Appendix: West Germany’s Red Army Faction in Jim Jones’ Jonestown news broadcasts

(Heidi König-Porstner is an author and award-winning translator of poetry, who lives in Vienna, Austria. She works as an editor for the Austrian Committee for Social Work, and has been a research worker in projects on Philosophy of Science and Contemporary History at the University of Vienna. Her publications cover the areas philosophy and history of science, literature and science, and political philosophy. As a literary translator, her focus is on Spanish poetry, and on biographical works. She can be reached at

(The main article is here.)

The very last thing one would expect when listening to Jim Jones’ “striking news” from 1978 now, in 2017, is “news.” And yet there is news, and it is striking indeed.

Following the “German Autumn” of 1977, a significant number of (Red Army Faction) RAF members suspected of the murders of Jürgen Ponto, Hanns Martin Schleyer, and Siegfried Buback were still free. The German Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) which conducted the investigation had information that no fewer than eight people might have found sanctuary in Yemen or Nicaragua. The search for them continued for more than a decade, without any result.  It was as if they’d disappeared from the face of the earth.

It wasn’t until 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakdown of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), that the world learned that they’d spent the previous ten years in East Germany – under a new identity, which was scrupulously veiled and protected by the East German Secret Security Service (Stasi). Within two weeks, all eight of them – Susanne Albrecht, Werner Lotze, Monika Helbing, Silke Maier-Witt, Henning Beer, Inge Viett, Sigrid Sternebeck, and Ralf Friedrich – were found, and some, like Albrecht, even presented themselves deliberately. All subsequently stood trial for their roles with the RAF, all were sentenced to prison for between six and thirteen years, and all were released before time.

West Germany was shocked. The GDR had strictly denied contacts with “West German terrorists,” especially during the 1980s, when diplomatic ties between the two Germanys had intensified. Over the course of the years, the BKA had of course sent a whole series of requests, asking their East German colleagues to help investigate, which they supposedly did, but (apparently) without any results.[1]

The danger that one of their new Western guests might be recognized even in the GDR was, by the way, considerable. They had intense training on how to behave like East Germans, and even so, one of them had to change her identity twice. In the meantime, East Germans began to have access to Western TV, and time and again, photographs of the eight fugitive RAF members appeared on the screen.

Nevertheless, the whereabouts of the radical groups’ members was a matter of utmost secrecy, even in the GDR. But surprisingly, this was not so in Jonestown. To judge from Jones’ exhortations, literally everyone must have known about it. In a tape from the spring of 1978,[2] Jones reported:

The most striking news is that the Red Brigade has been supported by the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union is giving funds to help them in their guerilla activities. The Republic of Yemen has offered to give sanctuary to any of them that are captured and let them use Yemen as a base of their operations. East German Democratic Republic, the communist free part of Germany … has offered sanctuary to the Red Brigade, as well as has Yemen.

Moreover, Jones wanted to be sure that Jonestown residents paid attention to the news.  “All will be tested,” he says immediately reporting on the news of the offer of sanctuary. “One and all. Everyone in socialist classes on Friday must give a one-page written test, a write-up of all the news, not just part, but all the news of the week.”

In other words, while the rest of the world remained in the dark about the fugitive RAF members, an enclave of 1000 Americans living in South America was apparently aware.

It is hard to believe that Jim Jones could have had access to information the West German secret service didn’t. It’s also hard to believe that the GDR would reveal its intention to offer sanctuary to the radicals in a news broadcast. The first explanation would be that this must be a mistake. Jones may have genuinely meant the Italian Red Brigade – which had just executed former Italian Prime minister Aldo Moro, a news item Jones had reported a few minutes before – although he often referred to the Red Army Faction as to Germany’s Red Brigade.

Further evidence that Jones was merely mistaken was that the members of the Red Army Faction (and Movement June 2) came to stay in the GDR in 1980, two years after Jones’ broadcast.

More recent revelations have disclosed that negotiations over sanctuary had taken place much earlier than initially thought, that they began in spring 1978, with Harry Dahl, leader of the GDR’s anti-terrorism office. This would have made them shortly about the time Jones reported on the agreement.[3]

What remains unclear, however, is who would have disclosed that kind of information, and to what end.  Fielding McGehee, who transcribed and summarized the tape, mentions wire services from the Soviet Union, Warsaw Pact nations, and Radio Free Cuba as possible sources. There is no independent information of that belief, and certainly the FBI description of the tape is silent on the point.

