Early Draft of Temple History and Conspiracies Against It

Among the many anonymous writings retrieved from Temple files, from both San Francisco and Jonestown, in the aftermath of the deaths in November 1978, is a 52-page document that both presents Jim Jones and his vision and defends the Temple against the conspiracy which wishes to destroy it.

The first half describes Jim Jones and his work in Peoples Temple in glowing, sometimes hyperbolic terms, claiming at one point that “perhaps as many as two or three million have heard his message.” The descriptions of the organization itself would be familiar to Jones’ followers – especially in its laudatory comparisons with other churches – as would be the nature of the problems that the Temple attempts to overcome.

The second half opens with the statement that, “We hope that the foregoing will help readers understand the reasons behind the organized attacks that have been leveled against Jim Jones and Peoples Temple.” It then launched into a list of grievances against the “conspiracy” which dogged the group from California to South America.

The document is also incomplete. It cuts off in mid-sentence after 40 pages, and its footnotes and referenced list of corrections are missing. The remaining pages comprise additional notes and materials to be inserted.

Early Draft of Temple History

The document is somewhat unfocused, disorganized, repetitious, and overwritten. As a result, it comes across as a very preliminary effort of a narrative seeking a clear voice.

The fact that Jim Jones is “currently… in Guyana, where he has been building a huge cooperative community that has nearly one thousand residents” – and by extension, that most of its accomplishments in the States are now in the past – would seem to make the descriptions in the first half irrelevant. Similarly, the recitation of grievances seems to offer little other than the establishment of a record of attacks against the group – since many of the complaints date back several years to its heyday in San Francisco – although the existing text does promise more to be disclosed later in the report. Because the document is incomplete, it is unknown whether it would have eventually offered concrete proposals for anyone or any institution to take to address the problems.

Neither its author nor its date nor its place of origin is completely clear. The most likely writer is Richard Tropp, a Temple member who drafted several profiles of Jonestown residents and of the church’s history for a book-length manuscript on the movement. In fact, this document may represent an early, partial draft of that manuscript. Much of the second half of the document adapts a more polemical tone, however, very different from the writings known to have been written by Tropp. In addition, there are several references to Christ as “He” or “His” – with a capital “H” – and while that was in more common use during the late 1970’s than in 21st century, it should be noted that, by that point, Peoples Temple was decidedly an a-religious church. Beyond that, Dick Tropp himself was Jewish.

There is some evidence that the document was written in Jonestown, although there may be stronger suggestions that at least sections of it were drafted in the U.S. For example, midway through the historical part of the narrative, the writer says, “Peoples Temple has for years been very active in the support of liberation struggles here in the United States and abroad” (emphasis added). In addition, several of the suggested corrections come from “JB” or “Jean,” references to Jean Brown, a Temple member who traveled once or twice during 1978 to Jonestown but who mostly remained in San Francisco. (Given the number of edits and marginal notes, it could very well be that the document was being written by committee – by Temple members on two continents – which would explain its roughness.)

Finally, there is a question of the date of its writing. The assumption that it dates from 1978 stems from the fact that there are upwards of 20 references to “1977” – including several with fall dates – rather than “earlier this year,” which would be a more natural sentence construction. By the same token, there are no references to the Accusation by the Concerned Relatives, which was delivered to the Temple and distributed to the press in mid-April 1978. That would place this document within the first three months of 1978.

Originally posted on January 28th, 2020.

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