Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Where Waco Went Wrong



There were little more than a handful of survivors of the Branch Davidian sect that fateful day in 1993 when the US government laid siege to their Mount Carmel compound outside Waco, Texas.  For most Americans it is an ugly chapter long forgotten, but for Clive Doyle it is a set of very painful memories that needed exorcising in a book, A Journey to Waco.

Malcolm Gladwell summarized the book in his lengthy article for The New Yorker  , showing sympathy for Doyle and this branch of the Seventh-Day Adventists that Doyle became a part of.  It's probably more than most people want to read as it is hard to fathom the millennial nature of these Protestant Christians, who focus so heavily on the Book of Revelations, preferring to find support more in the Old than in the New Testament.

Seventh-Day Adventists appear to seek comfort more in the Book of Moses than the New Testament, and in this sense share a spiritual chord with the Mormons, which they believe set them apart from other Christians.  You may ask why they just don't become Orthodox Jews, especially since one of their beliefs is that one of the Lost Tribes of Israel ended up in America and that they are the spiritual descendants.  However,  the Seventh-Day Adventists are one of the many branches of Protestantism that flourished in America, particularly after the Second Great Awakening of the early 19th century, when William Miller founded Adventism and Joseph Smith Mormonism.

Gladwell notes that the particular branch of Adventism that David Koresh subscribed to grew out of the early 20th century, when a "prophet" named Victor Houteff tried to bring Adventism even more in line with Old Testament teachings, feeling the faith had lost its moral compass.  He founded Mt. Carmel in 1934.  He tried to bring his new found religion back to his native Bulgaria, but wasn't accepted into the national socialist movement.  This led him to wander far and wide, even to Australia, where a young Clive Doyle became mesmerized in his teachings, and eventually found his way to Waco.

The story reads like something out of a Stephen King novel with these "Millennials" seeking a spiritual home in waiting for the Apocalypse.  Koresh appears like one of the characters out of The Stand, able to draw the congregation to his unique interpretations of the Bible and proclaiming himself "The Lamb of God."  He convinced those around him that they were living in the "Fifth Seal of the Apocalypse."  Doyle firmly believed as did the others, and they gave themselves fully over to Koresh of their own "free will."

Gladwell spends much of the article on the siege and the inability of FBI negotiators to understand the depth of the Branch Davidians faith.  This is when James Tabor, a Biblical scholar, came in and tried to reach out to Koresh on his own terms rather than those set by the FBI and ATF, which had made a bloody mess of the situation.  As Gladwell noted, there had been ample opportunity to arrest Koresh away from the compound before the siege as he frequently came into Waco, and many of the Mt. Carmel congregation lived and worked in Waco.

Tabor was finally able to reach some kind of agreement with Koresh but the FBI was too impatient to wait another two weeks for the latter-day prophet to write his statement and rushed the compound.  The tragic result was the death of over 70 parishioners, including more than 20 children.  A totally senseless act that probably did more to embolden the "Millennial" movement in America than any other single event.  It served as the inspiration for Timothy McVeigh, who with the help of Terry Nichols bombed the Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City two years later, killing 168 federal employees.  An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

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