A CIA Experiment in Mass Brainwashing

By Richard Edmondson

On November 18, 1978, more than 900 people died in the jungle of Guyana at a place called Jonestown, a religious settlement founded and led by the Rev. Jim Jones. The mainstream media—at the time, and still to this day—have portrayed what happened there as a mass suicide by followers of a maniacal cult leader, while over the years others who have researched the Peoples Temple have concluded it was a CIA experiment somewhat along the lines of MK Ultra, a program of mind control and behavioral modification carried out primarily in the 1950s and 60s using live human beings. So which view of Jonestown is the correct one?

Certainly it could be as the media have portrayed it. But the CIA connections to this story are so numerous and curious that, much like Israel’s connections to 9/11, it’s almost impossible to dismiss them as mere coincidence. For instance, Jones was a longtime associate of CIA agent Dan Mitrione. Both had roots in the same area of east-central Indiana—Jones was born in 1931 in Randolph County, growing up in the town of Lynn, while Mitrione served as police chief of nearby Richmond during the young Jones’ formative years. Both were in Brazil in the early 1960s, and it seems Jones’ connections to Guyana may stretch as far back as 1970—the same year Mitrione was kidnapped and assassinated by leftist guerillas in Uruguay.

In his early years as a preacher, Jones established several churches in Indiana, one of which he named “The Peoples Temple.” However, this phase of his life concluded with the move to Brazil, and it wasn’t until after the Brazilian sojourn that the real Peoples Temple got started—in 1965 in Ukiah, California, where Jones came to be known as “the Messiah from Ukiah.” But by 1972 the membership had grown substantially, and the Peoples Temple relocated to San Francisco, where it became a magnet for poor people and social activists. Here Jones came into the good graces of local political officials, playing a significant role in the 1975 election victory of Mayor George Moscone, who later repaid him by appointing him chairman of the San Francisco Housing Authority Commission. (Moscone ended up being assassinated one week after the Jonestown murders.)

The roughly 3,800 acres of land leased from the government of Guyana was extremely remote and isolated, roughly 150 miles from the capital of Georgetown. The “Peoples Temple Agricultural Project,” as it was called, was hyped to Temple members as a socialist utopia, but the societal structure that developed in Jonestown came to take on characteristics of a modern day police state. There were armed guards who patrolled the place. People lived in cramped quarters, worked long hours a day, and those loyal to the system were rewarded, while dissenters and the recalcitrant found themselves penalized in various ways. Of course no police state could function without a media. Jonestown had no radio or TV station as such (other than a shortwave transmitter), but there were towers equipped with audio speakers, and by this means the masses were addressed. Movies could be shown as well. Is it possible the residents of Jonestown, isolated as they were, were the equivalent of a scientific control group? And if so what was the purpose of the research? Could it have been to establish protocols for mass brainwashing? And perhaps also to determine approximately what percentage of a population, under optimum conditions, would reliably function and serve as loyal “patriots,” as opposed to the number which might be anticipated to rebel or “flee into the jungle,” as such? The question becomes even more pertinent when we discover that apparently Jonestown was not the only “control group” operating in Guyana, and that there was also a “Hilltown” located nearby, about which much less is known, but which is believed to have been run by a Rabbi David Hill.

It has been widely noted and remarked upon, even by the mainstream media, that while Jones and the upper echelon of the Peoples Temple, including the armed guards, were white, those who made up the bulk of the membership were predominantly people of color. “What were these African Americans doing in the middle of the jungle with this white man?” is a question posed in an article by PBS. While the article doesn’t give a clear answer, it does nonetheless discuss Jones’ seeming lifetime commitment to civil rights, and his efforts at “building a mixed race utopia” in Jonestown. Omitted, however, is any mention of his time in Brazil.

It was in 1977 that Jones moved virtually the entire Peoples Temple to Guyana. The main impetus is said to have been negative stories that had begun appearing in the Bay Area media, including reports that Jones had enriched himself at the expense of his followers and was engaged in sexual improprieties as well. Jones is said to have dismissed the accusations as nothing more than religious-motivated attacks, and that seems to be how hundreds of his followers viewed it as well. Or maybe the beckoning of a socialist utopia was too good to pass up. Whatever the case, the move to Guyana was made.

