Branch Davidian

From Academic Kids


The Branch Davidians are a religious group originating from the Seventh-day Adventist church. They are best known because of the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian building near Waco, Texas, by federal agents, which ended in the deaths of 75 of the church's members, including head figure David Koresh. Church members did not describe themselves as Branch Davidians.



In 1929, Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant, claimed that he had a new message for the SDA church. It was submitted in the form of a book entitled "The Shepherd's Rod." His claims were not accepted and he left to form the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. The term "Davidian" refers to the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, while "Branch" refers to the new name of Christ. In 1955, after Houteff's death, a split of this movement formed the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, headed initially by Benjamin L. Roden. The group established a settlement outside of Waco, Texas, on the property previously occupied by the Davidian group. Leadership and occupancy of the property had been the subject of inner conflict among the Davidians before Vernon Howell (later renamed David Koresh) took charge of the property in 1988. George Roden, son of Benjamin, had claimed that he was the rightful prophet of the group, but was jailed for contempt of court and in his absence Howell took charge of the disputed land.

In 1981 Howell joined the group as a regular member which at the time was headed by Benjamin Roden's wife Lois Roden who claimed to have a message of her own, one element of which was that the Holy Spirit is feminine in gender. In 1983 she allowed Howell to begin to teach his own message which caused much controversy in the group. There was a general meeting at Mt. Carmel of all Branch Davidians in 1984 and the end result was that the group split into several factions one of which was loyal to Howell. At that time Howell named his faction, "Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist." It was also at this time that George Roden forced Howell to leave the property. Upon returning to the property under questionable circumstances in 1988, Howell dropped the new name of his association, and assumed the name of the association he and his followers left four years previously. In 1990 Howell changed his name to David Koresh, invoking the biblical Kings David and Cyrus. From its inception, the group was apocalyptic, in that they believed themselves to be living in a time when Christian prophesies of a final divine judgment were coming to pass. Davidians under Koresh believed prophesy to foretell a cyclic series of events, described as a spiral, with history returning to prophetically foretell events but each time, advance in terms of cosmological progress. Koresh supported his beliefs with detailed biblical interpretation, using the Book of Revelation as the lens through which the entire Bible was viewed.

BATF raid and siege

On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided the Branch Davidian ranch in Mount Carmel, a rural area near Waco, Texas. The raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and five Davidians. The subsequent 51-day siege ended on April 19 when the compound was completely consumed by fire killing 75 men, women, and children, including Koresh.


A Texas newspaper had investigated reports that Koresh had abused children in the building, and was publishing a series about the allegations at the time of the raid. Koresh openly advocated polygamy for himself and selected others in the group, and asserted himself married to several female residents of the small community. His sect was said by some to be a cult for its authoritarian structure. Survivors of the raids, former members, and families of members have widely varying accounts of the group's beliefs, practices, and demeanor.

Investigation by Texas Child Protective services found no problems with the group.

Justification for the raid, as widely repeated in initial media reports, was a report by a delivery company that a package of grenade casings had been shipped to the Davidians. Later investigation revealed the casings were legal dummy grenades often used for paperweights or sold to military enthusiasts. The media also repeated what officials had told a judge who signed the warrant, that there was evidence the Davidians were converting semi-automatic weapons to automatic weapons.

The Davidians were not licensed gun dealers at the time, but were, until shortly before the raid, lawfully assembling weapons under a contract with a licensed dealer. Through what some authors say was pressure by BATF agents, their dealer removed his umbrella of protection from the Davidians. At that point, the Davidians could still possess parts and assemble semi-automatic rifles, but could not resell them in large numbers or convert them for automatic fire.

Conversely, it is said that one of the Branch Davidians had a federal firearms dealer's license, and that the BATF could come at anytime, with or without a warrant to inspect things. The local sheriff had come to inspect things previously with no problems. And in fact, Koresh had asked the local police to remove a meth lab when he'd taken over the group, which was successfully done.

The warrant also alleged the Davidians converted rifles to automatic rifles, and that the quick forceful raid, or "dynamic entry" was essential to prevent the occupants from destroying evidence of converted rifles. Questions after the raid centered on whether the automatic conversions involved re-tooling the trigger mechanisms, or whether the Davidians had in their possession legal hellfire triggers, a spring-loaded mechanism that helps shooters rapidly fire semi-automatic rifles. Officials said the large number of agents trained in assault tactics was necessary because of the potential firepower inside the building.

