David Koresh: In the Grip of a Psychopath

  • Share
  • Read Later

THERE WERE OCCASIONS WHEN David Koresh enforced discipline among his followers the hard way. One of his hand-picked lieutenants would paddle the rule breakers with an oar on which were inscribed the words IT IS WRITTEN. Most of the time that wasn't necessary. In the manner of cult leaders before him, Koresh held sway largely through means that were both more subtle and more degrading. Food was rationed in unpredictable ways. Newcomers were gradually relieved of their bank accounts and personal possessions. And while the men were subjected to an uneasy celibacy, Koresh took their wives and daughters as his concubines.

All of it just confirmed his power in the eyes of his flock. And for anyone who thought it odd that a holy man lived out a teenage boy's sexual fantasy, Koresh had a mangled theological rationale. He was Jesus Christ in sinful form, who because he indulged the flesh could judge mankind with insights that the first, more virtuous Messiah had lacked. Or as he put it in one of his harangues to the faithful: "Now what better sinner can know a sinner than a godly sinner? Huh?"

Equipped with both a creamy charm and a cold-blooded willingness to manipulate those drawn to him, Koresh was a type well known to students of cult practices: the charismatic leader with a pathological edge. He was the most spectacular example since Jim Jones, who committed suicide in 1978 with more than 900 of his followers at the People's Temple in Guyana. Like Jones, Koresh fashioned a tight-knit community that saw itself at desperate odds with the world outside. He plucked sexual partners as he pleased from among his followers and formed an elite guard of lieutenants to enforce his will. And like Jones, he led his followers to their doom.

Psychologists are inclined to classify Koresh as a psychopath, always with the reminder that such people can be nothing short of enchanting on a first encounter. "The psychopath is often charming, bright, very persuasive," explains Louis West, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles medical school. "He quickly wins people's trust and is uncannily adept at manipulating and conning people." David Jewell, whose former wife died in last week's fire, had a brief phone conversation with Koresh five years ago that left him in shock. "In 20 minutes, he took my entire Christian upbringing and put it in such a tailspin, I didn't know what I believed."

; Once in the cult, Davidians surrendered all the material means of personal independence, like money and belongings, while Koresh seemed to have unlimited funds, much of the money apparently from his followers' nest eggs. The grounds around the compound were littered with old automobiles that the faithful cannibalized for parts to keep their clunkers running while Koresh drove a black Camaro muscle car.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2