Apologetics Research Resources on the Branch Davidians
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Branch Davidians

David Koresh, Waco, Vernon Howell


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Introduction
Many Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh (real name, Vernon Howell), died in a controversial, ill-advised U.S. government operation. Several survivors are serving time in prison. Currently, there are a number of Branch Davidian factions, such as the ones led by Clive Doyle and Renos Avraam.

Surviving Branch Davidians have testitied that they considered David Koresh to be God incarnate.

The Branch Davidians are a sect (in the sense of "splinter group") of the Seventh-Day Adventists movement. Theologically, the various Davidian groups, of which Branch Davidians is best known, are considered cults of Christianity.

The Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists are basically Millerites. They are historical and doctrinal descendents of the Seventh-Day Adventist and a break-off group of reformers, the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists.
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Overview

This BBC news report provides a good overview of the Branch Davidians and the siege:


The Waco compound: Home of the Branch Davidians

David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, thought he was an angel and an agent of God.

The government thought he was a gun-hoarding criminal who physically and sexually abused the several children he fathered with his followers.

And although he died with almost 80 of his followers in a fire during an FBI assault on their compound six years ago, ongoing questions about the raid have given the charismatic religious leader immortality in the press.

The prophet king

Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston Texas in 1959.


David Koresh: Charismatic leadership ended in disaster

His childhood was difficult. He never knew his father and was raised by his grandparents.

He suffered from dyslexia and the taunts of his schoolmates, and by the ninth grade, he dropped out of school.

Despite being a poor student, he was keenly interested in the Bible, and by the age of 12 had memorised large parts of it.

After travelling to Hollywood in a failed attempt to become a rock star, he joined the Branch Davidians in 1981.

Koresh became involved in a power struggle for leadership of the group. He left with a group of followers, but in 1987, he returned with seven of his disciples.

They were armed with five .223 calibre semi-automatic assault rifles, two .22 calibre rifles, two 12-gauge shotguns and 400 rounds of ammunition.

The leader of the group, George Roden, was wounded in the attack, and Koresh and the seven followers were tried on charges of attempted murder.

The seven followers were acquitted, and in the case of Koresh, a mistrial was declared.

By 1990, he had become the head of the Branch Davidians.

The history of the Davidians

The Branch Davidians descend from a schism in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Koresh's mother was a member of the church, and he was a member for a short time as well.

The schism in the Seventh-Day Adventists began in the 1930s when Victor Houteff, a prominent Adventist in Los Angeles, wrote a book saying the church had become lax.

Mr Houteff's Davidian Seventh-day Adventists began to fall apart after his death in 1955. His widow Florence took over the group, but when Christ did not return as she predicted on Easter Day of 1959, most of the followers left.

A core group remained, a power struggle ensued, and a man named Ben Roden declared himself the leader of a new group, the Branch Davidians.

Preparing for the end

After Koresh took control of the group, he annulled the marriages of his followers, according to former members of the cult. He said that only he could be married. Several members left.

The former followers told authorities that Koresh would beat the children until they were bruised and bleeding. Social workers investigated but could never confirm the charges.

For the remaining followers, they prepared for the end of the world.

Koresh said that the Apocalypse would begin when the American army attacked Mount Carmel, their compound outside of Waco.

They buried a school bus to serve as a bunker and stockpiled food and ammunition.

Chronology of a showdown

The showdown between the government and the cult began on Sunday, 28 February, 1993, when agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to arrest Koresh on charges of illegal firearms and explosives charges.


The authorities buzzed the compound day and night to deny the inhabitants sleep

It has not been determined who fired first, but gunfire erupted.

Four ATF agents were killed, another 16 were wounded and an undetermined number of Davidians were killed and wounded. Koresh later disclosed that he had been wounded.

The FBI took control of the situation, and President Clinton endorsed a negotiated settlement.

Negotiations began the next day, and 10 children were released. The FBI moved armoured vehicles to the compound's perimeter.

The armoured vehicles and their movements would anger Koresh throughout the siege.


Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents were heavily armed

The day after the first gun battle, Koresh made a tape of his teachings and promised to surrender if the recording was broadcast nationally.

The tape was broadcast on the Christian Broadcasting Network, but Koresh said that God had told him to wait.

Negotiations continued over the next several days, but Koresh refused to surrender. He made rambling religious statements interspersed with threats of violence.

The FBI became concerned that the Davidians would commit mass suicide. Over the next 51 days, negotiations went back and forth.


The FBI maintain the deadly fire was started by the cult members themselves

On 12 March, Janet Reno was sworn in as attorney general.

On the same day, the FBI decided to cut off electricity to the compound until the stand off ended.

