I have attached these short introductory remarks to my own analytical overview of the Waco siege taken from my recently published book Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995; co-authored with Prof. Eugene Gallagher).
My perspective is that of a Biblical scholar and historian, and one who was peripherally involved in the last few weeks of the 51 day siege. I have no specialized training in the behavioral sciences, nor am I trained in the skills of crisis negotiation. My academic field is ancient Biblical and apocalyptic texts within the history of early Christianity and ancient Judaism, my speciality is the Dead Sea Scrolls.
My intentions, and those of my colleague Dr. Phillip Arnold, in offering our expertise to the FBI, were singular and resolute: to see the tragic situation that developed on February 28th resolved peaceably with no further loss of life.
Our essential aim was to enter into the complex and technical Biblical world-view that Koresh and his followers inhabited, to try to listen and make sense of his stream of Biblical rhetoric, and to identify all possible variables in what appeared to be a "set" apocalyptic scenario that would inevitably lead to disaster and further death. David Koresh, whether understood as con man, "cult" leader, psychotic, or messiah, operated within his own elaborate system of Biblical symbols and codes. Indeed this was his claim to fame and the key to his hold upon his followers. They all uniformly report that they had become unalterably convinced of Koresh's prophetic role as a final "Christ" figure because he alone could unravel the complexities of the entire Scriptures, particularly the obscurities of the Biblical prophets and the mysterious Seven Sealed book of Revelation. As the Davidians often put it: if the Bible is true, then Koresh is who he claims to be.
Those who had become schooled in Koresh's teachings, through hundreds of hours of meticulous, verse by verse, Bible study, had come to equate leaving the group with leaving God, rejecting the Bible, and abandoning the truth. Steve Schneider expresses this continually to the FBI negotiators, as we can now hear on the negotiation tapes, in hour after repetitive hour of conversations. David's ability to explain the Scriptures was Steve's anchor and his sail, even though he exhibits genuine doubts and uncertainty along the way.
Koresh's hold on his followers was not that of the stereotypical charismatic "cult" leader, with irresistible, mesmerizing, powers of personality. He could be friendly, engaging, and resolute in attracting his followers, but first and foremost they became deeply immersed in the complexities of the Biblical prophets.
Dr. Arnold and I maintain that Koresh himself, whatever his complex of motives for his refusal to come out of Mt. Carmel, was operating first and foremost within this closed world of Biblical exposition. Accordingly, any effective communication with him or his followers would have to be from within that framework. Pressure tactics, threats, "stress escalation," would all in the end prove futile and even counter-productive, confirming to the group that those outside were indeed the prophesied enemy, and that the "time of the end" had arrived.
As things appeared to us in late March, a peaceful resolution of the Mt. Carmel standoff, if one were even possible, would rest on a combination of three factors: a trustful relationship between those inside Mt. Carmel and the FBI negotiators; a resolution of the legal issues involved in effecting an exit; and an alternative Biblical apocalyptic scenario that would allow for interpretive flexibility or, to put it in Davidian terms a postponement of the "Fifth Seal."
The negotiation tapes reveal that any number of the negotiators, even up to the end, did develop, with David, Steve, and others, a relatively positive relationship of trust. By Passover, through the dogged efforts of Dick DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, the legal hurdles had also been largely overcome.
On April 4, just before Passover, DeGuerin and Zimmerman had carried into Mt. Carmel a taped communication from Arnold and me intended for Koresh and his followers, in which we tried to gain his trust, offer a respectful hearing of his prophetic views, and offer in the most subtle way alternative interpretive possibilities. We particularly argued that this confrontation did not have the marks of the "end," based on his own Biblical prophetic scheme. We maintained that the very texts he focused on allow more time, and that if the people of God were to finally confront an evil governmental system this was not the place or the time. We also stressed that although Koresh had the eyes of the world upon him, he was known as a "cult" leader, an abuser of children and minors, and a stockpiler of illegal arms, and surely not as someone who had something significant to say from the Scriptures. We urged him to separate the "man" from the "message," allowing the legal system to deal w ith what happened on February 28th, but otherwise communicating his message, possibly putting it in writing, so those who were willing could give it a fair hearing.
For Koresh, whether con man or messiah, his "message" was primary. It was the key to his self-identity, to his hold upon his followers, and all that would potentially transpire at Mt. Carmel. True to his word, the day after Passover (an eight day festival), on Wednesday, April 14, Koresh announced his formal exit plan and sent out what he clearly understood to be a signed written agreement to his lawyer Dick DeGuerin (copy attached). He was going to write his message, deliver it to me and to Dr. Arnold, and allow the courts to deal with what he calls "the bizzarity of me in the flesh." It was a workable plan, the first real break- through during the siege, and it was dependent on two main things: that the FBI not play the part of "Babylon" by moving in with any kind of assault, and that David be allowed the time to complete his task.
One should understand that within the Davidian Biblical sytem, writing the message of the seals was an awesome task, only to be done with the permission of God, as Revelation chapter 10 makes clear. We now know, through the negotiation tapes of those last three days, and the computer disk containing Koresh's first chapter of his treatise, that survived the fire, that he went to work immediately.
It is obvious in the tapes that he felt the situation was resolved, that an agreement had been reached, and that the negotiators were going along with the plan, though urging him to move quickly. Monday morning, April 19th, changed all that. Obviously one does not write a Biblical exegesis, nor follow the exit plan worked out with his lawyers the previous two weeks, when CS gas is being inserted by tanks into the building.
Given the world-view of Koresh and his followers, the actions of the FBI determined that they would conclude that God was not allowing them more time, that the treatise was not to be written, and that the prophesied "end" was indeed upon them.
What is doubly tragic is that throughout those final days, while Koresh was lightheartedly talking with the negotiators about his agreement and work on the manuscript, and even receiving their active encouragement, Janet Reno was asking those in Washington involved in the final decision: is there any argument for waiting? Apparently she was never given any clear exposition of this legal and theological "breakthrough," signed and sealed by David Koresh on Wednesday, April 14th.
Based on the surviving first chapter of Koresh's work, now published in an appendix to my book, Why Waco?, we estimate his entire exposition would have taken another week to ten days. Surely such a wait was worth the lives of the innocents, and following up on the only real breakthrough in 51 days was worth trying. What distinguished this possibility was that it reflected both the legal and the theological realities of the situation, as perceived by the Branch Davidians. If a peaceful resolution was possible, it would only come in such a way in keeping with the Biblical world the Branch Davidian community inhabited.
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