“By late 1978, stories of abuse and mass suicide rehearsals in religious leader Jim Jones’ community, located in a remote area of Guyana, had attracted the attention of the mainstream media and the concern and curiosity of a California Congressman.
In November of that year, Rep. Leo Ryan (D) embarked on a fact-finding mission to the Jonestown settlement on behalf of the International Relations Committee and concerned relatives of cult members.
He was determined to investigate allegations of mental and physical abuse and bring to light the truth about Jones’ People’s Temple religious sect.
The visit to the village revealed a depressed and angry community, and Ryan left with approximately 15 defectors.
In a shocking turn of events on the afternoon of November 18, Ryan’s group, which also included journalists, relatives and aides, was ambushed by members of the cult on an airstrip in Port Kaituma.
Ryan, three journalists and a defector were shot and numerous others were wounded, including Ryan aide Jackie Speier, now a California Senator.
Just as the ambush was beginning, Jones ordered more than 900 people to drink cyanide-laced fruit juice in one of the largest mass suicides in history.
Former Roll Call columnist Karen Feld wrote that Ryan was “always looking, always questioning, always seeking answers. His fierce independence led to his path from California to Washington as it also led his mission to Guyana”.”
We last week noted that 26 years after it occurred, the mass murder-suicide that took place in the jungle of Guyana continues to spawn movies, books and academic research.
The Jonestown tragedy in which more than 900 American citizens lost their lives is still considered one of history’s most catastrophic events.
Yet, we noted, onto this day the true story of Jonestown is not known, even though various theories have been advanced about the activities about this American commune located in the interior of Guyana.
There was an air of secrecy over this cult and it obviously enjoyed cover from the government of the day.
When Mr. Ryan and his team arrived here, a reporter at the Guyana Chronicle got wind of the story and went to the then Editor-in-Chief with what he thought was a scoop – that an eminent U.S. Congressman was here to probe the activities of a little known group camped out somewhere in the northwest district.
The Editor-in-Chief called two top government ministers at the time on the story and was told to drop it.
The reporter was instructed to write a few lines saying that Congressman Ryan was here on a private visit and that was what the Chronicle reported – not a line about the probe into the activities at Jonestown.
And when the Jonestown massacre exploded on November 18, many people around the world knew what had happened before Guyanese here.
When the story of the nightmare finally got out, it was the first time that many here knew there were almost 1,000 Americans living in a commune in this country.
No answers were forthcoming for a shocked population and the full story of Jonestown has never been told.
Over Jim Jones’ altar at Jonestown was a sign that said something like, `Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it’.
And that’s precisely why we repeat that it is important for the Jonestown closet to be opened – the cover-up must be uncovered.