Was there a Peoples Temple hit list?

At its most basic, this question envisions a list of assassination targets drawn up by Jim Jones and/or members of the Jonestown leadership and/or members of the Temple’s Planning Commission in San Francisco, a document that would direct trained and/or sleeper assassins to act upon, should injury or death befall Jones. And if that is the question, the answer is a definitive “No.”

Rumors of a Temple hit squad began circulating even before the first bodies were removed from Jonestown. Hearing that the Temple would go after political figures, the FBI and Secret Service increased protection for current and past presidents and vice-presidents, and members of Congress. California authorities added security for then-Governor Jerry Brown and former governor (and future president) Ronald Reagan. The rumors also seemed gain credence in the hours immediately following the assassinations of San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk. The rumors were all false.

There were lists, to be sure, but not the kind people were thinking of. FBI and State Department officials interviewed Jonestown survivors before they left Guyana and after their arrival in the U.S., and asked each of them who they thought represented a danger. The result was a potpourri of names, including Temple loyalists but also listing defectors, Temple members in police custody, young teenagers, and dead people. To put it bluntly, if you were alive (with some exceptions), if you were male (with some exceptions), and if you were under 50 (with some exceptions), you were on someone’s list.

Back in the States, San Francisco Examiner reporter James A. Finefrock was assigned to investigate the rumors as part of his coverage of the Jonestown tragedy as it affected San Francisco. As the lead of his article of December 6, 1978 says, “Investigators admit the Peoples Temple “hit list” is based on rumor, speculation and outdated information. Some other law enforcement officials call the list a joke.

“No documents – not one shred of paper – have been found so far to substantiate the hit lists, investigators [with the District Attorney’s office] said,” the story added. “The lists are based solely on word of mouth, sometimes from only one source, and often from persons who have not been associated with the temple for years.”

Thirty-six years later, he had not changed his conclusion. In an article published on  the Zocalo website on September 11, 2014, he wrote that the hit squads alleged to have been involved in the City Hall assassinations “turned out to be the fevered imaginings of conspiracy theorists, temple defectors, and investigators.… No Peoples Temple hit squads ever terrorized San Francisco.”

Originally posted on March 1st, 2019.

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