The Massacre of the branch Davidians

A Study of Government Violations of Rights, Excessive Force and Cover up

Carol Moore
January 28, 1994

If the anti-cult movement (ACM) involvement in the Jonestown tragedy is not as widely documented, their involvement in the Waco blunder is more evident. The questionable role of the FBI and BATF, acting under the influence and along the line of the anti-cult rhetoric, is also the subject of a film, the The Rules of Engagement. The film is being shown around the States and has received quantities of positive reviews, as well as met with a well deserved success.

The following excerpts show the ACM involvement in the Waco tragedy. I let the references number in the text but they currently do not link to the reference. You will need to consult the full report for that. I cut what was not directly relevant to the point and marked the deletions with ellipses (...). Chapter 3.4 is left intact because everything it contains is relevant.

Some of the things that are shown here are:

1.5 Government Reliance on "Private Spies" and "Cult Busters"


Once an investigation is underway, most government agencies, including BATF and the FBI, seem willing to receive information from such groups as the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith (ADL) and the Cult Awareness Network (CAN). These groups, and others like them, clearly have their own agendas. They keep copious files of biased and prejudicial information on private individuals and organizations and share these with law enforcement.


The Cult Awareness Network (CAN) actively urges the press, Congress and law enforcement to act against any non- mainstream religious, psychological or even political movement which it describes as a "cult." After interviewing CAN's executive director Cynthia Kisser, a reporter wrote: "no one knows how many destructive cults and sects exist in the United States. Kisser's binder holds 1,500 names gleaned from newspaper clippings, court documents and thousands of calls to the network's hotline. Some of the groups have legitimate purposes, Kisser says. But her group's efforts show that most, despite wildly diverse beliefs, share stunningly similar patterns of mind control, group domination, exploitation and physical and mental abuse." [23] CAN critics point out that so-called "mind control" techniques are not much different than the techniques used in education and socialization efforts used by all schools, churches, ideologies and philosophies.

According to CAN critic Dr. Gordon Melton of the Institute for the Study of Religion in Santa Barbara, California, CAN has used a number of means to try to destroy small religious groups: they unsuccessfully tried to expand "conservatorship" to allow families to remove members from "cults"; they unsuccessfully tried to have laws passed against "cults"; they unsuccessfully sued the American Psychological Association for rejecting their views on "brainwashing." However, they have found one successful method of disrupting groups: false anonymous charges of child abuse. Anonymous reports are legal under current law. [24]

Priscilla Coates, former executive director of CAN, told reporters, "I know how these types of groups work and the children are always abused." [25] CAN has been on a crusade against the Christian religious group The Children of God, known in the United States as "The Family." CAN alleges the group practices indiscriminate sex, including with children. [26] Many Family members accuse CAN of making false child abuse complaints which have resulted in dozens of arrests in at least 10 countries. Most of the charges are quickly dropped and there have been no convictions. The Family has demanded a Congressional investigation of CAN. [27]

The Cult Awareness Network's other successful approach is referring relatives of group members to "deprogrammers" who charge thousands of dollars for their services and, according to a former national director of CAN's predecessor, the Citizens Freedom Foundation, "kick back" some of the money to CAN. [28] Deprogramming often includes kidnapping individuals, subjecting them to sleep and food deprivation, ridicule and humiliation, and even physical abuse and restraint until they promise to leave the alleged cult. Because deprogrammers usually involve family members in these kidnappings and deprogrammings, victims rarely press charges. However, in the last few years 5 deprogrammers have been prosecuted for kidnapping or "unlawful imprisonment." One such deprogrammer is Rick Ross, a convicted jewel thief, who has boasted of more than 200 "deprogrammings." CAN executive director Cynthia Kisser has praised him as being "among the half dozen best deprogrammers in the country." In the summer of 1993 Rick Ross was indicted in Washington state for unlawful imprisonment.

Nancy Ammerman, a Visiting Scholar at Princeton University's Center for the Study of American Religion, was one of the outside experts assigned by the Justice Department to evaluate BATF and FBI's handling of the Branch Davidians. She was particularly critical of Rick Ross and the Cult Awareness Network. "Although these people often call themselves `cult experts,' they are certainly not recognized as such by the academic community. The activities of the CAN are seen by the National Council of Churches (among others) as a danger to religious liberty, and deprogramming tactics have been increasingly found to be outside the law. . .Mr. Rick Ross, who often works in conjunction with the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), has been quoted as saying he was `consulted' by the BATF. . .The Network and Mr. Ross have a direct ideological (and financial) interest in arousing suspicion and antagonism against what they call `cults'. . .It seem clear that people within the `anti-cult' community had targeted the Branch Davidians for attention." (JDR:Ammerman:1)

