Leo Ryan

American politician (1925–1978)

Leo Joseph Ryan, Jr. (5 May 192518 November 1978) was an American teacher and politician. A member of the Democratic Party, he served as the U.S. representative from California's 11th congressional district from 1973 until his assassination during the Jonestown massacre in 1978. Before that, he served in the California State Assembly, representing the state's 27th district.

1977 Congressional Photo, Congressman Leo J. Ryan.


  • John F. Kennedy's death was as personal a body blow to most of the nation's young people. Why? It seems to me that the answer is simple: He was the symbol of the new generation grasping the tiller of the ship of state for the first time, and finding it exhilarating, exciting, challenging. He knew that there is an element of danger in accepting a challenge — in taking a risk that is beyond what is expected of you, beyond what you may expect of yourself.
  • How much longer, for instance, can we continue to crowd more and more people into this world? How much longer can we afford to wage senseless, destructive wars? How long can we permit the uncontrolled use of the earth's resources when there is no possibility of replacing them? Indeed, how long will it be before we have completely used up everything our lives depend on? These issues are the politics of the future. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have begun to spell out in substantive fashion the means by which we can control population growth, environmental problmes, and the conservation of our natural resources.
  • Thank you for your very detailed letter regarding Scientology. We haven't yet found a way to attack these jackals who feed on children and young adults who are too emotionally weak to stand by themselves when they reach the age of consent. It's too bad there isn't a 20th Century Charles Dickens to write about the terrible destruction of these 20th Century fagins who make themselves rich while they destroy the psyche of so many. At the present time, I can only encourage you to do more of what you have been doing.
    • Letter to Ida Camburn (10 December 1976).
  • Mr. Speaker, the activities of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church continue to cause distress for many of us. As you know, the House Subcommittee on International Organizations, chaired by my distinguished colleague, Donald Fraser, is investigating allegations of close ties between the Reverend Moon and some of his organizations and the South Korean government, including the KCIA. As a member of the subcommittee, I am, of course, disturbed over such allegations. My greatest concern, however, is for those young people who have been converted by these religious cults and for their parents, who have suffered the loss of their children. One of these parents, Mrs. Ida Watson Camburn of Sunnyvale, Calif., brought to my attention the testimony of John G. Clark, Jr., M.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the Harvard Medical School, before a Vermont Senate committee, which was investigating religious cults. Dr. Clark's remarks, based on 2 ½ years of research, deal with the effects of some religious cults on the mental and physical health and welfare of their converts. I highly recommend his conclusions to my colleagues.

Quotes about Ryan

  • Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That (a) the President of the United States is authorized to present, on behalf of the Congress, a gold medal of appropriate design to the family of the late Honorable Leo J. Ryan in recognition of his distinguished service as a Member of Congress and the fact of his untimely death by assassination while performing his responsibilities as a Member of the United States House of Representatives.
  • I stand here before you in absolute awe of the fact that Congressman Ryan, Patricia's father, gave his life in an attempt to rescue victims from another dangerous cult. Looking at the politicians who serve in our Congress today, should make everyone realize what a rare man Leo Ryan was. I greatly admire him.
  • Leo Ryan's life and his deeds are about a life that was so much more than Guyana. He was relentless in his search for answers, answers that were not readily available by just asking questions...We remember him today because his story is so much like those of most Americans; we want to believe the best and we sometimes hear the worst.
    • Jackie Speier, as quoted in "Tribute to congressman Leo Ryan held in Foster City", San Francisco Chronicle (18 November 1983).
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