On 9 April, Koresh sent a letter to the FBI saying that the "heavens are calling you to judgement."

The FBI enlisted experts to analyse the letter. They concluded Koresh had no intention of leaving voluntarily.

The FBI finalised plans to use tear gas against the Davidians and sought the approval of Janet Reno. After consulting army anti-terrorism experts, she approved the plan on 17 April.

Ms Reno briefed President Clinton the next day, and he concurred but also expressed concerns about the children's safety.

On Sunday 18 April, as armoured vehicles cleared cars from the front of the compound, the Davidians held children up in the windows of a tower on the compound and a sign saying: "Flames Await."

On Monday 19 April, the FBI notified the Davidians of the imminent tear gas assault. The Davidians begin shooting shortly after the gas attack began shortly after 6 a.m.

The gas attack continued for several hours, and the armoured vehicles begin smashing holes in the buildings.

At noon, several fires started within the compound. Shortly thereafter, nine Davidians fled the compound.

The FBI continues to maintain that members of the cult started the fires.

Fire-fighting efforts began, but the wooden structures quickly became engulfed. Koresh and 76 followers, including more than 20 children, died.
Source: Koresh and the Waco SiegeOff-site Link BBC, Aug. 27, 1999, By BBC News Online's Kevin Anderson in Washington
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Jury clears US over Waco deaths

A Texas jury has ruled that the US Government was not to blame for the death of about 80 members of the Branch Davidian sect during the Waco stand-off with federal agents in 1993.

About 100 survivors and relatives of the dead had sued the government for $675m, alleging that agents had used excessive force to end the 51-day siege.

The stand-off ended in a fire on 19 April, 1993 at the cult's Mount Carmel compound, Texas, with at least 17 children among the dead.

Counsel for the plaintiffs had argued that federal agents were at least partly responsible for the deaths of the cult members.

But government lawyers said the blame lay squarely with the sect and its leader David Koresh, whom agents were trying to arrest on weapons charges. He was among the dead.

After deliberating for over two hours, the five-member jury found that agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were not responsible for provoking the stand-off, and that FBI agents were not to blame for starting or contributing to the fatal fire.

'Tragedy'

The jury's decision is an advisory one only, and a federal judge will take the ruling into account before delivering a final verdict himself - probably some time next month.

After the jury's decision was announced, the Justice Department said: "This terrible tragedy was the responsibility of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians, not the federal government. We are pleased the jury affirmed that view."

Nonethless, plaintiffs' lawyer and former attorney-general Ramsey Clark said in impassioned closing arguments that the deaths of the cult members "didn't have to happen" and called the siege "the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States".

"If the conduct of the ATF and the FBI was performed without excessive force and without negligence, then how in the world did it end up with such unmitigated, disastrous effects?" Mr Clark asked.

The BBC's Washington correspondent says the jury's finding is unlikely to silence America's many conspiracy theorists and anti-government activists who hold up the Waco siege and fire as a prime example of government interference in people's freedom.

The government blamed Branch Davidians for lighting the fires that consumed the compound and said firefighters could not approach because of the danger of Davidian gunfire and from exploding munitions stored on the grounds.

Jurors heard audio tapes made inside the compound, in which unidentified Branch Davidians were heard asking apparently incriminating questions such as "Start the fire?" and "Should we light the fire?"

Lengthy investigations

The siege sparked years of Congressional inquiries and criminal trials, as well as a probe started last year by a special investigator named by the US Justice Department.

The government argued that Koresh taught his followers he was an incarnation of God and trained them for an armed apocalyptic conflict.

But surviving Davidians testified that Mount Carmel was a peaceful Bible study centre.
Source: Jury clears US over Waco deathsOff-site Link BBC, July 15, 2000
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Inquiry clears FBI of Waco blame

A government-appointed investigator in the US has cleared the FBI of blame over the Waco siege.

About 80 members of the Branch Davidian cult died when fire engulfed their compound in Waco, Texas, in 1993.

Special Counsel John C Danford was given the task of investigating whether FBI agents had triggered the inferno.

But in preliminary findings released on Friday, he said he had concluded with "100% certainty" that the FBI, and the US Government were not to blame.

"The tragedy at Waco rests with certain Branch Davidians and their leader David Koresh, who shot and killed four (government) agents, wounded 20 others, shot at FBI agents trying to insert tear gas into the complex, burned down the complex, and shot at least 20 of their own people, including five children," said the report from former Senator Danford.

Siege

The blaze broke out during as agents moved into the compound to end the 51-day siege.

Speculation that the FBI may have triggered the blaze accidentally intensified, after the agency finally admitted last year it had fired potentially incendiary devices into the compound.

