Outside the Mount Carmel complex, the F.B.I. assembled what has been called probably the largest military force ever gathered against a civilian suspect in American history: ten Bradley tanks, two Abrams tanks, four combat-engineering vehicles, six hundred and sixty-eight agents in addition to six U.S. Customs officers, fifteen U.S. Army personnel, thirteen members of the Texas National Guard, thirty-one Texas Rangers, a hundred and thirty-one officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, seventeen from the McLennan County sheriff’s office, and eighteen Waco police, for a total of eight hundred and ninety-nine people. Their task, as they saw it, was to peel away the pretense—Koresh’s posturing, his lies, his grandiosity—and compel him to take specific steps toward a resolution.

That is standard negotiation practice, which is based on the idea that, through sufficient patience and reason, a deranged husband or a cornered bank robber can be moved from emotionality to rationality. Negotiation is an exercise in pragmatism—in bargaining over a series of concrete objectives: If you give up one of your weapons, I will bring you water. When this approach failed, the F.B.I. threw up its hands. In bureau parlance, the situation at Mount Carmel became “non-negotiable.” What more could the bureau have done? “I guess we could have fenced it off and called it a federal prison,” Bob Ricks, one of the lead F.B.I. agents during the siege, said last year in an interview

But, as the conflict-studies scholar Jayne Docherty argues, the F.B.I.’s approach was doomed from the outset. In “Learning Lessons from Waco”—one of the very best of the Mount Carmel retrospectives—Docherty points out that the techniques that work on bank robbers don’t work on committed believers. There was no pragmatism hidden below a layer of posturing, lies, and grandiosity. Docherty uses Max Weber’s typology to describe the Davidians. They were “value-rational”—that is to say, their rationality was organized around values, not goals. A value-rational person would accept his fourteen-year-old daughter’s polygamous marriage, if he was convinced that it was in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Because the F.B.I. could not take the faith of the Branch Davidians seriously, it had no meaningful way to communicate with them…