“Inside Peoples Temple”: The New West article by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy

The August 1, 1977 edition of New West Magazine included an article critical of Peoples Temple and its leader, Jim Jones. Written by Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy, the piece was based principally upon interviews with disaffected ex-members.

The article itself was published amidst much fanfare and with some controversy unto itself. Shortly before the article came out, the editors of New West claimed that their offices had been burglarized and that a file on the Temple had been disturbed. Police investigators found no evidence of a break-in, however, and eventually, the magazine itself admitted that the report was a mistake.

By that time, though, the Temple’s own assessment of the damage to its life in San Francisco – both from the article and from the news of the break-in – had led to irrevocable decisions. Jones left the United States for good, and within two months, about a thousand Temple members had also emigrated to Jonestown. Most of the members had planned to go eventually, but the accelerated pace meant that the community had little opportunity to complete its construction of houses, to understand and resolve unanticipated problems with the infrastructure, and even to put enough acreage into agricultural production to sustain the wave of new settlers. Some of these matters were still pending fifteen months later, in November 1978, when Congressman Leo Ryan arrived in Guyana with his party.

In December 2019, Marshall Kilduff reflected on his work as a journalist who had Peoples Temple as a beat during an interview with Preston Jones of the Military Response ​to Jonestown website.

“Inside Peoples Temple,” New West Magazine, August 1, pp. 30-38, from California Historical Society, Moore Family Papers, MS 3802. Reprinted with the permission of the article’s authors, Marshall Kilduff and Phil Tracy.