Jim Jones, the Guyana “Suicides” & Harvey Milk’s Premonitions of Death
“After Milk’s body was cremated, the ashes were enshrined at his prior direction with bubble bath…and several packets of Kool-Aid, a clue that Milk left behind, per the will he’d revised a week before the shootings, to signify Jim Jones of the People’s Temple…” – Michael Meiers
The murders of Moscone and City Supervisor Harvey Milk had all the earmarks of mind control. Dan White, their assassin, had been a paratrooper in the 173rd Airborne Division, in which capacity he served in Vietnam. He was discharged from Fort Bragg in 1967, returned to San Francisco and joined the police department. He lived in Sausolito, drove a Porsche and generally lived far beyond his means. In 1972 he gave it all up and took a vacation since known as White’s “missing year.”
Back in San Francisco, he joined the fire department. His temper tantrums were an embarrassment to co-workers, though his work record was without blemish. In his run for the Board of Supervisors, White spoke as if he was “programmed,” according to Stan Smith, a local labor leader. During Board sessions, White was known to slip into lapses of silence punctuated by goose-stepping walks around the chambers.
White used illegal hollow-point bullets. After Milk’s body was cremated, the ashes were enshrined at his prior direction with bubble bath, signifying his homosexuality, and several packets of Kool-Aid, a clue that Milk left behind, per the will he’d revised a week before the shootings, to signify Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, a CIA mind control experiment that ended with the destruction of 1200 subjects.
“I can be killed with ease,” Milk noted in a poem written the month he died, “I can be cut right down.” In his new will, he wrote: “Let the bullets that rip through my brain smash every closet door in the country.”
Also see – Death of dreams: in November 1978, Harvey Milk”s murder and the mass suicides at Jonestown nearly broke San Francisco”s spirit. Eerily, Milk knew and worked with Jonestown founder Jim Jones.(Harvey Milk & Jonestown: 25 years later)
Publication Date: 25-NOV-03
Publication Title: The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Format: Online – approximately 1942 words
Author: VanDecarr, Paul
CITY HALL SLAYINGS: 25 Years LaterRevisiting the horror of that day of death
For those who are old enough, the memory is searing
Carl Nolte, Chronicle Staff Writer
November 26, 2003
When University of San Francisco Professor Peter Novak proposed to his students that they produce a series of events commemorating the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk, he got a shock — most of his students had not heard of Moscone or Milk.
They are 18, 19 and 20, young people from a newer time. To them, Moscone is the Moscone Center, Harvey Milk is the name of a plaza in the Castro. “They didn’t know the story at all,” Novak said.
Those who have no memory of that day — Nov. 27, 1978 — are the lucky ones. Many of those who were at San Francisco City Hall when Dan White killed the two men can never forget it. The slayings happened 25 years ago Thursday, and the memory is searing.
Rudy Nothenberg was a deputy mayor. He can still see Moscone’s body lying on the floor of his private office, can still see the smoke from the mayor’s cigarette curling up. “It was awful,” he said. “It was shock and panic. You don’t know what you can do for him. You scream for the cops, which is what I did.”
Dianne Feinstein was president of the Board of Supervisors. Her office was on the other side of City Hall. She heard a door slam in Milk’s office, heard shots, saw the killer run out, went in herself and found Harvey Milk’s body. “I put my finger to see if there was any pulse, and it went in a bullet hole in his chest,” she said the other day. “I think of it as if it were yesterday. I remember Harvey’s body, his blood on me. I see it all.”
Christopher Moscone was then a high school student. Even now, a quarter of a century later, the son can see his father as he was, his sleeves rolled up, working. “The family remembers him — good memories, good stories, at Christmas, holidays, birthdays,” the younger Moscone said. “Sometimes I dream of him, and when I do, I can talk to him.
“I love the city,” he said, “and I hate the city for that.”
That autumn was a terrible time anyway in San Francisco, the worst of times.
The years when people wore flowers in their hair were long gone.
There were serial slayings — a killer named Zodiac who taunted the police, another named Zebra who shot down people on the street. Ten days before Moscone and Milk were killed, a mad San Francisco preacher named Jim Jones and 914 of his followers perished in a South American jungle. The city was rocked to its roots. “What a bizarre period,” Feinstein said.