* * * * *

On June 12, 1978, Jones reported:

Trial in Switzerland for three West German activists of the Red Brigade, the Baader-Meinhof accused for attempted murder. Large number of police were put in the courtroom to such a degree that the defense attorney, appointed by the state in Switzerland, said “I have to in good conscience refuse to defend my client on the grounds that I have no privacy to counsel with them.”[4]

The “Baader Meinhof” trial to which Jones refers is the terrorism trial of Pruntrut, Switzerland, which began June 12, 1978, against Christian Möller and Gabriele Kröcher-Tiedemann, members of Movement June 2. The mistake is not Jones’: In order to evoke the image of a Switzerland massively threatened by German terrorism, Swiss newspapers had referred to them as to “the most dangerous members of Red Army Faction.” As a result, hysteria seriously hampered the trial.

Möller and Kröcher-Tiedemann had been stopped as they had tried to cross the border from France to Switzerland. Kröcher-Tiedeman shot and injured two border officers and – accidentally – also her companion. The police found that they had with them what later turned out to be the ransom money from the 1977 kidnapping of the Austrian industrial Walter Palmers. The charge in Pruntrut was attempted murder.

The proceedings on June 12, the first day, ended quickly, because, as Jones correctly reported, the courtroom was so crowded with policemen that the defense attorney, Hans Zweifel, left in protest less than two hours after the trial had begun. At a press conference he called immediately afterwards, he gave the statement which Jones quoted.

The trial had to be rescheduled. [5]

* * * * *

In early June 1978, Jones reported:

West Germany. The minister of interior [Werner Maihofer] has resigned, because he is not taking strong enough tactics against what the capitalists call the terrorists. Several of the members of the Baader-Meinhof activist Red Brigade have been allowed to escape from Germany, the crackdowns have not found any to arrest, and the leader of the Baader-Meinhof activist Red Brigade in West Germany, fascist Federal Republic of West Germany, escaped the best fortress prison in capitalist Germany. So, the interior minister is taking the brunt. He must resign.[6]

Werner Maihofer indeed had to resign and did so on June 6, 1978, after the disclosure that he’d ordered an (illegal!) bugging of a German citizen’s residence who’d presumably had contacts with terrorists.[7] At the same time, it is unclear to which jailbreak Jones refers. There were several, though no “leader of the Baader-Meinhof”-group ever escaped “the best fortress prison.”

* * * * *

On a tape labelled as having been recorded on August 27, 1978, Jones reported:

West Germany, or should we say, neo-fascist Germany, where every tombstone of every Jewish grave bears a swastika mark, is becoming more and more repressive, but they seem to be unable or incapable of catching the three most wanted members of the Baader-Meinerhof [Meinhof] gang. Today, just a few minutes ago, these three were almost apprehended, as they landed a helicopter in which they were making a trial run, to free more political prisoners. As you know, they’ve had two successful jailbreaks. They managed to elude the police in their Mercedes-Benz car that was waiting [for] them at the landing strip.[8]

Despite the tape’s label, Jones’ description of what happened “today” happened instead on August 6, 1978; it could have been that the tape librarian made a mistake on the date, or that Jones was reading from older news copy. In any event, the helicopter flight sounds like a scene from a Louis de Funés film, and it made German investigators and policemen look like fools. Christian Klar, Willy Peter Stoll, and Adelheid Schulz, the main suspects in the assassinations of German Attorney General Siegfried Buback and German industrial leader Hanns Martin Schleyer, had rented a helicopter to fly over the area between Heidelberg, Frankfurt, and Wiesbaden. While some American authors[9] have claimed that their goal was to prepare an attack against “US imperialism,” it is much more likely that they were planning to free their RAF co-member, Stefan Wisniewski, who was on trial for the kidnapping and murder of Schleyer, and who served time in the prison of  Frankenthal.

It wasn’t their first helicopter trip, but rather their fourth. Klar, Stoll, and Schulz – indeed “the most wanted members” of the group, and whose mug shots were known all over the country – had posed as a film team. The plot of the film they were planning to make – or so they told the pilot – was about freeing a family who’d been kidnapped and imprisoned in a Spanish fortress. On one occasion, they asked if it was possible to land a helicopter in a courtyard exactly the same size as the courtyard of the prison Wisniewski was in. One of the pilots realized that their cameras were not of the kind a professional film team would use. Also, she was sure that one of the two men looked very much like Christian Klar, “Germany’s most wanted terrorist.” She informed the police, and gave them the details of the next flight the “film team” had scheduled. BKA investigators came to observe them. What they saw was Schulz – an elegantly dressed young woman – accompanied by two neatly dressed and very agreeable young men. This was apparently not what they had expected. The three of them parked their Mercedes, and went to have a drink before starting the flight. From a nearby table, the investigators secretly took some pictures. But so improbable it seemed to them that this trio of pleasant young people could be terrorists that they let them enter the helicopter, complete their flight, and return to their Mercedes. Only then they started to follow them – with five cars, and in a rather obvious manner. The “film team” in their Mercedes forced the pace, took a sudden and sharp turn behind a farmhouse, and disappeared.

