A Review of: “Apocalyptic Trajectories: Millenarianism and Violence in the Contemporary World”

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  • This article was downloaded by: [Universitat Politcnica de Valncia]On: 27 October 2014, At: 00:28Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registeredoffice: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Terrorism and Political ViolencePublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/ftpv20

    A Review of: Apocalyptic Trajectories:Millenarianism and Violence in theContemporary WorldReviewed by Thomas Robbins aa Rochester, MNPublished online: 25 Jan 2007.

    To cite this article: Reviewed by Thomas Robbins (2006) A Review of: Apocalyptic Trajectories:Millenarianism and Violence in the Contemporary World, Terrorism and Political Violence, 18:2,361-363, DOI: 10.1080/09546550600663641

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/09546550600663641

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  • by interviews with several FBI agents who played important roles at the MountCarmel Center. In her analysis Docherty insists on a symmetrical anthropology,which gives equal attention to the world views of both the negotiators and of theBranch Davidians. She shows how each side constructed narratives of naming theconflict, assigning blame for it, and framing appropriate responses to it. When thosenarratives overlapped, there was substantial possibility of productive negotiation;when they didnt, as was often the case, a stalemate ensued. She is especially effectivein bringing to light the generally ignored worldview of the negotiators and emphasiz-ing that it too had its symbolic elements and fundamental assumptions about humannature that led the agents to shape the Waco negotiations into a process of rationalbargaining (155). The Branch Davidians commitment to other values, however,was neatly summarized by David Koreshs caution that I want to serve your lawswhere they coincide with Gods laws (230). Dochertys analysis of the negotiationsis the best account so far of what worked, what didnt, what might have been donedifferently, and why.

    Her close reading of the negotiations leads Docherty to offer fourteen lessonsthat she hopes will have broader applicability, even though she acknowledges thather interlocutors within the FBI have rarely been persuaded by her arguments.The lessons center on the importance of recognizing the idiosyncratic worldviewsthat parties may bring to a conflict and adapting negotiating strategies to takeaccount of them. Whether Dochertys suggestions will make any impact on lawenforcement negotiating practices remains to be seen, but they do offer scholars auseful and flexible set of concepts for the retrospective analysis of any future stand-offs. Learning Lessons from Waco deserves a wide reading both for its subtle analysisof the negotiations and for its creative suggestions for improving the practice ofnegotiation with unconventional religious groups.

    Apocalyptic Trajectories: Millenarianism and Violence in the Contemporary World.By John Walliss. Bloomington, IN: Peter Lang, 2004. 271 pages. Paper $30.00.

    Reviewed by Thomas RobbinsRochester, MN

    The philosopher Hegel has noted that the Owl of Minerva takes wing at dusk, i.e.,we only comprehend a historical epoch when it is passing. With the exception of theJonestown event in 1978, the millenarian violence discussed in this volume all tran-spired within a period of less than a decade between the Branch Davidian tragedy atWaco in 1993 and the Ugandan disaster involving the Movement for the Restorationof the Ten Commandments of God (MRTCG) in 2000. Other suicides and homicidesconnected to cults have been enacted during and after this period, however, theevents discussed by John Walliss represent the largest and most spectacular cult-related disasters. No comparable event has transpired in the half-decade since theUgandan tragedy in 2000. It may be tentatively ventured that a distinctive andtumultuous period in religious history has recently departed.

    Apocalyptic Trajectories may be the best history of this period and its millen-arian catastrophes. This may not be saying much since it is practically the onlyserious study which looks at not only one or two terrible events but at the generalsequence of recent disasters blamed on cults. The main competitor may be

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  • Catherine Wessingers excellent volume, How the Millennium Comes Violently: FromJonestown to Heavens Gate, which appeared in 2000 and is naturally deficient withrespect to the Ugandan incident (originally brought out by an obscure publisher, itmay be out of print). Collections of papers and monographs on particular episodesabound, as do books dealing with various NRMs, but the present volume is almostunique. Dr. Walliss, a university lecturer in Liverpool, has previously authored amonograph on the Brahma Kumaris movement.

    The bulk of this volume consists of detailed case studies of six incidentsinvolving large-scale violence arising from internal tensions within a fervent millen-arian movement and=or the confrontation between such a group and a nearlyequally fervent cultural opposition to the movement. The sequence of eventsand the escalation of tensions culminating in large-scale violence represents theapocalyptic trajectory of each movement or what John Hall and his associateshad earlier termed a controversial groups trajectory of violence. Walliss seeksto uncover key recurring issues and social processes that fostered the progressiveacceptance of violence within each groups ideology, and ultimately helped to pre-cipitate the use of force against the groups own members or against outsiders (11).

