The Waco Massacre: The Collision of a Will to Kill and a Will to Die

This poster presentation examines the 1993 Waco Massacre within the context of other new religious movements (NRMs) in twentieth-century America, specifically MOVE and Jonestown, and their interactions with all levels of law enforcement. The objectives are to understand the facets of the Waco Massacre, including its media perceptions and impact on future NRM confrontations with law enforcement, as well as conceive what could have been changed in order to prevent casualties and violence. Utilizing existing literature, data, and both primary and secondary sources on NRMs, we argue that many of these groups have influenced one another, in terms of their philosophy and tactics. Thus, NRM’s can reflect social patterns and the potentially dangerous power of collective ideology. Our conclusion is that law enforcement has continually ignored and misunderstood this facet of interconnectedness, which has resulted in continuous and serious consequences. Many of our recommendations, such as hiring professional negotiators and redesigning law enforcement’s approach to consider the group’s divine laws and unwavering beliefs, are applicable and feasible. Understanding this topic and implementing solutions decreases violence, increases public perception of law enforcement, improves relations between all levels of law enforcement and NRMs and can prevent any further occurrences of similar conflicts.

  • Payton Drefcinski, Ben Iacona
  • Poster
  • This poster presentation examines the 1993 Waco Massacre alongside other new religious movements that also violently conflicted with law enforcement, like Jonestown and MOVE. This poster provides solutions to bring peaceful interactions between law enforcement and inflexible/radical groups, arguing that ignorance of the connectedness of NRM ideologies causes conflict.

  • Sociology, Criminology, Psychology, Conflict Studies, Communications

8 thoughts on “The Waco Massacre: The Collision of a Will to Kill and a Will to Die”

  1. Good presentation, it brings to question how radical groups form in the first place. Did you find anything on how the leader was able to convince that many people to have such radical beliefs?

  2. I honestly had no idea this even happened, which is scary in itself. What did you find the most shocking while researching this topic?

  3. Very interesting, and nicely done! I’d be curious to know whether you think the “religious” aspect of these groups is central to the dynamics you discuss; it seems to me that it might be a bit of a red herring. [Aside: my background is in philosophy, and I’ve long been intrigued by the fact that “religion” is a *really* difficult word to define. I’d also be curious to know how you’re using that term.] Could there be a secular group that would raise the same issues for law enforcement, or are the main issues here essentially religious?

    Again: really great work!

  4. Great presentation! Prior to listening to your presentation, I was unaware that this event had even happened! Such a tragic event that truly makes us question why people are willing to follow a leader to the end.

  5. Payton Drefcinski

    Thank you! That is what continues to shock me most about this project. I hadn’t known the details of the event until 2 years ago, and most people I present to have never heard about the Waco Massacre at all. David Koresh is an equally fascinating and horrifyingly powerful leader that made this tragedy possible.

  6. Payton Drefcinski

    Don’t feel alone, many people haven’t heard of the Waco Massacre. In fact, I’d say that 80% of people I present to or discuss it with are new to the information as well. Many things shocked me, but the deceit of the ATF in using illegally obtained devices was probably the most so. While all eyes were on the Branch Davidians, the ATF was able to evade scrutiny for many wrongdoings, and are rarely held accountable for it today.

  7. Payton Drefcinski

    David Koresh had a long and complex rise to power in terms of leading the Branch Davidians, including a rumored affair with the wife of the founder and a deep rivalry with the son of the same founder. In reality, his charm and persuasion is still a mystery, but many of his followers were already in the church when he joined. The forced isolation played a huge role, and once he assumed ultimate control over their lifestyles, like regulating their clothes, diets, sexual behavior, it seems he gained control over their beliefs and rationality as well.

  8. Payton Drefcinski

    Thank you so much! You ask great and insightful questions. I think that the religion is key, but not necessarily central. The apocalyptic beliefs are/were key in all three tragedies mentioned (Waco, Jonestown, and MOVE) and those tie hand in hand with religion. However, secular groups, possibly in a political or social movement, could have the same effect so long as they were willing to be martyrs for their beliefs, which is traditionally found in the devout religious. Any group that would be willing to either fight back to the federal government/law enforcement agents or willingly die to fulfill their prophecies would end in the same issues for law enforcement, whether it be religiously-based or not. Again, thank you and great question!

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