TV view various cult leaders
As the horror of Waco lingers, we’re left with questions.
Who are these cult leaders, who keep emerging? How do they get such power over people?
It’s charisma, isn’t it? That’s what FBI agent Richard Forbes says of Ervil Lebaron, the cultist who is portrayed in a TV movie tonight.
“First, you have a powerful communicator,” Forbes says. “You have a born salesman.”
Still, there must be more.
That’s what Tim Daly was pondering, while portraying Waco leader David Koresh: “All of a sudden, I’m wonderingwhat ‘charismatic’ means.
It might mean many things, filmmaker Shari Cookson says – including buying groceries. That’s what she found about Bill Riccio, leader of my neo-Nazi skinheads. “Here’s someone who would stock the refrigerator, who would give everyone a home. When you’re 16, that’s something.”
Soon, all three cases will be eyed in prime time. There’s:
n ”Prophet of Evil,” at 9 tonight on CBS. Brian Dennehey plays LeBaron, whose followers are believed to have killed more than a dozen people.; William Devane plays Forbes who tracked him for a decade.
n “Skinheads USA: Soldiers of the Race War,” at 10 tonight on pay-cable HBO and rerunning often. Cookson has created a documentary of painful intimacy, as young Alabama men focus their hatred on black and Jews.
n “In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco,” at 9 p.m. May 23 on NBC. Daly stars as Koresh.
Mix those and you have some dark visions of charisma.
Physical presence helps, of course. LeBaron was 6-foot-3 and massively built; he had 13 wives and intense followers.
Then there’s the knack to fitting each situation. Daly found that when he talked to Koresh’s former rock ‘n’ roll friend.
“The musicians … liked him because he seemed so into music,” Daly said. “The religion people thought he was so into the Bible.”
For Riccio, the house and the refrigerator were almost enough.
Riccio also gave the encouragement, Cookson says, something many of the teens weren’t used to. “They felt disenfranchised from society.”
Then he told them that black and Jews are to blame. “He’s saying, ‘Not only are you equal, but you’re better,’” Cookson says. “That’s a real shot-in-the-arm.”
That almost put a dome over the followers: It was everyone against them, they world simply ignore outside words.
That’s just was Ervil LeBaron accomplished, Forbes says. “He created paranoia and that made everyone dependent on him … Once you do that, you eliminate input from the outside world.
So LeBaron’s people clung together, sometimes killing. Riccio’s people made recruiting trips, eyeing troubled kids in a style we’ve known since “Oliver Twist.”
The final raid on LeBaron was at 6 a.m., quick and efficient. The raid on Riccio scored a technicality; he had violated parole because some of his bodyguards had guns.
The raid on Koresh also was aiming for a weapons conviction. Instead, the weapons turned this into a dark marathon.
Hughes covers television for Gannett News Service
Article appeared in Journal And Courier as a syndicated column
May 4, 1993
Transcribed By: S Cookson