    Besides the 1978 Peoples Temple Holocaust in Guyana, the Branch Davidianconfrontation at Waco, Texas in 1993, and the destruction of the MRTCG inUganda in 2000, the author additionally treats the deadly transits in France,Switzerland and Quebec associated with the Solar Temple Order in 19941997, theextinction of the Heavens Gate community in Rancho Santa Fe, California in1997, and the escalating attempted and actual violence inflicted on both recalcitrantdevotees and non-members by the Aum Shinrikyo sect in several Japanese locationsduring 19901995.

    The various episodes are effectively and informatively narrated. Each case studyrefreshed this readers memory as to key details of each unfolding crisis and in somecases brought to light facets of an episode with which the present reader was not pre-viously familiar. The author relies heavily on scholars in religious studies and soci-ology who have researched each group and crisis: Ian Reader on Aum, John Hallon the Peoples Temple, Susan Palmer and J.-F. Mayer on the Solar Temple, StuartWright and Eugene Gallagher on the Davidians, Rob Balch on Heavens Gate,Mayer and G. Banura on the MRTCG. Surprisingly missing from the bibliographyand text is Robert Liftons 1999 book on Aum Shinrikyo, Destroying the World toSave It, although the author discusses an essay by Lifton in the LA Times in whichimportant parallels between Aum Shinrikyo and MRTCG are noted (225). Theauthor also draws on NRM research by scholars such as Marc Galanter, JamesRichardson, Dick Anthony, Mike Barkun, David Bromley and others. Althougha book by Margaret Singer is quoted, relatively little attention is paid to mindcontrol.

    Each of the six doomed movements explored by Walliss receives its own chapter,except for the Solar Temple and Heavens Gate, which share chapter four. Interest-ingly, Catherine Wessinger also took this approach in How the Millennium ComesViolently. Walliss notes that the apocalyptic trajectories of the Solar Temple andHeavens Gate were superficially similar but significantly divergent on a deeper level.

    Chapter Three dealing with the Branch Davidians and the Waco confrontationis particularly perceptive from an interactionist standpoint. Both the BranchDavidians and the authorities were locked into contrasting and somewhat apocalyp-tic understandings of their antagonists as embodying either persecutory demons or

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  • dangerous cultists threatening to enact another Jonestown. Thus, during thefifty-one-day standoff, both sides literally talked past each other and, in doingso, confirmed the worst beliefs that they had about each other (97). In contrast,the opposition faced by the Solar Temple was substantially weaker but was vividlymagnified in the imagination of the leaders.

    The author attempts to show how in each case external constraint mainly cul-tural opposition and internal tensions interacted to bring on a crisis. In eachsituation Walliss evaluates the relative salience of actual external opposition andleaders imaginative extrapolation of such constraint. Thus, Aum leader Asaharaspoke of an international conspiracy involving not only the Japanese authorities,but also Freemasons and international Jews seeking to control the world(186). Under the impact of such conspiracy theories, reinforced by the abject failureof Aums political mobilization, Aum Shinrikyo became increasingly paramilitaristand even sought to arm itself with weapons of mass destruction (188).

    The strength of this volume lies in the empirical chapters (26) which dissecteach groups evolution and de-stabilization. The generic conceptualization presentedin the introductory chapter, Thinking Sociologically About Millenarianism andViolence, is useful but somewhat perfunctory, e.g., endogenous factors such ascharismatic leadership and apocalyptic beliefs interact with exogenous factors suchas external cultural opposition to produce instability. The final chapter fleshes outthis approach with brief applications to the movements whose trajectories have beenexamined. Challenges to leaders authority and to millennialist goal attainment arehighlighted. The analysis might have been strengthened by a comparative discussionof one or more controversial NRMs which did not self-destruct, e.g., the UnificationChurch. It has been suggested elsewhere that several factors including hierarchicalorganization (as in the U.C.) may inhibit violent altercations. The author does notventure theories or speculations along these or other lines, nor does he exhibit sen-sitivity to the possibility that the events he analyzes do not represent a continuousmodern drama but rather may entail a period of religious history which has passed.Nevertheless, John Walliss has produced an important and nearly unique study.

    Gods of the Blood: The Pagan Revival and White Separatism. By Mattias Gardell.Duke University Press, 2003. x 445 pages. $23.95 paper.

    Reviewed by Amos YongBethel University, St. Paul, Minnesota

    Recent scholarship by Michael Barkun, Jeffrey Kaplan and a handful of others hasbrought attention to the radical right as a fractured but yet noteworthy ideological,political and religious movement across contemporary American society. Gardellscontribution extends the coverage by focusing specifically on the convergence ofpaganism and white racism. The groups and individuals involved are most clearlydemarcated from their radical right counterparts by their anti-American (beingagainst multiculturalism, globalism, capitalism, etc.) and anti-Christian (movingbeyond Christian Identity, etc.) ideology. Although he is an associate professor ofthe history of religions at Stockholm University, Gardell has thoroughlycanvassed the pagan white separatist landscape in America literally in terms offieldwork and virtually in terms of research and produced a well-written reportand analysis of this phenomenon.

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