Peoples Temple in San Francisco

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Award dinner at the San Francisco Peoples Temple

The Peoples Temple, the organization at the center of the Jonestown incident, was headquartered in San Francisco, California, from the early to mid-1970s until the Temple's move to Guyana.

While the Temple originated in Indiana in the 1950s, after leader Jim Jones predicted an apocalypse that would create a socialist Eden on earth, it moved to Redwood Valley, California in the late 1960s. Its headquarters later moved into San Francisco, where Jones remained until July 1977, when Jones fled with almost 1,000 Temple members to Jonestown, Guyana following investigations by local media.

Peoples Temple background[edit]

Peoples Temple in San Francisco is located in California
Los Angeles
Los Angeles
San Francisco
San Francisco
Ukiah
Ukiah
Bakersfield
Bakersfield
Fresno
Fresno
Sacramento
Sacramento
Santa Rosa
Santa Rosa
Some of the Peoples Temple's California Locations
Main articles: Peoples Temple and Jim Jones

The Peoples Temple was an organization founded in 1955 by Reverend James Warren Jones (Jim Jones) that, by the mid-1970s, possessed over a dozen locations in California, including in San Francisco and Los Angeles.[1][2]

San Francisco start[edit]

When the Peoples Temple expanded its operations into the Bay Area in the 1970s, its staff concentrated on advertising the Temple's bus caravans to attract new converts, including handing out free trinkets.[3] While in 1972, the Temple was still calling its Redwood Valley facility the "mother church" of a statewide movement, moving the seat of power to an urban area seemed a strategic necessity.[4] It had held services in San Francisco and Los Angeles since 1970.[5]

Building on Geary Blvd after 1906 earthquake

In 1971, the Temple established a permanent facility in an old San Francisco building that used to be the Albert Pike Memorial Scottish Rite temple on 1859 Geary Boulevard[6] in San Francisco's Western Addition, and followed in 1972 with a facility in Los Angeles.[4] The Temple purchased the Geary Boulevard building for $122,500 in 1972.[7] The San Francisco building was damaged in the 1989 earthquake and has since been demolished and the location turned into a post office.[8] While the Los Angeles branch started with a larger mostly African-American membership, the Temple later enticed hundreds of devoted Los Angeles members to move north to San Francisco to attend that facility.[4]

By August 1975, Jones had completely abandoned prior plans to make Redwood Valley an internal "promised land."[9] The reversal of the direction of Temple efforts from rural areas back into urban areas, where it had focused when located in Indiana, was complete.[9] San Francisco was a more realistic political fit and permitted the Temple to show its political stripes.[9]

Problematic for the Temple was that Jones' "healing" ceremonies in San Francisco also drew some religious conservatives who were less likely to join a socialist organization.[4] Because of that and the Temple's constant fear of conspiracies attempting to destroy "the most promising hope for world socialism", new members were carefully screened.[4] Entrants to the San Francisco facility were not permitted free access to the inner areas of the buildings. Rather, they were greeted by an amicable covert interrogation party that sized up visitors, with "suspicious" figures told to wait indefinitely in the lobby.[10] The Temple assigned admitted attendees an "interpreter" of sorts to watch their reactions to the meetings and "explain" Jones' statements.[10] If the attendee seemed non-objectionable, a five-week period of observation began, which usually involved sifting through the attendees' trash by the third or fourth week.[10]

San Francisco Temple life[edit]

In the mid-1970s, as the Temple shifted to cities, communes became an important means of tightening controls and improving finances.[11] Temple members in San Francisco were urged to live a communal lifestyle.[12] Members elevated to the Temple's central governing body, the Planning Commission, were expected to "go communal."[12]

Members' children would also be raised "communally," often in other Temple communes or through guardianships.[12] The money saved from communal living was to be donated to the Temple.[12] The Temple stressed physical discipline, which involved repeated paddlings of children with a wooden paddle in front of Temple members.[13] The practice later turned into disciplinary boxing matches, where the disciplined child was outmatched by one or more other members.[13] Later, adult Temple members were involved in both paddlings and boxing matches.[13]

The Planning Commission meetings would sometimes run all night in San Francisco.[14] They often involved long "catharsis" sessions in which members would be called "on the floor" for emotional dissections, including why they were wearing nice clothes when others in the world were starving.[14] Other members were expected to accuse those "on the floor" of various disallowed activities, while the Temple considered it improper for the accused to mount a defense.[14]

The church converted some former real estate of its members into communal living units.[12] The Temple possessed at least a dozen communes scattered throughout San Francisco's Fillmore district.[15] Communal members' possessions were sold through two Temple antique stores and through weekend flea markets.[11] Because of commune size constraints, Temple security chief Jim McElvane shot and buried communal members' pets in mass graves.[11]

The Temple also asked adults to sign papers admitting various crimes and wrongdoings, including conspiring against the U.S. government, involvement in terrorist acts and molesting their own children.[14] If such members attempted to leave the Temple, Jones threatened to release the statements.[14]

Media alliances[edit]

Jones and Goodlett

In 1972, Jim Jones first met Dr. Carlton Goodlett, publisher of the San Francisco newspaper, The Sun Reporter, which was targeted towards African American readers.[16] The two encountered each other at political rallies and Goodlett's medical practice.[16] The Sun Reporter soon thereafter presented the Temple with a "Special Merit Award." [17] Temple media advisor Michael Prokes, a former reporter for a CBS affiliate, dined with Sun Reporter editor Tom Fleming and spoke of harassment of the Temple by the CIA and FBI.[17]

Temple members holding first large format issue of Peoples Forum

The Temple and Goodlett soon forged an alliance, with Goodlett permitting the Temple to print its "Peoples Forum" newspaper on the Sun Reporter's presses.[18] The deal was profitable for the Sun-Reporter, and Jones and Goodlett entered another media venture to invest and reorganize the Journal and Guide Newspaper in Norfolk, Virginia.[19] The Peoples Forum's first issue was published in 1973, with a large format issue first being published in 1976.[20] While Jones hoped to build it into San Francisco's third largest daily paper behind the Chronicle and the Examiner and grossly exaggerated the circulation of the paper at "600,000", the paper did grow to a circulation of closer to 60,000,[20][21] the average San Franciscan at the least saw copies of it amidst other litter in the streets throughout the city and it received considerable correspondence from readers.[22]

