BRANCH DAVIDIANS (1981-2006)

BRANCH DAVIDIAN TIMELINE

1981 Vernon Howell (age 22) arrived at Mount Carmel Center on the outskirts of Waco, Texas.

1984 Vernon Howell married Rachel Jones (age 14), daughter of long-time Branch Davidians Perry and Mary Belle Jones.

1984 Lois Roden sent a letter inviting Branch Davidians around the country to come to Mount Carmel for Passover and hear Vernon Howell give Bible studies.

1984 The Passover gathering of Branch Davidians was divided between people who listened to Vernon Howell’s Bible studies and people who gathered around George Roden.

1984 Because of George Roden’s violence, the core group of Branch Davidians following Vernon Howell left Mount Carmel to live in Waco.

1985 Vernon and Rachel Howell visited Israel, where he received his messianic calling. This was the origin of his identity as David Koresh.

1985 David Koresh and Branch Davidians settled at a camp they constructed in the woods near Palestine, Texas.

1985 Koresh traveled to California and Hawaii to proselytize. He promoted his band and music in Los Angeles.

1986 Koresh and Clive Doyle visited Australia to spread Koresh’s message. Koresh subsequently returned to Australia twice more and gained converts.

1986 Lois Roden died and George Roden assumed control of Mount Carmel.

1986 Koresh began to take additional (extralegal) wives with whom to have children to fulfill what he taught were biblical prophecies.

1987 George Roden and Koresh and a group of his followers were involved in a gun fight at Mt. Carmel; the participants were arrested.

1988 The trial of Vernon Howell (David Koresh) and his men resulted in acquittal of the men and a hung jury on Howell. All were released from jail.

1988 In an unrelated incident, George Roden was put into jail for a time. He was also prohibited from returning to Mount Carmel due to reactivation of an old restraining order that had been taken out originally by Lois Roden.

1988 The Branch Davidians returned to Mount Carmel and began to repair the property.

1988 Steve Schneider made his first trip to Britain to present Koresh’s message to Adventists. Koresh followed up by visiting Britain to proselytize. A number of British converts were gained.

1989 Koresh began teaching a “New Light” revelation that all the women (including already married women) in the community were his wives, and all the men other than himself were to be celibate.

1989 Marc Breault and his wife, Elizabeth Baranyai, left Mount Carmel, moved to Australia, and began a campaign to discredit Koresh and his teachings.

1990 Vernon Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh.

1990 Koresh initiated a number of business ventures involving the buying and selling of arms and related paraphernalia at gun shows.

1991 David Jewell, the non-Branch Davidian father of Kiri Jewell, age ten, obtained temporary custody of Kiri when she cames to visit him in Michigan.

1992 Martin King of Australia’s A Current Affair traveled with a camera crew to Mount Carmel to film Koresh giving a Bible study and to interview Koresh for a story aired on Australian television.

1992 Marc Breault testified about Koresh’s sexual relations with underage girls in a custody hearing in Michigan. The result was that the mother, a Branch Davidian member, lost custody.

1992 Koresh was investigated by the Texas Child Protection Services, but the case was closed due to lack of evidence.

1992 The Branch Davidians moved into the large residence at Mount Carmel that they began constructing in 1991, tearing down the individual cottages.

1992 Numerous Branch Davidians came to Mount Carmel from abroad for Passover. Allegations of impending group suicide proved unfounded.

1992 (Late) The Branch Davidians were aware that Mount Carmel was under surveillance by men living in a house across the street and helicopters frequently flying overhead.

1993 (February 28) About 9:45 a.m. agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms carried out an armed raid on the residence at Mount Carmel to deliver warrants, and a shootout ensued. Six Branch Davidians and four ATF agents died.

1993 (March 1) FBI agents took control of Mount Carmel and oversaw the siege. Tanks were brought onto the property the next day.

1993 (April 19) A tank and CS-gas assault on the residence by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team began at 6:00 a.m. In the conflagration that ensued, seventy-six Branch Davidians died.

1994 A criminal trial was held to try charges brought against eleven of the Branch Davidian survivors.

1995 Crape myrtle trees were planted at Mount Carmel for each Branch Davidian who died in 1993.

1999 Clive Doyle and his mother Edna Doyle moved back to Mount Carmel. A new chapel and visitor's center were constructed.

