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Book Review - Why Waco


Cultic Studies Journal, 18, 221-222

Why Waco? 

James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher

University of California Press, Berkeley, CA, 1995, 186 pages.

By now, the answers to four of the five journalistic "w-questions" of Waco are well known: What happened at Waco? When did it happen? Where, specifically, did it occur? Who was involved? These queries may be researched, if necessary, and answered definitively, even among individuals with differing opinions concerning the events. But, what about the fifth w-question: why? Why Waco? Why did such a thing happen? Why could it not be prevented?

Tabor and Gallagher, college instructors of religious studies, address the why question in Why Waco? A thoroughly documented study and thoughtful analysis of the Waco event, a major part of this book deals with the negative usage of the word "cult" (sandwiched between quotation marks throughout the book) by anti-cult proponents and their pursuits to promote education concerning destructive cults.

Unlike most media portrayals of David Koresh, the Branch Davidians, and the final days at Mount Carmel, which focus on the bizarre and sensational aspects of the situation, Why Waco? challenges readers to consider the story from the viewpoint of Koresh and the Davidians. The entire premise of the book appears to be the authors' perceptions of an unnecessary cataclysm resulting from an intolerance of unconventional religious practices and an inability to communicate.

The book begins with the background and development of the Mount Carmel community and Vernon Howell's rise to the position of a self-proclaimed messiah. A detailed narration of the fifty-one-day siege, rescue attempts, the tragic climax of the standoff, and the trial ensue. A collection of photographs (including shots of the compound before and after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearm's [BATF] raid, Koresh, and members of the group) anchor reality to the place Koresh and his "family" called home. It also attributes a sense of individual identity to those known to most of us only as a death statistic or a "wacko" from Waco. The book concludes with information about the cult controversy, religious freedom in America, an unfinished manuscript by David Koresh, and extensive notes.

Awareness of an adversary's mindset or viewpoint constitutes a critical component in conflict resolution. Authors Tabor and Gallagher chronicle the extensive efforts law enforcement officials undertook attempting to understand the "why's" motivating Koresh so there could be diffusion instead of an explosion. However, as the book reveals, attempts to dialogue rationally with an irrational individual inevitably lead to frustration, an impasse, and a string of unanswered "why's." Unfortunately, Waco was no exception.

The book concludes as it begins. Why Waco?

Maxine Pinson

Publisher/editor/freelance writer

Graduate Student, Union Theological Seminary/PSCE

Richmond, VA

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 18, 2001, page