The Waco Tribune Herald concluded its nine-part series today with an article entitled, “Prophesying about Waco.”
The newspaper was seemingly taking a swing at foretelling the future, but not in any biblical sense. The article focused on the future of Waco, in an effort to burnish the image of the Texas town.
Baylor University is spending more than a $100 million dollars to expand its presence in Waco and some civic leaders hope that President George W. Bush might decide to build his presidential library there.
The series explored the town and its mood more than it delved into the facts about the Branch Davidians, at times it read like a brochure put out by the Waco Chamber of Commerce.
Ten years ago things were quite different.
Waco Tribune reporters Darlene McCormick and Mark Englund, who are no longer on staff at the newspaper, dug deep to produce an in-depth investigative series titled “The Sinful Messiah.”
If not for politics the two journalists might have picked up a Pulitzer.
That was then, and this is now.
Hard reporting seems to be the last thing anyone wants in Waco these days. What the Texas town is intent upon, is distancing itself from the cult led by David Koresh.
One civic booster even went so far as to point out that the cult standoff “happened outside of Waco.” And then offered these prophetic words, “I think we’ve got about as bright a future as we ever had.”
A Baylor professor chimed in, “Time has a wonderful way of curing things…My guess is that as time passes, the name ‘Waco’ – so indelibly marked in the minds of most Americans for a time [regarding the cult standoff] – will begin to fade.”
Well, Baylor certainly hopes so.
But the Waco Davidian tragedy was the second longest standoff in American history. And it is highly unlikely that it will “fade” anytime soon, despite the “prophesying.”
In fact it seems like some folks in Waco would rather ignore history altogether.
The paper appeared anxious not to anger anti-government conspiracy types. In a seeming bow to the fringe it reported a fire of “much-debated origin” ended the lives of the Davidians.
The overwhelming evidence has conclusively proven that Koresh ordered the fire set.
In the final paragraphs of the recent Tribune series Baylor sociologist Larry Lyon offered his evaluation of the standoff’s enduring legacy.
He claimed, “It no longer means religious fanaticism. Now it’s a place where the government overreached.”
Perhaps this thinking is popular in Waco, essentially blaming the tragedy on outsiders. But the professor must be in an academic isolation tank.
Maybe he thinks the mass suicide at Jonestown was also the government’s fault, for not requiring that all Kool-Aide packages state, “Do not mix with cyanide.”
Kerri Jewell was only a child a decade ago, but her memory is more deeply etched that the professor’s. This is because she once lived in the cult compound.
Jewell said in a recent interview, “At some point we were going to have to die for him [David Koresh]. I didn’t expect to live past 12.”
Due to a bitter custody fight Kerri Jewell was not in the compound at the time of the standoff. Her mother was and she died in the fire.
ABC reported Davidian kids were taught “there were only two types of people: ‘good’ people who were inside the cult, and ‘bad’ people who were everyone else.”
Some Davidians still around Waco make it clear they feel the same. One told the Tribune there was still hope for the town though.
Clive Doyle said, “I believe God wants to save Waco, and I believe God works every day to change the minds of the people in Waco.”
Another Davidian put it less tactfully, “When David [Koresh] comes back, there’s going to be an earthquake so bad that Lake Waco, the shore, is going to drop 15 feet. When it does that, there’s going to be a flood here like you never seen.”
Now there’s some old time “prophesying.”
Waco will continue to be largely remembered as the place where a destructive cult chose to end its days.
And contrary to what Lyon concludes, Waco and other cult tragedies since, have proven the government rather than worrying about “overreaching,” often must take decisive action.
Americans were shocked in 1997 when 39 “Heaven’s Gate” cult members committed mass-suicide near San Diego. And the government had no interest in the group.
Criminal arrests and prosecutions in recent years, reflect law enforcement’s growing reach into the world of groups called “cults.”
A few examples include the Nuwaubians and House of Prayer in Georgia, the Church of God Restoration in Canada and California, the R.G. Stair’s Overcomers Ministry in North Carolina, the General Assembly Church of the First Born in Colorado and Polygamist groups in Utah and Arizona.
Since anti-government extremist Timothy McVeigh bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City murdering 168, with “Remember Waco” as his battle cry, the FBI has busted and put away many so-called “militia” members for weapons violations.
It is doubtful that Koresh would be able to stockpile illegal weapons today as easily as he did in 1992-93.
The FBI has learned to identify and deal with fanatics more effectively. The Freeman standoff in Montana, which ended peacefully, proved this.
But the Freemen were not the Davidians, with a leader comparable to Koresh. It is doubtful that the Waco standoff could have ended any way, other than the one chosen by the cult leader.
In the final analysis this is the greatest lesson of Waco.
Destructive cult leaders are often psychopaths capable of horrific acts. Cult followers frequently abdicate any meaningful autonomy in favor of total dependence upon their leaders. And they then rely upon the judgement of someone else that may be mad.
This can be a formula for disaster. Waco is proof of that.