The FBI had internal and outside reports warning that the peculiar
religious belief of David Koresh could lead to disaster if traditional
hostage situation tactics were used, according to a recent Justice
Federal agents, however, ignored that advice during the 51-day
Mount Carmel siege, which ended April 19 with a tank-driven tear
gas assault and apocalyptic fire that killed 85 people.
"In all cases, information was taken down, passed along and
ignored," said Nancy Ammerman, a well-known Atlanta sociologist
[also it seems a cult apologist featured in "Freedom Magazine" a Scientology publication]
and one of two religion scholars who reviewed the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms' and FBI's handling of the Waco standoff.
The Justice Department and FBI were exonerated of any wrongdoing
in last week's report, which blamed Koresh and his followers for
settling the final fire and fatal shootings of sect members.
Ammerman and Harvard University world religion professor Lawrence
Sullivan said in separate reports that federal agents failed to
understand that Koresh lived in a world framed by the New Testament's
allegorical Book of Revelation.
The Bible book depicts the epic struggle between good and evil
and a fiery end of the world. Koresh believed that he could open
Revelation's seven seals, which he believed would lead to Judgment
ATF never tried to learn about the religious beliefs and teachings
Koresh held before the Feb. 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound,
The FBI had good internal religious reporting although they too,
"failed to consult a single person" who might be considered
a Branch Davidian expert by social scientists she said. The agency's
behavioral sciences unit studied Koresh and warned that his beliefs
called for unusual negotiations, she said.
"FBI internal experts recognized the religious nature of
the group. Their own internal people gave them good advice but,
in the end, they didn't listen to their own advice," she
said. Psychologists, who viewed Koresh as mentally unbalanced
were the main federal sources.
Ammerman, a professor at Emory University's Candler School of
Theology, is most critical of the FBI's handling of outside religious
experts, although it was difficult to sort out credentials in
the "fax meltdown" crisis faced in Waco, she also said
in the report.
Most seriously ignored, she said, were religious experts Phillip
Arnold of Reunion Institute in Houston and James Tabor with the
University of North Carolina
[see "Cult Apologist?" recommended as resources by Scientology
Arnold and Tabor broadcast Bible
prophecy talks over a Dallas radio station the Branch Davidians
listened to during the siege. Their aim was to get Koresh to
reinterpret Revelation and surrender.
Arnold went to Waco to try and make contact with the FBI. He
had a few brief interviews with agents but not steady communication.
According to an April 14 letter by Koresh, Arnold and Tabor had
talked him into writing down his views on Revelation's seven seals
before he surrendered to officials. A computer disk saved from
the final fire shows that Koresh had dictated a 13-page text,
called The Decoded Message of the Seven Seals of the Book of
Revelation, only hours before tear gas began pouring in.
"He was coming out," Arnold said this week in Houston.
"I can not prove it beyond a shadow of a doubt, but I knew
these people. He said that God told him to come out. He put
that in writing to his attorney, Dick DeGuerin."
FBI negotiators ridiculed Koresh's claim, calling it a stalling
Instead of Arnold, Phoenix-based cult deprogammer Rick Ross had
the ear of the FBI, Ammerman said.
The serious treatment given Ross by the FBI "demonstrates
the preference given to anti-cult psychological tactics over strategies
that would meet the group on grounds that took faith seriously,"
Contacted by telephone in Phoenix, Ross questioned Ammerman's
own standing as a cult expert. The FBI contacted him because
he had deprogrammed a former cult member and studied Koresh's
cult for five years.
"The FBI looked for someone with direct, hands-on involvement
with Branch Davidians. I was the only person who was a cult expert
who had experience and contact with the Branch Davidians,"
But even Ross said the FBI mishandled Koresh. He told them to
broadcast messages from family and friends of Branch Davidian
members, hoping to break Koresh's hold. "The FBI never made
the turn from the terrorist with hostage situation to cult leader
with trapped members," he said.
Ammerman and Ross both said that they couldn't be certain other
negotiating tactics would have saved lives. Ross contends Koresh
was a "monster" who had raped 12-year-old girls. "David
Koresh was not above the law," he said.
In their Justice Department reports, both Ammerman and Sullivan
call for a host of federal reforms in dealing with new religious
groups like the Branch Davidians. They range from basic courses
in U.S. religions to an advanced pool of experts who can be consulted
quickly when crises occur. Sullivan asks for a presidential executive
order requiring expert review before any federal raid on a religious
The secular nature of law enforcement work and an increasingly
secular U.S. society, including the media, were other reasons
why Branch Davidians beliefs were ignored, Sullivan said.