The BATF practiced the large-scale raid at another location for several days before launching the assault near Waco. The raid occurred shortly after a change of administration, when senior agency veterans were otherwise struggling to show Congress why it should continue funding a unique law enforcement agency to control firearms, tobacco and alcohol.

The raid

Agents approached the compound on Sunday morning, February 28, 1993, in trailers covered to appear as cattle trailers hauled by a local rancher. Some of the first shots during the raid are reported to have occurred near the front door. There is no agreement as to the shots' motivations or origins. Books written about the incident suggest the first shots fired might have been at dogs that approached the agents as they spilled from the trailers. Images of the initial raid, with the agents retreating under fire, were broadcast worldwide by television crews BATF agents had invited along during the raid.

During the gunfire, a resident of the compound called the McLennan county sheriff's department to ask why the agents were shooting at them. He asked for a cease-fire. The sheriff, in audiotapes broadcast after the incident, said he did not know in advance of the raid and did not know how to contact the BATF agents involved in the raid.

Failure to secure the scene was in part a result of fortification the Davidians had prepared. Lower sections of walls had been filled with concrete, providing effective cover against small arms fire for those inside. The Davidians had also constructed underground refuges that likely protected some of the uninvolved occupants from indirect gunfire as agents swarmed the structure in a hail of bullets. Some tactical analysts have also suggested agents suffered from their own crossfire during the most intense moments of the firefight.

The siege

Government officials established contact with Koresh and others inside the compound at some point after they failed to rapidly secure the scene and retreated. The FBI took command of the scene soon after the initial raid. Richard Rogers, whose actions at the Ruby Ridge incident have been criticized, was placed in charge. For the next 51 days, communication with those inside included telephone contacts with various FBI negotiators who reportedly were not always in touch with front-line tactical units surrounding the building and pressing those inside to come out. Outside the building, tracked vehicles pushed aside vehicles from parking areas, and began circling the building. Amplifiers were used to broadcast sounds at the building in a psychological warfare tactic intended to fatigue those inside. The Davidians hung banners from high places in the building, seeking help from those outside the government siege.

As the standoff continued, Koresh, seriously injured by a gunshot to his side, and his closest male leaders negotiated delays, usually so he could write religious documents he said he needed to complete before he surrendered. His conversations, dense with biblical imagery, alienated the federal negotiators who treated the situation as a hostage crisis. The Davidians released videotapes to agents during the siege, in which children sat by Koresh, asking among other things if the agents were going to come kill them. Their willingness to stay by Koresh vexed the agents who were unequipped to work around the Davidians' religious zeal.

The video tape was made at the request of negotiators and was supposed to be released to the families of Davidians who were naturally worried. The tapes were not released, and several years later the survivors had to go to court to obtain the tape that they had made and hold the legal copyright of. In the tape, several mothers who had sent their children out of the complex with the understanding that they would be placed with family members (which was a lie; the children were taken into state custody and placed in a *religious* children's home) voiced concern about their children and the treatment that they were receiving (which was shown to them by video sent into the complex by the negotiators). The mothers were disturbed that their children were being fed things forbidden by their religious customs (similar and less strict than the Kosher rules of Judaism), and were being allowed to run wild with minimal supervision while watching television all day.

Perhaps most interesting and telling of all, is that psychologists who examined the children who were sent out during the siege, found no evidence of abuse and commented that the children were well mannered and developmentally advanced. Specifically, even the youngest were able to grasp abstract concepts such as infinity and eternity, something that teens often struggle with. Academically the children were also found to be advanced. Finally, each child sent out was well clothed and carried significant sums of cash with a note from the mothers stating that it should be used to pay for quality care and needs of the children. The cash was confiscated by the government and many of the families were later billed for the care of the children.

The assault

Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved the recommendations of veteran FBI officials to proceed with the final assault after being told children were being abused inside the besieged complex. Armored vehicles retrofitted with chemical weapons approached the building from two sides, upwind on a day when strong, sustained winds gusted above 25 mph. As the fighting vehicle first forced the tube of its gun into the building, debris and structural damage compromised a stairway. A few people spilled out, diving from windows and were immediately arrested by FBI agents. Most remained inside as fire engulfed the building. All this was broadcast worldwide from gyro-stabilized lenses set up at the nearest point FBI officials allowed press observers.

The causes of the fatal fire are disputed. The government claims that the fires were intentionally set by Koresh and his followers as a suicidal act. Others claim that the fire was caused by the FBI's use of flammable CS gas grenades injected into the wooden buildings. The multiple starting points for the fires were more accessible to those outside the complex, than those inside the complex. The CS gas was mixed with methylene chloride, which is flammable and can become explosive in confined spaces. It is worth noting that the US, along with 130 other countries, has signed the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans CS gas's use in warfare.