Meanwhile, the Sun Reporter wrote articles praising Jones and the Temple.[18] In 1975, Goodlett and Jones also both participated in a delegation of persons sympathetic to the role of Cuba and the Central American countries in the struggle for peace that traveled to Cuba.[19] However, Jones called Goodlett a "Cadillac Communist" behind his back.[18]

Jones also cultivated other media relationships. At the San Francisco Chronicle, famed columnist Herb Caen was the Temple's most widely read media acquaintance, while City Editor Steven Gavin attended Temple services along with a Chronicle reporter.[23] Several reporters at local newspapers and television stations also spoke favorably of the Temple.[23] Caen included some of Temple member Michael Prokes' claims of orchestrated harassment by the CIA and FBI in his columns.[24] Jones also won the National Newspaper Publishers Association Man of the Year Award, given by the Black Press of America.[19]

The Temple carefully rehearsed any meetings Jones would have with reporters.[25] It staged reporter visits to the Geary Boulevard facility, permitting reporters to see only specific parts of the building and stationing Temple members in places to compliment the reporter.[25]

The Temple also had a weekly hourly radio show that ran in several cities, including KFAX in San Francisco.[21]

Political beginnings[edit]

Changing forces[edit]

Several changes in San Francisco in the mid-1970s politically empowered local political organizations, like the Peoples Temple.[16] The shift from citywide elections of county supervisors to district elections, as well as campaign spending limits and reporting requirements, bestowed unprecedented power on neighborhood groups and political organizations, like the Temple.[16]

The Temple also distinguished itself from most cults with its overtly political message.[26] It participated in political processes and formed political alliances, not just for the sake of expediency, but also out of genuine political sympathies.[26] As the social direction of the Temple became more openly socialist, it depended more upon the political world.[26] Jones made it known that he was interested in politics and former press secretary to Mayor George Moscone Corey Buscher stated that Jones "made his followers available to support progressive Democratic candidates,"[27] though earlier Jones had also supported at least some local Mendocino County Republicans.[28] However, the Temple played a double game of working underground among progressive circles, assuming the political establishment consisted of "corrupt enemies", while working publicly in traditional channels to advance its own causes.[28]

Buscher explained that, soon after the San Francisco office of the Temple opened, it "became common knowledge that if you were going to run for office in San Francisco, and your constituency included the black, the young or the poor, you'd better have Jones in your corner."[27] The Temple had 3,000 registered members, though it regularly drew 3,000 members to its San Francisco services alone, whether or not these were registered members.[29][30] Some more recent accounts state the effective membership numbered perhaps 8,000.[31] Of particular interest to politicians was the Temple's ability to produce 2,000 people for work or attendance in San Francisco with only six hours notice.[32]

Buscher stated that Jones offered thousands of "foot soldiers" willing to walk precincts and get out the vote, which was "an offer no politician in his right mind could refuse."[27] Similarly, San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos stated that "If you were having a rally for a presidential candidate, you needed to fill up the crowd, you could always get busloads from Jim Jones' church." [33] Agar Jaicks, who was chairman of the county Democratic Central Committee, the governing body of the Democratic Party in San Francisco, referred to the Temple as a "a ready-made volunteer workforce." [31] Jaicks further explained that Jones was "a man who touched a component of the consensus power forces in the city, such as labor and ethnicity groups, and he was very strong in the Western Addition. So here was a guy who could provide workers for causes progressives cared about."[31]

Introductions[edit]

Michael Prokes

Former California State Assemblyman Willie Brown first met Jones at Bardellis in Union Square.[34] Later, Jones sent Temple member Michael Prokes to Brown's office to interview Brown, future District Attorney Joseph Freitas and future Sheriff Richard Hongisto for a documentary the Temple was making called "Miracles."[34]

Those political connections would help further Jones' political career. In 1975, Brown helped to bring together Mayor George Moscone and the Peoples Temple, which later led to Jones appointment as chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.[35]

Involvement in Moscone's 1975 mayoral race[edit]

George Moscone faced a tough mayoral race against John Barbagelata. During the election, Moscone held a meeting with Jones and Peoples Temple member Michael Prokes requesting Temple volunteers for campaign work.[36][unreliable source?][note 1] Temple members also saturated San Francisco neighborhoods, distributing slate cards for Moscone, Joseph Freitas, who was running for district attorney and Richard Hongisto, who was running for Sheriff.[31] The Temple worked to get out the vote in precincts where Moscone received a 12 to 1 vote margin over Barbagelata.[37] All three won, with Moscone winning a close runoff by less than two percent of the vote.[31][38] At the time of the election, a Moscone campaign aide stated "Everybody talks about the labor unions and their power, but Jones turns out the troops." [37]

After the election, Moscone and others believed that votes and campaign efforts by Temple members were instrumental in Moscone's close victory.[39] A transcription of a phone conversation with Prokes one month later stated "Moscone acknowledges in essence that we won him the election" and that "he promises J. an appointment."[36] Barbagelata and others suspected election fraud, including that from alleged voting by Temple members that were not San Francisco residents.[30] He died in 1994 believing that Moscone's victory had been the work of Peoples Temple members bussed in from out of town.[39]

After the tragedy at Jonestown, Temple members revealed to The New York Times that the Temple arranged for "busloads" of members to be bussed from Redwood Valley to San Francisco to vote in the election.[40] A former Temple member stated that many of those members were not registered to vote in San Francisco, while another former member said "Jones swayed elections."[40] Another former Temple member stated of Jones that "he told us how to vote." [40] She stated that Temple members were required to produce booth stubs to prove that they voted, and members that could not produce such stubs were "pushed around, shoved and physically abused."[40] When asked how Jones could know for whom they voted, the member responded "You don't understand, we wanted to do what he told us to."[40]