1999 Attorney General Janet Reno appointed former Senator John C. Danforth as Special Counsel to conduct an investigation into whether the actions of FBI agents caused the deaths on April 19.

2000 The Special Counsel conducted a “FLIR reenactment” at Fort Hood to determine if flashes captured on Forward Looking Infrared film on April 19, 1993 were automatic gunfire directed toward the Branch Davidians.

2000 Wrongful death lawsuits were brought against the government by relatives of deceased Branch Davidians and by Branch Davidian survivors who had come to trial in federal court. The case was dismissed.

2000 The Danforth Report, which concluded that actions of FBI agents did not cause deaths of Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993, was published.

2000 As a result of a Supreme Court appeal, several Branch Davidians had their sentences reduced.

2000 (April 19) The first memorial service was held in the new chapel.

2006 Clive Doyle left Mount Carmel; the Visitor’s Center was closed. Charles Pace, prophet of a rival group that rejected David Koresh as prophet and messiah, took control of Mount Carmel.


FOUNDER/GROUP HISTORY

In 1981, when 22-year-old Vernon Howell, who in 1990 legally changed his name to David Koresh (1959-1993), arrived at Mount Carmel Center on the outskirts of Waco, Texas, the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist movement had been in existence for 26 years. It had been founded by Ben Roden (1902-1978) in 1955, and, in 1981, the movement was led by his wife Lois Roden (1905-1986). The Branch Davidian movement had split off from an earlier group in Waco, the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists led by Victor T. Houteff (1885-1955). Both movements were offshoots from the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and therefore Davidians and Branch Davidians viewed the writings of Ellen G. White (1827-1915), the Seventh-day Adventist prophet, as authoritative. Based on the model of Ellen G. White, both Davidians and Branch Davidians regarded their leaders who presented interpretations of the Bible’s apocalyptic prophecies they found convincing as prophets.

Lois Roden’s status as Branch Davidian prophet was challenged by her violent son, George Roden (1938-1998); so when Vernon Howell demonstrated a talent for learning and interpreting Bible passages, she began to promote him as her successor. Branch Davidians scattered around North America were invited to come to Mount Carmel for Passover in 1984 to hear Howell give Bible studies. This marked the shift in allegiance on the part of some long-time Branch Davidians living at Mount Carmel to Vernon Howell. They regarded Lois Roden as having lost “the Spirit of Prophecy” (Pitts 2009).

Later in 1984, Howell and his followers left Mount Carmel due to George Roden’s violence. They lived in Waco for a time, then at a campground in Mexia, Texas, and then settled in a camp they constructed in the piney woods near Palestine, Texas (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:58-63; Martin 2009:33-41; Haldeman 2007:33-38).

In 1985, Howell and his wife Rachel visited Israel where Howell had experiences that revealed he was the Christ for the Last Days. This marks the emergence of his identity as David Koresh (Tabor 2005). After they returned to Texas, their son Cyrus was born. The Branch Davidians noted that he taught with greater confidence and authority after he returned from Israel.

While the community lived at the Palestine camp, a number of members traveled to work in Texas, California, and Hawaii. David Koresh traveled to California, Hawaii, and Australia to proselytize. In Los Angeles, he promoted his rock band; his theology was expressed in the songs that he composed and sang.

In 1986, Koresh revealed to his followers that God wanted him to take additional wives with whom to have children who would play key roles in the coming Judgment. In Texas at that time, fourteen was the age at which it was legal for a girl to marry with parental consent. Koresh’s first extralegal wife was fourteen, but the second, Michele Jones, the sister of his wife Rachel, was twelve when he first had sex with her (Thibodeau with Whiteson 1999:109, 114).

In 1987, George Roden dug up the casket of Anna Hughes, who was buried in the cemetery at Mount Carmel. Roden challengedKoresh to a contest to see which of them could raise her from the dead. Koresh declined and reported the disinterment to the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department. The deputies declined to go to Mount Carmel without proof that a body had been removed from its grave, so Koresh and some of his men purchased weapons for protection and went to Mount Carmel to try to photograph the corpse without being detected by Roden. While they were there, Roden fired at them, and Koresh shot back. Sheriff’s deputies arrived to arrest Koresh and his men (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:65-66; Haldeman 2007:55-59).

