The Cult Observer
"Never Forget Jonestown" Says Rep.
From AP, November 19, 1984 and the
Boston Globe, November 29, 1984
"Jonestown is becoming a faint glimmer in the subconscious of
the nation. Today, more people than ever are in cults . . . we must never forget the
tragedy of Jonestown." With these words Patricia Ryan, daughter of Rep. Leo J. Ryan
of California, addressed about 40 persons gathered on the grounds of the Capitol in
Washington to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the November 18, 1978, Guyana massacre
of 913 members of the Peoples Temple. Her father was gunned down on a Guyana
airstrip by Jim Joness followers as he was about to return home from a fact-finding
trip to the Jonestown commune.
Referring to the small turnout for this years memorial
service, Ms. Ryan said that she feels Jonestown in "something people dont like
to think about," and that she fears that her fathers death may have been in
vain. "I dont think the government really picked up on anything," she
said. "I dont think anything changed afterwards. I dont think people
really learned anything." She and her sister, Erin, fought an uphill battle,
involving hundreds of letters and phone calls, to have their father, the only member of
Congress to have been killed in the line of duty, posthumously awarded the Congressional
Gold Medal. "In a lot of cases, I had to really talk people into it, because they
either didnt know who he was or didnt think it was important," she said.
The award was presented to Ms. Ryan and other members of the family on November 29 by
President Ronald Reagan.
Ms. Ryan, who works as a legislative assistant in the office of Rep.
Richard Ottinger (D-N.Y.), is also active in organizations that provide support and
information to people with family members in cults. She feels that she owes this to the
memory of her father, who set the example of a life of activism for her as a child,
because of the way he died. "He . . . was a very strong believer in personal freedom.
The idea of a cult, of somebody taking over someones mind like that, just drove him
crazy . . . he went down there and tried to help some people and died doing it, and the
idea that people are going to forget that, just bothers me."
The issue of cults hit home again for Patricia Ryan when her older
sister, Shannon, joined the following of Indian guru Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and went to
live in Rajneeshpuram, the groups self-contained 3,000-member Oregon commune.
Shannon had gone to visit Rajneeshs ashram in Poona, India, at the urging of a
friend, but had been suspicious and wary. "She wrote us a letter three months later
and told us that everything had changed," said Patricia, who speaks cautiously of her
sisters involvement for fear of losing contact with her. "She joined after my
father died. We were shocked." She said she considers Rajneesh to be
"strange" and to have "a lot of control over what [his followers] do and
what they say," but says she was comforted somewhat when she visited Rajneeshpuram
and saw no evidence of fear, coercion, violence or drugs.
After the murder of her father, and the sudden death of her mother
from asthma in 1981, Patricia Ryan moved to Washington, D. C. to pursue her masters
degree in public administration. She will be looking for a new job after Rep. Ottinger
retires in January, and hopes to stay in Washington and work in the policy field. Still
deeply affected by the deaths of her parents, she refuses to give in to discouragement.
"Im a survivor and Ill be damned if Im going to let anybody keep me
down or let anybody stop me from being successful or being a happy person [and]