I came across a fascinating, and disturbing, retelling of the 1993 Waco debacle written by best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell. Remember Waco? The FBI fatally stormed a compound occupied by a religious cult called the Branch Davidians led by a crazy man named David Koresh. Gladwell based his article in The New Yorker on a recent memoir by one of the survivors. I remember being mesmerized by the lengthy standoff between the FBI and the Davidians, disgusted by reports of David Koresh as a polygamist, munitions stockpiler and self-proclaimed Messiah, bewildered by the weeks of futile negotiations during the standoff, and then horrified when the FBI moved in, igniting a fire that led to 74 people dead, 25 of them children. Gladwell informs that Koresh and the Branch Davidians were in fact not a cult, but a Seventh-Day Adventist spin-off that interpreted the Bible and its end times predictions as true gospel. Bible-believing millennialists. Koresh justified his polygamy by a strict reading of the Old Testament. This being Texas, the group had a few guns, but there was no munitions stockpile as the government accused. Gladwell concludes that negotiations failed, and the FBI ruinously overreached, because the law of the land didn’t know how to deal with devout believers.
Gladwell writes, “Mainstream society finds it easiest to be tolerant when the outsider chooses to minimize the differences that separate him from the majority. The country club opens its doors to Jews. The university welcomes African-Americans. Heterosexuals extend the privilege of marriage to the gay community. Whenever these liberal feats are accomplished, we congratulate ourselves. But it is not exactly a major moral accomplishment for Waspy golfers to accept Jews who have decided that they, too, wish to play golf. It is a much harder form of tolerance to accept an outsider group that chooses to maximize its differences from the broader culture. Americans aren’t very good at respecting the freedom of others to be so obnoxiously different.”