Even in 1978, the very year he orchestrated the mass-suicide that ended over 900 lives in Jonestown, cult leader Jim Jones could count on people as influential as politician Harvey Milk – recently the subject of an Academy Award-winning movie – to fight his corner in his absence. With Jones and congregation relocated to Guyana following increased speculation about the church in San Francisco, Milk – an advocate of Peoples Temple and personal correspondent of its founder – wrote the following letter to then-President Jimmy Carter in an effort to defend Jones’ reputation in light of comments made by former member Timothy Stoen.
Nine months later, on November 18th, 1978, Congressman Leo Ryan and four others were shot dead as they attempted to leave Jonestown following an inspection of the settlement and then, fearing the end was near, Jim Jones instructed his followers to poison themselves and commit ‘revolutionary suicide’.
CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO
BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
CITY HALL, SAN FRANCISCO 94102
SUPERVISOR HARVERY MILK
February 19, 1978
President Jimmy Carter
The White House
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear President Carter:
I am the Supervisor for District Five in the City of San Francisco. The Peoples Temple Christian Church is not located in my District, so I have no political ties or obligations to this church. I am writing to call an urgent concern of theirs to your attention. I am concerned at what I understand is the endorsement of some of our Congressmen for the efforts of Timothy Stoen against Rev. Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple. There are some facts I feel you should be informed of:
Rev. Jones is widely known in the minority communities here and elsewhere as a man of the highest character, who has undertaken constructive remedies for social problems which have been amazing in their scope and effectiveness. He is also highly regarded amongst church, labor, and civic leaders of a wide range of political persuasions. Our own Board of Supervisors has presented Rev. Jones with a Certificate of Honor, unanimously passed by all members, praising the church for its many projects “which have been so beneficial to all the citizens of the Bay Area.” On the same occasion, he was also presented with a unanimously passed resolution by a Republican State Senator, Milton Marks representing that legislative body.
Timothy and Grace Stoen, the parties that are attempting to damage Rev. Jones’ reputation, and seriously disrupt the life of his son, John, have both already been discredited in the news media here. The most widely-read columnist in the area, Herb Caen, printed Mr. Stoen’s sworn testimony that John is not his child but rather Rev. Jones. Grace Stone is reported involved in what could be considered a blackmail attempt against another leader in the minority community, Dennis Banks, reported in the two major dailies with her name also given in Mr. Banks’ sworn affadavit about the attempt.
It is outrageous that Timothy Stoen could even think of flaunting this situation in front of our Congressmen with apparently bold-faced lies. I have learned in addition, that he has pressured these Congressmen towards unwitting compliance with promoting State Department intervention in the custody case now pending in Guyana.
Not only is the life of a child at stake , who presently has loving protective parents in Rev. and Mrs. Jones, but our official relations with Guyana could stand to be jeopardized, to the potentially great embarassment of our State Department.
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 an outrage taking place.
(Signed, ‘Harvey Milk’)
cc: Rep. John Burton; Rep. Phillip Burton; Lt. Gov. Mervyn Dymally