San Francisco District Attorney Freitas set up a special unit to investigate election fraud charges. He named Temple member Timothy Stoen, whom he had hired as an assistant district attorney, to lead the unit.[36][41] Stoen employed Temple members as volunteers to help with work on the investigation.[41] The Temple was not mentioned in the proceedings that followed.[36] After the tragedy, Stoen, who turned against the Temple in 1977, stated that he was not aware at the time of voter fraud but that it could have happened without his knowledge because "Jim Jones kept a lot of things from me."[40]

Help with Milk's 1976 race for the California State Assembly[edit]

Sharon Amos

Harvey Milk, who later became a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, first became acquainted with the Temple while running for a seat in the California State Assembly against Art Agnos. Jim Jones initially telephoned a Milk campaign worker and stated that he wished to back Milk, apologized for earlier backing Agnos and said he would "make up for it" by sending volunteers to work on Milk's campaign.[42] When told by friend Michael Wong of Jones' earlier backing of Agnos, Milk retorted "Well, fuck him. I'll take his workers, but that's the game Jim Jones plays."[42] Temple member Sharon Amos organized the Temple's leafleting campaign for Milk.[43] Amos requested the delivery of 30,000 pamphlets and Milk's campaign delivered them to the Temple.[42]

Administration encounters[edit]

After Jones' rise to political prominence in San Francisco, the Temple had a few meetings with members of the administration of President Jimmy Carter before the 1976 United States presidential campaign. During that campaign, Jones and George Moscone met privately with Vice Presidential candidate Walter Mondale on his campaign plane at San Francisco's airport.[44][45] As soon as the encounter ended, Jones bandied it about to increase his standing with the Guyanese government, claiming he and Mondale engaged in private talks regarding outside attempts to destabilize Guyana.[46]

Jones' biggest event that fall was when he and First Lady Rosalynn Carter also both spoke at the 1976 grand opening of the San Francisco Democratic Party Headquarters.[5][46] Temple members packed the audience and Jones garnered louder applause when he spoke than Mrs. Carter.[5][46] President Carter also sent a representative to a dinner at the Temple at which Jones and then Governor Jerry Brown spoke.[47]

Mrs. Carter also met Jones for a private dinner at the Stanford Court Hotel.[48] The Temple's Peoples Forum newspaper made much of the meeting, including photos of Jones and Carter together.[48]

Rosalynn Carter

Mrs. Carter later called Jones personally, and Jones grossly exaggerated the Peoples Forum circulation on that call, claiming it was 600,000.[48][49] Carter had no knowledge that the Temple was taping her conversation.[48]

In March 1977, Jones also dined with Rosalynn Carter at the head table at the Democratic National Convention.[50] They later exchanged letters.[51] In a March 17, 1977, letter from Jones to Carter, Jones requested more aid for Cuba, then headed by Fidel Castro, whom Jones had earlier met with in Cuba.[51][52] In a handwritten reply to Jones on White House stationery, Carter wrote "Your comments on Cuba have been helpful. I hope your suggestion can be acted on in the near future." [51][52] Carter also wrote that "I enjoyed being with you during the campaign -- and do hope you can meet Ruth soon", referring to her sister-in-law, Ruth Carter Stapleton.[51][52]

However brief their encounters, the Temple did receive some limited praise from administration members. In 1976, Walter Mondale stated regarding the Temple that "knowing the congregations deep involvement in the major social and constitutional issues of our country . . . is a great inspiration to me."[53] Welfare Secretary Joseph Califano stated "your humanitarian principles and your interest in protecting individual liberty and freedom have made an outstanding contribution to furthering the cause of human dignity."[53]

The San Francisco Housing Authority Commission[edit]

In March 1976, Mayor Moscone appointed Jones to the Human Rights Commission.[54] Without telling his aides, just minutes before being sworn in, Jones declined the appointment, feeling it was a lateral move since he had served on such a commission in Indiana in the 1960s.[54] The aides of Moscone and Jones then scrambled to tell the media that Jones and Moscone were working on an alternative appointment.[54]

Thereafter, Moscone appointed Jones as a member of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission.[55] After Jones' name appeared on the appointment list, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors requested that all potential appointees should receive background checks.[36] Moscone then turned the matter over to a nominating committee that included Temple member Michael Prokes and Temple supporter Dr. Carlton Goodlett.[36][54] The committee approved Jones' appointment.[36] When potential resistance arose to Jones appointment, Willie Brown introduced legislation that would have stripped the Board of Supervisors of its power over the appointment.[36] Wishing to maintain the status quo, the Board unanimously approved Jones' appointment.[36]

After lobbying by Moscone's office, Jones was soon named Chairman of the Commission.[54] At the time, Moscone stated that Jones was a "peacemaker . . . who had the ability to work with people." [56] In July 1977, after investigations into the Temple had begun, Moscone defended the appointment stating Jones was "both sensitive and realistic. From everything I've seen, he's been a good chairman." [57]

Jones' most notable accomplishment on the Commission was to lead the fight for a period against the eviction by the Four Seas Corporation of impoverished residents of the famous International Hotel.[58] With Jones as Chairman, the Housing Authority voted to acquire the building using $1.3 million in federal funds in order to transfer ownership to tenants rights groups.[58] When a federal court rejected that plan and ordered evictions in January 1977, the Temple provided two thousand of the five thousand people that surrounded the building, barricaded the doors and chanted "No, no, no evictions!"[58] Sheriff Richard Hongisto, a political ally of Jones, refused to execute the eviction order, which resulted in Hongisto being held in contempt and serving five days in his own jail.[58]

Radicals[edit]

Symbionese Liberation Army[edit]

SLA Logo and Patty Hearst

Jones empathized with inner city frustrations that nourished Bay Area guerrilla vanguards such as the Black Panthers, the New World Liberation Front, the Black Liberation Army (BLA) and the Venceremos, which spawned the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA).[59] In speeches at the Temple, Jones even took responsibility for the bombing of a Vietnam-bound munitions train in Roseville, California.[60]

