The Koresh Cult
This research paper will present a case study of David Koresh’s Branch Davidian Church in Waco, Texas. The study of cults has become, over the last twenty years, a rapidly expanding field within the disciplines of social psychology and sociology. With this expansion has come an increased awareness that cults and cult behavior are complex phenomena. It is beyond the scope of a paper such as this to give an exhaustive account of the personality of David Koresh and the nature of the group that he led. Instead of attempting to do so we will restrict our focus to two important aspects of the Branch Davidian Church: the way in which it recruited members; and 2] the behavior of this cult’s members and their leader in the face of the imposition of stress by the outside world. The justification for this narrowing of focus lies in the fact that recruitment techniques and response to outside pressure are two of the most curious and interesting aspects of cult behavior.
The Koresh Cult's Activities
The Koresh Cult was a small splinter group of Branch Davidians led by David Koresh, a man who claimed to be a prophet chosen by God. Koresh recruited cult members from around the world and encouraged them to live with him on a ranch just outside Waco, Texas. The Koresh Cult is best remembered for its deadly standoff against FBI agents in 1993. The Koresh cult was accused of keeping illegal weapons. David Koresh was also accused of child abuse, statutory rape and bigamy. When government agents attempted to execute a search warrant, a gun fight erupted on the ranch. The Koresh Cult withstood a government siege of almost two months before the compound caught fire. Over seventy members of the cult, including David Koresh, died in the fire.
The paper will divide into three sections. The first section will briefly discuss some of the conceptual difficulties that have been encountered in research on cults. The second section will discuss a small set of generalities that one writer, Jean-Marie Abgrall, believes apply to cult behavior vis a vis recruitment. It will then discuss the recruiting methods used by Koresh and see if these fit Abgrall’s model. The third section will discuss how the cult’s members operated when they were under stress. We will discuss the issue of whether they were, by that point in time, people who could have been properly characterized as rational and autonomous individuals, or whether they were completely under Koresh’s will. As we shall see, the answer to that question will say something both about the nature of Koresh’s recruiting techniques and about the nature of the recruiting techniques used by cults in general.