The trial in 1988 resulted in the acquittal of the Branch Davidian men, but the jury could not decide whether or not Howell (Koresh) was guilty of attempted murder. All of them went free. George Roden was put into jail for writing threatening letters to the judge, and the Branch Davidians had a restraining order prohibiting Roden from coming onto the Mount Carmel property reactivated. The Branch Davidians returned to Mount Carmel to live, and cleaned up the little houses in which they would live until 1992 when the large building was finished. They found equipment to make methamphetamine in one of the houses, which Koresh turned over to the Sheriff’s Department (Haldeman 2007:59-63).

In 1988, Steve Schneider, one of Koresh’s apostles, went to England to present Bible studies about Koresh’s message to Adventists. Koresh also visited England to present his message. A number of British converts were gained who would ultimately relocate to Mount Carmel.

In 1989, Koresh taught that all the women in the community were his wives, and all the men except himself should be celibate (Tabor and Gallagher 1995:68-76). An increasing number of his children began to be born. Marc Breault and his wife Elizabeth Baranyai left the group and moved to Australia. Breault worked to persuade Australian Branch Davidians that Koresh’s teachings were false. Breault contacted American authorities and the media in Texas and Australia about Koresh’s activities (Tabor and Gallagher 1995:80-93).

In September, 1990, Koresh was introduced to Henry McMahon, a licensed gun dealer, who taught Koresh about guns and the firearms trade (Thibodeau and Whiteson 1999:127). David Koresh and some of his men increasingly bought and sold guns and related paraphernalia at gun shows: (1) to be prepared for self-defense in the assault that Koresh predicted would occur as part of Endtime events and (2) to make money to support the members of the community.

In 1992, in Michigan Breault testified about Koresh’s sexual relations with underage girls in a hearing concerning the custody of Kiri Jewell who had been living with her mother, Sherri Jewell, at Mount Carmel. Kiri’s father was not a Branch Davidian. Kiri reported that Koresh had sexual contact with her at age ten in a motel room where she had been left by her mother. Sherri Jewell lost custody and returned to Mount Carmel. Kiri declined to press charges, but her father filed a complaint with Texas Child Protective Services. David Koresh was investigated but the case was closed for lack of evidence (Tabor and Gallagher 1993:85-86; Kiri Jewell’s testimony and written statement in Joint Hearings 1995:1:147-55).

In 1992, Branch Davidians from around North America and other countries traveled to Mount Carmel to celebrate Passover in the large building by listening to Koresh’s Bible studies. By this time, the little houses had been torn down. Breault and other former Branch Davidians alleged to the Sheriff’s Department that the Branch Davidians were going to commit group suicide during Passover week, but nothing happened (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:71-72).

By late 1992, the Branch Davidians were aware that they were under surveillance by the overflights of helicopters and the men who had rented a house across Double EE Ranch Road from Mount Carmel. It was obvious to the Branch Davidians that the two men from the house who came over to Mount Carmel on various pretexts were inspecting their property. On one occasion in 1993, the two men came over with two AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, showed them to Koresh, and went with him behind the large residence to shoot the weapons (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:115-19; Haldeman 2007:73-74; ATF memo reprinted in Hardy with Kimball 2001:326). Unknown to the Branch Davidians at that time, the men were with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. One of them, Robert Rodriguez, came to Mount Carmel for Bible studies with Koresh inside the residence. When other ATF agents interviewed Henry McMahon, the licensed gun dealer with whom Koresh did business, he called Koresh while ATF agents were present. Through McMahon, Koresh extended an invitation to the ATF agents to come to Mount Carmel and inspect his weapons; the agents brushed off the invitation and declined to speak with Koresh on the telephone (Henry McMahon testimony in Joint Hearings 1995:1:162-63).

