The Absolutely True, Somewhat Spurious and Totally Impossible


In September 1969, Look magazine ran a hatchet-piece titled "The Web That Links San Francisco's Mayor Alioto and the Mafia," by Richard Carlson and Lance Brisson. The piece drew a libel suit from Alioto because it alleged that in 1964, prior to taking the office of mayor, he made a late-night rendezvous at the Nut Tree restaurant in Vacaville, where according to Look, Alioto and "The Weasel" supposedly whipped up a sumptuous deal involving loans from Alioto's San Francisco National Bank.

Alioto sued Look for libel in 1970, claiming that the greasy spoon shenanigans never occurred and that the story had damaged his good name and promising political career (when the piece appeared, Alioto was planning a run for governor). By 1976, Alioto had scattered Look's ashes to the wind, winning a $12 million libel decision and saving his reputation as a hard-nosed lawyer and upstanding citizen.

Why would a national publication libel a litigious bulldog like Alioto? According to A Skeleton Key, Onassis worked behind the scenes to arrange the libelous article with the intent to snuff Alioto's political career. Remember, in 1968, the San Francisco politico had come close to the Democratic vice presidential nomination. The implausible reason offered by A Skeleton Key is that the mayor knew too much about the dealings at Dealey Plaza.

Alioto has a $12 million check that says he wasn't at the Nut Tree. Gerald Carroll, author of Project Seek, believes the former mayor's version of events but quotes a former busboy who says table servers often jokingly seated patrons at "the Mafia table" where "Mafia executioner Jimmy 'The Weasel' Fratianno sat." The ex-dish jockey says he was fired for asking too many questions about the meetings.

A Skeleton Key ties the alleged Cosa Nostra buffet to the "Zebra" killings that plagued Northern California from 1970 to 1974. The Gemstone File avers that the murders, which were blamed on black radicals, were really mob hits intended to cover the execution of a private eye named "Silva." A Skeleton Key says Silva was present at the Nut Tree the night the mob stopped in for a bite. Whatever happened at the restaurant, Silva would be the man to ask. In 1974, the Examiner published a list of 73 Zebra victims, one of whom was an Arthur E. Silva, who had been killed in 1971. Was this Silva the gumshoe mentioned in A Skeleton Key? Perhaps a look at his death certificate would provide some answers. Whoops! As author Gerald Carroll found, Arthur Silva's certificate of death disappeared from Alameda County records years ago.

Jonesing for Kool-Aid --
The People's Temple

The weed-choked patch at Geary and Fillmore that was once the home of the Reverend Jim Jones' People's Temple tells no tales. But conspiracy theorist John Judge alleges that MKULTRA didn't die in 1973, when it was ostensibly axed by the Agency: It was sent underground into the shadowy world of religious cults. And that the Jonestown "suicide" (quotation marks are essential to conspiracy theory) of 913 very unfortunate people serves as a coda to the MKULTRA experiments.

Writing in Secret and Suppressed (1993), a compendium of conspiracy edited by Jim Keith, Judge alleges that the CIA's mind-wash effort found the perfect combination of drugs and psychological coercion in the darkness that breeds self-styled messiahs and their pie-eyed minions.

Jones began his evan-gelical career touring the Midwest with a tent-revival ministry. Preying on the credulous faithful, Jones worked such sideshow "miracles" as extracting demonic tumors, which were really palmed chicken livers. In 1961, he took his ministry to Brazil, where he preached to the heathens in the shadow of the CIA station there, and bragged to some, according to Judge, that the Agency was footing his bill. In 1963, Jones returned to the States with $10,000 in his pocket and set up the People's Temple in Ukiah. Judge asserts the cash may have been supplied by the CIA.

"The Messiah from Ukiah" was anything but saintly. Members who attempted to leave the Temple were rebuked and threatened. Loyalty to Jones required members to sign blank "confessions," which were later used to blackmail errant proselytes. After some bad press related to the untimely deaths of seven ex-Temple members, Jones packed up and moved to San Francisco.

The Reverend rose to prominence as the kind-hearted Father Divine of the city's poor by the mid-'70s, serving as head of San Francisco's Housing Commission in 1976. Though liberal politics were a recent interest for this son of a Klansman, Jones rubbed bleeding hearts with such leading leftists as Angela Davis and Jane Fonda. But after a critical article appeared in New West magazine in 1977, Jones became agitated. He stepped up the dry runs of "White Night," an orgy of suicide that was meant to someday save the flock from murder at the hands of its enemies. When Rep. Leo Ryan (D-Daly City) was approached by former members and asked to investigate the Temple, Jones again split the scene. Early in 1977, the People's Temple headed south, way south. Next stop -- Jonestown.

This is where the weird gets weirder, the conspiracy gets conspiratorial and reality gets unreal. According to Judge, as soon as the Temple set foot in Guyana, the façade was dropped. Citing firsthand interviews with Guyanese present at the Temple's arrival, Judge claims all the black church members -- about 80 percent of the flock -- were bound and gagged, then loaded onto trucks for the drive to Jonestown. Shortly after the mass killings, the Guyana Daily Mirror reported that the compound wasn't so much a religious commune as it was a concentration camp where the congregation was shot full of psycho-active drugs, deprived of sleep, fed rancid meat and worked 18 hours a day. Disobedience was punished by rape, drugging, even sensory deprivation in a buried box.

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