Nancy Ammerman compared Waco and Jonestown: "There, too, an exceptionally volatile religious group was pushed over the edge, inadvertently, by the actions of government agencies pushed forward by `concerned families.'" (JDR:Ammerman:8) What she may not have realized is that CAN's President is Patricia Ryan, daughter of Congressman Leo J. Ryan. It was he who threatened and hounded Jim Jones and his Peoples' Temple members until they murdered him and committed mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. Carrying on what seems to have become a family tradition, on April 8, 1993, Patricia Ryan told the Houston Chronicle, "Officials should use whatever means necessary to arrest Koresh, including lethal force." [30]

Ross definitely deprogrammed one (and possibly more) of the Branch Davidians who fed questionable but damaging evidence to BATF. He also provided negative information to the Waco Herald-Tribune for its February, 1993, series on the Branch Davidians. The paper quotes Ross declaring, "The group is without a doubt, without any doubt whatsoever, a highly destructive, manipulative cult. . .I would liken the group to Jim Jones." The authors write, "Ross said he believes Howell (Koresh) is prone to violence. . .Speaking out and exposing Howell might bring in the authorities or in some way help those `being held in that compound through a kind of psychological, emotional slavery and servitude.'" Ross told the Houston Chronicle that Koresh is "your stock cult leader. They're all the same. Meet one and you've met them all. They're deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality and lack any type of conscience. . .No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. So you're talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it's going or seeing the total picture." [31]

CAN representatives made numerous television and radio appearances during the siege. Ross bragged on the "Up to the Minute" public television program that he "consulted with ATF agents on the Waco sect and told them about the guns in the compound." On April 19th he told the "Today Show," "I was a consultant offering ideas, input that was filtered by their team and used when they felt it was appropriate." The Justice Department report mentions a Rick Ross television appearance during the siege where he declared he hoped Koresh would be a coward and surrender rather than end up as a corpse. (JDR:167) After the April 19th fire, CAN associate Louis West said on a MacNeil/Lehrer Newshour broadcast that the FBI "knew they were dealing with a psychopath. Nobody is more dangerous or unpredictable than a psychopath in a trap."

After the fire, CAN "counselor" Brett Bates tried to arrange contacts with survivors by meeting with their families. He told the N.Y. Daily News, "Before they can become productive witnesses in the prosecution, they have to realize they were victims of mind control." Columnist Alexander Cockburn wrote, "the deprogrammers are demanding that they be allowed to exercise their dark arts on the burned Davidian survivors so that they testify correctly and desist from maintaining--as they have--that no mass suicide was under way. The FBI says `this is worth considering,' but the decision is up to the U.S. attorney." [32] The only Branch Davidian to turn state's evidence is Katherine Schroeder who was confined in a mental institution after leaving Mount Carmel in March, 1993 (private communication.) It is unknown if she was "deprogrammed."

After the April 19th fire Methodist Minister Joseph Bettis wrote Attorney General Reno, "from the beginning, members of the Cult Awareness Network have been involved in this tragedy. This organization is widely known for its use of fear to foster religious bigotry. The reliance of federal agents on information supplied by these people, as well as the whole record of federal activity deserves your careful investigation and public disclosure. . .Cult bashing must end, and you must take the lead." Larry Shinn, a vice president of Bucknell University wrote to the chair of the House Subcommittee on Civil and Constitutional Rights, "media, legal institutions, and law-makers too often rely on the word of self-styled cult experts like C.A.N. whose overly negative agenda often slides into purely anti- religious attack." And in early May, a coalition of 16 religious and civil liberties organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Conference on Religious Movements, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Episcopal Church, the General Conference of Seventh-Day Adventists, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Council of Churches of Christ and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations issued a statement which read in part, "We are shocked and saddened by the recent events in Waco. . .Under the religious liberty provision of the First Amendment, the government has no business declaring what is orthodox or heretical, or what is a true or false religion. It should steer clear of inflammatory and misleading labels. History teaches that today's `cults' may be tomorrow's mainstream religions."


2.3 "Probable Cause" Based on Biased Information about Intent

The credibility and reliability of witnesses in an affidavit is very important. Yet all Aguilera's witnesses as to Koresh's "intent" had some credibility problems (...) All other evidence on intent came from disaffected former Branch Davidians, all of whom were influenced by "cult busters" Marc Breault and Rick Ross.


