The 1993 Waco Disaster—How Not to Negotiate with Apocalyptic Believers

James D. Tabor, retired professor of Religious Studies, UNC Charlotte


In this three-part series James Tabor surveys what happened 30 years ago outside Waco, TX as Federal authorities violently confronted a group of apocalyptic believers who believed that David Koresh, their prophetic leader was a final messianic messenger of the book of Revelation.


Part III: A Peaceful Surrender Plan Rejected!

Dr. Phillip Arnold and I offered our services to the FBI on March 7. As biblical scholars we had specialized in the history of biblical apocalyptic interpretation and were generally familiar with Adventist groups although neither of us had ever heard of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians before February 28. We studied carefully the fifty-eight-minute tape that Koresh had released on March 2 and began many hours of theological conversation over the telephone with Livingstone Fagan. Fagan had been sent out of Mount Carmel by Koresh on March 23 to act as a theological spokesperson for the Davidians; he was now being held in jail in Waco on charges stemming from the February 28 BATF raid. He holds a graduate degree in theology and is an articulate defender of Koresh’s teachings.


Arnold and I hoped to build on this point with Koresh, emphasizing that given his interpretation of the Bible, right or wrong, one might not necessarily understand the standoff at Waco as a fulfillment of the penultimate End Time scenario. It was clear that Koresh desperately wanted the FBI to recognize his skill and wisdom in the Scriptures.


We began to formulate a more carefully worked-out plan to communicate with Koresh. Ron Engleman, host of a daily talk show over station KGBS, had shown sympathy toward the Branch Davidians from the day of the initial BATF raid. His program was faithfully followed by those inside Mount Carmel. On April 1, Arnold and I spoke on Engleman’s show and discussed in some detail the prophetic technicalities of the Waco situation as it might be viewed by the Branch Davidians. Although this program took the form of a dialogue between Arnold and me, it was deliberately pitched for the ears of Koresh and his followers and was designed to show that someone outside was listening and capable of discussing the book of Revelation on a level the Davidians could appreciate. Around this time

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