ATF agents obtained warrants to search the Mount Carmel residence and arrest Koresh. Their allegation was that the Branch Davidians were converting legally purchased AR-15 semi-automatic rifles to M-16 automatic weapons without paying the fee and filling out the required paperwork to obtain license permits. Since the ATF agents had found no evidence that supported this claim, the affidavit composed to obtain approval of the warrants from a judge was filled with inflammatory language about cults and child abuse (Tabor and Gallagher 1995:100-03). Child abuse does not come under ATF jurisdiction. The ATF agents made plans to execute a “no knock” “dynamic entry” into the residence. In order to receive training from Army Special Forces at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, and support from National Guard helicopters and pilots, ATF agents falsely alleged that the Branch Davidians were operating a methamphetamine lab (House of Representatives 1996:30-55).

The ATF raid was carried out on the morning of February 28, 1993, even though Robert Rodriguez alerted the commanders that
Koresh had learned that a raid was imminent. ATF agents arrived in covered cattle trailers, and stormed the front door while another team of agents broke windows on the second floor, fired and threw flash-bang grenades inside, before entering (see footage in Gifford, Gazecki, and McNulty 1997). Armed ATF agents were also in National Guard helicopters.

A shootout ensued in which four ATF agents were killed and twenty agents were wounded, some severely; David Koresh received a severe wound to his side and another wound on his wrist; Perry Jones (64, American), Koresh’s father-in-law, received a mortal wound; four other Branch Davidians were killed and several wounded. About 5:00 p.m. that day Michael Schroeder (29, American), another Branch Davidian, and a friend attempted to walk back to Mount Carmel coming from behind the property. Schroeder was attempting to return to his wife, baby son, and three stepchildren at Mount Carmel. He was shot and killed by ATF agents stationed on the property behind Mount Carmel. His body was left where it fell for four days (FBI 1993a). Of the six Branch Davidians who died on February 28, four were American, one was British, and one was Australian. One, Jaydean Wendel (34, American), was the mother of four children.

FBI agents took charge of Mount Carmel on March 1. They brought in tanks on March 2 after Koresh backed out on an agreement to come out and be taken into custody. From February 28 to March 5 twenty-one children were sent out by their parents. From March 2 to March 23 adults came out at various times, sometimes singly, sometimes in groups (FBI 1993a). Whenever adults came out, the FBI tactical team known as the Hostage Rescue Team punished the remaining Branch Davidians in various ways: cutting off the electricity; crushing and removing their vehicles with tanks; blasting high-decibel sounds at them (FBI 1993a; Tabor 1994). The bright spotlights directed at the residence at night had the purpose of obscuring SOS signals that Branch Davidans first flashed on March 12 (FBI 1993a). The lights were also another means to disrupt the Branch Davidians’ sleep.

Koresh and Steve Schneider, who did most of the negotiating, said that the Branch Davidians would come out after the eight-day Passover holiday. Koresh had predicted to the Branch Davidians that they would either be attacked and martyred or “translated” into Heaven while living during Passover (Craddock 1993). When there was no attack that week, on April 14, the day after the conclusion of Passover, Koresh talked to his attorney by telephone and read a letter in which he formulated his exit plan. He would write a “little book” (see Rev. 10:1-11) giving his commentary on the Seven Seals of Revelation, and after the manuscript was given to Drs. James Tabor and J. Phillip Arnold, two Bible scholars who had communicated with the Branch Davidians via a radio discussion on April 1, he and the other Branch Davidians would come out. Koresh’s attorney conveyed the plan to FBI agents. Later that day, Koresh’s letter was sent out to the FBI along with Koresh’s signed contract to retain his attorney to represent him (FBI 1993a). On April 16 Koresh reported to a negotiator that he had completed writing his commentary on the First Seal, and the Branch Davidians began requesting wordprocessing supplies, which were delivered on April 18 (Wessinger 2000:77, 105; FBI 1993a).

On April 19, 1993, at 6:00 a.m. a tank and CS gas assault was carried out by FBI agents on the residence. The CS, suspended in methylene chloride, was inserted through nozzles on the tanks’ booms and delivered by ferret rounds that were fired into the building. CS gas burns the skin and the internal mucous membranes, which can cause acute bronchial pneumonia, vomiting and asphyxiation. CS (chlorobenzylidene malonitrile) converts into cyanide upon contact with water, which in the body causes pain, edema and leakage of fluid from the capillaries. CS also converts to cyanide when it burns. CS gas is intended for outdoor use to control crowds, and is not recommended for use in enclosed spaces (Hardy with Kimball 2001:264-66, 290; House of Representatives 1996:68-75).

