By all appearances, Bill had it made. He was an intelligent,
highly trained and well-paid professional in his thirties. He
was tall and Hollywood handsome, with piercing blue eyes and light
brown hair; the kind of guy who caused heads to turn. Who would
have guessed he hadn't had a date in four years or that he turned
over his salary to a self-proclaimed prophet in Texas?
By that summer day in 1992, Bill's life had begun falling apart.
He was exhausted, overly thin and overcome with anxiety as he
sat across from a short, boyish-looking man named Rick Ross in
that house in Santa Barbara. Ross had brought his Bible to their
meeting, stacks of literature, videos on cults and this troubling
suggestion: Maybe David Koresh wasn't God after all.
For the first time, Bill had begun to have some doubts himself.
He had begun to notice chinks in the spiritual armor of Koresh,
the man for whom he had sworn off sex, the man to whom he turned
over his money. But those doubts came at a high price - terror
that gripped his soul, took his breath away. Bill was sure he
was betraying God just by sitting there talking to Rick Ross.
David Koresh had opened the book of life and given Bill the secret,
or so Koresh said. Those like bill who knew the truth and rejected
it would be condemned to burn in the Lake of Fire for eternity.
That's what Koresh taught his followers. Who wouldn't be anxious?
What if the Branch Davidian leader was right?
Yet Bill listened that July morning, even as his heart raced and
he felt like fleeing. He and Ross were sequestered in a home
in California, safe from Koresh for the moment, far from Mount
Carmel, the place that had been Bill's home off and on for four
years. And Ross was beginning to make sense. What indeed if
David Koresh wasn't God? What is he was just a psycho who used
the Bible to get rich and get laid? What if David Koresh, beneath
the Lamb's clothing, was really just a ninth grade dropout named
While the names and locations changed, Ross found cult tactics
largely the same. He diagrammed their recruiting tactics, the
sleep or food deprivation, the mind control. He discussed with
the cult member why loved ones were concerned. Perhaps most importantly,
he demonstrated how cult leaders invariably manipulated the Bible
to their own ends. At best, cult leaders were victims of their
own religious delusions. AT worst, they used the Bible as a means
of extortion. To Rick Ross, there could be no better example
of the latter than David Koresh.
Ross first learned about Koresh and the Waco Davidians in 1989
from the relatives of cult members. One young man suffered a
nervous breakdown while a Waco Davidian, his parents said. Koresh
had him loaded onto a plane and flown home, where he was dumped
in a heap on his parents' doorstep by a Koresh acolyte. The children
of another family called, frantic because their parents had turned
over $300,000 to Koresh after joining his cult.
Ross encountered the handiwork of David Koresh firsthand in 1992.
It started with a phone call from Bill's brother and sister.
Until then, they said they had stayed out of Bill's business,
even when he abruptly set off on a Hawaii beach seven years before,
and at Schneider's urging converted to the Seventh-day Adventist
church. Schneider became Bill's trusted spiritual advisor. When
Schneider joined the Davidians, Bill followed.
Bill's job allowed him to come and go as he pleased. He began
to divide his time between California and the compound in Waco.
His family was concerned, but Bill seemed happy, and he still
maintained a life apart from the cult.
Then, in early 1992, something about him changed. Bill's family
later learned that Koresh had begun preaching about an imminent
apocalypse. The world likely would end in June, Koresh said.
While visiting his family in May, Bill spoke of quitting his
job, severing all ties to the outside world and moving to Mount
Carmel. With his life spinning out of control, Bill's siblings
could stay silent no longer. They had heard about Ross and pleaded
with Bill to talk with him.
"It can't hurt," the siblings told Bill. "You
know you're free to do whatever you want to do."
Less than an hour before he was to leave his brother's home and
return to Mount Carmel, Bill reluctantly agreed. Ross talked
quickly when the phone call came. He had many seeds to plant,
and not much time. Ross spoke generically about how cults operated,
asking Bill to notice if anything sounded familiar. Was there
an absolute authority figure not accountable to anyone? Were
members required to conform completely to the leader's dictates?
Was outside information filtered through the leader? Was there
an "us against them" mentality? Were those outside
the cult dismissed and berated? Lastly, Ross asked Bill, did
the leader's claims from the Bible ultimately lead to his own
aggrandizement, power and control?
"I don't know if that's true," Bill said. "I'll
look and see if that's true, but it doesn't seem that way to me.
Maybe I'll call you again."
Bill called two months later. He had begun to see the patterns
of Mount Carmel himself, he told Ross. There were disturbing
similarities. Too many prophecies remained unfulfilled or served
only to benefit the prophet. Bill agreed to meet with Ross in
Bill picked up Rick Ross at his hotel, driving to a house in Santa
Barbara that had been set aside for their meeting. It was the
first of four days of discussions, eight hours a day with breaks
for meals. At night, Bill dropped Ross back off at his hotel,
and drove to spend the night at his brother's home.
