Tuesday, April 29, 2008
The Real Cult Menace (Part One): "Waco" in Slow Motion
"I hope very much that others who will be tempted to join cults and to become involved with people like David Koresh will be deterred by the horrible scenes they have seen over the last seven weeks.... There is, unfortunately, a rise in this sort of fanaticism all across the world. And we may have to confront it again."
Bill Clinton, speaking -- appropriately enough -- on Hitler's birthday, 1993, as the incinerated Mt. Carmel religious sanctuary still smoldered following the murderous federal assault of April 19.
When armed intruders came to kidnap their children, the members of El Dorado's FLDS community looked instinctively toward their leaders. This was because they deferred to their leaders in all things, both temporal and spiritual.
The residents of YFZ Ranch had been relentlessly indoctrinated in the belief that "obedience is the first law of heaven," and that their duty, when a priesthood leader instructed them to do something, was simply to obey -- and that if the thing required of them was wrong, God would still reward them for their obedience.
Obedience uber alles -- reflexive, unquestioning obedience -- is the most important defining trait of any sect, party, or organization worthy of being called a cult. And yes, the military -- service in which begins with the systematic extirpation of an individual's identity, will, and capacity for independent judgment -- does qualify, at least in some ways, for that description.
The FLDS Church has never been belligerent or militaristic, but it is unambiguously a cult built around institutionalized awe focused on an unaccountable Leader, and unqualified obedience to a leadership caste.
This made things exceptionally easy for those who set out to steal children from FLDS mothers. Rather than confronting hundreds of individuals capable of taking initiative to protect the most precious mortal gifts they'd ever receive, the kidnappers simply ingratiated themselves with the cult's leadership elite, which could -- and did -- order the cult's membership not to resist the attack on their families.
"Everyone was really pleased with how well things went," insisted Tela Mange of the Texas Department of Public Safety following the successful child abduction. "There were no shots fired, no incidents. We credit that to the time the sheriff [Schleicher County Sheriff David Doran] and the Texas Ranger captain spent developing a relationship with the leadership at the ranch."
In an interview with the El Dorado Success newspaper, Sheriff Doran described how that "relationship" with the FLDS leadership operated during the initial stages of the raid.
A representative of the Federal Thug Caste preens for the cameras atop an armored vehicle following the annihilation of Mt. Carmel's Branch Davidian community in 1993. This time, the children were seized without direct armed violence, which probably meant a long ride home for Da Boyz from Midland.
"[W]e rolled up to the gate just as the perimeter was being sealed around the ranch and the roads leading to the property were being blocked," recalled Doran. "Fairly soon I received a call on my cell phone from Merrill Jessop" -- the Bishop, or Overseer, of the FLDS community at the ranch. Jessop "was out of town, and someone from inside the ranch had called to alert him to our presence. He knew about our perimeter and the fact that we were waiting at the gate.... I told him to get a couple of men with authority to come to the gate. They did, but they still delayed us an hour and a half before they let us in."
The "us" referred to by Doran included several people from the Texas State Department of Child Abduction, who were acting on a hot-line call from a "victim" that they must have known, even then, was a fraud.
"We asked to see the girl who called for help, but they wouldn’t produce her," Doran recalled, omitting mention of the fact that the girl in question doesn't exist -- a fact, once again, that the Texas Rangers (and therefore Doran and the CPS childnappers) must have known. The warrant presented by Doran directed him and his associates "to search anywhere and everywhere in order to find the girl and put her in touch with CPS."
Then a superseding warrant was issued "expanding the search to include looking for evidence of other crimes." The basis of that second warrant, Doran admits, was the supposed fact that once he and other law enforcement agents gained access to the property under false pretenses, they
"witnessed evidence of other crimes." We have subsequently been told that the "evidence" consists of the community itself and its religious teachings, which dictate that girls look upon marriage and child-bearing as the highest calling of their existence.
Doran admits that the operation to seize the FLDS children -- which included the use of military equipment from the distant Midland County Sheriff's Department -- had been planned, in detail, well in advance of the bogus call from "Sarah." The key to the entire operation, however, was the cooperation of FLDS leaders in ordering their followers not to resist:
"At one point, when it appeared we were going to have some trouble, I called Merrill Jessop from my cell phone. I put him on speaker phone and he told the women to cooperate. He said it several times.... The women’s mood changed immediately and they handed over the children." (Emphasis added.)