But getting back to the question of mass brainwashing, and whether this was, or was not, an experiment in such, click below to listen to an audio file of Jones speaking to his followers in 1978:


What does his ranting remind you of? Disregard the substance of the diatribe, i.e. the references to Kennedy and Martin Luther King, etc., and consider only the cadence and accentuations. Do not the tone, the overall anger, vehemence, and vituperation, remind you a little bit of a rightwing talk radio host?

Now click here and listen to Jewish talk show host Michael Weiner, better known as “Michael Savage,” in a program that aired in 2007.

Is there not an eerie similarity in the two deliveries? This is sheer speculation, of course, but could it be that the prototype for what later came to be known as rightwing hate radio was developed at Jonestown?

Back in 1978, radio programs like Weiner’s were illegal. The Federal Communications Commission had a rule in place known as the Fairness Doctrine, a policy requiring broadcasters to air contrasting views when discussing controversial issues. The First Amendment was not applied to broadcasters in those days. The idea was that the airwaves belonged to the people. Much like a national park, they were a public resource, and if broadcasters wanted to use them for profit, they were obliged to act in the public interest—and it was deemed that the public interest was best served by having a diversity of viewpoints. But the Fairness Doctrine was done away with in 1985 (Wikipedia gives the date as 1987, but this is incorrect*), thus paving the way for radio programs like Weiner’s. The consolidation of media ownership into fewer and fewer hands was already under way at the time, and the elimination of the Fairness Doctrine, followed by passage of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, opened the floodgates. The latter drastically loosened restrictions on the number of broadcast properties a single corporate entity could own.

But let’s return to the subject of Jonestown. What exactly took place on November 18, 1978? What we know is that at about 5 p.m., a delegation led by Congressman Leo Ryan, having toured Jonestown earlier in the day, found itself waiting for planes at the Port Kaituma airstrip, some six miles away. Accompanying the delegation were Peoples Temple members who had elected to leave. The delegation had arrived in one plane, but the number of temple members defecting was such that an additional plane was needed to carry them all out. When the two aircrafts landed and the group began to board, armed guards from the Peoples Temple arrived on the scene and began to open fire. Five people, including Ryan, were killed. Nine others were wounded.

Back at Jonestown, Jim Jones assembled his followers for a “White Night” pact with death** in the settlement’s central pavilion. Kool-Aid laced with cyanide was handed out and people were encouraged to drink it, including parents who were told to give the concoction to their small children. Both the mainstream media and the “conspiracy theorists” agree on one thing: that a large number of followers complied, but that others, perhaps even larger in number, fled into the jungle. The latter were subsequently rounded up and killed, and while the precise figures of the opposing factions vary depending upon source, 400 seems to be the number most commonly given for those who took the Kool-Aid willingly, while they who fled have been estimated as high as 700.

One writer who has propounded the theory of Jonestown as a CIA experiment is John Judge. His article, “The Black Hole of Guyana”, written in 1985, can still be found on the Internet here. While much of Judge’s research remains valuable, some of his conclusions are suspect. For instance, he writes:

Pete Hammill called the corpses “all the loose change of the sixties.” The effect was electric. Any alternative to the current system was seen as futile, if not deadly. Protest only led to police riots and political assassination. Alternative lifestyles and drugs led to “creepy-crawly” communes and violent murders. And religious experiments led to cults and suicide. Social utopias were dreams that turned into nightmares. The television urged us to go back to “The Happy Days” of the apolitical 50s. The message was, get a job, and go back to church. The unyielding nuclear threat generated only nihilism and hopelessness. There was no answer but death, no exit from the grisly future. The new ethic was personal success, aerobics, material consumption, a return to “American values,” and the “moral majority” white Christian world. The official message was clear.

The notion that events at Jonestown were engineered by those seeking to convey a “message” such as Judge describes is probably dubious. And of course it wasn’t Christianity the media owners who lobbied for repeal of the Fairness Doctrine and passage of the Telecommunications Act were intent on promoting; it was Israel.