And then, out of the blue on a beautiful Monday morning, the mayor of San Francisco was killed in his own office, and the killer then walked through the classic City Hall and shot down the most important gay political figure in the country. The killer was not a stranger, either. He was San Francisco born and bred, a former cop, former fireman, former member of the Board of Supervisors.
And that wasn’t all. White was tried a few months later and in May was found guilty, not of murder but only of voluntary manslaughter. A peaceful march to protest the verdict turned into a riot, and the mob attacked City Hall. “The hatred in the city was just enormous,” Feinstein said. “It was a terrible, terrible time.”
“Research on Harvey Milk Renews Calls for Reappraisal of Peoples Temple”
by Michael Bellefountaine
Harvey Milk’s name appears throughout San Francisco. A municipal railway station and plaza, a park and recreation building and one of the city’s most influential political clubs are all named in his memory. A local elementary school is known as the Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, and the Eureka Valley Library is now called the Harvey Milk Branch. The theme for this year’s gay pride parade was “give them hope,” Milk’s inspirational rallying cry from gays and lesbians in San Francisco to their brothers and sisters living in rural America. The International Gay and Lesbian Historical Society is producing an extensive exhibit of Milk memorabilia which includes the blood-stained suit he was wearing when he and Mayor George Moscone were gunned down in San Francisco City Hall on November 27, 1978. Twenty-five years after his murder, Harvey Milk has been catapulted to the level of gay martyr. Without question, he has left his mark on San Francisco.
Despite all the exhibits and memorials of Harvey Milk throughout San Francisco, though, none of them acknowledges Milk’s relationship with Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.
Harvey Milk was able to draw large, diverse crowds during his campaigns, which evolved over time from focusing on the needs of small business owners to championing the politics of senior, poor and other disenfranchised people. As the first openly gay man elected in California, and one of the most prominent gay men in America, Milk’s murder galvanized a politically fractured and fledgling queer community. Longtime political opponents of Milk – and there were many – suppressed their deep-seated negativity, joined with Milk supporters and, over time, fashioned a deified image of him, as is evidenced by the Gay Historical Society’s exhibit which is titled “Saint Harvey.”
When Milk and Moscone were killed, San Franciscans were still reeling from the murder of Representative Leo Ryan and the news that hundreds of Jonestown residents, previously thought to have saved themselves by running into the jungle, were apparently willing participants in a suicide ritual. In the aftermath of their murders all mention of connections between Milk, Moscone and Jones were intentionally obscured. Out of respect for the politicians, their followers took all necessary steps to sever Milk and Moscone from the pariah Jones. It was not the only mass exodus of political support in the wake of the Jonestown tragedy. Politicians who once enjoyed volunteers, donations and votes from Peoples Temple, could not distance themselves from Jim Jones fast enough. Many of these people are still in politics today.
Because Milk and Moscone were murdered so soon after the Jonestown tragedy, there was immediate speculation that Peoples Temple was somehow involved. Ann Kronenberg, Milk’s hand- picked successor, told Milk biographer Randy Shilts, that when she first heard Milk was murdered, she thought Jim Jones was responsible. Rumors began to circulate (and some persist today) of obscure connections between Jim Jones and Milk’s murderer, Dan White. Vague rumors of a falling out between Milk and Jones also surfaced. One story has it that Milk asked Peoples Temple to remove his name from the church’s list of supporters when reports of violence and theft first came to light, and that he was outraged when the Temple failed to comply with his demand. Eventually, history settled on an official story: Jim Jones was a master manipulator who used unwitting local politicians to gain power for himself. The politicians, including Milk and Moscone, used Jones for volunteers and votes, while remaining personally distant and blissfully unaware of rumors of Temple violence, abuse, theft and even murder. The timing of Dan White’s murderous rampage was deemed coincidental.