The government points to audio and infrared visual recordings made just before the fire broke out to support their contention. Critics note that CS gas was injected into the building by armored vehicles in an unsafe manner immediately before the fire broke out. The government attempted to refute the use of the flammable grenades for six years. In 1999, the FBI released video and audio tape admitting that they had used pyrotechnic devices. The FBI has also admitted to using incendiary flares.

Several hours prior to the attack, the FBI called the local hospital, asking how many beds were in its burn unit. An FBI negotiator prior to the attack told the Branch Davidians that they "should buy some fire insurance".

The fact that fire crews were prohibited access to the burning buildings until they were reduced to ash has led many people to severely question the motivations of the FBI site chief. The FBI states that fire crews were not allowed into the compound due to the danger of explosives within the fire and possible weapons fire from surviving inhabitants.

Several bodies had lethal doses of cyanide, a byproduct of burning CS gas. These death certificates were withheld from the jury in the following civil trial by Dr. Peerwani.


Several documentaries suggest that the FBI fired weapons into the compound, which the FBI denies. The main evidence for gunfire is bright flashes in aerial infrared recordings known as forward looking infrared or FLIR (patent 4,497,065). Edward Allard, a former government specialist on infrared imagery submitted an affidavit in which he declared that the video, recorded by the government during the gas assault, revealed bursts of automatic gunfire coming from government agents. Another independent FLIR expert, Carlos Ghigliotti, also confirms gunfire, when shown the cleaner video kept by government. Other people dispute that the images show gunfire. For more analysis on this dispute, see the external links below.

Secondary proof was a statement made by FBI sniper Charles Riley several weeks after the incident to an FBI investigator that he heard shots fired from sniper position Sierra 1. The Blue sniper team was headed by Lon Horiuchi (of Ruby Ridge fame). In 1995 when attorneys submitted that FBI report as evidence to Judge Smith, the FBI quickly sent a follow up interview in which Riley retracted his previous statement. This follow up report was dismissed by Judge Smith.

The FBI claimed that the dozen .308 shell casings found at Sierra 1 were there from the BATF firing on Feb. 28th, even though these were the same type of shells that hit Mrs. Weaver.

Autopsies revealed some of the women and children found beneath the remains of a concrete wall of a storage room died of skull injuries. The wall was in the path of a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that penetrated the structure while injecting the usually non-lethal chemical weapon. Other victims were recovered from an underground crawlspace, which also had been in the path of the Bradley vehicle. Autopsy photographs depicting bodies of other children locked in what appear to be spasmic death poses have been attributed by some to cyanide poisoning produced by burning CS gas. However, these "poses" can also be attributed to the classic post-mortem "boxer pose" all bodies caught in fires eventually assume, created as ligaments connecting bones together shorten as the fire dries them.

Allegations about a cover-up

The following allegations have been made:

  • The FBI released a statement saying there were no drug connections. Later when they were asked about the legality of using tanks (under the Posse Comitatus Act), that story changed.
  • No incendiary devices were used. This was repeatedly told to Congress and the Courts, which resulted in the exoneration of the BATF and FBI in both the civil suit and the inquiry. After the legal battles had been won, the FBI admitted this to be a lie.

Documentary films

The Branch Davidian siege has been the subject of a number of documentary movies. The first of these was a made for television movie, In the Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco, which was made before the final assault on the church and essentially promoted the government's view of the initial ambush.

The first movie critical of the official reports was Waco: The Big Lie produced by Linda Thompson, which was followed by Waco II: The Big Lie Continues. The Linda Thompson videos were controversial and made a number of allegations, the most famous of which was footage of a tank with what appears to be light reflected from it; Thompson's narration claimed this was a flamethrower attached to the tank. Thompson's subsequent activities, such as declaring an armed march on Washington, D.C. and her denunciation of many other researchers into the Waco siege as part of a cover-up, limited her credibility in most circles. The next movie was Day 51: The True Story of Waco, which featured Ron Cole, a self-proclaimed militia member from Colorado who was later prosecuted for weapons violations. The Linda Thompson and Ron Cole movies, along with extensive coverage given the Branch Davidian siege on some talk radio shows, galvanized support for the Branch Davidians among some segments of the right including the nascent militia movement, while critics on the left also denounced the government siege on civil liberties grounds. The New Alliance Party produced a report blaming the siege on the influence of the Cult Awareness Network. Timothy McVeigh cited the Waco siege as a primary motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing and was known to be a fan of both the Linda Thompson and Ron Cole videos.

