The Cult Phenomenon in the United States (1979)/Speier

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[Statement of Jackie Speier, P.24-30.]

Senator Dole. Some of the members will have to leave and then come back. I understand Senator Zorinsky has about three other meetings. He will be in and out.

Let's start off with our first witness, Ms. Jackie Speier, former legislative aide to the late Congressman, Leo Ryan.

We have had to limit the witnesses to five minutes.


Ms. Speier. Good morning. Thank you, Senator Dole.

First of all, I would like to compliment you on your courage to address the sensitive issue that has been engulfed in controversy and tragedy. Under significant pressure, you have come together to, hopefully, illuminate some of the critical issues facing our country with regard to cults and mind control.

Although I was a victim of the attempted murder, a witness to the assasination of Congressman Leo J. Ryan, and exposed to the encampment at Jonestown, I do not present myself here before his Committee as an expert on mind control or cults.

What I have to offer to this Committee are my personal thoughts, observations, and conclusions regarding Congressman Ryan's research and investigation into cults and particularly the People's Temple.

Cults are not new in American society. They have been an integral part of the American fabric since the inception of this nation.

Since the early 1970s more than 10 million Americans have embraced cult activities.

As society has become highly industrialized and sophisticated, changes have occurred that I believe bear heavily on the recent proliferation of cults in the United States.

The People's Temple, while not a religious cult, was, without a doubt, a cult. The people who were attracted to Jim Jones apparently were unwilling or unable to fulfill all of their needs in what many of us would consider acceptable bounds of human behavior.

The breakdown of the family unit in the United States along with individuals' overwhelming desire to be accepted preceded the tragedy we now know as Jonestown.

The major religious cults in the United States show surprising similarities. They offer a ready-mad substitute family coupled with a very strong charismatic leader acting as a father figure who has the ability to mesmerize his followers.

Mind control seems to be implemented through intimidation, coercion, force, adn sometimes aberrant sexual conduct, drugs, food deprivation, sleep deprivation, and divestment of worldly possessions.

Congressman Ryan and I spoke to nearly 100 people at the Jonestown encampment. I was exceptionally troubled by my interviews of several adolescent women. In response to simple questions about their future goals and possible return to the United States, the responses were frighteningly similar: the answers were devoid of normal emotion, speaking in monosyllables and quite often not in proper response to the questions asked, making it appear that certain answers were programmed to field a number of questions.

These women showed little interest in careers or college goals, expecting an early marriage within the cult to be the only option in life.

It was a sad experience to see so many lost and misdirected people whose ability to seek individual goals had been totally destroyed.

In the late Congressman's 11th Congressional District lies the suburban community of Burlingame. From this town of 30,000 people came 12 persons who joined the People's Temple in Guyana. All 12 were white, came from families with above average income, and all were previously members of some established church. 10 of these 12 are now dead from the mass murder-suicides that took place in Jonestown. And the two surviving have been questioned by the Guyana authorities with regard to their involvement with the attack of the Port Kaituma Airstrip.

From the beginning of Congressman Ryan's investigation into cults, we were concerned about cults which were purporting to espouse certain religious beliefs but were in fact pursuing quite different courses, courses that tragically led to the death of over 900 American citizens.

Some religious cults with federal tax-exempt status as religious organizations are apparently stockpiling weapons according to reports in the Washington Post and other news papers. One such report stated the West Virginia headquarters of the Hare Krishna organization has a vast arsenal of weaponry stockpiled.

In Santa Barbara, California a small religious cult was recently found to have collected large quantities of weapons as well.

Such hoarding of weapons must be questioned when it appears such collection goes beyond the scope of an individual's Constitutional right to self-defense.

U.S. federal authorities recovered an extraordinary amount of weapons at the Jonestown encampment: automatic rifles, shotguns, and handguns. What few weapons were registered at Jonestown were ostensibly kept to protect the encampment from external attack.

Obviously the arsenal was maintained for purposes only remotely relating to self-defense. The arsenal seems specifically designed to exterminate those who were not supportive of the cult.

The attack on our official party at the Port Kaituma Airstrip is historical evidence of this statement.

Although I strongly believe an investigation must be conducted with regard to religious groups that may be formed for other purposes, I must strongly caution against a Modern type witch hunt or any lessening of true religious freedom.

Also, the government must be extremely cautious to a persecuting a group for merely being unusual or espousing different views of religion.

So it must be asked: what does this ad hoc committee intend to do from this day forward?

The Congress has a responsibility to the American people to preserve and protect the Constitutional rights of the people.

Equally, the Congress must exercise leadership in the manner of cults and mind control.

To my knowledge, I am the only person in this room who spent time with Jim Jones during the last days of his life. When he spoke, he spoke as a broken man, a man who knew there would be no tomorrow for himself and now, as we know, for people who believed in his ultimate plan.

I am a victim of Guyana, but I am alive and very mindful of my responsibility to try and inform others about the tragedy.

I hope this Commitee, during the course of its investigation, will also be mindful of perhaps the singularly most important fact of Jonestown: It can happen again.

Thank you.

Senator Dole. Thank you, Ms. Speier.

Will you be able to stay for a while?

Ms. Speier. I will be able.

Senator Dole. Bill Whitehurst is now here.

Bill, do you have a statement to make?

Mr. Whitehurst. No. I am a little late. The farmers held us up on the 14th Street Bridge.

Senator Dole. I figured that out.

Mr. Whitehurst. Thank you.

Senator Dole. It might be helpful -- Bob Boetcher, would you identify yourself in your statement as far as background?

Mr. Boetcher. Yes, sir.


[Questions of Jackie Speier by Senators, Congressmen, P.126-128.]

Senator Dole. We are trying to figure out how we might -- are there any questions of Ms. Speier?

Senator Zorinsky?

Senator Zorinsky. Ms. Speier, thank you very much. My question is brief. I am sure it can be answered very briefly also. During your testimony this morning, you indicated taht weapons were involved in the Jonestown incident where there were semi -- and semiautomatic weapons needed for the defense of the group, as I understand your statement.

Ms. Speier. We were told there were a number of small weapons that were registered with the Guyanese government at Jonestown. We found out later that there was an arsenal of weapons, far more extensive than the type of weapons that you would hold to maintain some sort of self-defense.

The weapons that were used on us at the air strip were part of that arsenal.

Senator Zorinsky. Did you receive any indication as to the prime purpose of the stockpiling of weapons?

Ms. Speier. No. We had no knowledge of the purpose of the stockpiling, other than it was for defensive purposes, because of the jungle community that they were living with.

Senator Zorinsky. That prompted the need to have those type of weapons, because of the nature of the jungle surrounding the area?

Ms. Speier. That's correct. Again I have to stress that they had registered only a few of those weapons. The arsenal they had on had at the time of the massacre and the murders at the air strip were in numbers that I cannot even ascertain myself at this point.

Senator Zorinsky. Thank you very much.

It concerns me. The federal laws in automatic and semi-automatic weapons definitely are being violated. I think this Congress certainly has every right, authority, to seek into which laws are being violated such as these weapons laws.

Thank you.

Ms. Speier. Thank you.

Senator Dole. Thank you very much, Ms. Speier.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).