Nonetheless, Judge discusses the findings of Dr. Cyril Mootoo, a Guyanese pathologist who was one of the first to arrive on the scene, as well as the presence of British commandoes who apparently were on a “training exercise” in the vicinity coincidentally at the time the murders took place—and American Green Berets who seem to have materialized a remarkably short time later. He also addresses the issue of the wild discrepancies in the number of victims that showed up in the media in the days immediately after the killings. And these indeed were quite substantial:

By all accounts in the press, as well as People’s Temple statements there were at least 1,100 people at Jonestown.[14] There were 809 adult passports found there, and reports of 300 children (276 found among the dead, and 210 never identified). The headline figures from the first day add to the same number: 1,100.[15] The original body count done by the Guyanese was 408, and this figure was initially agreed to by U.S. Army authorities on site.[16] However, over the next few days, the total of reported dead began to rise quickly. The Army made a series of misleading and openly false statements about the discrepancy. The new total, which was the official final count, was given almost a week later by American authorities as 913.[17] A total of 16 survivors were reported to have returned to the U.S.[18] Where were the others?

At their first press conference, the Americans claimed that the Guyanese “could not count.” These local people had carried out the gruesome job of counting the bodies, and later assisted American troops in the process of poking holes in the flesh lest they explode from the gasses of decay.[19] Then the Americans proposed another theory — they had missed seeing a pile of bodies at the back of the pavilion. The structure was the size of a small house, and they had been at the scene for days. Finally, we were given the official reason for the discrepancy — bodies had fallen on top of other bodies, adults covering children.[20]

Judge points out, rather reasonably, that it would be difficult for 408 bodies to completely cover up and obscure from view 505 bodies reputedly lying just underneath them (913-408=505)—and he also discusses the unlikelihood of Dr. Mootoo and his staff somehow missing all 505 bodies on their initial examination of the death scene. Another thing that doesn’t jive with the official story, is that upon examining the corpses, Mootoo found fresh needle marks at the back of the left shoulder blade on a large number of them.

Judge also discusses the mysterious Rabbi David Hill, mentioned earlier, as well as both Jones’ and Hill’s connections to Guyanese Prime Minister Forbes Burnham:

Inside Guyana itself, approximately 25 miles to the south of Matthews Ridge, is a community called Hilltown, named after religious leader Rabbi Hill. Hill has used the names Abraham Israel and Rabbi Emmanuel Washington. Hilltown, set up about the same time as Jonestown, followed the departure of David Hill, who was known in Cleveland, a fugitive of the U.S. courts. Hill rules with an “iron fist” over some 8,000 Black people from Guyana and America who believe they are the Lost Tribe of Israel and the real Hebrews of Biblical prophecy.[188] Used as strong-arm troops, and “internal mercenaries” to insure Burnham’s election, as were Jonestown members, the Hilltown people were allowed to clear the Jonestown site of shoes and unused weapons, both in short supply in Guyana.[189] Hill says his followers would gladly kill themselves at his command, but he would survive since, unlike Jones, he is “in control.”[190]

Judge implies that Hill was African American, rather than Jewish, and ties him to a black minister in Ohio at the time that used the name “Rabbi Emmanuel Israel.” That view would tend to be confirmed by an article here. However, if we click here, we can read of “Rabbi David Hill,” a New York Jew, who appears to have been especially active during the same time period, and who is positively identified as a Jew of Russian extract. Of course, it’s a fairly common name and there could have been two Rabbi Hills.

As mentioned above, Jones had a longtime association with CIA agent Dan Mitrione. The ties between the two, as well as Jones’ stay in Brazil in the early sixties, are detailed in an article here:

According to Brazilian authorities, Jim, his wife Marceline, and their four children arrived at Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial capitol on a commercial airliner on April 11, 1962. It’s well known that Jim Jones came from a very poor family. It is also well known that Jones and his family lived in virtual squalor up to this point. However, the family initially checked into the expensive Financial Hotel. Later, the family moved into a large house at 203 Maraba Avenue, in the city’s well-to-do Santo Antonio section…

Sebastiaco Carlos Rocha, a man who lived across the street from Jones, said that Jones would leave every morning at 6:00 a.m. with a leather briefcase, and return home around 7:00 p.m. Rocha and his family had many interactions with the Jones family. Rocha said that Jones told him that he was a retired U.S. Naval captain recuperating from the Korean War and that he was receiving monthly checks from the U.S. government for his military service. Several neighbors, including Rocha, said that they often witnessed a U.S. Consulate car in front of Jones’ home. Many also said that they witnessed the person in the car regularly delivering groceries to the family. Rocha said that Jones “enjoyed a very expensive lifestyle.”…