As to the eventual fates of these RAF members:

  • Adelheid Schulz was charged with the murders of two Dutch custom officers as well as in connection with the murders of Buback, Schleyer, and Ponto, plus several bank robberies. She was released from prison because of poor health, and eventually pardoned.
  • Christian Klar, a former conscientious objector, was released in 2008, after 26 years in jail. He’d been convicted to a life sentence for the murders of nine people, and for robbery. Klar is one of those former RAF members who have never expressed any regret for their deeds (although – in a plea for clemency in 2003 – he expressed regret for the sufferings of the victims and excluded a return to violence). His release – the second to the last of all RAF members – had thus been strongly debated.[10] In 2016, Klar worked as a webmaster for a member of parliament (The Left) and gained some news coverage when applying for a permit that would allow him to move freely in the Parliament’s premises.
  • Willy Peter Stoll was shot by a policeman in 1978.
  • Stefan Wisniewski, sentenced for murder and kidnapping, was released in 1999.

* * * * *

On August 25, 1978, Jones reported:

Red Army attempting the bombing of several US bases in West Germany, USA, charges on the Voice of America moments ago. That’s members of the Red Brigade or the Baader-Meiderhof [Baader-Meinhof] gang, as the capitalists prefer to refer to them.[11]

RAF bombings of US bases in Germany took place in 1972, and again in the 1980s.[12] In 1978, at least to my knowledge, there were no such bombings.

* * * * *

In an extended reading from a tape dated late August 1978, Jones reported:

Attention. Attention. Live mid-day news. Singularly, the most dramatic escape of any prisoner known in the history. A fortress prison – concentration camp – of West Germany, that has housed the Baader-Meinhof group that is known derogatorily, but is really an adjunct of the Red Army of West Germany – fascist West Germany, a puppet of U.S. imperialism. Today, several women – we seem to see a great deal of courage in women who have suffered, who pull off some of the most heroic events in our time – were able to get inside the prison, fooling the guards, and released the major person on trial for the murder of fascist federal attorney general [Siegfried Buback] responsible for all of the (unintelligible word) repressive fascist laws, who was shot down and his guards killed several months ago in West Germany in reprisal for the terror that had been brought upon the working class in the Federal Republic – fascist West Germany – that prides itself as being the inheritor of Hitler’s Third Reich. In spite of their fascist terrorism, they still speak of USA’s manipulation of their puppets by tariff barriers, et cetera. … Nonetheless, this young man who was on trial for his life, for taking this political act of vengeance for the people in the organization of the assassination or execution of this fascist, head attorney general of West Germany, and several others who had been taken hostage, has been successfully released, sprung from that prison. The whole western world is shook up by the success of the operation. One guard, taken in by a lady who knew how to direct her body for revolution, ended up dead with a fingernail file. They had very little equipment that they could get in, but with what little they had, they successfully killed enough guards to get their people free. The leading leader of the Baader-Meinhof group that is an adjunct similar to the Red Army of Japan and the Red Brigade of Germany [Italy], that believes that there’s only one way to bring down capitalist institutions, and that is by violent acts of demonstration wherever possible. No clues to the whereabouts of the fugitive, the individual who had been working actively and bravely in the Red Brigade of the fascist republic, federal republic, of West Germany, a puppet of U.S. imperialism.