Videotape of the events also appeared to show unexplained flashes.

But Senator Danford, who was appointed by Attorney-General Janet Reno, said on Friday he was certain government agents had not started the fire, nor opened fire on the Davidians.

He also said the government had not improperly used the military.

'No wrongdoing'

And he said there had been no government cover-up.

"There is no evidence of any wrongdoing on the part of Attorney-General Reno, the present and former director of the FBI, other high officials of the United States or members of the FBI hostage team who fired pyrotechnic tear gas on 19 April, 1993," he told a news conference.

During his inquiry, he hired a UK firm, Vector Data systems, to recreate some of the final day's events.

The firm said in its report that the flashes seen on the video were sunlight reflecting off debris, not security forces' gunfire.

The report comes a week after a jury in Texas also found that federal agents were not to blame for the deaths.

About 100 survivors and relatives of the dead had sued the government for $675m, alleging that agents had used excessive force to end the siege.

The deaths have sparked years of Congressional inquiries and criminal trials.

The government argued that Koresh taught his followers he was an incarnation of God and trained them for an armed apocalyptic conflict.

But surviving Davidians have insisted that their compound was a peaceful Bible study centre.
Source: Inquiry clears FBI of Waco blameOff-site Link BBC, July 21, 2000
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Senator John Danforth's Report



Cato Institute's Policy Analysis

A new study by the Cato InstituteOff-site Link says that the final official government report on the 1993 Branch Davidian disaster in Waco, Tex.-- which exonerated federal officials from wrongdoing-- is "not supported by the factual evidence."

In "No Confidence: An Unofficial Account of the Waco Incident," criminal justice scholar Timothy Lynch, director of the libertarian Cato's Project on Criminal Justice, analyzes the legal implications of certain undisputed events and concludes that the official investigation into the incident -- led by special prosecutor former Sen. John Danforth of Missouri -- was "soft and incomplete." According to Lynch, many obvious crimes have gone unprosecuted.
[...more...]
Source: Cato Blasts Danforth Waco Report, UPI, Apr. 10, 2001
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History of the Branch Davidians

Secular Chronology of the Branch Davidians The group's background, controversies, Koresh's multiple marriages, and the group's rise, and fall.
Christian The History of the Branch DavidiansOff-site Link by Watchman Fellowship
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Theology of the Branch Davidians

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• Articles
Christian The Apocalyptic Cry Is Not NewOff-site Link Philip Arnn, of Watchman Fellowship, shows that Koresh' apocalyptic predictions were not unique to the Branch Davidians.
Christian The Branch DavidiansOff-site Link A CRI overview
Christian A Doctrine Unto Death: Branch Davidian TheologyOff-site Link by James Trimm, Watchman Fellowship
Note: Jailed Branch Davidian theologian, Livingstone Fagan, is believed by many to be the successor to David Koresh.

During the siege, Koresh sent Fagan out of the compound on March 23rd with the mission to present the Message of the Seven Seals to the world through the media. The remaining Branch Davidians are still recruiting new members. They have an active mailing list of over 600. He believes Koresh will be resurrected as a sign to the world by the end of 1996.

Fagan reviewed and verified much of the information in this article in exclusive interviews. He holds a Masters of Theology from Newbold College in England, a Seventh-Day Adventist institution.
Christian "A History of False Prophecies"Off-site Link A look at false prophecy in the Branch Davidians and in other cults of Christianity. A Watchman Fellowship article
Christian David Koresh and Joseph Smith: False ProphetsOff-site Link This Watchman Fellowship article notes the parallels between David Koresh and Joseph Smith (Founder of the Mormon Church)
Christian David Koresh's Seven Seals TeachingOff-site Link A Watchman Fellowship article.
Christian The History of the Branch DavidiansOff-site Link by Watchman Fellowship
Christian A Rebuttal of Branch Davidian TheologyOff-site Link by James Trimm, Watchman Fellowship
Christian Testimony of a Former Branch-DavidianOff-site Link
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• Books        Click On Titles To Order At Discount           » More Books
Journalist Dick Reavis left his job in Dallas to spend a couple of years researching the Waco incident because he was distressed to discover that no other journalist was probing beneath the FBI's handouts. As part of his research-perhaps the hardest part-he steeped himself for six months in the Bible and in the theological lore of the Adventist movement, which had been going on for a century and a half before David Koresh came along. He read tracts and listened to tapes of Koresh, and the result is that more than a sixth of the book's pages are devoted to explaining the conceptual world in which the Davidians lived-which the Feds and their "expert" advisers never did penetrate.

