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Profile: Stuart Gerson

Stuart Gerson was a participant or observer in the following events:

David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), promises the FBI that if an audiotape of his religious teachings is broadcast nationally, he will surrender. Davidian Scott Sonobe tells FBI negotiators, “Play Koresh’s tape on national TV and we will come out.” Shortly afterwards, another Davidian, Rita Riddle, tells negotiators, “Play [the] tape during prime time and the remaining women and children will exit.” The FBI agrees to have a one-hour audio recording of a Koresh sermon broadcast over local radio stations and, according to some sources, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The audiotape of the sermon is carried out of the compound by one of the children, in a pre-arranged exchange with negotiators. The recording begins with Koresh’s promise to peacefully lead the Davidians out of the compound upon its broadcast. Koresh says, “I, David Koresh, agree upon the broadcasting of this tape to come out peacefully with all the people immediately.” Koresh claims to be the “lamb” in the Book of Revelation, and says of people’s refusal to believe in his divinity, “Even a man like Christ has to meet with unbelief.” In his recording, he says he is “involved in a very serious thing right now,” but is more concerned “about the lives of my brethren here and also really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in the world.” The New York Times characterizes the sermon as “rambling.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] During the 58-minute broadcast, Koresh says that while he is concerned about the lives of his fellow Davidians, “I am really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in this world. Without Christ, without Jesus, we have no hope.… It would be so awesome if everyone could just sit down and have one honest Bible study in this great nation of America.… America does not have to be humiliated or destroyed.” In the Justice Department report on the siege issued months later (see October 8, 1993), the authors will admit that it is possible Koresh was not negotiating at all, but trying to convert the FBI agents to his beliefs before they were doomed to an eternity of divine punishment. [Moore, 1995] Shortly after the broadcast, Koresh reneges on the agreement, saying that God has told him to wait. Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson reiterates that authorities will “talk them out, no matter how long it” takes (see March 1, 1993). President Clinton takes Gerson’s advice, and has military vehicles deployed near the compound for what are called safety purposes. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Koresh’s refusal to surrender is based in part on his claim that his sermon is not broadcast nationally, but only locally; Koresh’s sermon is played over only two radio stations in Waco and Dallas. Additionally, subsequent examination of Koresh’s audiotape and the letters he is regularly sending out finds that the FBI may be ignoring or failing to recognize key clues in Koresh’s rhetoric (see October 8, 1993). Harvard religions expert Lawrence Sullivan, in an analysis of Koresh’s letters and broadcast, will later note that Koresh is implicitly equating the wounds in the hand and side he suffered during the initial assault with the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the Crucifixion; Sullivan will suggest that Koresh sees his wounds as evidence of his strength, and therefore is less likely to surrender due to pressure from federal agencies than the FBI believes. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Sullivan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christian Broadcasting Network, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, David Koresh, Scott Sonobe, Stuart Gerson, New York Times

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Pete Smerick.Pete Smerick. [Source: University of Louisville]The siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas continues (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have warned that the authorities’ strategy of negotiation and intimidation may backfire (see March 3-4, 1993), predict that the siege will end with an all-out assault on the compound by federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). Smerick and Young also predict that most of the Davidians may well commit mass suicide (see March 5, 1993), and warn that a strong show of force is merely playing into Davidian leader David Koresh’s hands. In Washington, acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson talks FBI Director William Webster out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with Koresh. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] One of Smerick’s memos warns that aggressive measures would “draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the ‘bunker mentality’ and they would rather die than surrender.” [USA Today, 12/30/1999] Tactical pressure, Smerick writes, “should be the absolute last option we should consider, and that the FBI might unintentionally make Koresh’s vision of a fiery end come true.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] On March 9, FBI officials will pressure Smerick and Young into issuing a memorandum that supports the increased harassment of the Davidians (see March 9, 1993). [Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Stuart Gerson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Mark Young, Branch Davidians, William H. Webster, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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