There’s a drama on Netflix based on two books about the 1993 standoff between the ATF/FBI and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. I recommend it.
There is something sad about a cult that grows old. Pretty much every new religion starts as a cult–a small group of people following a charismatic leader–but the ones that last become focused on ritual and theology as they mature. Cults that don’t mature end up facing some kind of crisis of faith, which tends to result in people getting very hurt.
The Branch Davidians began in 1929 when Victor Houteff split off from the 7th Day Adventists. They were in California back then, a good place for wacky cults, but Houteff decided to relocate to Waco in 1934, the middle of the Dust Bowl. Either he got a great deal on some extremely cheap land or he was completely insane.
The cult continued along, doing culty things and expecting imminent apocalypse but not really causing trouble, until David Koresh showed up. (David Koresh isn’t his birth name, btw. His mother named him Vernon Howell, but he changed it to better lead the cult.)
As far as I can tell, Koresh had two obsessive interests: the Bible and sex, and the former was his path to the latter. He joined the cult when he was 20 and started sleeping with its then 60 year old female leader. The cult leader’s son, George Roden, sensed that Koresh was trying to mosey into his inheritance and kicked him and his band of followers out of the compound. Koresh and about 25 others went off and were essentially homeless hippies living in tents and buses for a couple years before he set off on some globe-trotting adventures to raise some more members for his side of the cult, then returned to the power struggle with Roden.
At that point, Roden’s advantage over Koresh was that he was heir to the cult and had control of the compound; Koresh’s advantage was that he was slightly less insane. Roden started digging up dead bodies and challenged Koresh to a raise-the-dead contest, which Koresh reported to the authorities on the grounds that digging up corpses is illegal.
The authorities declined to prosecute because they didn’t have any proof, so Koresh and his followers stormed the compound in search of evidence. This ended in a gunfight and Roden was injured; Koresh and his followers were tried for attempted murder, but basically acquitted. According to Wikipedia:
Even with all the effort to bring the casket to court, the standing judge refused to use it as evidence for the case. Judge Herman Fitts ruled that the courtroom is no place for a casket when defense attorney Gary Coker requested it be used as evidence for the case. During questions about said casket, Roden admitted to attempting to resurrect Anne Hughes on three occasions. The Rodenville Eight were forced to carry the casket down the street to a van awaiting the body.
While waiting for the trial, Roden was put in jail under contempt of court charges because of his use of foul language in some court pleadings. He threatened the Texas court with sexually transmitted diseases if the court ruled in Howell’s favor. Alongside these charges, Roden was jailed for six months for legal motions he filed with explicit language.
Roden then removed himself from the conflict by putting an axe through another man’s skull for claiming to be the messiah. Roden became one of the few people to be found not guilty by reason of insanity and was sent off to the psychiatric hospital, while David Koresh and his followers paid off the compound’s back taxes and cleaned out the meth lab someone had built in there.
Koresh then got back to his primary business: having lots of sex with lots of women and teenage girls and making lots of babies. Koresh fathered at least 16 children, (at least 12 of them died in the fire that took down the compound following the ATF raid, but some children he fathered before he joined the BDs may have survived). The Branch Davidians were also stockpiling tons of weapons, a hobby I have never quite understood but I have been told is not that unusual for rural Texans.
The Branch Davidians actually owned a gun shop where they sold weapons to other folks in Waco, (like everyone else, they had to make money to feed their families,) so there may be a fairly mundane explanation for most of their guns.
This is when the government got interested in what Koresh and his followers were up to.
On February 23, 1993, the ATF rolled up with three helicopters and a 100-man SWAT team to execute a search warrant for illegal guns and drugs. (While the raid was probably also motivated by reports of child abuse/polygamy/rape, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, as its name indicates, doesn’t handle such cases.) No one knows who shot first, but a firefight broke out, people were killed on both sides, tanks were brought in, and both sides hunkered down for a protracted siege.