Aguilera began contacting former members in November, 1992. He obtained their names from the 1990 affidavits Breault and other former members left with the local Sheriff's Department and from Rick Ross. Nancy Ammerman, who had access to all BATF and FBI files, wrote "The ATF interviewed the persons (Ross) directed to them and evidently used information from those interviews in planning their February 28th raid." (JDR:Ammerman:Addendum) Rick Ross "deprogrammed" David Block, who lived at Mount Carmel only three months, in the summer of 1992 in the home of CAN national spokesperson Priscilla Coates in Coates' home in California. [78] He or California CAN representatives were probably in close contact with Jeannine, Robyn and Debbie Sue Bunds, all of whom gave BATF information. (Linedecker writes that in 1991 California police said Robyn was being deprogrammed. [79] )

Evidence that Rick Ross had a financial motivation for inciting BATF against the Branch Davidians is contained in Marc Breault's January 16, 1993, diary entry, where he describes a conversation with Branch Davidian Steve Schneider's sister. "Rick (Ross) told Sue that something was about to happen real soon. He urged her to hire him to deprogram Steve. Rick has Sue all scared now. The Schneider family doesn't know what to do. Rick didn't tell them what was about to happen, but he said they should get Steve out as soon as possible. I know that Rick has talked to the ATF." [80] It is unknown how many other families Ross contacted offering his expensive services "before it's too late."


While such allegations might be credible in most witnesses, they must be regarded skeptically when coming from individuals involved with professional or amateur cult busters. The Treasury report itself notes, "the planners failed to consider how Block's prior relations with Koresh, and his decision to break away from the Branch Davidians at the Compound, might have affected the reliability of his statements. Although the planners knew Block had met with a self-described `deprogrammer,' Rick Ross, they never had any substantive discussions with him concerning Block's objectivity about and perspective of Koresh and his followers." (TDR:143-144) All those who gave BATF the all important "evidence of intent" had similar credibility problems!


It is interesting to note that none of the most inflammatory allegation's about Koresh's violent criminal intent made by former members--that he had made up a "hit list" against former members, that he had once "tested" them by saying they would have to turn their guns on the public, that Branch Davidians were considering "mass suicide," or that they had renamed Mount Carmel Center "Ranch Apocalypse" [81] -- were included in the Aguilera's February 25th affidavit. Yet the Treasury report claims these allegations--some of which may not have been made until after the raid--were a prime excuse for the raid because Koresh "might soon have been inspired to turn his arsenal against the community of nonbelievers." (TDR:127)

It is particularly disturbing to see that these cult buster stories even convinced top Treasury Department officials to support the plan. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Enforcement Ronald K. Noble told the April 9, 1993, House Appropriations subcommittee hearing that from what BATF officials had told him, the Branch Davidians were "people who were feared to be gathering machineguns and automatic weapons and explosives for either a mass suicide or for some kind of assault near Waco, Texas; that they had bad intentions, evil intentions." [82]

3.4. FBI Relied on Experts and Cult Busters Urging Tactical Pressure

[Full chapter]

The Justice report states, "The FBI has questioned whether its negotiations with Koresh could even be characterized as `negotiations' at all, but rather as Koresh's attempt to convert the agents before it was too late and God destroyed them." (JDR:17) Yet despite Koresh's obsession with the Seven Seals, they never allowed anyone who was an expert on the subject to have direct contact with him.

Nancy Ammerman believes FBI agents had such a negative view of Koresh's religious views for three reasons: some individuals didn't understand religion, others were antagonistic towards religion in general, and others were antagonistic towards Koresh's specific views, which differed from their own. [224] She noted FBI officials' and agents' "tendency to discount the influence of religious beliefs and to evaluate situations largely in terms of a leader's individual criminal/psychological motives" and that their "consensus" was that "when they encountered people with religious beliefs, those beliefs were usually a convenient cover for criminal activity." (JDR:Ammerman:5) For example, siege Commander SAC Jamar expressed his contempt for Koresh when he declared at the April 28, 1993, House Judiciary Committee hearing that Koresh had merely "corrupted people" and "corrupted religion to his own ends" and that there was "no way to convince Koresh that he was not the Messiah."

It is evident from the Justice report's description of its consultations with seven theologians (JDR:186-189) that the only one they took seriously was Dr. Glenn Hilburn of Baylor University. Not surprisingly, the report mentions that "Baylor University has one of the largest `cult' reference and research facilities in the country." However, even Dr. Hilburn had little substantive impact on FBI thinking or actions. (JDR:186-189)

Several times the Justice report mentions theologian Philip Arnold--an expert on the Seven Seals and apocalyptic groups--but never acknowledges his crucial impact on Koresh's decision to come out. We will review that in detail in a later section. A study of the Justice report makes it clear that psychologists, psychiatrists (JDR:158-185) and "cult busters" (JDR:190-193) who reinforced the FBI's own prejudices had the greatest impact on the FBI's decisions.

a. Psychologists and Psychiatrists

The FBI was particularly attentive to the advice of psychologists and psychiatrists who asserted that Koresh was mentally unbalanced and would not surrender voluntarily. Dr. Park Dietz held that, "continuing to negotiate in good faith would not resolve the situation, because Koresh would not come out." (JDR:168) Dr. Anthony J. Pinizotto said, "Koresh displayed psychopathic behavior, that he was a `con artist' type, and he had narcissistic tendencies." Dr. Mike Webster opined, "Koresh appeared to be manifesting anti- social traits." (JDR:170) Dr. Perry and social worker Joyce Sparks, who interviewed children released from Mount Carmel, agreed that "Koresh was stalling for time, to prepare for his `final battle' with authorities." (JDR:171-174)

