Tim Madigan, who wrote a quickie exploitation book on the Branch Davidians cult at Waco, Texas, is still struggling to understand them. (The book by someone who did understand them is Dick Reavis’s The Ashes of Waco, by a reporter who took the trouble to understand the Davidians’ odd theology and treats them with respect, while being as unsparing with them and their leader as he was with the authorities who burned them out. Reavis was later — still is — a journalism professor at North Carolina State University and his papers reside at a library in the Texas State system).
Madigan’s book was, unlike Reavis’s, shallow and lightweight; a journalist committed to the newsroom religion of snarky atheism usually has a hard time understanding people of a faith, no matter how mainstream and commonplace their belief is. He has utterly no hope of understanding a group as far out of the mainstream as the Branch Davidians; understanding them cost Reavis, a much harder-working and more honest reporter, a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and toil.
Absent the effort to understand the Davidians, Madigan comes across like a gawker at a Barnum sideshow. He hasn’t gotten any deeper or more introspective in the last two decades.
Yet 20 years ago this Friday, [Clive Doyle] was one of only nine Branch Davidians to survive the internationally televised inferno on the Texas prairie. Killed that day near Waco were cult leader David Koresh and 73 followers, including Doyle’s 18-year-old daughter, Shari, and 20 children under 14. Before the fire and the 51-day standoff with the federal government, Doyle’s daughter had been one of many women and girls of the cult taken into Koresh’s bed. Koresh — who preached that he was the Lamb of God, drove a sports car and motorcycle, and had a rock band and an arsenal of illegal weapons — had ordered his male followers to be celibate.
Doyle has had two decades to reflect on these things, and clearly he has. So my question was obvious.
“You mean, have I woken up?” Doyle said to me with a smile.
“I’ve had questions and adjusted my beliefs somewhat,” Doyle said that day in the park. “But I still believe that David was who he claimed to be. You are sitting there listening to him. You hear all these things and the Scriptures come alive. And at the time, everything seems so imminent. That’s why I believed the way I did.”
As we draft this, the same agency that so badly botched the 2nd Davidian raid — the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team — is closing in on the survivor of two brothers who perpetrated the Marathon bombings. The agency that botched the initial raid, and then shredded its raid plan to obstruct the investigation, BATFE, is so little trusted that in the intervening two decades it lost its bomb lab authority in terrorist cases to the same FBI. (Update: local police bagged the surviving bomber). Unlike Tim Madigan (or Clive Doyle for that matter), from all indications the FBI HRT has learned a great deal. While police and citizens in the Boston area have been hard hit by these jihadis, the cops have taken aggressive measures to contain the surviving bomber and protect the citizens. There will be weeks of debate about whether their measures were too hard on civil liberties. Bostonians didn’t seem to mind, but they’re not liberty-minded people. On the other hand, one benefit of locking down the whole freakin’ city was that there was no repeat of the dismal civilian shootings that took place in the Chris Dorner disaster in Southern California. Boston has some bragging rights over LA today.
Despite the excellence of the response, we do have a single-source insider tip that a cop had a negligent discharge Friday morning. But one guy’s one screwup doesn’t define a whole police force, and Boston PD, the various ancillary forces (college campus cops, MBTA transit cops, State Police) and the FBI can take a bow — before moving on to cataloging evidence.
It’s encouraging to compare the performance of the ATF and FBI at Waco in 1993, which was dreadful, to the performance of FBI and local police since the Boston Marathon attacks. Even embattled US Attorney Carmen Ortiz, best known for her clumsy botch of the Aaron Swartz case and understood by all to lack the ability, character and temperament for the job, didn’t look bad — at least not yet.
This story was intended to run on 19th April at 20:00 EST, but the autopublish didn’t execute due to operator error. It was published on 20th April and backdated.