However, upon closer inspection, it is clear that Harvey Milk was a strong advocate for Peoples Temple and Jim Jones during his political career, including the tumultuous year leading up to the Jonestown tragedy. Milk spoke at the Temple often, wrote personal letters to Jim Jones, contacted other elected officials on the Temple’s behalf, and used space in his weekly column to support the works of the Temple, even after the negative New West article went to press. Milk appeared in the pages of the Peoples Forum, the Temple newspaper, and received over fifty letters of sympathy from the residents of Jonestown when his lover, Jack Lira, killed himself in September 1978.
It is readily apparent from the letters and historical memorabilia that Milk and the Temple enjoyed a mutually supportive relationship until their concurrent deaths. Why then is the relationship such a secret, even taboo to discuss? The only biography of Milk to date, The Mayor of Castro Street, by Randy Shilts, downplays the Milk/Temple relationship, even going so far as to paint Milk as one of the countless people who cruelly ridiculed and ostracized the surviving Temple members and their supporters. Like most historians, Shilts opted for an image of an expedient politician, instead of truthfully portraying how Milk worked with Peoples Temple until the end of his life.
Enough time has passed since Milk’s brutal murder to reanalyze this relationship, to explore how and why Harvey Milk supported Peoples Temple. As people who hold Milk in high esteem, we should honestly and openly explore and reevaluate what we know about Peoples Temple, to see what it was about the church that appealed to Milk. Whether it was its pro-gay public persona, its support for embattled gay teachers, its opposition to anti-gay ballot measures, its active opposition to racism and sexism, the multiple stories throughout the pages of the Peoples Forum denouncing violence against gays and lesbians, or simply its acceptance of him and its continued support for his political campaigns – whatever the reason – Harvey Milk irrefutably supported Peoples Temple.
It may be understandable why in November 1978 the supporters of Milk would attempt to distance the newly martyred supervisor from the still-unfolding horrors of Jonestown. However, we as witnesses, historians, researchers and writers have an obligation to tell future generations the whole truth, as we understand it, to record as much documentation as possible and let the biases and subsequent interpretations transform over time. As Dr. Susan Stryker states in the curator’s statement of the Milk exhibit, “While I wanted to respect Harvey Milk’s legacy, I also wanted to suggest that in venerating him, we risk obscuring a great deal of other equally compelling gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender history.”
If Milk supported Peoples Temple, now is the pivotal time for us to unveil the truth. What we cannot do is let our animosity toward Jim Jones and our horror of Jonestown taint our understanding of the individuals who made up Peoples Temple, including their incredible community based work as well as their relationships with prominent people like Harvey Milk. We should challenge the image of Temple members as mindless, uneducated zombies, and instead, portray them as the passionate, loyal and committed people who inspired Harvey Milk. It is most important that we not participate in or settle for the revisionism and obfuscation that has passed for the historical account of this relationship to date.
The extent of Milk’s relationship with Peoples Temple may never be fully known. Certainly his murder, along with that of Mayor Moscone, was yet another blow to Temple survivors. Milk and Moscone were the two most powerful San Francisco politicians who maintained close ties to Jim Jones and Peoples Temple; they could have demanded an investigation into the murder of Leo Ryan and the Jonestown tragedy. When Jones tells the residents of Jonestown in the community’s last hours that the “folks in San Francisco won’t be idle over this,” he could have been referring, in part, to Milk and Moscone. Indeed, recently-uncovered research refutes the supposition that Jones ordered Dan White to execute Milk and Moscone; to the contrary, if there were any connection between the City Hall murders and Peoples Temple, it would clearly have been because Milk and Moscone were too closely tied to Jones and the Temple.
A Lavender Look at the Temple, scheduled to be published in early 2004, examines the connections between Harvey Milk and Peoples Temple as part of its consideration of the church’s internal and external relationship with gay men and lesbians. Reviewing letters from Milk, news clippings and first hand accounts, A Lavender Look not only pieces together this complex and obscured relationship, it also includes accounts from gay and lesbian Temple members and Jonestown survivors.
We are still conducting research for this project, and are still seeking gay or lesbian members of the church who are willing to be interviewed for their perspective. As gay men and lesbians ourselves, we understand and appreciate the difficulty of coming forward with information, and will abide by whatever conditions you stipulate before such an interview takes place. We ask you to contact Michael Bellefountaine at 415-864-6686 or ACTUPSF@hotmail.com.