Dr. Joseph L. Krofcheck (with FBI psychological profiler Clinton R. Van Zandt) held that Koresh appeared to be a "functional, paranoid-type psychotic," that he was unlikely to "give up the power and omnipotence he enjoyed inside the compound," that there was the possibility of a "mass-breakout. . .with women carrying a baby in one arm while firing a weapon from the other," and that "the only way the FBI could influence Koresh's exit from the compound would be some form of tactical intervention." (JDR:176-179)

b. Cult Busters

There is evidence that in response to Nancy Ammerman's sharp criticisms, to Rick Ross's being indicted for "unlawful imprisonment" in the summer of 1993, and to the New Alliance Party suit against the FBI for its abuse of the word "cult," the FBI and Justice Department have tried to cover up its association with professional or amateur "cult busters." The Justice report asserts the FBI "did not solicit advice from any `cult experts' or `cult deprogrammers.'" (JDR:190)

In mid-April the FBI asked Dr. Murray S. Miron, a Professor of Psycholinquistics at Syracuse University, to analyze five letters that Koresh sent out of Mount Carmel. After reading the first and third letters, he concluded that they bore "all the hallmarks of rampant, morbidly virulent paranoia. . .In my judgement, 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." (JDR:174-176)

What the FBI either did not know--or did not admit--is that Dr. Miron is an outspoken cult critic. Reportedly, during the 1970s he had been involved with the Citizens Freedom Foundation, the anti-cult group which evolved into the Cult Awareness Network. During the week of April 14-21--even while he was consulting with the FBI-- Miron published an article called "The Mark of the Cult" in the Syracuse New Times. The article contains stereotypical anti-cult propaganda: "The totalitarianism of the cult banishes dissent and fosters dependence upon fallible, power-mad leaders. It is the system of every dictator, whether benign or benevolent." [225]

In typically media-savvy cult buster fashion, Miron managed to make himself one of the few FBI consultants quoted in major media right after the fire--thus using his FBI connections to promote his anti-cult propaganda. He told the Los Angeles Times, "I advised the FBI that all of his promises as to giving up were only subterfuges, deceptions and delaying tactics." [226] He told the Washington Post, "There was every indication in my mind that he was not prepared to commit suicide." [227] His comments occupied eight paragraphs of a New York Times article: "Dr. Miron said that Mr. Koresh had become so delusional" that he and his followers may have believed that after they set the fire "either that they were invulnerable and that the fires would consume the authorities while leaving them untouched, or that they were about to ascend to glory no matter what happened to their bodies." [228]

Rick Ross' contention that he was in close contact with BATF and the FBI is backed up by Nancy Ammerman's September 10, 1993 one page addendum to her report. (Which the Justice Department did not bother to include in its report.) In it she wrote, "The interview transcripts document that Mr. Rick Ross was, in fact, closely involved with both the ATF and the FBI. . .He clearly had the most extensive access to both agencies of any person on the `cult expert' list, and he was apparently listened to more attentively." However, after reviewing Ross's contacts with the FBI, the Justice report states: "The FBI did not `rely' on Ross for advice whatsoever during the standoff." (JDR:192)

The Justice report claims that the FBI determined Breault was talking to the media and therefore only accepted his affidavits and electronic mail from him, but decided "not to contact him." (JDR:192) However, Breault asserts: "as soon as the siege began. . .the FBI tried for hours to contact us. . .they almost sent the police to drag us to police headquarters. Just before they took that drastic action, the negotiators broke through." Breault gave them detailed information about the Seven Seals, Koresh and his followers. Breault also writes: "The FBI contacted us throughout the siege. They showed us Koresh's letters." [229] Clearly, either Breault is lying or the FBI and Justice Department are trying to cover up their reliance on him.

During the April 28, 1993, House Judiciary Committee hearing FBI Director William Sessions admitted that the FBI had consulted "cult experts," though he got confused about the advice they had given the FBI. And SAC Jamar admitted, "we had a white paper on cults that was very, very useful to us." The white paper outlined the traits of cults with one "dynamic, manipulative, egomaniacal, psychopathic leader" and Jamar asserted that the traits fit Koresh "to a T." Jamar did not tell the committee what individual--or organization--gave him the white paper. However, considering that it contained typical anti-cult stereotypes, one might guess either Dr. Murray Miron or Rick Ross gave Jamar the white paper. Despite the Justice report denials, it is evident that there was a definite cult buster influence on--and justification for-- decisions to replace negotiations with pressure tactics against the Branch Davidians.