Jonestown conspiracy theories

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The entrance to Jonestown.

The mass murder of 918 members of the Peoples Temple Agricultural Project, better known by its informal name "Jonestown", on November 18, 1978 have spurred numerous conspiracy theories. These include the alleged involvement of outside forces in the deaths, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the Soviet Union. These theories often include the assertion that the events that occurred in Jonestown were a result of CIA experiments in mind control or similar methods of social experimentation. The proponents of these theories often state their belief that these mind control experiments which were, according to them, responsible for the deaths at Jonestown were a covert example of Project MKUltra in practice. According to Rebecca Moore, "In the twenty-three years since the deaths in Jonestown, conspiracy theories have blossomed in number and sophistication."[1]


The day Leo Ryan was killed, his top aide Joe Holsinger, who later became head of the DNC, received a White House call detailing the exact number of people killed based on "a CIA report from the scene."[2]

Discrepancies during investigation[edit]

Headlines in the New York Post,[3] the New York Times,[4] and the San Francisco Examiner[5] originally cited reports from the Guyanese army that 408 people had killed themselves while more than 500 others managed to flee into the surrounding jungle.

The U.S. military arrived several days later and the body count quickly rose; first it was 700, then 780, to a final tally given seven days after the Guyanese report of 909 dead, 4 followers dead at the Temple offices in the capital of Georgetown, and 5 members of Representative Leo Ryan's delegation, including the Congressman himself, murdered at the Port Kaituma airstrip. Only 167 Jonestown inhabitants were reported to have survived.

In explaining the discrepancies, one U.S. official said the Guyanese "couldn't count"[6] while another said that the 400 corpses initially found had just been stacked in such a way that they hid more than 500 more. The dead littered the compound, with piles of bodies decomposing atop one another near the pavilion, and corpses in other buildings or far-flung positions were not readily apparent.

While the total number of settlers living in Jonestown at the time of the massacre has never been properly verified, based on the population estimates there could be anywhere between 20 and 120 followers not accounted for. Conspiracy theorists and at least one Congressional aide claimed these people formed the so-called "Red Brigade", which was armed guards (or perhaps brainwashed assassins) who carried out the attack at the airport as well as providing more typical duties maintaining security along the roads and around the compound.

According to the New York Times,[7] the first trained medical official on the scene was the Guyanese coroner Dr. Leslie C. Mootoo. He and his assistants examined over 100 of the bodies during a 32-hour period and found that the adults had all been injected with cyanide in places which they could not have reached without assistance, such as between the shoulder blades, and that many of them had also been shot. (Charles Huff, one of the first U.S. soldiers on the scene, also reported having seen "many gunshot victims", as well as other victims who had been shot with a crossbow, all of whom appeared to have been attempting to flee.) Mootoo also felt that the children were incapable of consenting to suicide. Based on his preliminary findings, Mootoo speculated that the majority of those who died in Jonestown may have been murdered.

Despite Guyana law requiring an autopsy for any unnatural death, the Americans insisted that the cause of death was readily apparent and additional inquiry was not necessary.[citation needed] Relatives and officials back in the United States complained about being kept from the remains, and according to the New York Times,[8] Dr. Sturmer, then President of the National Association of Medical Examiners, sent an open letter to the U.S. Army complaining about the handling of remains and the illegal cremations of most of the Jonestown victims. For a number of reasons, some legal and some merely logistical, the bodies were not flown out of the remote jungle location of Jonestown for up to a week before being flown to New Jersey, which allowed significant decomposition to occur. Ultimately seven autopsies were conducted but the medical examiners were not informed of Dr. Mootoo's preliminary findings and the corpses were far too decayed for injection sites or other wounds to remain identifiable during the procedures.[9]

Richard Dwyer[edit]

Despite the growing allegations of misconduct against the Peoples Temple in the U.S., the move to Jonestown was given the full support of the American Embassy in Guyana. Some[who?] claim their cooperation was facilitated by Larry Layton's brother-in-law, as well as people including Walter Mondale, Rosalynn Carter, and George Moscone. Others[who?] point out that the Georgetown CIA station was in office space within the U.S. Embassy building itself, and at least three diplomatic officials there were allegedly CIA assets.[citation needed]

Richard Dwyer, whose name was listed in Who's Who in the CIA, was Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy to Guyana at the time. There exists a strong likelihood[citation needed] that Ryan would not have been at the airstrip during the attack without direct intervention by Dwyer. Ryan had intended to remain at the Jonestown compound to continue interviewing families while those wishing to return to the United States were taken to the airstrip, but as the dump truck was leaving Ryan was attacked by Peoples Temple follower and alleged Red Brigade member Don Sly (also known as Ujara). Ujara wielded only a knife and the attack was quickly ended. Ryan was cut in the attack[10] and decided to board the dump truck headed to the airstrip. Already on the dump truck was Larry Layton, who, despite warnings by the defectors that Layton was a strong supporter of Jim Jones[citation needed], had been allowed to join the group at the last minute. Layton participated in the attacks on the Ryan delegation, ultimately serving nearly twenty years in prison after being disarmed and failing to kill his targets on the Cessna, becoming the only Peoples Temple follower to face criminal charges for these events.

