MILK-Ultra – a Deep Politics essay

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk movie image

Sean Penn as Harvey Milk in the Gus Van Sant movie Milk.

MILK-Ultra – a Deep Politics essay

– by Adrian Mack

Members of the Academy watched Milk and saw an Oscar-winning performance by Sean Penn. A small handful of others watched Milk and saw a rabbithole that led all the way to Jonestown, covert mind control experiments, pedophile cults, mysteriously dead rock stars, mysteriously still-living rock stars, the lingering questions behind Columbine, and the ever blessed Church of S*****ology.

Confused? You will be! An aspect of the Harvey Milk story conspicuously missing from Gus Van Sant’s fine movie is the murdered city supervisor’s relationship with the People’s Temple. Led by Jim Jones, 913 members of the People’s Temple allegedly committed suicide en masse in Jonestown, Guyana, on November 18, 1978.

Nine days later, Milk and San Francisco Mayer George Moscone were killed by former city supervisor Dan White.

Jones and his ostensibly liberal People’s Temple had political clout in San Francisco in the mid-’70s, and were courted by both Moscone and Milk – which is hardly surprising, since the Temple explicitly offered a haven to the area’s oppressed minorities.

Jones was eventually appointed to the San Francisco Housing Authority by Moscone. By 1977, however, with scrutiny growing over reports of abuse and other unsavoury activities, Jones and his Temple fled to Guyana. Moscone and Milk continued to publicly defend the People’s Temple, right up until Congressman Leo Ryan took his fact-finding party to Guyana and was assassinated for his efforts.

In his essay “The Black Hole of Guyana” , political researcher John Judge writes, “The story of Jonestown is that of a gruesome experiment, not a religious utopian society.” Despite a well-maintained effort in mainstream channels to burnish the official story of a charismatic psycho persuading some 900 people to commit suicide, all evidence points to an even stranger story, and a subsequent cover-up.

According to Judge and other researchers like Alex Constantine, Jonestown was likely a platform for the CIA’s MKULTRA mind control program, or something very similar. Predictably, the Temple’s background is replete with high-level Military and Intelligence benefactors. As was the custom, the threat of federal oversight or discovery prompted the experiment to self-immolate.

Under the prevailing official version, there is no reasonable explanation for the findings of the Guyanese Grand Jury which claimed there were a mere three suicides among the initial 408 dead (most had been forcibly injected, shot, or strangled, according to Guyanese forensic pathologist Dr. Leslie Mootoo).

With the arrival of Green Berets and the assistance of British Black Watch troops, the death-count rose to 913 over the next week. Press reports were fuzzy. The operation was “botched”  – when the bodies were shipped to the States, exposure and heat had made forensic autopsy impossible. Jones’ remains were never properly identified. Some researchers contend that Jones – whose gun was found some 200 feet from his body – couldn’t have pulled the trigger on himself. Some argue that the body wasn’t even his.

Tales of a so-called Temple hit squad circulated soon after the massacre, triggering speculation about the timing of the deaths of Milk and Moscone. The killer, Dan White, demonstrated the “earmarks of mind control” (Constantine). The Vietnam vet, and former cop – elected as a Democrat – “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.

Here then is the background to Harvey Milk’s political career and assassination, which has been airbrushed out of the movie Milk. Which is fine – Van Sant and Oscar-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black aren’t required to show a scintilla of interest in the distractions of Jonestown, especially in a text designed to honour Harvey Milk’s important and ground-breaking political achievements.

But it isn’t the first time Van Sant has slyly taken what one might call the Establishment view on topics that otherwise crackle with para-political, hidden, or radioactive implications.

In both Last Days and Elephant, the filmmaker reduces the suicide of Kurt Cobain and the Columbine massacre to nebulous and artsily-mounted psychological mysteries – much like the inference in Milk that the “goose-stepping” White is blighted by his closeted homosexuality. The implicit message – in Last Days and Elephant particularly – is that we can’t understand what motivates people to such extreme acts; that they’re unknowable.

But once again, both films avoid inquiry into back-stories that invoke the horrific spectre of MKULTRA, military black-ops, and the curious relationships between various cults and the Intelligence community. As do the Van Sant films To Die For, My Own Private Idaho, and his weird role as “consultant” on a forthcoming movie about… well, we’ll get to that. Let’s start more or less at the beginning, with a look at the death of River Phoenix, and the late actor’s ties to something called the Children of God.

Buckle up!

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