With the year 2000 only a few weeks away, it was not surprising that several sessions of the November meeting of the American Academy of Religion in Boston focused on millennial topics, including a special session on millennial violence that analyzed the 1985 siege of the Covenant Sword and Army of the Lord compound in Arkansas.
Participants from both sides of the siege discussed their views of the incident which, contrary to later sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and Waco, Texas, generated no casualties and ended peacefully.
Kerry Noble, one of CSA’s leaders, and Danny Coulson, the now retired FBI Agent-in-Charge of that siege, who are now close friends, both focused on the mutual respect both sides felt towards each other, stating that respect for one’s opponents was a key factor in any successful ending to a siege. Coulson believes that this was one of the major problems in Waco and at Ruby Ridge, and both men felt that the absence of media at CSA also played a key role.
In their opinion, the fact that the media was not “egging on” participants on either side was a major factor in the siege’s successful denouement, as well as Coulson’s assignment as chief negotiator, a job hitherto not given to a raid commander. Nobel and Coulson agreed that CSA’s leaders were more likely to respect a commander than a “mere negotiator,” and Coulson would be seen to be negotiating from strength, something CSA would respect. Although Coulson admitted that he could not understand CSA’s Christian Identity beliefs, he refused to ridicule them. For him CSA was not a “cult problem,” which would be how the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms would term the Branch Davidians eight years later.
Other sessions on similar themes were held throughout the conference, with papers being presented on popular culture’s responses to the Y2K problem, the Book of Revelation, and Eschatology in the Gospels. Other sessions compared various instances of millennial violence, such as Aum Shinryko, the Solar Temple, and the Wounded Knee massacre.
— By Lin Collette, RW contributing editor.