Clint Van Zandt

Excerpts from FRONTLINE interview with Clint Van Zandt conducted August 17, 1995 in Washington, D.C. (As of November 1995, Cliff Van Zandt was still a consultant in Fredericksburg, Virginia.)

Talking with Koresh...

VZ: Koresh was so adept at talking to his quote unquote congregation. As you know, he'd talk to them for six, twelve, eighteen hours. He wouldn't let them use the bathroom facilities. He'd keep everybody standing, so Koresh was used to holding a crowd and dominating. One of the things Koresh did, 'cause I spoke to him three hours one night, and he really tries to over-talk you. He would try to over-talk you, he would try to talk, sometimes, louder, or he would try--you listen to the tapes--and sometimes he would not take a breath. I mean, he would just, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, move along, and he would attempt to break your train of thought and just dominate the conversation. While the negotiators, again, their job would be to try to break that. If that's what Koresh was comfortable in, dah dah-dah, dah dah-dah, dah dah-dah, break that--cut that off into bites, OK? But, David, lets talk about this. And get him on an issue, ah, other than what he wanted to talk about, which was always Revelation.

Q: Why weren't Arnold and Tabor used in negotiating with Koresh? They claimed they made a religious connection to him?

VZ: I think you've got to draw the line someplace as to how do we not make this a circus event, how do we not have so many people talking and then going out and making public statements and then having it come back in via the radio. I mean, you try what seems logical and what seems best without totally abdicating your responsibilities, which for us was to negotiation. And I think we talked about the one time. I read every letter that came. The American public was sending letters. Dozens and dozens of letters came every day with Americans saying any where from why don't you bomb the place and quit screwing around, to why don't you go away and leave those people alone. And easily, 6, 8, 10, 12 letters would come in, and I read every one of them every day. One time a letter came in, and some good citizen said, the word might be Beelzebub, or hypothetical, I forget what the word was, but he said, this is a code word to David Koresh.
If you say this word, everybody's going to come out. I read this letter, and I thought, naw. I took a 3 x 5 card, and I wrote on it, use the word "x" in your conversation with Koresh. And I walked into the negotiator who was on the phone, and I slid it in front of him. And I see this look on his face like --'what?' I said, do it. So he went ahead and did it. I sat there and waited for Koresh to come walking out. Did I think he would? No. Did I think it was worth the try? Anything was worth a try to even go to those extremes. Everybody was volunteering to come and talk with them-- I'm a pastor... I'm also Christ incarnate. We've got all of those suggestions from people. Now, I don't place Arnold in the same ballpark as I do some good but maybe deranged person writing in. I think they had all the academic and professional credentials. But again, that would have been the Mickey Mantle and Koresh just hitting off of two major league pitchers. I don't think they would have been the ones. They didn't have the magic bullet or the magic hook that was going to bring Koresh out.

Q: How do you know?

A: How do I know? I would only know if we turned the clock back and let them try. OK? And then let everybody else try who wanted to try also. You know, we could have sold tickets and lined up 1,000 people. Who wants to negotiate with David Koresh? Come on in.

Thoughts watching the flames.....

VZ: I guess my first thought seeing that was, oh, my God, they've accidentally themselves set the place on fire. But maybe this will be the catalyst to get them out. Now they have no choice. Now they can't just sit there, hunker down in that building. They have to make a decision if they've accidentally, meaning the Davidians have accidentally, not the FBI accidentally, but if the Davidians had accidentally set it on fire, my hope upon hope was, well, now this will be the catalyst to get them out. Now they will have to come out if they're going to come out. That was my hope, but it was not my belief that they would come out. I separate hope from what I thought would happen.

Q: When did you know they weren't coming out?

VZ: When I saw the building come down on top of them and nobody came out.

Q: What was your thinking at that moment?

VZ: What an absolute classic tragedy. What a total indictment almost of mankind's inability to communicate and relate, even though we have different religious or personal philosophies, that this is how wars start, because people can't communicate and don't or won't understand each other, and that this was simply a microcosm of every conflict that man has ever had.
I went outside and took a walk and just tried to compose my thoughts and, in my own way, ask God why, why did it end this way? And I wasn't mad at Him. I just didn't understand why. I think I probably called my wife later, and she had already seen it and knew about it, and I tried to come to a personal understanding of what took place, and what role I had played in it. I was just sad. As much as I thought we might see something like that at the end, I hated to have it confirmed. I hated to be right. I would have rather been a fool on that one and had them all walk out and have everybody say, why did you come up with this snare type philosophy? Look, they're all coming out, and it's a big joke, and we're all sitting at the picnic table, and where do you come up with these things? I would have loved that. I really would have. And it just didn't happen.

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