The Baader-Meinhof guerrilla activists, similar to the Red Brigade in Italy, who are active in the federal republic fascist West Germany– Always differentiate the two Germanys. Germany was artificially divided at Yalta by U.S. imperialists: East Germany to the communists, and West Germany, a puppet regime of the U.S. imperialists that now prides itself openly in being the inheritor of Hitler’s Nazi fascist Third Reich. Still free is Meyer, Kurt Meyer, the head of the Baader-Meinhof guerrilla activist group, the Red Army– or Red Brigade, so to speak, of West Germany. Two women, bravely posing as legal counselors, pulled off a breaking into what it was called “fortress garrison” of West Germany to free the most wanted person in all of fascist Germany. He had been able to successfully lead the killing of an attorney general [Siegfried Buback] who had been taking reactionary reprisals against the people – the dissidents – of West Germany, as well as a judge and several of other government officials and businessmen. They fled in a truck and, in spite of all-out searches and even almost martial law conditions in West Germany, at this hour, he has still not been located. These women were trained not to be passive females, but to know how to handle even a fingernail file, as they killed one security guard. The entire operation was conducted by women of the Red Brigade of the Baader-Meinhof gang – as the capitalists call them but is known as the Baader-Meinhof because those two brave leaders [Andreas Bernd Baader and Ulrike Marie Meinhof] devoted their life to a sort of utopian communist anarchism. At least they believe in the breakdown of all fascist institutions, and they have been friendly to a communist solution, though they’re not openly allied with the Soviet bloc. Rumor has it, at least through BBC – and it’s never been denied by the Warsaw Pact – that their funding is channeled through the Republic of Yemen and Czechoslovakia, as well as East Germany, which is a communist modern state.[13]

Jones presents two slightly different versions of the story in one and the same tape; and apparently, two different stories are mixed up here:

  • Till Meyer (not “Kurt”) had indeed been able to escape from prison. He wasn’t on trial for the murder of Siegfried Buback (who’d been murdered by a RAF command in 1977), but of Günther von Drenkmann, president of the Berlin High Court of Justice. As Jones reports correctly, this murder had been a “political act of vengeance”: One day earlier, RAF member Holger Meins had died in prison after more than two months of hunger strike in protest against imprisonment conditions. Sympathizers interpreted his death as murder, and a series of spontaneous demonstrations took place in several German towns. In the late evening, members of Movement June 2 went to Drenkmann’s house and hid in the garden. Drenkmann was celebrating his 64th birthday; when he opened the door to a delivery man, he was shot three times, and died in the hospital. Movement 2nd June had declared themselves to be responsible for this “vengeance,” and been on trial. However, Drenkmann’s murderers – like Buback’s – could never be found.

Günther von Drenkmann is one sad example for that leftist violence was not exclusively reserved for representatives of the “Auschwitz generation.” Drenkmann had been one of very few lawyers who’d refused to join Hitler’s NSDAP, which had made it impossible for him to pursue his profession during the Nazi period. A Social Democrat in postwar Germany, he’d been in charge of procedures of recompensation.

As regards the “two women, bravely posing as legal counselors”: Instead of fingernail files, the women pretending indeed to be legal counselors had carried machine guns under their coats. Since they had not even been asked to take those coats off, it can be concluded that the prison in question was not precisely a “fortress garrison.” The jailbreak, however, could not have been organized without very detailed information regarding both the location and the inmates.

As to their alleged client, the women had not named Till Meyer, but chosen the name of a prisoner who’d committed a minor crime. On their way to this man, they had to pass the room where Meyer used to be brought for seeing his lawyer, who’d been appointed for some time earlier that day. The women shot two guards who were severely wounded, and could indeed flee in a truck.

  • It is possible that the “fingernail file” refers to another jailbreak that had happened two years earlier, in the summer of 1976. Four women – all of them in for terrorism – fled from a Berlin prison. The only “arms” they had were bedsprings, and pipes which they had taken from the toilets in their cells. The use of a fingernail file, however, is not reported.


[1] Ein deutscher Alptraum, DIE ZEIT, 3. Mai 1991. (accessed October 2017)

[2] Q 753 was labelled as having been recorded on April 19, 1977, and there is a direct reference to the day being an anniversary of the Bay of Pigs invasion of April 19, 1961. However, the tape has numerous segments to it, and the fourth includes news on the execution of Italian Prime minister Aldo Moro, so portions of it had to have been recorded after May 9, 1978.

[3] Jens Bauszus: „Die RAF-Stasi-Connection.“ In: Focus, 8. Mai 2007.

[4] Transcript Q207.

[5] Dominique Grisard, Ein Terroristenprozess als Medienereignis: die Konstruktion von Nation in der Schweizer Presse in den späten 1970er-Jahren. In: Traverse/ Zeitschrift für Geschichte = Revue d’histoire, 13 (2006).

[6] Transcript, Q207.

[7] Peter Janke, Terrorism and Democracy. Some Contemporary Cases. Springer 1992. p. 126.

[8] Transcript Q241.

[9] Richard Clutterbuck, The Future of Political Violence: Destabilization, Disorder and Terrorism, Springer 1986, p. 148.

[10] (accessed October 2017)

[11] Transcript Q399.

[12] See main article.

[13] Transcript, Q437.