Federal appellate Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk and the late Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh have much in common.

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I’m a child of the ’60s, an era when the term “gateway drug” was commonly evoked by anti-drug zealots in reference to marijuana.

And it was probably true, but only in the sense that young people who were scofflaw enough to try smoking pot in that era—it was a legally very risky behavior then—were presumably more willing to try other, harder drugs than their more law-abiding peers who didn’t get stoned at all. Not that smoking dope made youth need to try harder stuff.

Mary Jane, in fact, wasn’t then and isn’t now the inevitable, slippery-slope gateway to heroin or opium or whatever.

It just wasn’t and isn’t. I smoked my fair share of pot in college but never graduated to harder stuff, unless you count Marlboro Reds, which can actually kill you (slowly, to be sure, but too-often surely).

The main effect of smoking weed, as far as I could tell, was that I ate a whole lot more junk food than previously and constantly laughed myself to stitches.

The judge and the Apocalypse

I’m thinking about this after watching the Netflix documentary Waco: American Apocalypse, a terrifying retelling of the 1993 fiery deaths of some 75 members of an apocalyptic, anti-government Christian cult and 25 of their children at their Waco, Texas, compound after federal agents tried to serve a search warrant for alleged weapons violations.

I’m also thinking of “gateway drugs” after reading about a recent news event: Fundamentalist Christian, arch-conservative, Texas-based US District Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk on April 7—presumably based at least partly on Christian evangelism’s chronic demonization of abortion—unilaterally suspended the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) 23-year-old nationwide approval of a two-drug medication abortion protocol (including mifepristone and misoprostol, commonly known as “the abortion pill”).

Kacsmaryk also blocked the FDA’s prior medication abortion revisions in 2016 and 2021 that made mifepristone and misoprostol available to women up to 10 weeks after their last menstrual periods and by mail-order.

However, since Kacsmaryk’s ruling, US 5th Circuit Court of Appeals decided to allow at least temporary continued availability of the FDA protocol but concurred with Kacsmaryk that the 10-week legal window for use be shortened to seven weeks, and that the drugs must be prescribed in-person.

And US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) Justice Samuel Alito, ruling for the court’s emergency shadow docket, ordered that the prior court rulings be paused “until at least midnight Wednesday (April 19), while the full court analyzes them. SCOTUS in 2021 jettisoned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision making abortion legal nationwide.

Note that medication abortion is now used in the majority of US abortions.

A figurative ‘gateway drug’

The magical thinking of both Waco cult leader David Koresh and Judge Kacsmaryk stems from the same figurative “gateway drug”: childhood religious indoctrination.

Which is to say, once one is raised to believe any unverifiable nonsense, it becomes far easier to believe in—and act on—other nonsense. Inevitably, ingesting dogmatic received wisdom continuously from an early age leads to an atrophy of critical-thinking muscles over time and a hardening in the mind of unsupportable ideas.

If, for instance, you were raised to believe parts of the Bible that prophesy Armageddon—the biblical end of the world and Judgment Day (when true believers’ souls are saved for eternity)—you might be willing to sacrifice yourself and your children to fight Satan (i.e., the US government, in American right-wing Christian nationalist ideology). After all, isn’t an eternity in paradise gained?

Oddly, this supposedly all-important prophesied cataclysm is mentioned only once in scripture.

And if you were raised and indoctrinated to believe in Christian dogma that would identify abortion as a mortal, soul-destroying sin—as Catholicism and evangelical Christianity do—you might very well, as a conservative Christian judge bathed in such ideology since boyhood, be compelled to ban legally approved abortion medications for every woman in America—not by law but by faith.

Oddly, this supposedly all-important prophesied cataclysm [Armageddon] is mentioned only once in scripture.

Don’t take my word for it.

Raised to born-again Christian parents, Kacsmaryk was indoctrinated in childhood with the ethos that abortion is wrong, his sister Jennifer Griffith told The Washington Post. She said their mother, Dorothy, was a microbiologist who worked at anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers—Dorothy believed, unscientifically, that fetuses were not “just a [soulless] clump of cells”—and that her brother was “very passionate about the fact that you can’t preach pro-life and do nothing.”

