Cult's fortress being hit with intense light Besiegers trying psychological ploy

March 15, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

WACO, Texas -- Just days after they cut electricity to the besieged Branch Davidian cult compound, federal authorities are ending the darkness by bathing the structure in blinding light.

A federal spokesperson would not elaborate on what was called the latest "tactical maneuver" against David Koresh and his religious sect.

The use of bright lights overnight is the most visibly aggressive tactic by federal authorities in their effort to gradually pressure the beleaguered Branch Davidians.

The living conditions for the 105 people still inside the compound became more clear yesterday when a lawyer for one recently surrendered Branch Davidian said Mr. Koresh's followers had gone two days without electricity and faced mounting hardships. The lawyer added, however, that people remained committed and had enough food to hold out for a year.

Scott Peterson, lawyer for sect member Kathryn Schroeder, said the group also was acutely aware that federal agents were engaging in psychological warfare aimed at wearing down the sect's resolve.

In a wide-ranging 45-minute interview yesterday, Mr. Peterson said the group was disappointed that Ms. Schroeder was jailed without bond as a material witness immediately after surrendering to authorities Friday.

Mr. Peterson said Steve Schneider, Mr. Koresh's chief lieutenant and an active participant in talks with federal agents, indicated in talks yesterday with Ms. Schroeder that her jailing was not the group's "expectation."

FBI negotiators allowed Mr. Schneider to hold separate 30-minute phone conversations with Ms. Schroeder and Oliver Gyarfas, a 19-year-old Australian who left the compound Friday night, Mr. Peterson said.

Within an hour after those phone calls ended, cult members hung a new banner in a high window of the heavily fortified compound. The banner read: "FBI broke negotiations. We want press."

Federal officials would not comment, noting only that negotiations with the cult were continuing yesterday.

The banner's appearance capped a day in which FBI Special Agent Bob Ricks characterized the talks as slow-moving and even "abnormal" when compared with past federal negotiations to end protracted sieges.

Mr. Peterson said sect members continue to fear surrender because they are not convinced that authorities wouldn't do them further harm.

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