Branch Davidian

The Branch Davidians are a sect that originated from a schism in 1955 from the Davidian Seventh Day Adventists, themselves former members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church who were disfellowshipped during the 1930s.

From its inception in 1934, the splinter movement inherited Adventism's apocalypticism, in that they believed themselves to be living in a time when Christian prophecies of a final divine judgment were coming to pass. They are best known for the 1993 siege of their Center near Waco, Texas, by the ATF and the FBI, which resulted in the deaths of 76 of the church's members, including head figure David Koresh. By the time of the siege, Koresh had encouraged his followers to think of themselves as "students of the Seven Seals" rather than as "Branch Davidians," and other Branch Davidian factions never accepted his leadership.

History

In 1929 Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant, claimed he had a new message for the Seventh-day Adventist Church. It was submitted in the form of a book entitled "The Shepherd's Rod". His claims were not accepted and were considered divisive by the leadership because he pointed out what he saw as their departures from basic church teachings and standards. As a result, he was disfellowshipped (excommunicated).

In 1935 Houteff established his headquarters outside Waco, Texas. Until 1942 his movement was known as the Shepherd's Rod, but when Houteff found it necessary to formally incorporate so members could claim conscientious objector status he named his association the "Davidian Seventh Day Adventists". The term "Davidian" refers to the restoration of the Davidic kingdom. Houteff directed Davidians to evangelize Adventists exclusively.

In 1955, after Houteff's death, a split of this movement formed the "Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists", headed initially by Benjamin L. Roden. "Branch" refers to the new name of Christ. The group established a settlement outside Waco, Texas, on the property previously occupied by the Davidian group. In 1977 Benjamin Roden's wife, Lois, claimed to have a message of her own, one element of which was that the Holy Spirit is feminine in gender, causing much controversy in the group. When Ben Roden died the next year, their son George tried to assume leadership, claiming he was the rightful prophet of the group, but she beat back his attempt.

In 1981 Vernon Wayne Howell (later renamed David Koresh) joined the group as a regular member. In September 1983 Lois Roden allowed Howell to begin to teach his own message, opening the door for him to build a following before their split in early 1984. Lois also faced dissent from Canadian Charles Pace. There was a general meeting at Mount Carmel of all Branch Davidians over Passover 1984, and the end result was that the group split into several factions, one of which was loyal to Howell. At this time George Roden forced Howell, and later Pace, to leave the property. Afterward, Howell named his faction the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. He repeated the Davidian name because he believed he was operating in the spirit of the Shepherd's Rod Movement; that is, he believed he was God's "rod" of correction come around again to discipline the Seventh-Day Adventist church.

Howell took his followers to Palestine, Texas, while Pace went to Gadsden, Alabama. By 1988 George Roden's support had dwindled, and while he was in jail for contempt of court, Howell took charge of the disputed land. Meanwhile, Lois Roden had died in 1986, and her will appointed Teresa Moore, with Irmine Sampson, to continue her work.

In 1990 Howell changed his name to David Koresh, invoking the biblical Kings David and Cyrus. Koresh centered his teachings on the Seven Seals and his ability as the "Lamb" to open them. Koresh supported his beliefs with detailed biblical interpretation, using the Book of Revelation as the lens through which the entire Bible was viewed.

Accusations

Interviews with surviving Davidians state that David Koresh was intimately versed in the Bible and "knew it like he wrote it".cite video
people = Neil Rawles
title = Inside Waco
medium = Television documentary
publisher = Channel 4/HBO
location =
date = February 2, 2007
] Koresh taught that the U.S. government was the enemy of the Davidians, and that they would have to defend themselves. In a video made by the Davidians and released during the siege, Koresh stated he'd been told by God to procreate with the women in the groups to establish a "House of David," his "Special People." This involved married couples in the group dissolving their marriages and agreeing that only Koresh could have sexual relations with the wives. On the tape, Koresh is also shown with several minors who claimed to have had babies fathered by Koresh. In total, Koresh had 14 children who stayed with him in the compound.

A video clip of an interview between Koresh and an Australian television station notes that he was accused of impregnating the aged widow of the founder of Branch Davidianism. He sarcastically said that if the charges were true, if he had "made an 82 year-old woman pregnant... I do miracles, I'm God!"

On February 27, 1993 the Waco Tribune-Herald began what it called the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles. [ [http://www.rickross.com/reference/waco/waco9.html The Sinful Messiah ] ] It alleged that Koresh had physically abused children in the compound and had taken underage brides, even raping one of them. Koresh was also said to advocate polygamy for himself, and declared himself married to several female residents of the small community. According to the paper, Koresh declared he was entitled to at least 140 wives, that he was entitled to claim any of the females in the group as his, that he had fathered at least a dozen children by the harem and that some of these mothers became brides as young as 12 or 13 years old.

