TITLE: THE TRAGIC STORY ABOUT THE BRANCH DAVIDIANS BASED ON THE STUDY: “Sacred and Profane: How not to negotiate with believers,” New Yorker Magazine (March 31, 2014)
The article “Sacred and Profane: How not to negotiate with believers” written by Malcolm Gladwell discusses what is believed to be the ignorance of F.B.I. officials to understand the beliefs of the Branch Davidians, which is a US-based “Primal Religion,” a tradition that is based on local, oral, and experiential movements.
The article begins in Melbourne, Australia where we are introduced to Clive Doyle, a teenager in the nineteen-fifties. Doyle was interested in studying the scriptures and ventured out on a quest to find people who wanted to study with him. What he didn’t know was that his quest would consume his whole life and would lead him across the world to Texas where he would join a group called Branch Davidians.
The leader of the Davidians, David Koresch, gathered his followers at a retreat which he called Mount Carmel. The article moves from Australia to the events of 1993 when the A.T.F raided the Mount Carmel community in suspicion of Koresch violating the federal firearm rules. The F.B.I. then became involved in the situation, and claimed that Mount Carmel was a hostage situation. They began negotiations to try to release the so-called “captives” that Koresch was holding. The F.B.I. assembled a military force of about eight hundred and ninety-nine people outside of the Mount Carmel complex in attempt to find a resolution with Koresch.
The F.B.I. tried to bargain weapons for water and milk for children but the Davidians did not give in, why? According to conflict-studies scholar Jayne Docherty, the F.B.I’s approach was doomed from the start because “techniques that work on bank robbers don’t work on committed believers” (Gladwell, New Yorker, web). The Davidians were following the “Seven Seals” which was a difficult passage in the Book of Revelation concerning a scroll that would set in motion the end of time. They were thought to have been living through the “fifth seal”. The Branch Davidians believed that the F.B.I. did not take their religion seriously and that they had no way to communicate with each other properly.
James Tabor, a Biblical scholar realized that the Davidians were a genuine group and went to the F.B.I. to help settle a negotiation that would not end in battle. He recorded a tape of an alternative reading of Revelation and successfully persuaded Koresch that this new Revelation was worth following. Koresch agreed that upon completing the decoded message of the seven seals he would come out because he would be freed of his waiting time. Doyle believed that Koresch would have finished his manuscript in approximately two weeks. After three days the F.B.I. punched holes in the walls and threw canisters of gas into the building killing Koresch and seventy-three others including twenty-five children.
After doing some research on this topic I believe that there are two different sides to this story and both can be argued depending which you choose to believe. The first side of this story (Gladwell’s account) attempts to show that the F.B.I. made no efforts to understand the beliefs of the Davidians. The article suggests that this tragedy could have been avoided or handled differently if the F.B.I. would have attempted to understand the religious beliefs of the Davidians.
The Second side of this story attempts to show that the Davidians were in the fault. It is believed that Koresch had illegal firearm inside the building, which was the reason why the investigation began in the beginning. It was also believed that the F.B.I. gave the Davidians many opportunities to leave the building unharmed but everyone decided to stay inside. There is a book written by Kenneth G. C. Newport called “The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect” which shows evidence that the Davidians were in the fault and that the fire was potentially started by the people inside not the F.B.I.
I support the idea of following ones religion if you are complying with the local laws and you are not causing any harm to anyone else. However, in this case I support the second side of this story that the F.B.I. did no harm. If the Davidians were given multiple opportunities to leave their complex unharmed they should have listened to the authorities and this tragedy would have been avoided in the first place.