On September 27, 1980, a column by investigative reporter Jack Anderson was published under the title "CIA Involved In Jonestown Massacre."[11] According to Anderson, Dwyer and Jones had ties to the CIA, with Dwyer's ties dating to at least 1959; when quizzed directly about this alleged CIA involvement, Dwyer responded "no comment." At one point on the sound-recording made during the mass suicide, Jones' own voice commands, "Take Dwyer on down to the east house" and a short time later, Jones says "Get Dwyer out of here before something happens to him."[12]

However, rather than being in Jonestown, numerous witnesses, including reporters for the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle, saw Dwyer miles away at the Port Kaituma airstrip.[13] Dwyer arrived there with some local constables just before the ambush by the Jonestown "Red Brigade" security squad.[13] Dwyer was also shot in the buttocks during the Red Brigade's ambush at that location.[14] Dwyer stayed at the airstrip with the survivors during the night.[15] Although no one can be certain, Jones' slurred speech and the apparent confusion evidenced in his followers on the tape at his reference to Dwyer may indicate that Jones mistook someone else (perhaps Charles Garry) for Dwyer.[citation needed]

Views from the Soviet Union[edit]

The Jonestown Carnage: A CIA Crime (1978) (Russian: Гибель Джонстауна - преступление ЦРУ)[16] by S.F. Alinin, B.G. Antonov and A.N. Itskov was published in 1987 in the Soviet Union, relying upon both unfounded allegations and some relatively indisputable facts. The book cites many characteristics of the Peoples Temple which may have made it unpopular with the U.S. Government. For example, citing the numerous tapes and writings of the Temple, the book notes that the Peoples Temple practiced apostolic socialism, preached atheism, and opposed what it termed to be capitalist imperialism by the U.S. Government. The book also cites the numerous meetings that representatives of the Peoples' Temple had with Soviet embassy officials to negotiate a potential exodus to the Soviet Union. The book also references the October 2, 1978 visit to Jonestown by Soviet Embassy representative Feodor Timofeyev, who praised the commune for being a socialist haven, wagging its collective finger in the face of the U.S. government.[17]

In addition to documented events, the book also includes contentious allegations not revealed in the Jonestown tapes or other available evidence. One such item describes a statement by Timofeyev of a purported meeting on November 18, 1978, with Deborah Touchette, whom Timofeyev claimed passed him a briefcase with cash and Peoples Temple documents inside. Another report in the book concerned a call from Sharon Amos, staying at the Peoples Temple office in Georgetown with her three children on the day of the massacre, where Amos allegedly described a radio message from out of Jonestown about military helicopters and armed men approaching the compound. Amos and her three children died upon Jones' order.

Based upon these and other allegations, the author contends that the group members were assassinated by CIA agents and mercenaries to prevent further political emigration from the U.S. as well as suppress opposition to the U.S. regime.


  1. ^ "Reconstructing Reality: Conspiracy Theories About Jonestown". Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  2. ^
  3. ^ New York Post, Nov 28, 1978: "Cult Dies in South American Jungle: 400 Die in Mass Suicide, 700 Flee into Jungle."
  4. ^ New York Times, Nov 21, 1978; Nov 22, 1978; Nov 23, 1978
  5. ^ San Francisco Examiner, Nov 22, 1978
  6. ^ New York Times, November 25, 1978
  7. ^ New York Times, December 14, 1978
  8. ^ New York Times, December 12, 1978
  9. ^ New York Times November 26, 1978
  10. ^ Jonestown:The Life and Death of the People's Temple, retrieved 2010-07-01
  11. ^ Anderson, Jack, "CIA Involved In Jonestown Massacre, September 27, 1980
  12. ^ "Jonestown Audiotape Primary Project : Transcripts, Tape Number : Q 042, the so-called "Death Tape"". Retrieved 2007-03-08.
  13. ^ a b Tim Reiterman (1982) "Raven: The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People" ISBN 0-525-24136-1 page 527
  14. ^ Tim Reiterman (1982) "Raven: The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People" ISBN 0-525-24136-1 page 534
  15. ^ Tim Reiterman (1982) "Raven: The Untold Story of The Rev. Jim Jones and His People" ISBN 0-525-24136-1 page 537
  16. ^ "Джонстаун-1: bey". Archived from the original on 2016-06-14. Retrieved 2016-03-12.
  17. ^ "Q352 Transcript". 2014-04-07. Retrieved 2016-03-12.


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