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 Vern?
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 California.
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 to love.
"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 of saying.
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 in ammunition.
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 than 1995.
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. He laughed.
"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 be self-fulfilling.
"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 imagined.
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 have done.
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."