Tanks drove through and demolished parts of the building. A tank drove through the front of the building toward the open door of a concrete vault located at the base of the central tower, where the young children and their mothers had taken shelter. The tank gassed that area from 11:31 to 11:55 a.m. (Hardy with Kimball 2001:275-76, 285). By 12:07 p.m. the first fire was visible in a second-floor window, and fire rapidly engulfed the building. Nine people escaped, suffering moderate to severe burns. Seventy-six Branch Davidians of all ages died.

Twenty-two children from babies to age 13 died in the vault. This number includes the two infants who were born during the CS gas assault and fire. Fourteen, including the trauma-born infants, were David Koresh’s biological children. Seven teenagers, age 14-19, died. Of the adults who died, 24 were Americans; one was Australian; 21 were British, most with Jamaican origins; one was Canadian, and one was a New Zealander. One of the women who escaped the fire, Ruth Riddle (31, Canadian), had in her pocket a floppy disk on which Koresh’s interpretation of the First Seal of the book of Revelation had been saved (published in Tabor and Gallagher 1995: 191-203).

Prior to the assault, FBI agents had been told by Branch Davidian Janet Kendrick that based on Numbers 9:6-13 the Branch Davidians believed there would be a Second Passover. A man who had entered the building during the siege, Louis Alaniz, came out on April 17 and told FBI agents that the Branch Davidians considered the Second Passover to take place between April 14-21 ([FBI] 1993b). This would have been the period that Koresh was writing his “little book.”


DOCTRINES/BELIEFS

Many of the Branch Davidians, including David Koresh, had Seventh-day Adventist backgrounds. Therefore, like Seventh-day Adventists, Branch Davidians were ultimately concerned with understanding the Bible’s prophecies about believed imminent events of the Last Days and establishment of God’s Kingdom. Koresh taught that he and the Branch Davidians would play key roles in those events.

The Branch Davidians considered, and survivors still consider, themselves to be among the “wave sheaf,” the first of the “first fruits” to be harvested into God’s Kingdom. Their concept of “wave sheaf” is based on the biblical description of harvesting the tallest and ripest stalks of barley in the springtime and taking them to the sanctuary at Passover where “it was waved by a priest before the Lord” (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:83; see Lev. 23:10-14). According to survivor Clive Doyle, “the wave sheaf has been that group in every generation who were first to acknowledge God’s instructions and obey God, sometimes at the cost of their lives.” They “stepped out in faith ahead of everybody else…” (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:84).

When Christ (Jesus Christ) was resurrected, other people, members of the wave sheaf up to that time, were resurrected with him (see Matt. 27:52-53). According to Branch Davidian theology, these members of the wave sheaf were martyrs who were killed for their obedience to God; they were offered before the Father “as trophies of Christ’s victory over death and the grave” (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:84).

Koresh taught that the Christ Spirit had taken a number of incarnations prior to Christ (Jesus Christ). Koresh taught that he was the Christ to fulfill the events prophesied in the Bible relating to the Last Days. He and a number of his followers would be martyred in an assault by the United States government, represented by the “two-horned beast” or “lamblike beast” in the book of Revelation (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:92; see Rev. 13:11-18). Subsequently, Koresh would be resurrected with the remaining martyred wave sheaf, including the martyred members of the Branch Davidian community. Koresh as Christ would lead an army of 200 million (Rev. 9:16) martyrs of the ages (the entire wave sheaf) who would carry out God’s Judgment. Members of the wave sheaf living at that time would also become part of Christ’s army. “Millions of other people will be resurrected later, but this first group needs to be brought up so that in the Judgment you have somebody from every generation in order that people will be judged by their peers” (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:85).

The Twenty-Four Elders in Rev. 4:4, 10-11, Koresh’s children, were considered part of the wave sheaf. Koresh taught that his children were “born for Judgment.” He taught that the children had been on Earth before and had chosen to come back to play a role in the Judgment (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:87).

