A Leader’s Decent Into Darkness: David Koresh Leads 71 Branch Davidians to their Death

The mere mention of the word leadership in business and academic environments brings about positive feelings, commands attentiveness, and beseeches visions of such greats as Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and Abraham Lincoln. It invokes discussions about greatness, destiny, potential, and direction. It remains the answer to all that ails us in our personal and professional lives; the custodian of that grand success which eludes us today.

Leadership is the answer to the world’s problems: the political squabble, impending war, famine, injustice, the fractured relationship between husband and wife, even the dissent into chaos of a troubled teen. It is that phenomenon we embrace that we believe brings good to evil, calmness to madness, order to anarchy.  Leadership is the destination of so many, and often the envy of those yet to achieve it. Leaders [that is those that practice the art of leadership] are on the brink of sainthood in the universally accepted religion called life. They are divine; governed by the genuine love for their flock of followers. As comforting as it is to explore the profile of the benevolent soul that inspires us to become better versions of self, the academic cannot dismiss the dark side of leadership. When a leader influences their followers to violate social norms, contravene the law, obligate horrific sins, or even commit mass suicide, are they not still leading? Did they not inspire action in others? What compels many to lay down their lives in vain for Jim Jones, murder innocents for Charles Manson, or commit genocide for the Third Reich?  These leaders garner very little respect or credibility among a civilized world, but they inspired many nonetheless. This may explain how one man, David Koresh, was able to lead his devout Branch Davidian followers into sexual depravity and mortal sacrifice.

Religions often reference the two opposing forces of good and evil, but it makes little subjective interpretation of either. Perhaps it is assumed that the human ability of reason and critical thinking draws distinction between good and bad, or maybe the simple majority population accepting common law qualifies the difference. There is no question that religion, to varying degrees, has greatly influenced the distinction between good and evil and formed the foundation for many modern laws. Largely, we accept that taking a human life is wrong—less those circumstances subjectively deemed necessary. We make distinctions about the value of human life compared to animal life, and distinctions between one human life and another. In some corners of the globe polygamy and child rape are embedded in the fabric of the culture, disguised as tradition; in more modern society it is morally repulsive, illegal, and often punished severely. This is not a political statement or referendum on religions, but it goes to the heart of how and why a man like David Koresh can influence otherwise good people to dissent into darkness.

David Koresh was a devout religious fanatic, a cult leader, and religion was the weapon of choice to influence his flock. Conceptually, a cult is seen negatively because of the common use of the vernacular. Practically, we are surrounded by illustrious and celebrated cults who, like those notorious cults, have little regard for how others view them. A military branch, football team, sorority, or alumni group could easily fit the definition of a cult, particularly if others view those groups as unorthodox. It cannot be accidental that the root word of culture is cult, and a positive culture in business, irrespective of outside perspectives of unorthodoxy, is a good thing. In large part, the Branch Davidians did not observe David Koresh as a dangerous cult leader—though the world clearly did.

Understanding who David Koresh was helps us to better understand how he influenced so many, but without the benefit of a living psychological profile we are left to theorize about his leadership. What does seem clear is that his flock gave themselves to him willingly, and there must be some component to that group-think that was deeply paternal in nature. Further, it is apparent that most– if not all– of his followers were willing to die for a cause that gave very little to them in return. The relationship between David Koresh and his Branch Davidians was very one-sided—he benefited sexually, tangibly, and psychologically; they only sacrificed to him. The psychodynamic paradigm is obvious. Transactional analysis allowed for the paternal leader to inspire his children to be devoid of understanding their shadow selves. David Koresh single-handedly transformed good, devout Christians into a subservient cult of socially demonized pawns in a game with deadly consequence through psychodynamic and transitional leadership.


Cult. (2017, December 17). Retrieved February 01, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/cult

Dobbs, D. (2018, February 3). Pyschodynamic Approach. Lecture. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896719

Dobbs, D. (2018, February 3). Transformational Leadership. Lecture. Retrieved from https://psu.instructure.com/courses/1896719

Gladwell, M. (2017, June 19). Sacred And Profane. Retrieved February 01, 2018, from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/03/31/sacred-and-profane-4

Navarro, J. (2012, August 25). Dangerous Cult Leaders. Retrieved February 01, 2018, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/201208/dangerous-cult-leaders

Northouse, P. G. (2016). Leadership Theory and Practice (7th ed.). Sage.

Surugue, L. (2017, January 23). Cult leaders: What makes people like David Koresh so successful at getting people to follow them? Retrieved February 01, 2018, from http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/cult-leaders-what-makes-people-like-david-koresh-so-successful-getting-people-follow-them-1555073

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Skip to toolbar