Throughout history, cult leaders have been remarkably similar in many respects. In order to understand the vast majority of cult leaders, we only need to look at one. The old adage of “if you seen one, you seen them all” is homey and trite, but fitting in this case.
David Koresh was a textbook cult leader. All cult leaders have displayed the same traits and qualities, such as narcissism, charisma, a photographic memory (for regurgitating Bible verses) and an utter lack of conscience. His compliance gaining strategies were quite simple. In order to keep an iron grip on his followers, Koresh kept them in a constant state of stark fear. This strategy only works on people who are naturally given to fear and superstition, which explains why Koresh didn’t have even more followers.
To strike a fresh bolt of fear into the hearts of his followers on a regular basis, he gave nightly monologues; thundering lectures peppered with bits of apocalyptic Bible interpretations that served only to scare the bejeezus out of his audience. Or in this case, scare his version of Jesus (himself) into his audience. His other method of gaining compliance was to deprive his followers of information. TV was forbidden as was unapproved reading material. By keeping the Branch Davidians ignorant and frightened, Koresh was able to maintain a powerful hold on them and direct their behavior any way he saw fit.
Koresh’s followers demonstrated conformity, compliance and obedience in many ways. They conformed by adhering to the ridiculous rules he set for them, such as allowing their food to be rationed to them while Koresh ate as he pleased. They complied by offering their wives, sisters and daughters to Koresh to be his young brides. They obeyed by firing on federal agents and killing 4 of them at the behest of Koresh.
The ATF used flashing lights and loud noises to keep the Branch Davidians awake. This strategy was meant to wear them down, exhaust them by keeping them alert and denying them any rest. This strategy was a dismal failure if their refusal to surrender was any indication. The ATF and the FBI never really had a chance to direct the outcome of the event. Those people had been conditioned to kill themselves for months. They were eager to die, and ultimately they got their wish.