and unlike Gump, he had blood on his hands. It therefore follows that if Beikman were a Green Beret, a professional soldier trained in covert killing, then he was a miserable failure. He not only failed to kill a little girl, he was caught and spent time in jail for his crime. It is far more likely that he was an unfortunate fellow in the wrong place at the wrong time. This makes him a victim, not a killer.
No evidence of Green Berets presence
In January of 2012, another Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was processed and this time the target was very specific. The United States Army issued what would amount to the final refutation of the claim that the Green Berets were in Guyana killing Americans. In a direct challenge to Judge’s work, the FIOA question presented to the Army was part of an ongoing effort to determine if any Special Operations Forces (SOF) were in Guyana at any point in 1978, not just in November. The answer again, to no one’s surprise, is “no.” No records exist showing that the U.S. Army Special Operations Command personnel were in Guyana during 1978. A conspiracy theorist may assert that the lack of evidence is a part of the deception and this is a point in their favor. Such a claim is logically fallacious; known as a false dichotomy, the choice is not an “either/or” proposition. Moreover, the position that the Green Berets were in Guyana is a positive claim to which the claimant would be required to provide evidence to which none exists and as has been shown above, none has been provided. On the other hand, proving a negative (that the Green Berets were not in Guyana) is much harder claim to make, yet the documentation above points away from the claim that the Army had troops on the ground in Guyana. We could say that in this case the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. This absence of evidence is painfully apparent in the works cited as proofs by Judge, given that they do not affirm the positions or facts he presents. In each case, like the missing Green Berets, the details that make his case are absent in the source material.
Evidence honors the victims
If there is a constructive side to the works of the conspiracy theorists like Judge, it is that such treatment of the events in Jonestown keeps us engaged. Conspiracies breathe life into the world of information that swarms around the events that intrigue us. There is, however, a cost to allowing these theories to persist. By implicating the US Government as the true villain in Jonestown, the true culprits are allowed to run free – if only metaphorically. The search for a larger bully capable of doing the unthinkable only serves to dishonor the victims. While others may also believe this is an act of the CIA, the FBI or the United States Army’s Green Berets, the reality has been in front of us the entire time and it does not need embellishment. Evidence should always trump belief, but for some, reality is not enough. Why? Conspiracy theorists are continually asking, “Who else could perpetrate the horror seen that November?” This serves no one if the answer is fabricated out of whole cloth. That question, and the resulting theory set forth by Judge in The Black Hole of Guyana, does not honor the victims. It smears their legacy and contorts the truth. Whatever else this piece may be, it is not history. Calling it “historical fiction” may be the only kind label we can apply. The prisoners in Plato’s Cave were not free to look around, seek answers and ask questions without repercussions. Without direct evidence, Plato could only imagine another world outside the cave. John Judge uses the same reasoning to conclude there is something more to Jonestown, although from my standpoint he is only chasing shadows.
(Chris Knight-Griffin is a regular contributor to the jonestown report. His other article in this edition is FOIA Request Update: The United States Army Special Operations Command. His earlier writings appear here. He may be reached at email@example.com.)
http://www.ratical.org/ratville/JFK/JohnJudge/Jonestown.html (also here).