The Dallas Morning News
Official cautiously optimistic cult standoff will end soon
WACO -- Federal officials voiced cautious optimism again Saturday that an end was near in the 21-day Branch Davidian standoff, citing a long late-night talk with the cult's leader that brought two men out of the compound.
Cult leader David Koresh still has offered no timetable for breaking the impasse, but he is talking about resolving it "in the near term,' said FBI Agent Richard Swensen.
In response, federal officials adopted a more conciliatory tone toward the cult, even announcing in a Saturday news briefing that they would honor the sect's Sabbath by halting broadcasts of taped messages into the compound until sundown.
Agent Swensen said the two cult members who left the compound Friday night -- Kevin Whitecliff, 31, of Honolulu, and Brad Branch, 34 -- were rank-and-file followers who began telling negotiators that they wanted to leave more than a week ago.
Both men, who are being held in the McLennan County jail, have been "forthcoming' in answering questions about the cult, the agent said, but he declined to detail their discussions with investigators.
Agent Swensen said the cult members' emergence after a week of often frustrating talks resulted from "very frank' negotiations, a desire by the two cult members to end the stalemate and the recognition that "ultimately, they're going to come out of that compound.'
"I think that there was a realization on their part that this is not something that we're going to walk away from,' Agent Swensen said. "I think it's going to get resolved here.'
The latest departure brings to 27 the number of people who have walked out of the heavily armed compound since a bloody Feb. 28 raid that left four federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and an unknown number of cult members dead. Another 103 persons, including 17 children, remain inside.
By late Saturday, there were no signs that any other followers had left. Meanwhile, three helicopters were observed making landings near the Branch Davidian outpost. An ATF spokesman described the event as routine medical evacuation training.
Cult members Kathryn Schroeder and Oliver Gyarfas, who surrendered March 12, remained jailed Saturday, held as material witnesses in the ATF investigation.
Authorities said Saturday that prosecutors would ask a federal magistrate to hold Mr. Branch and Mr. Whitecliff under the same terms.
Agent Swensen said people who have left the compound have provided no substantive information about the number of dead inside.
That may be because the bodies of people killed during the raid apparently are being kept separate from the compound's living quarters, he said.
Authorities remain frustrated with the "trickle' of cult members coming out, Agent Swensen said.
"We do want it to move faster. We've expressed that,' Agent Swensen said. "We're hopeful that we're approaching that.'
Mr. Koresh has suggested in recent days that the signs from God that may tell him to give up may include astrological events, but he has not specified what they may be, Agent Swensen said.
"I don't know what his thoughts are, but we notice that we've got a new moon coming up on the 23rd (Tuesday). The vernal equinox (the first day of spring) is today, which has some significance within the religion,' he said.
During the four-hour talk with negotiators Friday night, Agent Swensen said, Mr. Koresh did lapse into discussions about the Bible -- a topic authorities began refusing to discuss last week because it had not been productive.
But Mr. Koresh's religious discussions Friday night seemed positive, Agent Swensen said, because "the tone was more optimistic and tended to address a resolution to this thing.'
"This appears to be one of the first times that he's alluding to the final end to this thing, and he's talking in terms of some large numbers (of cult members leaving),' Agent Swensen said. "He is addressing it ending fairly soon. He's still waiting for the various signs, but we're not talking long-term.'
When Mr. Branch and Mr. Whitecliff were released about 8 p.m. Friday, Agent Swensen said, the cult leader was on the phone with authorities to talk through the surrender process.
"Any time this happens, it's almost choreographed,' he said. "We talk by the numbers . . . so that nothing happens in that last minute.'
Mr. Whitecliff, a former correctional center guard, joined the Branch Davidians in 1988, according to the The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. He is the father of a 9-year-old girl, who lives with a relative in Honolulu, the newspaper reported.
Raised as a Catholic, Mr. Whitecliff began attending a Seventh Day Adventist Church after experiencing marital problems, his mother told the newspaper. That's where he met Mr. Koresh, whom he later followed to Texas after Adventist church leaders confronted the charismatic cult leader.
In January 1992, Mr. Whitecliff returned to Hawaii after a disagreement with Mr. Koresh. But when members of the Branch Davidians called him, he returned to Texas. "They're giving me a second chance,' he reportedly told his mother. "I must go.'
Information on Mr. Branch's background was not immediately available.
In other developments Saturday, ATF officials acknowledged that Mr. Koresh made a 911 emergency call the night of the aborted raid. But Deputy Assistant Director Dan Conroy said a tape of the call has been retained as evidence and "won't be released until the time of trial.'
Authorities again said they don't know how the group may be maintaining water supplies. Some news photographers with telephoto lenses reported seeing cult members gathering water in pots and pans during a late-afternoon downpour Friday afternoon.
Also Saturday, Balinda Ganem , mother of cult member David Thibodeaux, visited with Mr. Gyarfas at the McLennan County jail. During his first visit with anyone except his attorney and law enforcement officers since leaving the compound, Mr. Gyarfas "was in good spirits. All is well,' Mrs. Ganem said.
Mrs. Ganem said Mr. Gyarfas did not discuss conditions in the compound or what had happened during the standoff because "he's not at liberty to give me any information.' But, she said, "he doesn't appear to be in a bad place emotionally. He's being treated well.'
