'Cult Label Caused Waco Trouble' COPYRIGHT PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE 450 Mission Street, Room 5

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"Cult Label Caused Waco Trouble" COPYRIGHT PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE 450 Mission Street, Room 506 San Francisco, CA 94105 415-243-4364 ================================================== OPINION AND ANALYSIS -- 775 WORDS CULT LABEL MADE WACO VIOLENCE INEVITABLE EDITOR'S NOTE: The labelling of religious groups as "cults" by law enforcement and the media appears to have the same effect as earlier calling some political group "communist": it immediately brands them as suspect and evil. With law enforcement training seminars now widely instructing agents about "cult dangers," it was an almost foregone conclusion that the Waco, Texas, confrontation would end in bloody violence. PNS analyst Robert Hicks is a former police officer and author of "In Pursuit of Satan: The Police and the Occult" (Prometheus, 1991). BY ROBERT HICKS, PACIFIC NEWS SERVICE Ever since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) laid siege on Feb. 28 to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, observers -- including some law enforcement leaders -- have questioned the assault. Other than suspecting that the Branch Davidians were violating federal firearms laws, the ATF has offered no explanation for the raid. What did the ATF think was going on? The strongest hint of the ATF's rationale lies in their language -- labelling the Branch Davidians as a "cult" and their leader David Koresh as a "self-proclaimed messiah." By labelling the Branch Davidians as a "cult," the ATF -- and the news media which have followed its lead -- has branded the group's motivations as criminal and even evil. Talk of "cults" abounds these days. The Matamoros killings in Mexico in 1989 were attributed by newspaper reports to a witchcraft "cult." Muslims everywhere, it seems, can't escape the "cult" description since they are led by "fanatical extremists." And our TV sets regulary treat us to middle-aged white women claiming to have had babies in Satanic "cults." The allure of the word "cult" in the popular mind lies in its vague meaning; it sets people with apparently odd beliefs apart from the rest of "us" who are, by definition, moral. The word allows us to create a "them" and distance ourselves from it. We have religion; they have a "cult." Law enforcement officers have been quick to label as "cults" religions that involve animal sacrifice and spirit worship. The Matamoros killings in Mexico, for example, were followed by sensational publicity that played up the ties of those involved with Afro-Caribbean religions such as Palo Mayombe and Santeria. Santeria is a legal religion in the United States practiced by Cuban immigrants from New York to Miami. Yet, according to ex-cop and "cult consultant" Dale Griffis, it has become the religion of choice for drug smugglers. The implication is that adherents to Santeria have a priori criminal proclivities, rather than that some adherents -- as in all religions -- commit crimes. Griffis is typical of law enforcement officials who use the word "cult" to denote anything not mainstream. For law enforcement officials, the "cult" model does indeed have menacing attributes that go way beyond a messianic leader who dominates his followers. The descriptions one finds in law enforcement training seminars are replete with references to a "charismatic, controlling leader" who proselytizes through "mind control." A three-part series in the influential FBI Law Enforcement Journal from 1982, examining "cults" and their "sometimes detrimental effects," goes beyond mind control to churn up a discussion of brainwashing. And brainwashing not with a religious purpose, either, but to inculcate loyalty to a "cult" leader who believes himself above the law. The articles portray "cult" members as "childlike" in their docility and conclude that law enforcers "must be responsible enough to avoid interfering with religious beliefs; (but)...certain "cult" behavior (i.e., fraud, violence, deceptive practices) appears to result in substantial harm to society and this outweighs their First Amendment protection. Moreover, some "cult" recruitment methods and behavior-control techniques indicate that decisions to join and remain in the "cult" often are not freely and voluntarily made." Contrary to the FBI's assertion, sociologists of religion have demonstrated that most religious groups' adherents come and go; people's participation in "cults" is largely voluntary. Law enforcement's contention that "cults" cloak their true nature under the Constitution -- thereby justifying the setting aside of First Amendment protections -- is a dangerous Catch-22. Once the police feel that the First Amendment shelters criminal religious groups, they will feel less constrained by the same Bill of Rights in their zeal to protect us. The First Amendment has never protected those who commit crimes. And people do conspire to commit crime, sometimes in furtherance of religion. But when one is deploying 100 officers to charge a compound of well-armed people, one needs to be certain that real criminal acts have been committed or are being planned. Most of our knowledge of small religious groups comes from apostates or defectors, whose information must be checked against independent sources. And incidents of "cult" violence, coercion, or the gloss of "destructive behavior" do not support the "false conclusion suggested by many "cult" critics that "cult" life is inherently dangerous or threatening," according to Dr. Gordon Melton, possibly our pre- eminent authority on "alternative religions." We know precious little about Branch Davidians. We don't know why the ATF began a shoot-out. But if ATF and other government authorities simply adopted cultspeak to define the menacing "them," then a shoddy linguistic grid filtered their perceptions and determined their actions. And at the moment, the Waco stand-off shows little hope of a peaceful resolution. (03121993) **** END **** COPYRIGHT PNS + Origin: NY Transfer News Service. (718) 448-2358 (1:1033/0)


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