Jones expressed admiration for the SLA after it kidnapped Patricia Hearst and was involved in shootings, and the Temple distributed the Symbionese Declaration among its members.[61] However, he attempted to convince law enforcement officials and the press that he opposed such violence by having members hand deliver a $2,000 check to the Hearst family mansion.[61]

The police were not persuaded by Jones' efforts. A police intelligence unit interviewed a member that admitted that Jones advocated that the Temple overthrow the government[citation needed] and that, one year before the Hearst kidnapping, Jones stated that Randolph Hearst would be a target as he represented "capitalist society."[62] A police report contained an analysis of press photos and determined that SLA leader Donald DeFreeze and SLA member Nancy Ling Perry attended various meetings at the Temple along with Hearst's boyfriend Stephen Weed.[62] After learning of police suspicions, Temple attorney Timothy Stoen wrote police in an attempt to dissuade them of the notion that Jones was involved with the SLA.[62] Attempting to address police fears of Temple violence, the letters also claimed that Temple member Chris Lewis, who was involved in a BLA related shooting, had agreed to leave San Francisco, though it did not mention that Lewis had been sent to Jonestown.[62]

The Nation Of Islam[edit]

Jones considered the Nation of Islam (NOI) to be sexist and racist, and feared that violence might flare up between the NOI and the Temple because of their close proximity in San Francisco's Western Addition.[63] Jones inflamed tensions by claiming that the NOI was responsible for a fire at the Temple's San Francisco headquarters.[63] After Temple member Al Mills was hassled for taking a photograph of NOI members, Jones sent burly African-American Temple security guards to a nearby mosque to issue a warning.[63]

However, relations later improved.[64] To heal the rift, the two organizations held a historic "Spiritual Jubilee" in the Los Angeles Convention Center in 1976.[58] Thousands packed the Civic Center, with the Temple members in red and black intermixed with NOI members in white.[58] Temple San Francisco supporters Angela Davis, Carlton Goodlett and Joseph Freitas traveled to the event, along with Temple supporter Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally and Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley.[58]

As Jones took the podium, imposing Temple "Red Brigade" security guards stood shoulder-to-shoulder with NOI security in a half moon formation in front of the stage.[58] After calming the cheering crowd, Jones stated "We are grateful for this symbolic merging of our two movements . . . If the Peoples Temple and the Nation of Islam can get together, anyone can . . . A few years ago, we couldn't even walk the streets because of tensions."[58]

Angela Davis and the American Indian Movement[edit]

Angela Davis was considered the Temple's favorite African American communist.[65] The Temple participated in rallies on her behalf and she visited the Temple.[63] Davis frequently chatted with Jones and top Temple aides in Jones' San Francisco Temple apartment.[63] The relationship with Davis strengthened Jones' political credentials.[63]

Jones cultivated an even closer relationship with American Indian Movement (AIM) co-founder Dennis Banks.[58] The AIM received the Temple's largest donation, $19,500.[58] The Temple bailed out Banks' wife, Ka-mook, from an Oregon jail and Banks spoke at the Temple.[58] Banks' name would also later surface in the Temple's investigation of conspiracies surrounding Al and Jeannie Mills.

Defectors and Conspiracies[edit]

Bob and Joyce[edit]

Married Temple members Bob Houston and Joyce Shaw owned a house on Potrero Hill that was used as a Temple communal living facility.[12] After Houston repeatedly questioned Jones about the details of socialist theory, Jones often branded Houston an "insensitive intellectual" and a "class enemy", and encouraged others to mock Houston.[66]

Houston became involved in at least two of the Temple's "boxing matches" where he was pummeled for punishment.[13] He suffered a bloody nose and was embarrassed in front of his family.[13] Meanwhile, Joyce suffered stress from running the couple's commune and also from coordinating medical care for all San Francisco Temple members.[13][13]

After some verbal abuse and frustration about the lack of freedom of speech at the Temple, in July 1976, Joyce defected from the Temple while most members were traveling on a cross country bus trip.[67] Frightened of potential Temple search parties, Shaw lived on the Sonoma County Fairgrounds with a friend for three weeks before leaving for Ohio.[67]

On October 2, 1976, Joyce called Bob on a line recorded by the Temple and she invited Bob to leave the Temple and rekindle his relationship with her.[68] On October 5, 1976, Bob Houston was found dead along the tracks at the Southern Pacific railroad yard.[69]

1973 Congressional Pictorial Leo Ryan.jpg

Bob Houston was the son of Robert "Sammy" Houston, a popular photographer for the Associated Press.[70] The death of Bob did not look like an accident, and Sammy was convinced the Temple was behind the death even though he was not aware of the taped telephone call of October 2.[70] The Temple maintained that Bob coincidentally had resigned from the Temple on the morning of his death.[71] Joyce saw the purported resignation letter, noticed it was typed and believed it to be a fabrication because Bob Houston had never typed letters.[72] Temple members attended the funeral, and Joyce held her purse in such a manner as to convince Temple members that the purse contained a tape recorder so that they would not bother her.[72]

The next day, when Joyce went to the Sutter Street commune to pick up Bob's belongings, Temple member Carolyn Layton told Joyce she should not attempt to gain custody of Bob's daughters, Judy and Patricia Houston, because of documents Bob and Joyce had signed claiming they had molested the girls.[72] The Temple frequently required members to sign such documents.[72]

Sammy Houston conveyed the information to several Associated Press reporters, including Tim Reiterman.[44] Thereafter, letters from Judy and Patricia arrived at Sammy's house—from Jonestown.[73]

The events ended up contributing to the Temple's final demise. Sammy Houston eventually communicated his story to a friend, Congressman Leo Ryan.[74] The Houston story is what first interested Ryan about the Peoples Temple.[74] Ryan later was the Congressman who led the final investigation into Jonestown in 1978 leading to its end that day.[74]

The Stoens[edit]

