Richard Tropp Letter on Intellectuals

Two of the modern day sins that Peoples Temple examined, criticized and sought to eradicate were intellectualism and its nefarious companion of elitism. Members of the Temple who were educated – and who had acted upon that education by pursuing careers in law, medicine, social services, education and administration – often found themselves apologizing for the positions within the Temple they attained as a result, and denouncing themselves for any consequent feelings or displays of superiority over the general membership.

This tendency towards anti-intellectualism and elitism continued to grow in Jonestown. Members of the (predominantly white) mid-level leadership constantly called themselves or their peers out for attitudes or deeds that reflected these faults, and proposed corrective measures to stem or eradicate them, including requests to be placed on the Learning Crew or the Public Services Unit.

Perhaps the most well-known example of this – as members of the Jonestown community saw it within themselves – was a letter that Dick Tropp wrote in May 1978 to Jim Jones. Troop had been a teacher in the U.S., a profession he carried with him to Jonestown, but he also became the community’s historian and Jones’ biographer. But rather than being points of pride, though, he criticized these attributes and said he understood the need for correction.

He wrote a confessional letter about the same time that Temple financial secretary Debby Blakey defected, as he and others examined themselves for aspects of their lives that could lead them to betray their community as Blakey had. Few letters went as far as Tropp’s own proposed solution to the problem. “I’ve often had the thought that at some point, people like myself should, after they have outgrown their usefulness, be shot.”

A number of people responded to Tropp with confessional letters of their own, some in the context of the Blakey defection, others reflecting principally upon Tropp’s words. Those individual responses are collected below, each one with a notation as to the writer’s age and race.

In addition, secretaries in Jonestown – notably Jann Gurvich, but likely including others – collected and summarized the written responses that Jonestown residents submitted describing their reactions to the Blakey defection and the Tropp letter. Those two documents appear as FOIA files RYMUR 89-4286-X-3-e-26a – 26a (9) and RYMUR 89-4286-FF-11-A-1 – 81. The entries relating to the Tropp letter have been excerpted and presented below as well.

Letter to Jim Jones from Richard Tropp on Elitism, RYMUR 89-4286-EE-2-s-4

Individual Responses to Letter of Richard Tropp

Summaries of Jonestown Community Statements on Letter of Richard Tropp