Dean M. Kelley's article presents both a biased and specious viewpoint. Mr. Kelley seems to have carefully filtered the facts and excluded information and sources that did not support his conclusions. His account is hardly objective-beginning with the description of the Waco standoff as a "massacre."
Mr. Kelley no longer speaks for the National Council of Churches. He has retired and is now a "consultant." He does have the dubious distinction of being touted as a religion resource by Freedom magazine, published by the notorious Church of Scientology (a.k.a. "Cult of Greed," Time magazine cover, May 1991). Some of the "experts" cited by Kelley in First Things also appear in Freedom, such as Philip Arnold, James Tabor, and Nancy Ammerman.
Professor Ammerman had no experience dealing with the Davidians before or during the standoff. Her report footnotes cite many well-known cult apologists, some currently serving on advisory boards associated with cult groups. Ms. Ammerman made and has acknowledged errors and misstatements in her report, calling into question her credibility.
There is a pattern to Mr. Kelley's analysis. The government did everything wrong, but not David Koresh. He was the persecuted leader of a "new religious movement," with happy, healthy, well-adjusted followers just tending to his "commercial ventures." Then came the government to persecute and destroy him.
Mr. Kelley seems to feel there is a government conspiracy to cover up the truth about Waco. The physical evidence gathered by specialists cannot be trusted because they too are part of the conspiracy. This reads like theories propounded by fringe groups such as the "Patriots" and so-called "militias," not a "counselor on religious liberty" once associated with the National Council of Churches.
Mr. Kelley tries to minimize Koresh's trial for attempted murder in 1987. Though he was let go by a hung jury, the prosecutor described Koresh as "dangerous," advising then that he was "building an arsenal" and "preparing for a battle with someone." According to published reports, Koresh had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, estranged married couples in his group, sexually exploited women members, and bilked at least one elderly couple of their life savings. Mr. Kelley says David Koresh was touched by "the finger of God." However, most people would surmise he was just "touched" (i.e., sociopathic, paranoid, and delusional).
Mr. Kelley claims that "arms . . . were primarily the Davidians' commercial stock-in-trade." He excuses illegally converted weapons, and dismisses photographs of machinery used to convert firearms as only a possible use. There is a saying-"If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it just might be a duck." Mr. Kelley's logic concludes it is an elephant.
Mr. Kelley contends that the Davidian children "were found to be healthy, well-adjusted, and non-traumatized." However, the definitive report about Davidian child abuse was made by Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Chief of Psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital. Dr. Perry examined the twenty-one children released from the compound and concluded they had been abused, traumatized, and were not well-adjusted. This report proves that previous reports by Child Protective Services were wrong.
Nancy Ammerman is quoted by Mr. Kelley as saying that "the notion of cult brainwashing has been thoroughly discredited by the academic community." The academic community has long accepted that destructive groups manipulate their members. This is well-documented through numerous books, articles, and reports. Both the American Psychological Association and the American Sociological Association have passed resolutions acknowledging thought reform. Contrary to Ms. Ammerman's assertion, there is an ongoing dialogue and discovery process concerning this subject.
The government did make mistakes at Waco. The ATF was too aggressive and could have opted for a more cautious and considered approach in serving its warrants. The FBI never fully recognized the cult dynamic central to the standoff and instead saw it as a terrorist "hostage-rescue" situation, despite the advice of experts. However, these agencies enforced the law and could not walk away after federal agents were murdered (though Mr. Kelley would have us believe they shot each other through "friendly fire").
David Koresh caused the standoff-he was the one who decided to violate the law, which led to the confrontation with government agents. When the warrants were served he could have allowed a legal search. Once the standoff began he could have ended it at any time by simply telling his followers to put down their weapons and come out peacefully. He refused to do either and, according to substantial audio and aerial infrared surveillance, decided instead to burn himself and his followers to death.
Mr. Kelley claims that cult critics know "very little about the history or dynamics of religion." Numerous clergy, religious scholars, and denominational leaders are cult critics. Over the past decade as a member of two national committees of a large denomination, I have witnessed their work and commitment.
David Koresh's so-called religious "frame of reference" shifted constantly and was subject to his moods and convenience. He often contradicted himself. This negates the conclusion reached by Phil Arnold and James Tabor that he "could be reasoned with if approached within his own frame of reference." This conclusion is based upon their assumption that Koresh had a consistent "frame of reference." He did not and that is why, though that approach was advised and tried, it failed.
Mr. Kelley prefers the phrase "new religious movements" to describe destructive cults. However, cults like Koresh's Davidians are hardly "religious movements," but rather the contrived creations of individuals seeking to exploit others for their own benefit. Mr. Kelley seems to think because they are clothed in religion, application of the law and accountability amount to persecution. Perhaps the most frightening aspect of Waco is how so much abuse went on for so long while so little was done about it.
Cult apology has become a cottage industry. Whenever a cult tragedy occurs these groups and their spin doctors go to work carefully crafting apologetics. What's next on Kelley's list, the Aum sect of Japan? . . .
Dean Kelley would like to lead us on trips into his fantasy world, which seems devoid of logic or reason. However, given the recent history of radical destructive groups from Jonestown to Waco, the Solar Temple Suicide in Switzerland, the Aum subway gassing, and now the Oklahoma bombing (apparently motivated by Waco conspiracy theories), can anyone afford the price of travelling with Mr. Kelley?