Main article: Timothy Stoen

In 1972, Timothy Stoen's wife Grace gave birth to a son John.[75] Two weeks later, Jim Jones secretly had Tim sign a document claiming that Tim had urged Jim to engage in sexual relations with Grace, the result of which was the conception of John.[76]

Grace grew to dislike the Temple after, among other things, they raised John "communally" and she witnessed the assault of Temple members.[77] Grace fled the San Francisco Temple in July 1976 with another Temple member to Lake Tahoe to avoid Temple search parties.[77] The Temple moved John to Guyana.[78] Several months later, at the urging of Jim Jones to avoid investigation during a possible custody dispute, Tim Stoen quit his job as Assistant District Attorney and moved to Guyana.[79]

In June 1977, after tensions rose regarding Timothy Stoen, he quit his job as Assistant District Attorney under Joseph Freitas and disappeared from the Temple's Georgetown, Guyana headquarters.[80] The Stoens' later opposition, including leadership in a group called the "Concerned Relatives", would become a significant reason for the investigation by Congressman Leo Ryan and the final demise of the Temple at Jonestown.

Unita Blackwell, the Mills and other conspiracies[edit]

The Temple frequently saw itself as the target of conspiracies by government agencies and others, and included these conspiracies in its literature.[81]

For example, in November 1976, Unita Blackwell, a Mississippi mayor and civil rights activist, spoke at the Geary Boulevard Temple about her trip to China with Shirley MacLaine.[82] Two men caught eavesdropping at the front door quickly fled in a car.[82] The Temple traced the rental car license plates to a government electronics expert.[82] After a series of letters with Congressman Phillip Burton, the Air Force stated that the civilian was working for it but that he was off the day of the Blackwell speech.[82] This event was added to the growing list of alleged conspiratorial actions against the Temple.[81][82]

The Temple also saw conspiracies and intrigue surrounding former Temple members Elmer and Deanna Mertle, who had fled the Temple and changed their names to Al and Jeannie Mills.[83] Jones, who sometimes claimed he saw himself as the reincarnation of Vladimir Lenin, prophetically told Jeannie before the Mills' defection that "Lenin died with a bullet in his body and so will I."[84] As an offshoot of the Temple's "Diversions Committee", it formed a "Mertle Committee", which conducted activities such as breaking into the Mills' house, with the aid of Mills' daughter who was still a Temple member, to steal documents.[83] The Mills eventually began to host meetings with other former Temple members, such as Timothy and Grace Stoen.[83]

Meanwhile, the U.S. Customs Service had been investigating charges by over a dozen former Temple members that the Temple had illegally transported 170 guns to Jonestown in the false bottoms of crates.[85] The Temple found out about the investigation when David Conn, a longtime friend of the Mills, tipped off Temple ally Dennis Banks by telling him that Banks would be better off regarding an upcoming extradition matter if he denounced the Temple because of the investigation.[85] Thereafter, the Mertle Committee conducted operations such as searching Conn's garbage and breaking into the crawl space under Conn's house while making an anonymous threatening phone call to Conn's wife in order to listen to her response, which included mention of an "agent."[83] The Temple wrote about the Conn and Banks meeting in its literature, calling the meeting a "blackmail attempt."[81]

The Temple also claimed that the U.S. Postal service was tampering with its San Francisco facility mail, that "conspirators" were behind the death of alleged San Francisco Temple body guard Chris Lewis and that "reactionary forces were trying to destroy his [Jones] image because he is the most persistent fighter for social justice."[81]

Political Activities at the Temple[edit]

While the Temple aided some local politicians, it did not do so entirely without suspicion. For example, Harvey Milk felt that Temple members were odd and dangerous. When a Milk aide became wary of the Temple's large and imposing security force following a delivery of election pamphlets, Milk cautioned the aide "Make sure you're always nice to the Peoples Temple. If they ask you to do something, do it, and then send them a note thanking them for asking you to do it. They're weird and they're dangerous, and you never want to be on their bad side."[42] Jim Rivaldo, a political consultant and associate of Milk's said that, after later meetings at the Temple, he and Milk agreed that "there was something creepy about it."[86]

However, many politicians spoke at the San Francisco Temple, including Milk,[87] and Governor Jerry Brown.[22][31] By mid-1977, Willie Brown had visited the Temple perhaps a dozen times, some by invitation and some on his own.[88][89] Preliminary consideration was given by Governor Brown's administration to a statewide post for Jones before his flight to Guyana.[90]

Willie Brown, Jerry Brown, George Moscone, Lieutenant Governor Mervyn Dymally, District Attorney Joseph Freitas and Republican State Senator Milton Marks, among others, attended a large testimonial dinner in Jim Jones' honor in September 1976.[91][92] Willie Brown served as master of ceremonies and introduced Jones, stating "Let me present to you what you should see every day when you look in the mirror in the early morning hours ... Let me present to you a combination of Martin King, Angela Davis, Albert Einstein ... Chairman Mao."[89][93][94][unreliable source?] At another testimonial dinner, Brown introduced Jones, referring to him as "a young man came upon the scene, became an inspiration for a whole lot of people. He’s done fantastic things."[95] Dymally stated that Jones was bringing together all ages and races and stated that "I am grateful he is showing an example not only in the U.S. but also in my former home territory, the Caribbean."[96] At another testimonial dinner when Jones garnered huge applause from the thousands attending, Moscone stated "you know I’m smarter than to give a speech after listening to Reverend Jim Jones" and "there are two people I’m glad I’m not running against, Cecil Williams and Jim Jones".[95]