According to Branch Davidian theology, the members of the wave sheaf will attend the marriage of the Lamb (David Koresh as Christ) in heaven (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:88; see Rev. 19:7-9). Since 1978, when Lois Roden received a revelation that the Holy Spirit is female, Branch Davidians have believed there is a heavenly Father and Mother. Christ is the Son. In the Endtime events, the Son will have a perfect mate, an “extension of the Spirit” (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:88). After the marriage of the Lamb in heaven, the members of the wave sheaf will “sing a new song” (Rev. 5: 8-10, 14:2-3) to the 144,000 who stand on Mount Zion with the Lamb (Christ), thus delivering Christ’s message to them.

The Jewish feast of Shavu’ot or Pentecost (Lev. 23:15-21) in the early summer was the time of the wheat harvest. A symbolic amount of wheat was baked into two loaves that were waved before the Lord. In Branch Davidian theology, the two wave loaves represent the 120 disciples of (Jesus) Christ, and the 144,000 of the Last Days. They are the first fruits in the harvest of souls (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:89). Their gathering marks the beginning of God’s Kingdom of Earth.

The “great multitude” (Rev. 7:9-17), symbolized by the summer fruits (fruits and vegetables), will be gathered into the Kingdom by the 144,000. People from all cultures, even all religions, will be invited to join the Kingdom in the Holy Land. They will be invited to come to the Feast of Tabernacles, Sukkot, in the fall. These summer fruits are harvested from people living on Earth at that time. The resurrection of the blessed, the dead who will be added to the Kingdom, happens later in the Branch Davidian scenario (Doyle with Wessinger and Wittmer 2012:90).

Kenneth G. C. Newport (2006, 2009) has explicated how Victor Houteff, the Davidian prophet, had articulated that at some point the Davidians would have to undergo a baptism of fire (see Matt. 3:11). This theme was continued by Ben Roden, and especially by Lois Roden. She taught that those living at “ Jerusalem” ( Mount Carmel), would undergo a baptism of fire “by full immersion,” not merely a “sprinkling,” as a “gateway” into the Kingdom (Roden 1978). David Koresh and his lieutenant Steve Schneider (1990) also taught that the Branch Davidians would have to undergo a purifying baptism of fire. This idea is implicit in the name of the Branch Davidians’ property, which had originally been owned and named Mount Carmel by Davidians. Mount Carmel in the Holy Land is where the prophet Elijah prayed to God to light a fire to consume Elijah’s sacrifice in a contest with the prophets of Baal, who were defeated when fire from heaven consumed the offering (1 Kings 18:19-39).


RITUALS/PRACTICES

Ben Roden had instituted the observance of “the Daily” as a period of prayer and Bible study in the morning and afternoon at the
times priests in the Jerusalem temple were believed to place a sacrificed lamb on an altar to burn to atone for the priest’s mistakes or sins. Lois Roden had added to the Daily observance the consumption of grape juice and an unleavened cracker, the Emblems representing Christ’s blood and body given for humanity (Interview with Clive Doyle, July 3, 2004; Martin 2009:22-23; Haldeman 2007:34, 88). This practice was discontinued after April 19, 1993.

The Branch Davidians inherited from Seventh-day Adventists and the Davidians the ritual of the “Bible study,” in which the Bible’s passages are explicated in light of each other to unveil God’s plan for the Last Days. Bible studies were the primary tool of proselytization, conversion, and preparation of the wave sheaf members for the upcoming events. Koresh gave lengthy Bible studies, as did Steve Schneider, and Marc Breault before he left the community. Any Branch Davidian who was well versed in the scriptures could give a Bible study.


ORGANIZATION/LEADERSHIP

David Koresh’s “charisma,” defined here as belief on the part of his followers that he had access to an unseen source of authority (Wessinger 2012:80-82), was based on his ability to “open” or reveal the meaning of the Seven Seals of the book of Revelation in light of other biblical passages in the Old and New Testaments. During the siege, Steve Schneider told an FBI negotiator that the Branch Davidians tested everything that Koresh taught against the Bible. The King James Version of the Bible was the ultimate source of authority for the Branch Davidians. The Book itself had charisma since it was God’s Word.

