The cult of violence hit Americans in two dramatic events last weekend. First came the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York City. Then came the shoot-out at the communal compound at Mount Carmel.

The attack at Mount Carmel was planned to be a surprise. A Sunday morning was chosen, with the activity beginning before sunup. This was no Pearl Harbor, however, and no one was sleeping off a Saturday night party. By the time the clanking, droning equipment was in place, it was mid-morning. The attack was no surprise, and casualties were instant.

By now the national media are giving equal time to the strike at the World Trade Center and the battle of Mount Carmel compound. We are getting ample indication of the lack of media sophistication in religious history, religious movement configuration, religious doctrine.

The word most frequently heard and read is “cult,” a word that has been given a fearsome sound by some defenders of established religion — as well as by some kidnappers, psychiatrists and lawyers who make handsome profits by attacking unpopular religious groups and extracting members.

Regional TV, radio stations and newspapers have reported each military maneuver, have repeated each rumor about the “cult,” and guessed how many are dead inside the compound.

Rumor is that Vernon Howell, who now goes by the name of David Koresh, says he’s Jesus Christ; the same rumors were current about some early Quaker leaders: People couldn’t understand the idea of the Indwelling Word.

Rumor is that Howell is a polygamist: Since when, in a society that features Hollywood morality and tolerates praise of sexual deviations in its media, is something as Biblical as polygamy worth getting excited about?

Rumor was that the Texas Mount Carmel was stocking anti-personnel weapons. Thanks to the National Rifle Association, which has spent tens of millions of dollars to bribe national and state legislators to vote against gun control laws, that wasn’t illegal, either.

Rumor turned out true

That particular rumor turned out to be true. When “Desert Storm” was mounted against them, Howell and his followers resisted. Their particular teachings include the expectation of an early end of the world, and — as one of the local newspaper men put it — they probably though “this is it.”

In a violent age, we Americans shall be seeing more strikes by international terrorists. Dictatorships do not have to worry about terrorism: They use terroristic means against their own subjects. Terrorism is a problem to democratic societies.

We need to work closely with our allies — who are, after all, still a small minority in a world where most people still suffer under the curse of tyrants — to destroy the terrorist cadres who have declared war against us and them, and to eliminate the support they receiver from fellow-travelers.

In a violent age, we Americans shall also be seeing more groups and movements that have become alienated from the general society, proletarianized in the classical sense of the word — “in the society, but not of it.” Some will use political language. Some may even be potentially genocidal — internal terrorists on their way to high political power and its potential for abuses.

There exists an early warning system for identifying groups and movements with genocidal potential. Before a final verdict is passed, however, there needs to be a determination of the character of the threat. And there needs to be a commitment to a minimum use of violence on the part of governmental agencies.

Why did the Mount Carmel community near Elk — dateline Waco — have first to be approached with a great demonstration of armed force?

There are some sections of American that learned the power of non-violence under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and could teach us that sometimes there is a better way.

Why not, for example, have put a team together — a troika, say, of the president of Baylor University, plus a national Baptist preacher who marched with Dr. King a few years ago, plus a Roman Catholic leader.

Negotiation and non-violence should have been tried first. The believers at Mount Carmel are Americans, too, even if media hype and the general ignorance of religion, even if the impressive martial display and an instinctive respect for police have led the public to forget that important point.

Franklin H. Littell, a teacher and clergyman, is the Robert Foster Cherry professor for 1993-1994 at Baylor University. An author of more than 20 books on religious liberty and persecution, he has written in the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies on an “Early Warning System” for identifying potentially destructive religious or political movements.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.