Perhaps because most of the critical views were seen as coming from the political fringes of the right and left, most mainstream media discounted any critical views until a groundbreaking 1997 documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement. This movie avoided the sensational allegations made in the earlier films and instead presented an extensive history of the Branch Davidian movement, critical footage of the Congressional hearings on Waco, juxtaposition of official government spokespeople with footage and evidence contradicting them, and research including infrared footage showing that the government did use incendiary devices to ignite the fire which consumed the building. It was nominated for an Academy Award and was followed by another movie, Waco: A New Revelation. These two movies caused government agencies to reverse many of their earlier statements regarding the siege in the face of clear evidence contradicting those earlier statements.

Legal aftermath

  • Judge Walter J. Smith (who was under investigation during the first half of the trial by the Justice Department for lying under oath) presided over the trial finding Branch Davidians guilty. Over-riding jury wishes, he sentenced most survivors to jail time.
  • Congressional Inquiry
  • Danforth Report

List of dead and survivors

Shot to death on February 28 1993, during the BATF assault:

  • Winston Blake, 28, British
  • Peter Gent, 24, Australian
  • Peter Hipsman, 28, American
  • Perry Jones, 64, American
  • Michael Schroeder, 29, American
  • Jaydean Wendell, 34, Hawaiian American
  • Robert Williams, 26, ATF agent
  • Conway LeBleu, 30, ATF agent
  • Steve Willis, 32, ATF agent
  • Todd McKeehan, 28, ATF agent

Burnt, crushed, suffocated, poisoned, or shot to death on April 19 1993, during the FBI assault:

  • Katherine Andrade, 24, American
  • Chanel Andrade, 1, American
  • Jennifer Andrade, 19, American
  • George Bennett, 35, British
  • Susan Benta, 31, British
  • Mary Jean Borst, 49, American
  • Pablo Cohen, 38, Israeli
  • Abedowalo Davies, 30, British
  • Shari Doyle, 18, American
  • Beverly Elliot, 30, British
  • Yvette Fagan, 32, British
  • Doris Fagan, 51, British
  • Lisa Marie Farris, 24, American
  • Raymond Friesen, 76, Canadian
  • Sandra Hardial, 27, British
  • Zilla Henry, 55, British
  • Vanessa Henry, 19, British
  • Phillip Henry, 22, British
  • Paulina Henry, 24, British
  • Stephen Henry, 26, British
  • Diana Henry, 28, British
  • Novellette Hipsman, 36, Canadian
  • Floyd Houtman, 61, American
  • Sherri Jewell, 43, Asian American
  • David M. Jones, 38, American
  • David Koresh, 33, American
  • Rachel Koresh, 24, American
  • Cyrus Koresh, 8, American
  • Star Koresh, 6, American
  • Bobbie Lane Koresh, 2, American
  • Jeffery Little, 32, American
  • Nicole Gent Little, 24, Australian (with child)
  • Dayland Gent, 3, American
  • Page Gent, 1, American
  • Livingston Malcolm, 26, British
  • Diane Martin, 41, British
  • Wayne Martin, Sr., 42, American
  • Lisa Martin, 13, American
  • Sheila Martin, Jr., 15, American
  • Anita Martin, 18, American
  • Wayne Martin, Jr., 20, American
  • Julliete Martinez, 30, Mexican American
  • Crystal Martinez, 3, Mexican American
  • Isaiah Martinez, 4, Mexican American
  • Joseph Martinez, 8, Mexican American
  • Abigail Martinez, 11, Mexican American
  • Audrey Martinez, 13, Mexican American
  • John-Mark McBean, 27, British
  • Bernadette Monbelly, 31, British
  • Rosemary Morrison, 29, British
  • Melissa Morrison, 6, British
  • Sonia Murray, 29, American
  • Theresa Nobrega, 48, British
  • James Riddle, 32, American
  • Rebecca Saipaia, 24, Asian British
  • Steve Schneider, 43, American
  • Judy Schneider, 41, American
  • Mayanah Schneider, 2, American
  • Clifford Sellors, 33, British
  • Scott Kojiro Sonobe, 35, Asian American
  • Floracita Sonobe, 34, Filipino
  • Gregory Summers, 28, American
  • Aisha Gyrfas Summers, 17, Australian (with child)
  • Startle Summers, 1, American
  • Lorraine Sylvia, 40, American
  • Rachel Sylvia, 12, American
  • Hollywood Sylvia, 1, American
  • Michelle Jones Thibodeau, 18, American
  • Serenity Jones, 4, American
  • Chica Jones, 2, American
  • Little One Jones, 2, American
  • Neal Vaega, 38, Asian New Zealander
  • Margarida Vaega, 47, Asian New Zealander
  • Mark H. Wendell, 40, Asian American