The Dallas Morning News
Ideas vary on cults' appeal to women Experts agree members face pressure to forsake kin, values
WACO -- The images of Kathryn Schroeder were striking: a small, simply groomed woman in a shapeless jail uniform, struggling along in shack-les between two towering law officers.
The images raised questions. How did this woman, who looks so harmless, come to be held as a material witness to the slaughter of four federal agents?
What kind of women join cults that force them to submit to a life of backbreaking work, loneliness and deprivation?
What kind of women forsake their husbands for the bed of a man who, by society's standards, is debasing and abusing them? What kind of women take up arms and risk their lives to defend that man?
Experts are divided on the question of who is susceptible to personality cults such as David Koresh's, now in an armed standoff with federal agents at a rural compound near Waco.
Some say almost anyone can become caught in their snares. Others believe that they attract primar-ily damaged, marginal people.
But experts agree on one issue: Anyone who joins a true cult is subjected to pressures designed to destroy their moorings not only to friends and loved ones but also to the values they held.
And when a group believes, as the Branch Davidians do, that the world as we know it is about to end, theology can become the handmaiden of licentiousness.
"Millenarian groups have a tendency to anti-nomianism -- a rejection of the law as such,' said Dr. Michael Barkun, a sociologist at Syracuse University in New York.
In particular, Dr. Barkun said, Mr. Koresh's assertion that he has been singled out by God to usher in a new millenium allows him to tell his followers, "Whatever you were taught was sin is no longer sinful, because I operate with God's direct authority.'
Thus, the sociologist said, "one stroke transforms the forbidden to not only the permitted but the commanded.'
In this, cults are much like youth gangs, said Dallas clinical psychologist Sylvia Gearing.
"It's almost as though the more outrageous their behavior is, the more they belong,' she said.
With Mr. Koresh at the helm, behavior among the Branch Davidians became outrageous indeed.
People who have left the cult tell of a draconian lifestyle in which men and women live in separate quarters. Virtually every aspect of the women's lives is dictated by Mr. Koresh's tastes, from their dress and hair styles to their diet and exercise regimen.
Mr. Koresh has confirmed that he has had sex with many of his female followers, including some mother-daughter pairs and several women who were married to other men.
Mr. Koresh told them that they were honored to spawn a race of warriors who would rule in the new kingdom to come, said some former followers.
"Jim Jones did the same thing,' said Cynthia Kisser of the Cult Awareness Network in Chicago. "It was supposed to be a great honor to have sex with him.'
Students of political religious movements say it is not uncommon for break-away groups to enforce rigid sex roles and even to practice selective breeding.
For instance, both white separatists and fundamentalist religious sects often assign women a subservient role, Dr. Barkun said.
Even in the Oneida Colony in New York, the most famous 19th-century utopian community, sexual partners were selected by a committee that chose them for their supposed genetic compatibility.
But in personality cults, something else is at work, the experts say, and that something is exploitation.
Although the Branch Davidians' sexual customs may scandalize the public, Ms. Kisser said, they are simply one among many forms of exploitation practiced by Mr. Koresh. Beyond slaking his lust, his conquests are designed to bond the women more closely to him while severing their other emotional ties, Ms. Kisser said.
"In a cult, personal relationships are taboo,' she said. "The manipulation of sex destroys the possibility of meaningful relationships except with the leader.'
And the victims need not be women. Gay leaders of some cults demand sexual access to their male followers, Ms. Kisser said.
"The key isn't that women are exploited,' she said. "The key is that the leader is willing to use mind control to gain personal satisfaction and power. Anyone who's in the group is exploited.'
In return for their submission, said Dr. Gearing, members get the things they crave most: "safety and protection.'
Dr. Gearing is among those who hold that most cult members are insecure, ineffectual people, many of whom were abused in childhood.
"These are not your cheerleaders and class presidents,' she said.
Once such people have given their lives over to a charismatic leader who promises safety for all e-ternity, Dr. Gearing said, the thought of defying him or separating from him is too terrifying to bear.
"They feel they will fragment and lose control if they are not with this man,' she said.
For instance, the FBI has cited Judy Schneider Koresh, who has a wounded finger and has threatened to chop it off rather than leave the compound to receive medical treatment.
In many followers' minds, allegiance and survival are one, said Russ Wise, a researcher for Probe Ministries in Richardson. He described his group as a research and resource organization for religious scholars.
In that context, it's not surprising that some women joined in the armed defense of Mr. Koresh, he said.
Some of the children who have left the compound said women were among the shooters in the initial firefight with federal agents, state officials have said.
"The ones he's taken as his wife would be more likely to bear arms,' Mr. Wise said. "They would defend him at all costs.
"The more intimate you are, the more deceived you are -- the more entangled in the web he's spun.'
The price of defection, members are told, is spiritual -- if not physical -- death. Former followers have said that they believed they would burn forever for betraying Mr. Koresh.
Mr. Wise said, "We're talking about losing face in the spiritual realm for all eternity.'
Therefore, said Dr. Gearing, "it has taken tremendous courage' for the few, such as Kathryn Schroeder, to leave the Branch Davidian compound.
Mrs. Schroeder told negotiators that she was willing to venture out to see her youngest child, who remains in state custody.
That desire, to be reunited with their children, may be the only lever that authorities can use to dislodge other women from the compound, Dr. Gearing said.
"The only window is the welfare of their children,' she said.