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Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: Attitudes of Koresh and others in the Compound

U.S. Department of Justice
Washington, D.C. 20530


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Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas
February 28 to April 19, 1993

VI. Attitudes of Koresh and others in the Compound

A. Introduction


Koresh and his followers inside the compound manifested strong attitudes on a variety of subjects relevant to the negotiation process. Their attitudes toward religion and Koresh's deified status, law enforcement and organized government, and death and suicide all posed obstacles to a successful, peaceful end to the standoff.


Perhaps the most important attitudinal attribute of those who perished in the April 19 fire was their determination to remain inside the compound. The March 9 videotape, containing a series of interviews with adults inside the compound, provides powerful evidence of that attitude. Each person on the video -male and female, young and old -- spoke in a calm, assured tone of their desire to remain inside, even after the experience of the ATF raid only a few days earlier. Steve Schneider, who photographed the video and "interviewed" the subjects, also speaks in a thoughtful, articulate manner on the video. The abiding impression is not of a bunch of "lunatics," but rather of a group of people who, for whatever reason, believed so strongly in Koresh that the notion of leaving the squalid compound was unthinkable.


Below is a summary of the attitudinal traits displayed by the Branch Davidians that had important implications for the negotiation process:

B. Religion/Devotion to Koresh


The Branch Davidians' religion emphasized the apocalyptic nature of Koresh's preachings. They believed Koresh was the "Lamb" through whom God communicated to them. They also believed the end of the world was near, that the world would end in a cataclysmic confrontation between themselves and the government, and that they would thereafter be resurrected. The February 28 ATF raid only reinforced the truth of Koresh's prophetic pronouncements in the minds of his followers.


The key to Koresh's hold on his followers was his ability to recite lengthy portions of the bible from memory, and to "harmonize" disparate, seemingly unrelated scriptures by showing how they "tied together." This ability, combined with Koresh's charismatic/mercurial personality and the low self-esteem of his followers, created an environment in which Korosh was elevated to near God-like status.


Koresh exercised great control over the lives of his followers. 'He told them what to eat, where to work, where to sleep, and what to think. [Material redacted as required by statute.]


Koresh's charismatic hold permitted him to take extraordinary liberties with his followers. Koresh preached that as the "Lamb of God" only his "seed" was pure, meaning that only he could have sex with the over-puberty aged girls(27) and women in the compound, and that none of the men could have sex. Koresh even convinced Schneider to give up his wife, Judy, to Koresh for sexual purposes. Koresh would humiliate Steve Schneider by talking about his sexual experiences with Judy in front of all the Davidians at their Bible study sessions. But Schneider believed in Koresh to the end.

C. Intention to Stay Inside the Compound


Probably the most important observation that can be made about the Waco standoff is that after all is said and done, after all the analysis, investigations, hearings, and so forth, nothing would have changed the outcome because the people who remained inside had no intention of leaving.


The March 9 videotape provides compelling evidence of the desire of Koresh's followers to stay inside with him. Other evidence supporting this conclusion comes from the many telephone conversations the negotiators had with persons inside the compound. Approximately 50 of those people told the negotiators they did not want to leave. (Material redacted as required by statute.]


In addition, Koresh repeatedly lied to the negotiators about whether he would come out. On March 2, of course, he promised to come out with his followers "immediately" upon the broadcasting of his 58 minute audio tape over the radio. After the tape was broadcast Koresh reneged on his promise, saying God had told him to wait. on March 19 Koresh promised to come out "in the next few days." Later that day Koresh said "it could be as early as tomorrow evening . . . that's a promise, a guarantee." Several days later Koresh promised to come out after Passover. Once Passover came and went, with the Davidians still inside, Koresh promised that he would leave as soon as he finished writing a manuscript regarding the Seven Seals.

D. Law Enforcement/Government


In Koresh's theology, the government, particularly the federal law enforcement agencies, were the "Assyrians" or the "Babylonians" who were bent on destroying the true believers -the Branch Davidians. Koresh had predicted to his followers well before the February 28 ATF raid that law enforcement agents planned to kill him and his followers. Koresh planned for the predicted apocalyptic showdown with the government by massively arming himself and his followers beginning in early 1992 and continuing through early 1993. Koresh was fascinated with guns. Former compound members have described the shooting practice, the conversion of semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, the sewing of specially designed vests with pockets for extra ammunition clips, and the early morning para-military drills for the males in the compound.


Koresh and his followers demonstrated the level of their hatred for the ATF by ambushing the agents who arrived on February 28 with a valid search and arrest warrant. The ATF raid reinforced Koresh's status as a prophet among his followers, because they viewed it as consistent with Koresh's earlier predictions of confrontation. Following the raid Koresh continued to preach that the standoff with the FBI was a continuation of the cataclysmic battle between the Davidians and the federal government.


Koresh's hatred of the government did not always seem apparent. The tapes of the negotiations between Koresh and the FBI contain many lighthearted moments, and many hours of calm, peaceful conversations between Koresh and the negotiators. Koresh even proclaimed his admiration for law enforcement during some of the conversations. However, Koresh also made many threats during the conversations, including threats to start "World War III," threats to blow the FBI's armored vehicles into the air, and threats to shoot FBI agents if they tried anything "silly." [Material redacted as required by statute.]