Similarly, Milk was enthusiastically received at the Temple several times during his visits, and he always sent glowing thank-you notes to Jones after visits.[86] Milk ally Richard Boyle recalls "[b]oth Milk and I spoke at the temple to the cheers of thousands of Jones' followers and won their support." [97] Following one visit, Milk wrote to Jones: "Rev Jim, It may take me many a day to come back down from the high that I reach today. I found something dear today. I found a sense of being that makes up for all the hours and energy placed in a fight. I found what you wanted me to find. I shall be back. For I can never leave."[86][98] In a hand-written note, Milk wrote to Jones "my name is cut into stone in support of you - and your people."[36] Jim Rivaldo, who attended Temple meetings with Milk, explained that, until Jonestown, the church "was a community of people who appeared to be looking out for each other, improving their lives."[86] Boyle explained that it was vital for both his campaign and Milk's that they be received well at the Temple "because Jones was not only Moscone's appointed head of the Housing Authority but also could turn out an army of volunteers."[97]

In an interview of Jim Jones by Willie Brown for a television show about the Peoples Temple, Brown stated "You've managed to make the many peoples associated with the Peoples Temple a part of a family. If you're in need of health care, you GET health care. If you're in need of legal assistance of some sort, you get that. If you're in need of transportation, you get that."[99] On another occasion, Brown stated "San Francisco should have ten more Jim Joneses."[100] Although Brown praised Jones, socialist Jones detested Brown for his sports cars, clothes and women.[101] During one of Brown's addresses at the Temple, Jones sat behind Brown and flipped his middle finger into the air.[101]

While the Temple received political guests, Jones used his relationship with Mayor Moscone to intimidate potentially disagreeable Temple members. For example, former Temple member Deborah Layton stated that her thoughts of running away were quashed by Jones' threats, including his statement: "Don't think you can get away with bad-mouthing this church. Mayor Moscone is my friend and he'll support my efforts to seek you out and destroy you."[102]

Media investigation and exodus[edit]

In 1976, despite the Temple's newly acquired political might and upgraded image, high visibility had heightened Jones' fears of government crackdowns and media scrutiny.[103] In April 1976, San Francisco Chronicle reporter Julie Smith neared completion of an unfavorable story on the Temple.[103] Through numerous phone calls, letters and badgering of newspaper personnel, Jones was able to prevent its publication.[103]

In late 1976, Chronicle reporter Marshall Kilduff wished to do a story on the Temple, but he was reluctant after witnessing the Temple's treatment of Smith.[104] Kilduff wondered how Jones had somehow learned the exact contents of Smith's article before it had come out.[104]

When touring the Temple, Kilduff noticed, much to his surprise, that Chronicle city editor Steve Gavin and reporter Kay Butler were in attendance.[105] The Temple's Peoples Forum newspaper chided Kilduff for not having a venue for his story and stated that he was "trying to convince different periodicals that a 'smear' of a liberal church that champions minorities and the poor would make 'good copy.'"[106] Rather than dropping his story, Kilduff took the Story to New West Magazine.[105] The Temple conducted a large letter writing and telephone campaign against New West magazine, including getting prominent allies to write and call the magazine, its advertisers and Rupert Murdoch, who owned the magazine.[106] The magazine received fifty calls and seventy letters a day before the article was even published.[106]

Worries about potential fallout from defecting member Grace Stoen, Joyce Shaw, Kilduff's then potential article and other controversies caused Jones to decide he wanted to begin moving the Temple to Jonestown, its agricultural project site in Guyana.[107] Jones convened with top aides for four days to formulate a plan for exodus.[107]

New West Article Headline

In its final form, Kilduff's article contained numerous allegations of fraud, assault and potential kidnapping.[108] Just before its late July publication, Mayor Moscone urged an ally who was the chairman of the board of a large department store to call friends at the magazine to inquire about the contents of the article.[27] Jones fled to Guyana the night that the contents of the article to be published were read to Jones over the phone.[109]

Entrance to Jonestown (photo:Jonestown Institute)

The Immigration and Naturalization Service in San Francisco's Federal Building received a flood of perhaps five to six hundred nicely prepared requests for passports by July 1977.[110] While Jones' exit was hasty, the exodus of most Temple members had been carefully prepared for several weeks.[111]

San Francisco Supervisor Quentin Kopp immediately demanded that Mayor Moscone and District Attorney Joseph Freitas launch an investigation into the Temple's activities.[66] Moscone's office issued a press release stating "The Mayor's Office does not and will not conduct any investigation" because the article was "a series of allegations with absolutely no hard evidence that the Rev. Jones has violated any laws, either local, state or federal."[27][112]

After a six-week inquiry by the special unit formerly headed by Timothy Stoen[113] into charges of homicide, arson, battery, extortion, kidnapping, illegal drug use and illegal diversion of welfare funds,[114] District Attorney Freitas' office authored a report stating that the investigation turned up "no evidence of criminal wrongdoing", though it stated that the Temple's practices were at best "unsavory".[66][110][114] Freitas did not publicly disclose his office's investigation or the report.[114] Freitas had previously visited the Temple multiple times.[66] Following the publication of media reports alleging criminal wrongdoing, Guyanese Minister of State Kit Nasciemento contacted Freitas and was told that the case against Jones was closed.[115] It was not until after the tragedy at Jonestown that Freitas disclosed the investigation of the Temple.[114]

After Jones[edit]

A temple without a leader[edit]

As the time after Jones' departure proceeded, the zealotry of the San Francisco staff turned to martyrdom.[116] Friday and Sunday meetings were still held, but attendance dropped.[116] With donations no longer rolling in, the Temple began to sell off its property.[116] With shrinking personnel, the staff that remained became overworked.[116] While the Geary Boulevard facility eventually became little more than a supply depot for Guyana, the Temple insisted in a press release that "we are not moving out of San Francisco or California", denouncing news reports of a permanent exodus as "biased and sensationalistic reporting."[117]

Jonestown radio tower

San Francisco media, such as those at the Examiner, monitored communications that Jones made from Jonestown back to the temple via short wave radio.[118] Much of them contained mundane requests interspersed with Jones' usual propaganda.[118] Many in the San Francisco Temple feared that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) would revoke the Temple's radio license, cutting its lifeline to Jonestown.[119]