On March 15, Schneider asked that Dr. Phillip Arnold, whom the Branch Davidians had heard on the radio, be permitted to discuss the Bible’s prophecies with Koresh. Schneider said that if Arnold could provide a persuasive alternative intepretation of the Bible’s prophecies, the Branch Davidians would come out regardless of what Koresh said (Wessinger 2000:73-74; Wessinger 2009:34-35; Negotiation tape no. 129, March 15, 1993). The FBI did not permit Arnold to communicate directly with the Branch Davidians. In the last days of the siege, conversations picked up on surveillance devices reveal that the Hostage Rescue Team’s tactical actions reinforced the Branch Davidians’ perception that the time had come for many of them to die in obedience to God’s Endtime plan (Wessinger 2009).

The Branch Davidians included members of families who had lived at Mount Carmel since the Ben and Lois Roden days as well as members converted by David Koresh. The members’ commitment to Koresh was reinforced by his sexual relations with the girls and women, a number of whom had given birth to his children or were pregnant by him, and the men’s celibacy. Branch Davidians worked in various capacities at Mount Carmel and away from the property to support the community.


ISSUES/CHALLENGES

The longer profile on this webpage discusses issues and challenges related to David Koresh’s Branch Davidians in greater detail. There are numerous points of controversy and debate. A few of them are:

  • The unconventional sexual arrangements within the community, and Koresh’s sexual relations with underage girls.
  • Whether or not Branch Davidians were converting AR-15 semi-automatic rifles to M-16 automatic weapons without paying the tax and filling out paperwork required for a license.
  • Whether or not the ATF raid was necessary.
  • Whether ATF agents knowingly lied about an alleged methamphetamine lab at Mount Carmel in order to obtain Army Special Forces training and National Guard support.
  • Whether or not ATF agents fired blindly into the building, something that is illegal for American law enforcement agents to do.
  • Whether ATF agents or Branch Davidians shot first, and which side did most of the shooting.
  • The lack of investigation of the shooting of Michael Schroeder by ATF agents.
  • Whether or not actions by the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team had the goal of sabotaging negotiations to discourage Branch Davidians from coming out.
  • Whether there was a breakthrough in negotiations on April 14 when Koresh presented his exit plan, or if this was another delaying tactic as alleged by FBI agents.
  • Whether David Koresh’s apocalyptic theology made a fire inevitable once the siege began (Newport 2006, 2009), or whether Koresh and the Branch Davidians were reading the events to see if they did or did not fit into the predicted apocalyptic scenario and were adjusting their biblical interpretations accordingly (Gallagher 2000; Tabor and Gallagher 1995; Wessinger 2000, 2009).
  • The extent to which FBI decision-makers knew about and understood the implications of Koresh’s apocalyptic theology of martyrdom as they formulated and directed tactical actions against the Branch Davidians (see Wessinger 2009; FBI 1993a; longer profile on this page.
  • Whether or not Attorney General Janet Reno was misled into approving a plan for the assault on April 19 by being presented with incorrect information about the state of the negotiations and the effects of CS gas on children, pregnant women, and the elderly (see [FBI] 1993c).
  • Whether the actions of FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team contributed to the fire and deaths of seventy-six Branch Davidians on April 19, 1993, or whether responsibility for the fire rests solely on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.
  • The problem of multiple types of evidence that went missing, were destroyed, and were withheld due to actions of ATF and FBI agents.
  • Whether or not the Branch Davidians charged and tried in the criminal trial in 1994 were treated fairly by the judge and given fair sentences (see Richardson 2001).
  • Whether or not FLIR (infrared thermal imaging) tapes recorded by a Nightstalker aircraft flying over the building on April 19, 1993, recorded automatic gunfire directed toward the back of the building, as was alleged by several American FLIR experts, but denied by British experts hired by the government (see Gifford, Gazecki, and McNulty 1997; Danforth Report 2000; Hardy with Kimball 2001; McNulty 2001).
  • Whether or not the Danforth Report (2000) produced by Special Counsel John C. Danforth, which exonerates federal agents of responsibility in the deaths, is the final word on the case (see Rosenfeld 2001; and Newport 2006).


REFERENCES

Breault, Marc, and Martin King. 1993. Inside the Cult: A Chilling, Exclusive Account of Madness and Depravity in David Koresh’s Compound. New York: Signet.