  • Renos Avraam, 31, British - 40 years
  • Brad Branch, 35, American - 40 years
  • Jaime Castillo, 24, American - 40 years
  • Graeme Craddock, 31, Australian - 20 years
  • Livingstone Fagan, 35, British - 40 years
  • Paul Fatta, 35, American - 15 years
  • Ruth Riddle, 31, Canadian - 5 years
  • Kathryn Schroeder, 35, American - 3 years
  • Kevin Whitecliff, 33, American - 40 years


Survivor Clive Doyle and supporter Ron Goins live at Mt. Carmel Center and run a small visitor museum as well as hold weekly Bible studies on the Sabbath.

Charles Pace, a Davidian who was not at Mt. Carmel at the time of the raid in 1993, also lives on the property and holds his own worship services. Many survivors who live in the area frequent both.

In 1996 the court ruled that the land belongs to the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Church. However, the court has until this point refused to rule on who exactly constitutes "the church." Currently Amo Bishop Roden is attempting to sue for ownership and access to the land. Most survivors and supporters recognize Clive Doyle as the trustee of the organization and the land.

Also in 1996 a number of Koresh's remaining followers filed a lawsuit to gain clear title to the church's property under a claim of Adverse Possession (squatter's rights). In order to win a suit of Adverse Possession, the claiming party must file it adversely against the legally recognized owners of the property. But they filed this suit as the "Trustees" of the church. On one hand they were claiming to be the "Trustees" of the church, while on the other they were filing against whoever was the "Trustees." With opposition from a church member (Doug Mitchell) who did not join Howell's faction, and who joined the case in 1998, they dropped their claim for Adverse Possession the day before the trial began, proceeding only on their claims of being the "Trustees" of the church. In 2000, the jury ruled against them, and against Amo Biship, another claimant to the ownership of the property. The results of this case are not widely known.

In spite of this court ruling, they and others still continue to assume the identity of the true church, and its property. For reasons not explained by the judge, Alan Mayfield, Doug Mitchell's claim to be the rightful Trustee of the church's property was not allowed to be considered by the jury when the Koreshians' and Amo Bishop's claims were considered. Mitchell was only allowed to defend against the others' claims.

During the pre-trial proceedings, Mitchell's attempts to obtain an injunction against Koresh's remaining followers that would have prohibited them from using the church's name and property was dismissed for "lack of jurisdiction." That is, the judge (who was not a legal professional before he became a judge), felt that the matter involved church issues which the court could not rightly consider. Mitchell disputes this reasoning.

Currently (May 2005), Koresh's remaining followers still have access to the church's property (living on it, and holding regular services there), in spite of the judgment affirmed by Judge Mayfield in Dec. 2000 against them on their claim of being the lawful Trustees of the church's property.

Because of the way the government acted in the 1993 standoff, the Koreshians have received much sympathy and support from various people and groups who felt that the actions that the government took were wrong. This support has provided them with the means to further their usurpation of the church's identity and property, to the detriment of those Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists who did not leave the church to join Howell/Koresh. This situation has left those who never left the church in a difficult position in two ways. First, they cannot rightly use the property without conflicts with the Koreshians and others who are antagonistic or indifferent to the original members' rights. Second, they have a great hurdle to overcome because of the infamy that Koresh and his followers have brought upon the name and identity of the church in departing from many of the doctrines and practices of the church.

A new chapel has been built by the Koreshians and their supporters near the site of the original complex. The ruins of the old building, including the tornado shelter and incomplete swimming pool, can be seen by visitors. There are also several memorials to the victims - both the Davidian victims, and the Federal Agents who lost their lives. Memorial trees with plaques with the name of each Davidian who perished have been planted on the property. Finally, to show their deep sympathy to the victims of the Oklahoma City Bombing, a memorial has been erected at Mt. Carmel for them as well.

In 2005, approximately 70 people attended the yearly memorial service on April 19 — despite its being a work day for most people.

See also

External links

es:Davidianos fi:Daavidin oksa lt:Dovydo šaka


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