The standoff ended 51 days later when the FBI decided to ram the compound and fill it with (CS) tear gas. The US government is prohibited under the Chemical Weapons Convention from using CS gas against its enemies in war, but it is perfectly legal for the government to gas American children because they are not foreigners and, crucially, cannot fight back:
Use of CS in war is prohibited under the terms of the Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by most nations in 1993 with all but five other nations signing between 1994 and 1997. The reasoning behind the prohibition is pragmatic: use of CS by one combatant could easily trigger retaliation with much more toxic chemical weapons such as nerve agents.
At this point, the compound burst into flame. There is much debate about who started the fire (and why). but even in the scenario where the Davidians started it themselves, we have to remember that they were being gassed, tanks were ramming the walls of their compound, people were trapped under the rubble, and they thought that if they left, they would be shot.
According to one of the few survivors:
When the 51-day siege finally came to a head and the entire compound was on fire, Thibodeau escaped from a hole in the building. He says he could feel his hair crackling from the fire.
“I really thought the FBI was going to kill me [once I left the building], but at that point, I thought it was better to die by a bullet to the head than to die by burning to death. …”
Thibodeau wrote one of the books the Netflix miniseries is based on, along with the memoirs of Gary Noesner, the FBI’s hostage negotiator who manned the other side of Koresh’s telephone line during the siege. Thibodeau disputes the notion that the Branch Davidians started the fire themselves; unless we can listen to the FBI tapes for ourselves (and line them up accurately with events as they went down), we can’t really say, but I’m willing to split the difference and say that even if someone intentionally lit a fire, it doesn’t mean that everyone else in the building agreed with them and wanted to die in a fire. It seems more likely that something resembling Thibodeau’s account (total chaos) is closer to the truth.
76 people died in (or during) the fire, 25 of them children. (10 others died in the initial shoot-out, some ATF and some BDs.)
It is now generally agreed that the Branch Davidians were minding their own business and didn’t pose any meaningful threat to outsiders; they had no intention of going on a shooting rampage nor of committing mass suicide, at least before tanks showed up in their front yard. There may have been child abuse and Koresh was definitely having sex with teenagers, but everyone else in the compound was celibate and not really doing anything objectionable, and the children who burned to death obviously would have been better off had the government left well enough alone.
As far as Noesner’s account is concerned, the ATF/FBI side of the affair was a total clusterfuck of different people with different agendas working at cross-purposes, making it impossible for him to do his job and convince Koresh and his followers that they totally wouldn’t get shot this time if they left the building. I don’t think the government ever officially admitted any culpability, but the case has gone down as “How not to conduct an ATF raid on a heavily armed cult.”
The government’s main case was against Koresh, who could have been easily arrested any time he went to town; other cult members who might have had gun violations also could have been arrested at work or while socializing. There really was no need for the siege at all.
Thibodeau says he expected more people to care about his side of the story. The standoff was televised, but viewers only got the outside view, colored by the ATF/FBI’s allegations against the cult. Liberals tend to appreciate stories of police/state violence against ordinary citizens when they involve obvious minorities like Rodney King or Micheal Brown, but are less concerned when they involve weird cultists from Texas. Mainstream conservatives tend to side with law enforcement; they like stories where the bad guys are criminals.
The Waco siege was interesting enough to make the news, but didn’t cross the right tribal lines for normal people to side with the Branch Davidians. To the mainstream left, religious nuts in Texas were the bad guys, and to the mainstream right, law enforcement were the good guys.
The Branch Davidians themselves were not far-right–
according to the Religious Tolerance website:
A major international recruitment drive was established in 1985; it was aimed at SDA members (in particular those who had been disfellowshipped from the church due to their beliefs). This effort brought in members from Australia, Canada, Great Britain, etc. A number of businesses were created within the compound; guns were purchased wholesale and legally resold at gun shows. There were 130 members living at Waco in the Spring of 1993; they were a multi-racial, multi-ethnic group of whom 45 were black.