Ross listened as eventually the truth of Mount Carmel came spilling
out. On one level, Bill seemed to be happy in the communal life
offered at the compound. Men roomed with other men, women with
women, but everyone toiled together. One day, Koresh would set
Bill to work on the new swimming pool. The next he would pound
nails in some other Mount Carmel construction project. At night,
he attended Bible studies with fellow Davidians Bill had come
"I think there were happy times in the group," Ross
said. "As a whole they were very idealistic and self-sacrificing,
They had to deny self. They were loving people, a caring people
focused on the principles of the Bible. He really loved the people."
But increasingly, they were led down the road to insanity. To
them, Koresh indeed was the Lamb of God who would unravel the
mystery of the seven seals. Koresh was the last angel of the
apocalypse upon whom the salvation of his followers depended.
But beyond that, no one really understood what Koresh was saying.
Puzzled friends and family members would ask just what it was
that Koresh taught, and none of his followers could say. Perhaps
that was by design. Koresh's message was unassailable that way.
"You have to talk to Dave," the disciples would say.
Koresh himself promoted the notion that his message could be fully
understood by visiting Mount Carmel.
"Come and spend a couple of weeks with us," he was fond
Then he descended on his visitors and sucked them in before they
could get their bearings. Initially, all they saw was a charming
young man who played rock music, knew the Bible like no one else,
and promised to "open the book." To Koresh, the book
was more than just a Bible. It was the "Lamb's Book"
referred to in Revelation. Followers whose names were written
in the Lamb's book were guaranteed eternal life.
Over time, his prophecies grew more bizarre and cruel. Koresh
began to teach he was entitled to the cult's women - young girls
and other men's wives included - for only the Lamb possessed the
Holy Seed. To Koresh, "the oil of gladness" in the
forty-fifth Psalm referred to the vaginal secretions of his female
followers. Only his head was to be anointed.
Koresh had the final say on Mount Carmel diets. He prohibited
his followers from eating during Bible studies, which consisted
of fifteen-hour sessions on nights when he was really on a roll.
Koresh kept his own strength up with ice cream, or by ordering
out and eating in front of his famished followers. Such were
the priveleges of the Lamb. Bill once lost twenty-five pounds
in two months.
Bill also told Ross of the Davidian arsenal. There were AK-47s,
a .50 caliber machine gun, zip guns, night vision machine guns,
and talked of making their own hand grenades. Each male member
was assigned a weapon, taught how to maintain it and break it
down. Regular target practice was held at the Mount Carmel underground
firing range. A cult-owned business called the Mag bag, supposedly
a gun shop, was in reality a front for the purchase of more arms.
On one occasion, Koresh used Bill's credit card to purchase $4,000
The guns would be oiled for the final confrontation for fulfillment
of the Koreshian prophesies. In one, Koresh promised to outdo
Moses, whom he regarded as a second-rate prophet. He promised
to part the Atlantic Ocean so his followers could walk to Israel.
In the Promised Land, Koresh would slaughter all armies who met
him. That was one version of his apocalypse. Later he spoke
of another scenario involving an enemy closer to home, the federal
government. The FBI would attack Mount Carmel, killing everyone,
he said. Then Koresh would unlock the mystery of the seventh
seal and the world would end, probably in June 1992, but no later
As he listened, Ross saw the extent of Bill's programming, the
genius of Koresh's technique. Slowly, gently, Ross began to attack,
dissecting the Davidian leader's teachings, unmasking the methods
of his manipulation.
Bill and Ross sat together at the dining room table, each with
a Bible, studying the key scriptural passages of Koresh's teaching.
The leader had roamed freely from Revelation to Psalms with no
rational means of connecting them, Ross pointed out. It was all
done on a whim.
How could Koresh be the Lamb of God when, according to the New
Testament, the Lamb was Jesus Christ? When Jesus came again,
according to the Bible, he would come in power and glory, and
all men would know him. How did that fit David Koresh?
If Koresh owned spiritual discernment in sexual matters, why was
it that God told him to have sex only with attractive white women?
"Why didn't God want him to have sex with the black or the
ugly or the old?" Ross asked. "Is that part of God's
plan for him or is this just Koresh's proclivities sexually?"
Ross reminded Bill that Victor Houteff split from the Seventh-day
Adventist church because it had become too worldly. Houteff strictly
proscribed the use of alcohol. How did Koresh's beer drinking
and rock and roll adhere to Davidian principles?
At Ross's suggestion, Bill studied literature on mind control.
Together they watched a video on Jonestown and the techniques
of Jim Jones. The framework of what Ross was saying began to
emerge, the smoke began to clear away. Bill came to realize the
teachings of David Koresh had nothing to do with the Bible and
everything to do with advancing megalomania. A picture had emerged.
"It was an ugly, gruesome picture of a cult leader gone mad
with a Bible," Ross said. "He saw a very evil man."
A huge breakthrough came on the third day. The terror seemed to
lift and Bill actually began to joke about some of the nonsense
of Koresh's teaching. By this time, Bill began to described the
Davidians as "those people" or "that group."
On the fourth day, the tension started to disappear from his
face. The burden of David Koresh was lifting. Bill smiled.
"That's it," he said. "I don't want to go back.
I don't want to go back to that group."