Perhaps the most mysterious and dubious connection that Jim Jones had was his childhood friend, Dan Mitrione. The two met back in Richmond, Indiana, when Jones was a young boy preaching on street corners in a black neighborhood, and Mitrione was a Richmond Police Officer. Although Mitrione was a few years older, he took Jones under his wing. Mitrione later became Chief of the Richmond PD, and some say that he was the only reason that Jones did not get arrested and run out of town. Mitrione was later was recruited into the CIA, under State Department cover, in May of 1960, and was trained in counter-insurgency and torture techniques. Coincidentally, Mitrione had traveled to Brazil as an OPS adviser at the U.S. Consulate not long before Jones had arrived. A CIA file (201) was opened on Jim Jones at about that time. Although Jones later denied having any contact with Mitrione in Brazil, he did admit that he sought him out and actually met with Mitrione’s family while there.

Manuel Hevia Conculluela worked for the CIA in Uruguay’s police program. In 1970, his duties brought him in contact with Dan Mitrione in Montevideo. In his book, Passporte 11333: Eight Years With the CIA, which chronicles his CIA exploitations, Manuel wrote of the many pointers Mitrione gave him on how to torture and interrogate subjects.

Former CIA agent John Stockwell wrote a book entitled, The Praetorian Guard in which he explained a particular CIA training session for new recruits. After watching various films and teaching various torture techniques, the recruits were sent out on kidnapping missions. Stockwell identifies Dan Mitrione as the teacher of this training session. According to Stockwell, Mitrione gave almost identical advice on how to torture suspects to his students as he gave to Manuel.

Not long after Mitrione gave advice to Manuel, he was kidnapped by Tupermaro guerillas in Uruguay, interrogated and murdered. He was found dead in the back seat of a stolen car. Mysteriously, Jones’ 201-file was purged by the CIA immediately after Mitrione was kidnapped and murdered in Montevideo, Uruguay. Whether or not Jim Jones was an apprentice of Dan Mitrione is not known, but there is a strong possibility based on the circumstances and their history.

In addition, Wikipedia relates the following on Mitrione’s Uruguyan posting and death:

In this period the Uruguayan government, led by the Colorado Party, had its hands full with a collapsing economy, labor and student strikes, and the Tupamaros, a left-wing urban guerilla group. On the other hand, Washington feared a possible victory during the elections of the Frente Amplio, a left-wing coalition, on the model of the victory of the Unidad Popular government in Chile, led by Salvador Allende, in 1970.[4] The OPS had been helping the local police since 1965, providing them with weapons and training. It is claimed that torture had already been practised since the 1960s, but Dan Mitrione was reportedly the man who made it routine.[6] He is quoted as having said once: “The precise pain, in the precise place, in the precise amount, for the desired effect.”[7] Former Uruguayan police officials and CIA operatives claimed Mitrione had taught torture techniques to Uruguayan police in the cellar of his Montevideo home, including the use of electrical shocks delivered to his victims’ mouths and genitals.[8] He also helped train foreign police agents in the United States in the context of the Cold War. It has been alleged that he used homeless people for training purposes, who were allegedly executed once they had served their purpose.[9]

As the use of torture allegations grew and the tensions in Uruguay escalated, Mitrione was eventually kidnapped by the Tupamaros on July 31, 1970. They proceeded to interrogate him about his past and the intervention of the U.S. government in Latin American affairs. They also demanded the release of 150 political prisoners.[10]

At the behest of the US, the Uruguayan government refused the Tupamaros’ demand, but this doesn’t mean there weren’t those within the US intelligence community working furiously to secure the torturer’s release. According to Wikipedia, “Tom Golden, a career army intelligence operative detailed to the CIA and assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Montevideo, was a personal friend of Mitrione who worked closely with Uruguayan officials to try to secure the release of Mitrione and prevent his execution.

One is tempted to view the Tupamaros who executed Mitrione as deserving of a medal. However, Nixon Administration Press Secretary Ronald Zeigler touted the dead agent’s “devoted service to the cause of peaceful progress in an orderly world,” claiming it would “remain as an example for free men everywhere.”

Another person with a strange connection to the events in Jonestown is Jewish lawyer Mark Lane, one of two attorneys to represent the Peoples Temple, the other being Charles Gary. Both lawyers were present in Jonestown on November 18, 1978, but both—unlike the hundreds of others who fled into the jungle and later were rounded up—somehow managed to escape to Georgetown.