Does some quick math… That makes the Branch Davidians about 33% black, while the nearby city of Waco is only 23% black. If they’d lived in California instead of Waco, they probably would have been portrayed as a hippie commune. (Aside from the “David Koresh is a prophet so he gets to have sex with everyone” thing, their beliefs don’t seem that unusual for the area, either.)
–but because of the layout of American tribal identities, the only folks who really cared about their side of their story are far-rightists who think that the government intentionally targets white people. Thus the Branch Davidians were not white nationalists, but white nationalists and their relatives on the far-right are the only people (besides their loved ones) who’ve really cared about their story.
On April 19, 1995, on the second anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidians’ compound, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols detonated a bomb at the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing at least 168 people 19 of them children, and injuring nearly 700 others. The men were motivated, they said, by the events at Ruby Ridge in 1992 and the deaths of the Branch Davidians in 1993.
I doubt any of the Branch Davidians would have wanted their deaths avenged in this way.
8 thoughts on “Waco”
[…] Source: Evolutionist X […]
A spirit guide, through a medium, told that Koresh, in a past life, was one of the more radical essenes that withstood the Roman attack on their fort compound. This was the time some of the essenes wanted this area to be free of the Roman domination.
Here, today, he wanted to recreate *again* withstanding against secular, worldy, authority. Essene Zionist 2.0.
[probably a number of members were also in that Fort, 1900 years ago, in past lives..]
The guide also wrote that the fire was not Started by anyone. a bullet from the FBI had hit a large propane tank and the tank exploded. It was “Karma” that “arranged” the fire!
my own suspicions is that His actions of “repeating” the standoff between he and the Romans, was not the thing for him to do! He dragged a number of other past-life people to be in his drama. [child abuse, sex, Authority; I can see that he was not a nice guy!
I read that there are still Branch Davidians still around Waco.
I have my thoughts too about the Federal building bombing! Back around 1880s, in this city or maybe nearby Tulsa, there was a thriving black community. It even had a stock market. However most of the white townspeople came one night and burned the black town to the ground in order to show the blacks that they need to stay in their Place!
So, I think, there had to be a karmic balance. Many of the white towns people who did the burning, incarnated in order to work there in that Federal Building. Now the scales are balanced.
Ahhh. The 90’s.
Anyone trying to make exit in place needs to be on good terms with local and state law enforcement, at the least.
Oddly, it seems they were on good terms with the local sheriff. Perhaps he saw them as “the guys who weren’t exhuming corpses.”
Reblogged this on Muunyayo.
this whole botched muderous mess was a political stunt to drum up support for clintons assult weapons ban and brady bill. It was run by the outlandishly incompetent janet reno. local CPS had investigated the child abuse allegations and did not charge koresh.
Criticism at the time (yes, I’m old) centered arround the fact that the ATF rounded clerks and accountants up to fill in the ranks of the raiding party who had never rtouched a machine gun in their lives, and had had minimal basic pistol training . This was thought to have led to someone letting off a machine gun blast accidentially . thats easy to do with an Open bolt firearm that some of the ATF people had . That got all the agents shooting and it went from there. I saw a video of the firfight on a news clip at the time . the agents in the clip were behind cars and busses . in the earliest clip they were raining a fuseadale of machinegun fire into the building , but there were no bullet holes or shot out windows in the vehicles they were hiding behind. later in the clip the cars and busses were also shot up. that would lead creedance to the idea that it may have started that way. clearly the feds did horrible things in how the whole event was handled.
I remember I was driving when the news came on that they were filling the place with CS gas and pushing the walls in with tanks. I was shocked at the brutality of using tear gas on a bilding with a bunch of children , and since the power had been cut for a long time and the davidians were using oil lamps for light and heat , it was a given that it would go u in smoke whn that happened. It’s telling that there were no fire and rescu depts staged for this event.
all arround sad epesode in american history.
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I feel very sad for these people. Even if Koresh and some of his affiliates had done bad things, there were clearly much easier ways to arrest just them and leave everyone else alone. This was everyone else’s home, too, after all. If my neighbors broke some law and the police came to arrest them, I sure wouldn’t appreciate them bulldozing my home in the process.