Koresh did not surrender to his follower gracefully. A woman
from Mount Carmel, one of Bill's friends, was the first to call.
"When are you coming back?" she said. "When can
we see you? We miss you."
Steve Schneider called, also concerned. David Koresh spoke with
Bill, too. He said Bill would burn in hell.
Ross considered Bill's deprogramming a victory over one of the
most dangerous cult leaders in America. The dangerous cycle was
obvious. The more power Koresh sucked from his followers, the
more he demanded. The cycle had to end somewhere. Koresh was
stockpiling weapons, breaking the law and eventually word would
get out. Ross was certain Koresh's apocalyptic prophecies would
"If there's a groups that is going to go ballistic, it will
be this group," Ross thought then.
He and Bill discussed approaching the authorities, but initially,
Bill didn't want to be the one to precipitate trouble. But the
outside world would soon find its way to David Koresh's doorstep.
In November, Waco newspaper reporters called Ross as a part of
an extensive investigation into Koresh and his practices, and
Bill agreed to be interviewed. Two months later, agents of the
federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were on the line.
On that Sunday morning, the last day in February, Rick Ross was
brewing coffee at home in Phoenix when reports from Texas began
flashing across his television screen. He hurried into the living
room to watch. It happened sooner than Ross had expected. But
the inevitable had indeed begun.
(Note: It is now known through public records and news reports,
that "Bill" is David Block.)
EPILOGUE - the case of David Block.
A house panel approved a report criticizing the government's actions
in 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, but
Democrats said they had no role in the report.
The Republican report blames Koresh for the deaths of 80 Branch
Davidians. But says the ATF and FBI made many mistakes before
and during the incident.
It was Sunday morning in late February, 1993, and I was brewing
coffee in my Phoenix apartment when news reports from Waco flashed
across my television screen. My phone instantly began to ring
as reporters from across the nation called with questions about
David Koresh and his Branch Davidians, a heretofore, unknown sect
targeted that day in an ill-fated raid by the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco and Firearms.
As the siege in Waco began, reporters weren't the only ones to
track me down. ON March 3, while in Dallas for media consultations
on the developing siege, I was contacted by agent of the FBI,
who invited me to their offices and picked my brain for hours,
searching for clues of the behavior of Koresh and his followers.
On the third day, some of David's terror seemed to lift, and he
began to joke about Koresh's teaching. On the fourth day, he
made his decision never to return to the compound.
Shortly after David Block's deprogramming, Koresh called him from
Texas to say he would burn in hell. I later learned that people
associated with the Church of Scientology had kept the house of
our meeting under surveillance, tried to persuade David's family
to end the intervention and a private investigator working for
Scientology lawyers had even contacted the Branch Davidians to
advise them of my efforts.
My intervention probably saved David's life. During our time
together, David began to describe the growing arsenal of weapons,
Koresh's nauseating sexual practices with adult women, and his
advancing megalomania. From David I saw a gruesome picture of
a cult leader gone mad. Koresh, it was clear, was a very evil
man. I knew that ultimately Koresh's apocalyptic prophecies would
be self-fulfilling, and, sure enough, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco
and Firearms interviewed me in early 1993 as part of their investigation.
Those dire prophecies would come true sooner than I could have
During dozens of telephone conversations with the FBI during the
siege, I tried desperately to persuade agents to undertake an
intervention of sorts. I encouraged them to call forth the Branch
Davidians' pre-cultic identities by letting their families talk
to them on the telephone and via loudspeakers. Hundreds of successful
interventions had taught me that victims needed to hear other
friendly, loving voices. But the FBI insisted on playing it,
the only voice they heard was that of their leader. For years,
Koresh had tried to demonize the federal government, and with
their abrasive tactics, the agents were playing right into the
leader's hands. With their Bradley tanks and their macho posturing,
the FBI allowed Koresh to further isolate his followers.
In the end, my advice went unheeded. At one point, FBI agent
Miles Burden seemed exasperated as we talked.
"I believe in what you're saying," Burden told me during
one of our telephone discussions. "It makes sense. It's
worth trying. There are people who support your ideas, but there
are other people who don't and we're being overruled." Ironically,
the FBI would in large, part use the tactics I advised years later
to peacefully end a standoff with militant anti-government extremists
in Montana known as the "Freemen."
My last conversation with the FBI was on April 13. Six days later,
Koresh and most of his followers, including 19 children and many
of David Block's friends, were dead. It felt as if my chest was
caving in as I watched the compound burn on television. I will
always wonder if whether some lives could have been saved by a
more open FBI using other tactics, and something more I could
By the time of the siege in Waco, I was arguably the most visible
foe of cults and destructive groups in America, which turned out
to be a double-edged sword. On one hand, publicity allowed me
to speak of the dangers to millions of people. On the other,
it put me at the top of that sinister world's list of enemies.
Those groups, particularly the Church of Scientology, seized
a controversial case near Seattle in 1991 as a means to destroy
me. They very nearly succeeded. This involved a teenage member
of a destructive Bible-based group in Bellevue Washington known
as "the Jason Scott case."