Kacsmaryk a jurist with strong anti-abortion sentiments

Kacsmaryk, who graduated from Abilene Christian University in 1999 and earned his law degree from the University of Texas School of Law in 2003, has long had strong anti-abortion biases. Before becoming a judge, he rose to the position of deputy general counsel at First Liberty Institute, an arch-conservative Christian nonprofit.

Insider ezine noted in an April 7 report that Kacsmaryk, in a 1996 letter to the editor published in his college newspaper, advocated for extending full legal rights to an “unborn child.” This is a loaded phrase because the unborn before fetal viability are arguably not “legally persons” due the same rights as born people.

In that 1999 article, Kacsmaryk wrote:

The Democratic Party’s ability to condone the federally sanctioned eradication of innocent human life is indicative of the moral ambivalence undergirding this party. Perhaps more than any other national institution, the liberal Democratic Party and its ideological affiliates have facilitated the demise of America’s Christian heritage.

The “demise of America’s Christian heritage” says it all.

READ: If Abortion is Banned, This Minister Will Hand Out Morning-After Pills in Church

In 2015, Kacsmaryk published two articles decrying same-sex marriage and abortion rights on religious grounds, including a piece in the National Catholic Register about how progressive litigation and legislation by “sexual revolutionaries” over decades had corrupted America’s Christian bulwarks. In the latter essay, he wrote:

In the last century, sexual revolutionaries litigated and legislated to remove three pillars of marriage law: first, permanence; second, exclusivity; and third, procreation. The first pillar fell when California Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Family Law Act of 1969, and 48 states followed with their own no-fault divorce statutes. The second pillar fell when the vast majority of states adopted versions of the 1971 Model Penal Code, which eliminated legal penalties for fornication and adultery. The third pillar fell when the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional nearly all restrictions on contraceptives and abortion in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965), Eisenstadt v. Baird (1965), Roe v. Wade (1973) and Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992).

What he’s saying is that divorce, sex outside marriage, the use of contraceptives, and abortion are wrong, not because their prohibition is codified in American constitutional law, but because they are supposedly forbidden by God as enshrined in US tradition.

Consider how such a rigid “pro-life” ideology based on unverifiable theology and national myth, not rule of law, might—or, more to the point, not—translate into rational, balanced judicial decisions involving abortion?

However, Kacsmaryk insists he simply follows the law as a judge, although his detractors aren’t so sure:

As a judge, I’m no longer in the advocate role. I’m in the role of reading and applying with all good faith whatever Supreme Court and 5th Circuit precedent is binding.

Waco ‘prophet’ left school after 8th grade

Like Kacsmaryk, Waco leader David Koresh’s childhood was filled with religious ideology. Born to an unwed teenage mother and raised by his grandparents, Koresh left school after eighth grade because of severe dyslexia and bullying. The website Biography explains:

[Koresh] spent much of his lonely childhood playing musical instruments and studying the Bible, which developed into an obsessive interest for Koresh. By age 12, he had memorized and interpreted the entire New Testament.

After he consolidated his control of the Mt. Carmel colony of Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church, he began to believe not only that he was a prophet but the Messiah. He changed his name to David Koresh from his birth name, Vernon Howell, joining the biblical Judaic King David’s name with that of the ancient Persian king Cyrus the Great (“Koresh” is Hebrew for “Cyrus”).

“If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ,” he reportedly once said.

Koresh believed he was the prophet who would put into motion the return of Jesus Christ and the Apocalypse.

In the meantime, he took a harem of wives teenage and younger and isolated his community of troubled and vulnerable acolytes in a remote compound in Waco, vigorously indoctrinating them in his skewed interpretations of scripture.

The documentary Waco: American Apocalypse, reveals the power Koresh had over his flock, including women who eagerly accepted his sexual overtures, one of them because, as she said in the documentary, it felt like having sex with God.

Even after 51 days of siege by mostly federal law-enforcement officers, including the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), most Davidians refused to leave the compound. After the shooting deaths of four federal agents and a Davidian—Koresh himself sustained a gunshot wound—the true believers mostly stayed put, with their children, within the compound, trusting in their leader.

The devastating inferno the Davidians ignited murdered virtually everyone inside the compound.

Such is the mindless power of faith matured.

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Rick Snedeker

Rick Snedeker is a retired American journalist/editor who now writes in various media and pens nonfiction books. He has received nine past top South Dakota state awards for newspaper column, editorial,...