Reavis also interviewed surviving Davidians, read the 7,500 pages of trial transcript (it turns out that the copy I got when in Waco was from his set) and the 18,000 classified pages of transcripts of negotiations from the fifty-one day siege. (Reavis won't reveal how he got them, except to insist he did nothing illegal.) His book is rich in detail, though perhaps not so rich as Moore's. He simply relates the narrative in a straightforward, factual way without much interpretive "spin." This is probably the best book of the four if one wants a single survey of the situation from a nongovernmental perspective.
Source: Roundup of Books on WacoOff-site Link First Things, Feb. 1996
Carol Moore has written a polemic against the government worthy of the organization to which she has devoted more than two years of work-the Committee for Waco Justice, which has staged demonstrations in Washington to protest what they view as crimes by the federal agencies. Her book is copublished by Gun Owners of America and highlights issues of interest to opponents of gun control and of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, but it is not untrustworthy because of that.

Of the four works reviewed here, it is the most thickly packed with details, complete with emotive characterizations and imputation of sinister motives to government agents. But the author is not just a polemicist. She rejects some allegations as unlikely, such as the claim (made in the civil suit brought by Ramsey Clark on behalf of Mt. Carmel's heirs and survivors) that the FBI planted an explosive on top of the concrete vault where the women and children had taken refuge, blowing a hole in the ceiling and killing all within. Moore inclines to the view that the tanks had already skewed the frame building on its foundations so that stairways were shattered: the Davidians could not escape from the second floor, and the FBI agents could not ascend to plant a thermite bomb. (But the large hole still is unexplained; how did it get there?) If one reads this volume with a critical eye, one can learn a lot from it that is not available elsewhere (such as information from the 1993 Congressional hearings, which Carol Moore attended).
Source: Roundup of Books on WacoOff-site Link First Things, Feb. 1996
Secular Massacre at Waco, Texas: The Shocking Story of Cult Leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidians Off-site Link by Clifford L. Linedecker
Secular No More Wacos: What's Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix ItOff-site Link By David B. Kopel
Secular Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story Off-site Link by David Thibodeau, one of the four survivors of Waco who weren't sentenced to jail after the raid.
Secular This is Not an Assault: Penetrating the Web of Official Lies Regarding the Waco IncidentOff-site Link By David T. Hardy, a former government attorney whose lawsuit forced ATF and FBI to divulge incriminating documents and tapes, proving that the Federal agencies had lied to their own leadership, to Congress, and to the courts.
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• Books - Online
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• News
» Google NewsOff-site Link Predefined Search. If current news is available on this topic, you will find it here.
» Religion News BlogOff-site Link RNB logs current and archived news about religious cults, sects, alternative religions and related issues.
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• News Database
Database of archived news items on the Branch Davidians
(Includes items added between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 31, 2002. See about this database)

» For newer items, see Religion News Blog

See Also:
» CNN Law Case FileOff-site Link
» Findlaw Special CoverageOff-site Link News, documents, opinions, analysis, etcetera.
» TIME Magazine Waco news fileOff-site Link
» Washington Post: The Waco Investigation
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• See Also (includes links to various Davidian factions)
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• Sites
Note: Additional site listed under the various Davidian factions

Secular The Davidian Massacre PagesOff-site Link Carol Moore's site
Aberrational, Heretical, Heterodox, Suborthodox or Unorthodox Introduction to the Branch DavidiansOff-site Link Just what it says. Includes a brief history, a summary and analysis of Branch Davidian Teachings, a Branch Davidian FAQ, etcetera, plus annotated links (many of which are now broken). This site is operated by John Mann, who elsewhere on the site refers to his views as 'neo-orthodox' Seventh-day Adventism
Secular Waco Never AgainOff-site Link Mark Swett's comprehensive site of indepth examinations. The primary focus of the site is theological
For seven years, he has studied the siege and the theology of David Koresh, the sect leader who was killed in the fire along with 74 followers. In the process, Swett assembled perhaps the largest recorded and written archive on Koresh, his religious beliefs and the sect's fateful confrontation with federal authorities.

Today he is regarded as one of the nation's top independent researchers on the Waco tragedy. His work may play a key role in the $675 million wrongful death lawsuit that Branch Davidian survivors have brought against the FBI. The lawsuit is now being heard in U.S. District Court in Waco
Source: Local man offers insight into Waco, Portland Press Herald, July 1, 2000
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Secular Waco: The Inside StoryOff-site Link Online companion info to the Oct. 17, 1995 PBS Frontline report (transcript)Off-site Link
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About this page:
Branch Davidians
First posted: Sep. 1, 1996
Last Updated: Feb. 11, 2003
Editor: Anton Hein
Copyright: Apologetics Index
Link to: http://www.apologeticsindex.org/b10.html
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