There is no stronger human impulse than the instinct to protect one's children. In a well-balanced personality, this instinct is stronger than any other physical need or appetite, including the reproductive urge itself.
Yet these women immediately surrendered physical custody over their children to hostile strangers -- many of them armed and prepared to do lethal violence -- because their priesthood leaders told them to.
Herein lies one real, and growing danger, of cults and cult-like organizations: They cultivate in their adherents an unhealthy deference to people in positions of supposed authority, and that cultivated submissiveness is transferable.
There is something akin to unintended hilarity in the assumption, prominently stated in the "Cultural Competency" tip sheet about the FLDS that was distributed to CPS workers, that one symptom of the sect's cult mindset is a deep distrust of government. While the FLDS do believe that they possess an exclusive franchise on religious truth, and are expansively distrustful of most other people, their attitude toward government was one of unhealthy trust and dependence.
This was a community that faithfully paid extravagant property taxes on the YFZ ranch, including the temple -- taxes that helped pay the County Sheriff who would later conspire to steal their children.
It was FLDS leaders who contacted local officials to describe the curriculum being used in the community's private, home-based schooling program. By doing so the FLDS leadership actually went beyond what Texas education law required.
And it bears repeating that the FLDS church was wired in to both the welfare state and the warfare state.
In anticipation of the raid, many accounts retailed the familiar rhetorical trope claiming that the FLDS had a "stockpile" of weapons cached in is "compound" (a "compound" is any dwelling, no matter how flimsy -- it could be a Quonset hut, a wikiup, or a tarpaper shack -- that is under attack by armed agents of the State). Rumors put into circulation by unnamed "officials" described how the FLDS property had a warren of underground tunnels, huge stores of weaponry, and deadly booby traps.
None of this was true, of course. And given what happened to this community once it was helpless in the face of state aggression, it's a species of shame that the FLDS didn't make preparations of some kind to repel the child-nappers.
After all, isn't the practice of stockpiling arms the only attractive trait of the typical apocalyptic cult?
I'm kidding, but only sort of.
It's obvious that a heavily armed cult possessed of a deluded sense of mission would be a public menace. Indeed, we are ruled by just such people.
The real danger I see from smaller, private (or quasi-private) cults like the FLDS is not that their rulers will abet armed insurrection, but rather that they will instill a sense of submissiveness that smooths the way for State crimes against those unfortunate enough to belong to cults.
Sheriff Doran explains that the Waco episode "played a huge role" in the planning and execution of the YFZ raid "in the sense that everyone I know in Texas law enforcement is determined to make sure something like that never happens again. That’s why I prefer talking. There’s always more time to talk and the longer you talk the greater the chance you can work things out. It’s when you stop talking that things can go wrong."
But something did go wrong: More than 400 children were stolen from their mothers by a corrupt government that acted in violation of every principle of due process. What Doran means, of course, is that this crime was accomplished without overt violence. Nobody was killed, so nothing went "wrong."
I'm irresistibly reminded of something Cicero said in one of his Philippics against Marcus Antonius: "This is what a favor from gangsters amounts to: He refrains from murdering someone, then he expects praise for displaying compassion in sparing his victim's life!"
El Dorado is Waco Revisited. This time the children weren't gassed and burned to death, or gunned down when they tried to flee the flames. Instead, this time they were simply stolen with little pretense of legality, because the leaders of this cult effectively ordered the members to surrender them without a fight. And therein resides the real cult menace.
Ah, but you say this only applies to isolated, eccentric communities like renegade offshoots of the Adventist and Mormon denominations? Those who believe this are completely -- and perhaps tragically -- wrong, as the next installment will demonstrate....
Please forgive my atypically long absence from this space. I just returned from a trip to Los Angeles, where I spoke at the Spring Convention of the United Republicans of California (an assembly of Ron Paul-aligned Republicans), and was an invited guest speaker at a local Bible Missionary Church.
On sale now!
Dum spiro, pugno!