Craddock, Graeme. 1993. Testimony of Graeme Craddock. United States District Court, Western District of Texas, Waco Division, Federal Grand Jury Proceedings. April 20.

Danforth, John C., Special Counsel. 2000. “Final Report to the Deputy Attorney General Concerning the 1993 Confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex.” November 8.

Doyle, Clive, with Catherine Wessinger and Matthew D. Wittmer. 2012. A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1993a. WACMUR Major Event Log, February-July 1993. Available in the Lee Hancock Collection, Southwestern Writers Collection, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Federal Bureau of Investigation. 1993b. “Passover Analysis Addendum.” April 18. Available in Lee Hancock Collection, Southwestern Writers Collection, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Federal Bureau of Investigation . 1993c. Reno Briefing File. Available in Lee Hancock Collection, Southwestern Writers Collection, Texas State University-San Marcos.

Gallagher, Eugene V. 2000. “‘Theology Is Life and Death’: David Koresh on Violence, Persecution, and the Millennium.” Pp. 82-100 in Millennialism, Persecution, and Violence: Historical Cases, edited by Catherine Wessinger. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

Gifford, Dan, William Gazecki, and Michael McNulty, producers. 1997. Waco: The Rules of Engagement. Los Angeles: Fifth Estate Productions.

Haldeman, Bonnie. 2007. Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autobiography of David Koresh’s Mother, ed. Catherine Wessinger. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Hardy, David T., with Rex Kimball. 2001. This Is Not an Assault: Penetrating the Web of Official Lies Regarding the Waco Incident. N.p.: Xlibris.

House of Representatives. 1996. Investigation into the Activities of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies toward the Branch Davidians. Report 104-749. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Joint Hearings. 1996. Activities of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies toward the Branch Davidians (Parts 1-3). Committee on the Judiciary Serial No. 72. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Martin, Sheila. 2009. When They Were Mine: Memoirs of a Branch Davidian Wife and Mother, ed. Catherine Wessinger. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Michael McNulty, producer. 2001. The F.L.I.R. Project. Fort Collins, Colo.: COPS Productions.

Newport , Kenneth G. C. 2009. “‘A Baptism by Fire’: The Branch Davidians and Apocalyptic Self-Destruction.” Nova Religio 13:61-94.

Newport, Kenneth G. C. 2006. The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pitts, William L., Jr. 2009. “Women Leaders in the Davidian and Branch Davidian Traditions.” Nova Religio 12:50-71.

Richardson, James T. 2001. “‘Showtime’ in Texas: Social Production of the Branch Davidian Trials.” Nova Religio 5:152-70.

Roden, Lois. 1978. “Baptism by Fire,” audiotape. March 21. Available in the Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Rosenfeld, Jean E. 2001. “The Use of the Military at Waco: The Danforth Report in Context.” Nova Religio 5:171-85.

Schneider, Steve. 1990. Audiotaped Bible studies given in Manchester, England. Available in the Texas Collection, Baylor University.

Tabor, James D., and Eugene V. Gallagher. 1995. Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Tabor, James D. 2005. “David Koresh.” Encyclopedia of Religion, edited by Lindsay Jones, 8: 5237-39. 2d ed. Farmington Hills, MI.: Thompson Gale.

Tabor, James. 1994. “Events at Mount Carmel: An Interpretive Log.” February. Accessed from http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/gopher/text/religion/koresh/Koresh%20Log on 20 April 2013.

Thibodeau, David, and Leon Whiteson. 1999. A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story. New York: Public Affairs.

Wessinger, Catherine. 2012. “Charismatic Leaders in New Religions.” Pp. 80-96 in The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, edited by Olav Hammer and Mikael Rothstein. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wessinger, Catherine. 2009. “Deaths in the Fire at the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel: Who Bears Responsibility?” Nova Religio 13:25-60.

Wessinger, Catherine. 2000. “1993 ¾ Branch Davidians.” In How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven’s Gate. New York: Seven Bridges Press. Accessed from http://www.loyno.edu/~wessing on 20 April 2013.


Related WRSP Resources of Interest:
Extended Branch Davidian Profile
Archival Materials
Video Materials


Author:
Catherine Wessinger

 

Extended Branch Davidian Profile