Complicating matters, Jones made impossible demands on the now skeletal staff, including writing 1,500 letters to the FCC and 1,500 to the IRS.[119] Any members that were seen as wavering were sent to Jonestown.[119] Meanwhile, former Bay Area Temple allies, such as Angela Davis and Huey Newton, broadcast live radio messages to the citizens of Jonestown during Jones' fiery "White Night" rallies, telling Temple members to hold strong against the "conspiracy."[120]

The Temple hired Charles R. Garry to represent it in numerous lawsuits against the Temple and to draft Freedom Of Information Act requests.[121] The Temple also hired noted JFK assassination conspiracy theorist Mark Lane, who gave press conferences at the San Francisco Temple.[122]

In October 1978, a crippling blow occurred when San Francisco Temple leader Terry Buford defected, though she wrote a series of notes falsely claiming that she was going "under cover", as a "double agent" to infiltrate "Timothy Stoen's group."[123] Buford had secretly gone to stay with Temple attorney Mark Lane, whom she had met during interactions in the San Francisco headquarters.[124]

Waning political clout[edit]

While most influential allies broke ties with the Temple following Jones' departure after increasing media scrutiny, some did not.[56] For example, Willie Brown stated that the attacks were "a measure of the church’s effectiveness."[125] San Francisco columnist Herb Caen wrote "Hot story, but where's the smoking gun?", concluding, "so far lots of smoke but no gun."[112] The Sun Reporter also defended the Temple.[112]

On July 31, 1977, just after Jones had fled to Guyana, the Temple conducted a rally against political opponents attended by Willie Brown, Harvey Milk and Art Agnos, among others.[126] At that rally, Brown stated "When somebody like Jim Jones comes on the scene...and constantly stresses the need for freedom of speech and equal justice under law for all people, that absolutely scares the hell out of most everybody...I will be here when you are under attack, because what you are about is what the whole system ought to be about!"[36][127] Brown also stated of Jones at the rally that "[h]e is a rare human being" and "he cares about people...Rev. Jim Jones is that person who can be helpful when all appears to be lost and hope is just about gone."[36][101]

While Mayor George Moscone refused a request to launch his own inquiry, he was deeply disturbed by the allegations against the Temple, though he thought Jones would return from Guyana.[128] However, on August 2, 1977, Jones dictated his resignation from Guyana via radio-telephone.[128]

Harvey Milk remained popular among temple members.[86] Two months before the tragedy Temple members sent over fifty letters of sympathy to Milk following the death of Milk's lover, Jack Lira.[43] The letters were formulaic and one typical letter ended, "You have our deepest sympathy in your loss and we would be glad to have you with us [in Jonestown], even for only a short visit."[86] Temple member Sharon Amos wrote "I had the opportunity in San Francisco when we were there to get to know you and thought very highly of your commitment to social actions and the betterment of your community." [43] She also wrote "I hope you will be able to visit us here sometime in Jonestown. Believe it or not, it is a tremendously sophisticated community, though it is in a jungle." [43][note 2]

Milk spoke at a service at the Temple for the last time in October 1978.[86] After Congressman Leo Ryan announced that he would investigate Jonestown following the November 1978 elections, Willie Brown was still planning a fund raising dinner for the Temple that was to be held on December 2, 1978.[129]

San Francisco media and the Concerned Relatives[edit]

Further information: Timothy Stoen

In San Francisco, Jones suffered further damage from unfavorable media articles during his absence. Especially damaging was a February 18, 1978 article in the San Francisco Examiner, following a telephone interview with Jones, detailing the custody fight over John Stoen and pressure for a Congressional investigation of Jonestown spearheaded by the leader of the Concerned Relative group, Timothy Stoen.[130] The repercussions of the article were devastating for the Temple's reputation, and made most former supporters even more suspicious of the Temple's claim that it was being subjected to a "rightist vendetta."[131] It also drew the interest of Congressman Leo Ryan, who had weeks earlier been lobbied by Stoen and wrote a letter on his behalf.[132]

The next day, on Sunday February 19, 1978, Harvey Milk wrote a letter to President Jimmy Carter supporting Jones and making statements about Timothy and Grace Stoen.[133][134][135][136] Milk wrote "Rev. Jones is widely known in the minority communities and elsewhere as a man of the highest character."[133] Regarding the Stoens, Milk wrote "Timothy and Grace Stoen, the parties attempting to damage Rev. Jones reputation". Milk also wrote "[i]t is outrageous that Timothy Stoen could even think of flaunting this situation in front of Congressman with apparent bold-faced lies."[133] The letter ended with "Mr. President, the actions of Mr. Stoen need to be brought to a halt. It is offensive to most in the San Francisco community and all those who know Rev. Jones to see this kind of outrage taking place."[133][note 3]

Jones also told the San Francisco Temple staff to prepare for a media blast.[131] In order to attempt to combat the damage, the Temple sent to various newspapers the document signed by Stoen claiming that Jones was the father of the child in the custody dispute after Tim Stoen had allegedly directed Jones to engage in sexual relations with Grace Stoen.[137] Herb Caen reprinted the document in his San Francisco Chronicle column.[137]

After the incident[edit]

Judy Houston
Patty Houston
memorial gravesite, Evergreen Cemetery, Oakland
Further information: Jonestown

On the evening of November 18, 1978 in Jonestown, Jones ordered his congregation to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid.[138][139] In all, at Jonestown, a nearby airstrip and Georgetown, 918 people died, including over 270 children, resulting in the greatest single loss of American civilian life in a non-natural disaster until the incidents of September 11, 2001.[39][140][141] Congressman Leo Ryan was among those killed at the airstrip.[142]

Judy and Patty Houston, the girls about whom Carolyn Layton threatened Joyce Houston not to move for custody at the Sutter Street commune, were also found poisoned.[143] John Stoen, the son of former Assistant District Attorney Timothy Stoen, was found poisoned in Jim Jones's cabin.[143]

Sharon Amos, who had earlier led political pamphletting campaigns in San Francisco, murdered her children with a knife and committed suicide at the Temple's Georgetown, Guyana headquarters (150 miles from Jonestown) at the behest of Jones.[144]

