What Does Donald Trump Have In Common With The Waco Siege?

Last year Malcolm Gladwell wrote a piece for The New Yorker about the Waco Siege — a hostage situation between a religious cult, the Branch Davidians, and the FBI that occurred in 1993. The Davidians were originally suspected of weapons violations. When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raided the ranch, a gunfire ensued, followed by a standoff, which the FBI was called in to remedy.

A couple weeks ago, I overheard a conversation regarding funding for Planned Parenthood. A friend said that defunding such a program was absurd, and that the vitality of many young women’s bodies was largely dependent on the services provided by Planned Parenthood. She stated with the utmost conviction that Donald Trump, along with anyone who wanted to cut Planned Parenthood funding, was an asinine candidate.

These two stories are exceptionally different, but, as you can probably guess by my including them in subsequent paragraphs, there is a connection.

First back to Waco, Texas, in 1993.

It was widely believed that David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, was holding members of the cult against their will in a compound just outside Waco. Koresh was a self-proclaimed prophet, one who took multiple wives (including many that were underage). As seems reasonable, he was viewed as a lunatic by the F.B.I. when they arrived on the scene.

To figure out this lunatic and his followers (or hostages, depending on perspective), the F.B.I. called in a small army to deal with the 132 Davidian residents. Writes Gladwell:

“Outside the Mount Carmel complex, the F.B.I. assembled what has been called probably the largest military force ever gathered against a civilian suspect in American history: ten Bradley tanks, two Abrams tanks, four combat-engineering vehicles, six hundred and sixty-eight agents in addition to six U.S. Customs officers, fifteen U.S. Army personnel, thirteen members of the Texas National Guard, thirty-one Texas Rangers, a hundred and thirty-one officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, seventeen from the McLennan County sheriff’s office, and eighteen Waco police, for a total of eight hundred and ninety-nine people.”

So, a lot against a little.

The negotiation experts then set to work on Koresh. From my layman understanding (emphasis on layman), typical negotiation tactics are a set of “tit for tat” compromises. You let two hostages go and I’ll bring you some water. Typically, these tactics are employed against someone in a deranged state — a pissed off husband that’s just killed his wife, or a cornered bank robber — to help lead them from an emotional state of mind into a more reasonable one.

Unfortunately for the F.B.I., and everyone involved in the Waco Siege, Koresh didn’t fit this mold. His state of mind at the time of the siege, his fundamental beliefs, hadn’t changed. He believed he was the prophet destined to bring about a specific set of events in the Book of Revelation (the end of the world as we know it).

To illustrate this difference, take the 131 other people in the compound with Koresh. The F.B.I. viewed them as hostages. Koresh saw them as followers. When FBI negotiators asked Koresh to make an agreement that would allow the people in the compound to leave, he merely replied that his followers were free to go where they pleased. No one was being held against his or her will.

James Tabor, the Biblical scholar who was called in as an advisor in the situation, was one of the few that understood the nuance.

“I realized that in order to deal with David Koresh,” Tabor said, “And to have any chance for a peaceful resolution of the Waco situation, one would have to understand and make use of these biblical texts.”

After nearly two months of unfruitful negotiations between Koresh and the FBI, Tabor and his colleague Phil Carney began conversations with Koresh. Koresh told them that he was “presently being permitted to document in structured form the decoded messages of the seven seals. Upon the completion of this task, I will be freed of my waiting period. . . . As soon as I can see that people like Jim Tabor and Phil Arnold have a copy, I will come out and then you can do your thing with this beast.”

Upon hearing this message, the F.B.I. negotiator didn’t believe him, and pressed exactly what he meant.

“I’ll be in custody in the jailhouse,” Koresh said.

Essentially he was giving the F.B.I. exactly what they wanted. However, they didn’t know how long it would take Koresh to finish the manuscript — witnesses within the compound say two weeks, but that info wasn’t available to the F.B.I.

Instead, the F.B.I., which had been there nearly two months, stormed the compound three days after Koresh’s statement, ramming walls with tanks and utilizing four hundred cannisters of CS gas, which can be flammable in certain conditions. When the gas was shot in rooms lit by candles, fires raged inside the compound.

Koresh and 73 other Davidians died, including 25 children, with dozens of others being burned or injured.

On to a less tragic issue: the conversation between my friends. One of whom, Bette, was essentially yelling that anyone who wanted to cut Planned Parenthood funding was just plain dumb. Debate over.

My other friend, Jeff, currently being perceived as dumb by Bette, told her that 1) he was on her side in the debate and 2) to listen to what the Republicans were actually saying, rather than merely denounce them as imbeciles. Bette had been storming, but calmed down enough to listen.

Jeff said that the main point of contention, and the backbone of the Republican candidates’ claim, was that Planned Parenthood made money off of selling aborted fetuses for profit, which is illegal.

Much to Bette’s credit, she calmly explained that Planned Parenthood only got reimbursed for the procedures and donations to research, which is legal. Furthermore, the money received was a pittance compared to the overall costs of the organization. (Planned Parenthood has since announced they’re going to stop even getting reimbursed.)

The conversation ended with me learning a few things about the issue and no feelings being hurt between Bette or Jeff.

But imagine for a second that Jeff was a pro-life Republican. With Bette knowing that same fact, and Jeff knowing she’s pro-life, what are the odds that they would’ve been able to move past their differences of opinion to get to the logical facts of the argument? What if, rather than reiterate the Republicans’ specific point during this debate, Jeff launched into an attack on liberals not valuing the sanctity of life? Or Bette took shots at conservatives not treating their women with respect?

Each may have perceived the other as crazy, someone that couldn’t be reasoned with. Had they started taking shots at one another not directly related to the issue at hand, neither would have been able to see the other’s logic. It sounds so simple to remedy, and yet the conversation between Jeff and Bette is far from isolated.

We see countless articles and debates on Facebook, CNN, Twitter… you name it, each side clamoring to be the loudest. In conversations that inevitably turn into debates, people are so busy getting their own responses ready that they don’t listen to the thoughts of the opposing side, or adequately address that side’s concerns. Their opponent’s viewpoint is so asisine that it doesn’t deserve to be given the time of day, let alone afforded the possibility that it could even make sense.

This was the problem in Waco too. According to the FBI, David Koresh was obviously off his rocker and there was no possible way to reason with him. Don’t get me wrong, Koresh’s beliefs were seriously misguided. But in order to remedy the situation, they needed to understand Koresh’s own rationale — that he was acting simply as a prophet described in the Book of Revelation, and that had he been given time to write out his doctrine there’s a good chance no one else needed to be hurt. In fact, the only real concessions secured came from Tabor and Arnold, who utilized a scholarly understanding of the Book of Revelation to communicate with Koresh.

There are no guarantees that Koresh would’ve come out peacefully in two weeks had the FBI given him that time, but that option was certainly better than the latter of charging into the compound, seriously endangering the lives of hundreds of men, women, and children — many of whom you believe to be hostages, no less.

In modern-day America, you’re expected to call Koresh a crazy person, just like liberals are expected to call Trump an imbecile. It’s a lot harder to give them the time of day. But in order to remedy these differences of opinion, or at the very least understand them better, you need to do your best to see their rationale. You need to see where they’re coming from, and attempt to debunk their belief by using their own logic against them. You need to empathize with them.

Just like in Waco, there’s no guarantee of success. Some people are so ingrained in their beliefs that they can’t see reason. Heck, you might even be that person on certain issues (I know I am). At the very least you’ll have a better understanding of where they’re coming from, you’ll have walked a mile in their shoes — a cliche so simple in concept, and preached so often, yet one still underutilized by many of the adults doing the preaching.