This Thursday marks the 25th anniversary of the siege on the compound of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. Here are nine things you should know about the religious sect, their leader, and the deadly standoff.
1. The Davidians are a splinter branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and were founded in 1929 by Victor Houteff. Houteff, a traveling salesman and Sabbath-school teacher from Los Angeles, produced a 172-page manuscript entitled The Shepherd’s Rod that called for denominational reform and reinterpretation of SDA eschatology. The denomination condemned the new teaching and disfellowshiped Houteff. This action prompted Houteff and his followers to move to a rural community near Waco, Texas, where they created the Mount Carmel Center.
2. In 1942 Houteff changed the name of his group from The Shepherd’s Rod to the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. The term “Davidian” was used in reference to their belief they were part of the restoration of the Davidic kingdom of Israel. After Houteff’s death in 1955, another group broke away and formed the Branch Davidians, a name alluding to the anointed “Branch” mentioned in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12.
3. While in his late 20s, David Koresh (born Vernon Wayne Howell) moved to the Mount Carmel compound in 1981 and began having an affair with Lois Roden, who at the time was the prophetess of the Branch Davidians and in her late 60s. Koresh became convinced he and Roden would have a child who would be the “Chosen One.” However, Lois’s son, George Roden, was considered the heir apparent to the group. George forced Koresh and two dozen of his followers to leave Mount Carmel at gunpoint.
4. In 1985, Koresh moved to camp in East Texas and attracted more followers, sometimes known as “Koreshians.” He also travelled to Israel, where he claimed to have a vision that he was the modern-day Cyrus the Great, the Persian ruler who liberated the Jews from the Babylonian captivity (“Koresh” is a transliteration of the Hebrew name for Cyrus, “Kuruš”).
5. George Roden, threatened by Koresh’s growing popularity within the sect, proposed a contest to see which of the two men could raise the dead. When Roden exhumed a corpse for the contest, Koresh went to authorities to file charges of desecration of a corpse. He was told he needed proof of the crime, so Koresh and seven armed followers returned to Mount Carmel to get photographic evidence. When he returned to Mount Carmel, Koresh and his men got into a gunfight with Roden, who was shot in the chest and hands. Koresh and his followers went on trial for attempted murder. The seven were acquitted, and a mistrial was declared in Koresh’s case.
6. Koresh identified himself with the Lamb mentioned in Revelation 5. Although this reference is traditionally identified with Jesus, Koresh believed it meant his role was to break the seven seals an open the scroll, ushering in the events leading to the Apocalypse. Koresh convinced his followers that God wanted them to build an “Army of God.” As a result, they began to stockpile large numbers of weapons, which caught the attention of U.S. authorities.
7. Koresh’s only legal marriage was to Rachel Jones, who was 14 years old at the time of their wedding. But Koresh asked his followers to embrace celibacy, nullified his followers’s marriages, and then took the women for himself—including Rachel’s 12-year-old sister, Michelle. The Branch Davidians were told that that if Koresh had sex with a woman, she was in the “House of David.” Koresh admitted to fathering 12 children by several “wives,” though other sources said he might have fathered 15 or more.
8. Federal authorities gained evidence to suggest Koresh was collecting a cache of illegal weapons inside the Mount Carmel compound. On February 28, 1993, when 76 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to execute their search warrant, a firefight broke out with the Branch Davidians that lasted two hours. During the raid four ATF agents were killed and another 16 were wounded. Five Branch Davidians were also killed, including two by their own people. This incident led to a siege that lasted 51 days.
9. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno authorized an assault to end the siege that was carried out on April 19, 1993. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team’s plan was to pump in tear gas (i.e., CS gas) in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians to leave the compound. No one left during the six hours tear gas was used, and around noon three fires broke out in various parts of the building. Only nine of the Branch Davidians escaped the fire, while 75 bodies were found in the aftermath. Pathology studies concluded that at least 20 Branch Davidians—including Koresh—were shot in the head or mouth and one—a 3-year-old boy—had been stabbed in the chest. Five of the shooting victims were children younger than 14. The studies indicated that many of those who died of gunshot injuries were from close range. (The FBI claims not to have fired any shots that day.) In total, at least 80 Branch Davidians were killed during the siege, including six Davidians killed on February 28, 1993, but excluding two unborn children, one of which was near term.
Other posts in this series:
Rajneeshees • Football • The Opioid Epidemic (Part II) • The Unification Church • Billy Graham • Frederick Douglass • Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968 • Winter Olympics • The ‘Mississippi Burning’ Murders • Events and Discoveries in 2017 • Christmas Traditions • Sexual Misconduct • Lutheranism • Jewish High Holy Days • Nation of Islam • Slave Trade • Solar Eclipses • Alcohol Abuse in America • History of the Homeschooling Movement • Eugenics • North Korea • Ramadan • Black Hebrew Israelites • Neil Gorsuch and Supreme Court Confirmations • International Women’s Day • Health Effects of Marijuana • J. R. R. Tolkien • Aleppo and the Syrian Crisis • Fidel Castro • C.S. Lewis • ESV Bible • Alzheimer’s Disease • Mother Teresa • The Opioid Epidemic • The Olympic Games • Physician-Assisted Suicide • Nuclear Weapons • China’s Cultural Revolution • Jehovah’s Witnesses • Harriet Tubman • Autism • Seventh-day Adventism • Justice Antonin Scalia (1936–2016) • Female Genital Mutilation • Orphans • Pastors • Global Persecution of Christians (2015 Edition) • Global Hunger • National Hispanic Heritage Month • Pope Francis • Refugees in America • Confederate Flag Controversy • Elisabeth Elliot • Animal Fighting • Mental Health • Prayer in the Bible • Same-sex Marriage • Genocide • Church Architecture • Auschwitz and Nazi Extermination Camps • Boko Haram • Adoption • Military Chaplains • Atheism • Intimate Partner Violence • Rabbinic Judaism • Hamas • Male Body Image Issues • Mormonism • Islam • Independence Day and the Declaration of Independence • Anglicanism • Transgenderism • Southern Baptist Convention • Surrogacy • John Calvin • The Rwandan Genocide • The Chronicles of Narnia • The Story of Noah • Fred Phelps and Westboro Baptist Church • Pimps and Sex Traffickers • Marriage in America • Black History Month • The Holocaust • Roe v. Wade • Poverty in America • Christmas • The Hobbit • Council of Trent • Halloween and Reformation Day • Casinos and Gambling • Prison Rape • 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing • Chemical Weapons • March on Washington • Duck Dynasty • Child Brides • Human Trafficking • Scopes Monkey Trial • Social Media • Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Cases • The Bible • Human Cloning • Pornography and the Brain • Planned Parenthood • Boston Marathon Bombing • Female Body Image Issues • Islamic State