Christopher Bollyn refers to Lane as a “Zionist wolf in sheep’s clothing,” and discusses especially a visit to Jonestown he made in September of 1978, just two months before the killings. During that visit, Lane reportedly addressed Temple members and seems to have fed the same fears stoked by Jones—of conspiracies by outsiders, mainly the US government, to destroy the Temple and close down utopia. Bollyn supplies documentation in the form of PDF files of New York Times articles published in late 1978 and 1979 (see here, here, and here ), including one report in which Lane and Temple Business Manager Terri Buford are named as possibly having emptied a Swiss bank account of up to $8 million. The same report, from December 16, 1978, also quotes an FBI spokesperson as saying that neither Lane nor Buford were under surveillance. A separate article quotes Gary, in a speech given in 1979, as describing Lane as the “catalyst” that led to the mass deaths.

Leo Ryan represented California’s 11th Congressional District, which today includes parts of Alameda, Contra Costa, Santa Clara, and San Joaquin counties (at the time part of San Mateo County was also included), an area lying both to the east and south of San Francisco. He became involved in the Jonestown tragedy after receiving complaints from constituents concerning relatives held in Guyana against their will. Incidentally, Ryan, a Roman Catholic, was one of the authors of the Hughes-Ryan Amendment, passed in 1974, requiring additional Congressional oversight of CIA covert operations—a factor which certainly has added fuel to the Jonestown-as-CIA-experiment theory.

As for Jim Jones, a body identified as Jones’ was found at Jonestown with a single gunshot to the head, believed to have been delivered sometime around midnight. Judge seems satisfied that it was indeed the cult leader’s body, although Judge also reports that Jones occasionally used “doubles” in religious services to fool his congregation, and some have speculated, here for instance, that Jones did not die in the town that bears his name, and that the body was in fact one of the doubles. It is probably impossible to know for sure.

The only person ever convicted in the Jonestown murders was Temple member Larry Layton, who was found guilty of “aiding and abetting” Ryan’s murder. Layton was the son of Dr. Laurence Layton, who headed research and development at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground, a facility in Utah where chemical and biological weapons are tested. His sister, Deborah, and mother, Lisa, were also followers of Jones. Layton was paroled in 2002.


* Mark Fowler, the Reagan Administration’s appointee to chair the FCC, pressed for an end to the Fairness Doctrine. On August 7, 1985, the Commission, by unanimous vote, labeled the policy constitutionally “suspect,” announcing that it no longer served the “public interest, convenience or necessity.” See Richard Edmondson, Rising Up: Class Warfare in America from the Streets to the Airwaves, Librad Press, 2000, p. 232.

** The Peoples Temple occasionally held mass suicide trial runs, which Jones referred to as “White Nights.” The practice is discussed in detail in an article here:

Jones mentioned death innumerable times in his speeches, and mass suicide had been a recurring theme before the movement reallocated to Guyana (Hall, 1987). On several occasions, Jones told his congregation that their wine had been poisoned, and that everyone that had drunk this wine would die within an hour. He planted conspirators among the public during their meetings who simulated spasms, then seemingly dropped dead. After a certain amount of these rather morbid repetitions, the concept of death and suicide became trivial and accepted among the group, even while it was located in California. Suicide would become even more central in the interaction between Jones and his assembly in Jonestown. White Nights was a term introduced by Jones, and was meant to describe a community in deep crisis and despair. It was not until they reached Jonestown that the members became closely familiar with this term, as well as the fact that the outcome of a White Night could be mass death. During such events, the inhabitants of Jonestown were awakened by sirens and guards that walked from house to house to insure that every person heard and acknowledged the call and gathered in the pavilion. On the most extreme cases of these White Nights, which of there were reportedly to or three in Jonestown’s history, the inhabitants armed themselves in anticipation of an attack from the armed forces of Guyana, mercenaries and hostile family members who Jones had said would attack them. The more moderate White Nights occurred more often, according to survivors, numbering a dozen or more while Jonestown was active. These White Nights were defined by the members’ own testimonials that largely were defined by their own commitment to the Cause, combined with their willingness to die for their common goal.

An additional source of information on Jonestown is a site maintained by the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University. A rather large archive of material can be accessed there, including numerous articles written by various writers over the years.

The following video features the voice of Joe Holsinger, a legislative assistant to Congressman Ryan, whose comments were made at a press conference in 1980.

Two other interesting videos on Jonestown:


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