E. Death and Suicide


No one could have predicted with certainty that Koresh and his followers would commit suicide. There were many pieces of evidence suggesting both that Koresh was not suicidal and that he was suicidal. While so much of Koresh's preaching and the Davidians, religious beliefs revolved around notions of mass destruction, apocalyptic confrontations, and the like, it was very difficult during the standoff for the FBI to reach any particular conclusion regarding the possibility of suicide.


Following is a summary of the information that the FBI had compiled during the standoff regarding the possibility that Koresh and the Davidians would or would not commit suicide:


1. Suicide Possible


Several former compound residents and relatives of current compound residents spoke of the Davidians' devotion to Koresh and their desire to kill or die for him. one former resident who left during the standoff told investigators that on March 2 Koresh intended to leave the compound with his followers and commit mass suicide, until Koresh changed his mind when God told him "to wait." Another former resident stated she had heard the members speak numerous times about suicide. Former Koresh "wife" Dana Okimoto said that if Koresh were to die before his followers, everyone inside the compound would kill themselves.


On March 5, 1993, released child Joan Vaega had a note pinned to her clothes stating that her mother (Marguerita Vaega) would be dead by the time other relatives had read the note. Former compound residents now living in Australia reported that Koresh planned mass suicide. Dr. Bruce Perry, who interviewed the released Davidian children, reported that the Davidians had apparently reached some group consensus about a final end to the confrontation. Finally, "cult expert" Kelli Waxman warned in early March that Koresh probably had suicide plans.


Several other former compound members reported that while mass suicide was not possible, they and those still inside the compound would not hesitate to die for Koresh. They also reported that Koresh expected to die in a confrontation with the government.


2. Suicide Not Possible


The FBI also received much credible information discounting the possibility of suicide. For example, the negotiators confronted Koresh and Schneider several times directly with the question of whether they planned to commit suicide, and each time they emphatically denied that suicide was planned. Several Davidians who left the compound during the standoff (Catherine Mattson, Kathy Schroeder, Brad Branch, Anetta Richards and Livingstone Fagan) all said they were not aware of any plans or preparations for mass suicide. Several relatives of Davidians also reported that, based on their knowledge of the cult, mass suicide would be inconsistent with their religious beliefs.


3. Expert Opinions Regarding Suicide


As discussed in an earlier section of this report, the FBI received much input during the standoff from experts. The input the FBI received regarding the suicidal tendencies of Koresh and his followers was conflicting. For example, late in the standoff, the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit (BSU) prepared a short memorandum reflecting on Koresh's personality as observed through the negotiation process. The BSU noted that Koresh had displayed a variety of personality traits throughout the negotiations, ranging from friendly to angry, cooperative to confrontational, compliant to defiant, upbeat to morose, and pragmatic to delusional. The negotiation team reported its "growing concern" that, despite his statements to the contrary, Koresh might be planning a mass suicide similar to-Jonestown. Nevertheless, the BSU concluded that mass suicide was probably unlikely, because Koresh possessed, among others, the following personality traits: (1) generally acts only in self-interest; (2) statistically shows a low suicide rate; and (3) more likely to arrange a "suicide by cop" situation than to commit suicide.


The FBI's outside experts also failed to agree whether suicide was likely. In late March, while in Waco, Dr. Di Giovanni tentatively concluded that Koresh probably was not suicidal. However, Dr. Bruce Perry and Joyce Sparks, of the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, who viewed the March 28, 1993 videotape showing Koresh and his children, told the FBI on April 1 that Koresh might have been planning to cause an "apocalyptic" end to the standoff. Ms. Sparks recalled that Koresh had told her during of her prior visits to the compound that there would be a "fiery" end or an "explosion" at the compound. Dr. Perry believed that Koresh was stalling for time, to prepare for his "final battle" with the authorities. Dr. Perry believed that Koresh might try to lure law enforcement officers inside the compound, so that he could kill himself, his followers, and as many law enforcement agents as possible in a final apocalyptic end.


The experts who analyzed the letters Koresh sent out between April 9 and April 14 also reached different conclusions regarding the possibility of suicide. Dr. Miron rejected the possibility of suicide, stating the following after reviewing Koresh's April 9 letter: "In my judgment, we are facing a determined, hardened adversary who has no intention of delivering himself or his followers into the hands of his adversaries. It is my belief that he is waiting for an assault. . . . Koresh's communication does not resemble the suicidal sermon made by Jim Jones in the last hours of Jonestown. His is not the language of those at Massada or Jonestown. He intends to fight." However, Krofchek and Van Zandt analyzed the same letter from Koresh and reached a somewhat different conclusion: Koresh was "willing to kill, to see his followers die, and to die himself." Krofcheck and Van Zandt believed that Koresh was "fully capable of creating the circumstances to bring this matter to a 'magnificent' end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible."

  1. For further discussion of evidence that Koresh engaged in sexual and physical abuse of children, see pages 215-26.


    Continue... VII. Child Abuse ->

Updated February 14, 2018