412 unclaimed victims are buried at Evergreen Cemetery, in Oakland, as many of the local members of the church had come from Oakland.[145] A memorial plaque with the names of all victims was placed at the site in 2011, which controversially included the name of Jim Jones, the architect of the mass killing, who is not buried at the cemetery.[146][147]

Temple and law enforcement[edit]

Paralyzing fear initially gripped the Temple's enemies as press reports of Temple "hit squads" surfaced immediately after the tragedy.[148] Public officials, reporters and former members were all among groups reportedly targeted by such squads.[148] San Francisco elected officials, law enforcement and mental health professionals took steps to avert the spread of violence.[148]

Ex-members immediately traveled to the Human Freedom Center in Berkeley, California to gather under police protection and await word of the list of survivors.[148] On the afternoon of the attack at the Port Kaituma airstrip, before the news became public, the wife of Leo Ryan aide William Holsinger received three threatening phonecalls at the couple's San Francisco home.[149] The caller allegedly stated, "Tell your husband that his meal ticket just had his brains blown out, and he better be careful."[149] After Holsinger's family was initially evacuated to Palo Alto under police protection, the Holsingers then fled to Lake Tahoe and later to a ranch in Houston.[149] They never returned to their home in San Francisco.[149] None of the reported hit squads ever materialized.[148]

After years of Jones' statements about ominous forces aligning against the Temple, members at the San Francisco Temple expected an immediate attack by government troops.[148] They were so afraid of a "McCarthy era" backlash that they smuggled documents and records past police cars stationed outside the building and burned them in a massive bonfire on the beach.[148]

Meanwhile the Geary Boulevard Temple building itself was besieged by national media—including national television, national magazines and newspaper—and angry relatives of victims furious at their deaths.[148] The Temple was labeled "Cult of Death" in many sources, including the covers of Time and Newsweek magazine. Relatives of victims camped outside the Temple's chained fences for days screamed at members through the fence.[148] The loyalists inside were as emotionally hurt as others—perhaps 100 to 200 would have themselves taken the poison had they been in Jonestown that day.[148] They woke up not only without friends and relatives, but also without the figure at the center of their political and religious worldview.[150]

State and local law enforcement and prosecutors finally investigated the Temple.[150] While they felt that health and welfare officials did not properly investigate complaints against the Temple, they found no criminal wrongdoing by Tim Stoen or other former members.[150]

Eleven years after the mass suicide at Jonestown, the building on Geary Boulevard sustained structural damage in the Loma Prieta earthquake.[151] Since the owner was unwilling to reinforce the structure, the building was demolished, and the property remained undeveloped until the United States Postal Service opened a post office at the site in the late 1990s.

Michael Prokes[edit]

Michael Prokes, who directed the Temple's relations with several San Francisco politicians and media, survived when he was ordered to deliver a suitcase containing Temple funds to be transferred to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.[152] He committed suicide in March 1979 at a press conference he called.[152] In the days leading up to his death, Prokes sent notes to several people, together with a thirty-page statement he had written about Peoples Temple. Columnist Herb Caen reprinted one copy in his San Francisco Chronicle column.[152]

Influential allies' reactions[edit]

After the tragedy, Moscone initially defended his appointment of Jones, stating that, in 1975, Jones' reputation was that of a man who believed in social justice and racial equality, and that there was evidence that the Peoples Temple had initiated programs for drug and alcohol rehabilitation.[22] When asked by a reporter whether he felt in any way culpable for the events, Moscone became angry at the reporter and stated "I'm not taking any responsibility, it's not mine to shoulder."[64]

Milk stated that "Guyana was a great experiment that didn't work. I don't know, maybe it did." [153]

Because Milk and Moscone were both killed by Dan White nine days after the Jonestown tragedy and rumors persisted of purported Temple hit squads seeking to assassinate political figures, many in San Francisco initially believed that the murders of Moscone and Milk were connected to the Temple.[154] No evidence exists that White acted at the behest of Jones or the Temple.

Unlike most other politicians, Willie Brown continued to praise Jones, feeling that attacks on Jones were effectively attacks on the black community.[148][155] Brown initially stated he had "no regrets" over his past association the Temple and that he would not dissociate himself from it like other politicians.[22] "They all like to say, 'Forgive me, I was wrong', but that's bulls—t. It doesn't mean a thing now, it just isn't relevant."[64][155] Brown stated that his decision to speak at the Temple was "not a faulty decision at the time it was made, based on all the object factors at that time."[64] Brown later said "If we knew then he was mad, clearly we wouldn't have appeared with him."[31]

Civil rights activist Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had met with Jones on several occasions,[156] refused to disparage Jones, stating that he still considered Jones to be a man that "worked for the people."[156] Jackson also stated "I would hope that all of the good he did will not be discounted because of this tremendous tragedy." [156] Jackson praised Moscone for "not going on a diatribe against the Peoples Temple" and "blowing the whole thing out of proportion."[156]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Three months after the tragedy, Prokes fatally shot himself at a press conference he called in Modesto, California. ("Statement of Michael Prokes." Alternative Considerations of Jonestown and Peoples Temple. San Diego State University: Jonestown Project. Retrieved 22 September 2007. Archived 24 January 2011 at WebCite
  2. ^ Amos later murdered her children with a knife at the behest of Jones in Georgetown, Guyana and subsequently committed suicide.(Tim Reiterman (1982) "Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People" ISBN 978-0-525-24136-2 pp. 544-5)
  3. ^ At Jonestown, John Stoen was found poisoned in Jim Jones' cabin. (Reiterman, Tim, and John Jacobs. Raven: The Untold Story of Rev. Jim Jones and His People. Dutton, 1982. ISBN 978-0-525-24136-2)

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wessinger, Catherine. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate. Seven Bridges Press, 2000. ISBN 978-1-889119-24-3.
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  6. ^ City of San Francisco, Virtual Museum - 1906 Earthquake Photographs
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Coordinates: 37°47′03″N 122°26′02″W / 37.784118°N 122.433765°W / 37.784118; -122.433765