`Bible Babble': Naming the Interactional Trouble at Waco Journal Article uri icon



  • Outside Waco, Texas, on 19 April 1993, a 51-day standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and David Koresh and the Branch Davidians concluded with a devastating fire. Despite the fact that FBI negotiators talked on the telephone with Koresh or his main spokesman almost every day, the negotiators were unable to bring the standoff to a peaceful end. A frustrating yet persistent aspect for the FBI negotiators was the Davidians' talk about the Bible and their religious beliefs, what agents dismissively described as `Bible babble'. In this study, we analyze several exchanges between Koresh and one of the FBI agents. The analysis shows how the FBI's identifying their problem as `Bible babble' contributed to the negotiation failure. Through their talk, Koresh was positioned as a biblical expert and the FBI agent as a novice. The FBI's talk also supported Koresh's face (not challenging the reasonableness of his beliefs). These two conversational patterns, we argue, legitimated God as a key party and Koresh as the person who could best speak for him. In the conclusion, we suggest how a renaming of the problem might have reshaped the FBI's moves.

publication date

  • August 1, 2001

has restriction

  • closed

Date in CU Experts

  • August 4, 2014 12:30 PM

Full Author List


author count

  • 2

Other Profiles

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1461-4456

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1461-7080

Additional Document Info

start page

  • 269

end page

  • 294


  • 3


  • 3