Reports from Joyce Sparks, an investigator from the Texas agency responsible for protective services, stated she had found significant evidence that the allegations were true in her visits to the Mount Carmel site over a period of months. However, she said the investigation was difficult, as she wasn't permitted to speak with the children alone, nor was she permitted to inspect all areas of the site. She noted that safety concerns over construction sites at Mount Carmel were either ignored or slowly corrected. [ [http://www.public-action.com/SkyWriter/WacoMuseum/library/dallasmn.html Dallas Morning News Waco Archive ] ]

During the siege, the deprogrammer Rick Ross said, " [Koresh is] your stock cult leader. ... They're all the same. Meet one and you've met them all. They're deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality and lack any type of conscience. ... No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. ... So you're talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it's going or seeing the total picture."cite news
first = Steven R.
last = Reed
title = Deadly Finale/Standoff ends in firestorm/Would-be Messiah gave death, not life
url = http://www.chron.com/CDA/archives/archive.mpl?id=1993_1124365
publisher = Houston Chronicle
date = April 20, 1993
accessdate=2008-04-29
]

Besides allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, the Branch Davidians were accused of stockpiling illegal weapons. Authorities investigated these charges and obtained a warrant to search the Branch Davidian compound.

Raid and siege

On February 28 1993, the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) conducted a raid on Mount Carmel, a property of the Davidians. The raid resulted in the deaths of six Davidians and four ATF agents after a firefight broke out. Following this confrontation, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) laid siege to Mount Carmel for 51 days, during which the FBI and ATF conducted around-the-clock operations including psychological warfare (psyops) on the occupants of the complex. The government's siege on the Branch Davidians ended on April 19 when federal agents released CS tear gas into the building, and several fires broke out, spreading quickly through the structure. 76 Branch Davidians, 21 of whom were children, were killed in the ensuing blaze. Autopsies confirmed that many of the victims, including David Koresh, had died of single gunshot wounds to their heads.

The Departments of Justice and the Treasury each conducted investigations in 1993. In 1999, when evidence about the use of pyrotechnic tear gas became public, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed former Senator John Danforth as a Special Counsel to investigate the events at Waco. Danforth issued a report concluding that the fire was started on the inside by Davidians. The FBI agents that fired the tear gas used pyrotechnic Flite-Rite grenades to shoot tear gas into the wooden building, though sworn testimony by FBI agents and supervisors claimed that no pyrotechnics were used, or even present at any time.

The government put some of the survivors on trial. All were acquitted of conspiring to murder federal agents, but some were convicted of aiding and abetting voluntary manslaughter.

Branch Davidians and the media

Prior to the ATF siege, few people had heard of the Branch Davidians. During the course of the siege, the media, relying on the input of a host of experts who volunteered services, portrayed the Branch Davidians to be fanatical and, at times, criminal. [ [http://www.carolmoore.net/waco/TDM-08.html The Davidian Massacre - Chpt. 8 ] ] Interviews conducted within the compound, as well as reports from family members, contradicted this image. Some believe the media hype influenced both the FBI and the ATF and the strategies they employed during the siege. [ [http://www.usdoj.gov/05publications/wacoeval.htm Evaluation of the Handling of the Branch Davidian Stand-Off in Waco, Texas February 28 to April 19, 1993 ] ]

Carol Moore, author of the 1994 online report "The Massacre Of The Branch Davidians—A Study Of Government Violations Of Rights, Excessive Force And Cover Up", writes about one of the "experts" quoted by the media, Rick Ross:

One such deprogrammer is Rick Ross, a convicted jewel thief, who has boasted of more than 200 "deprogrammings." ... In the summer of 1993 Rick Ross was indicted in Washington state for unlawful imprisonment. ...

Ross definitely deprogrammed one (and possibly more) of the Branch Davidians who fed questionable but damaging evidence to BATF. He also provided negative information to the Waco Herald-Tribune for its February, 1993, series on the Branch Davidians. The paper quotes Ross declaring, "The group is without a doubt, without any doubt whatsoever, a highly destructive, manipulative cult ... I would liken the group to Jim Jones." The authors write, "Ross said he believes Howell (Koresh) is prone to violence ... Speaking out and exposing Howell might bring in the authorities or in some way help those 'being held in that compound through a kind of psychological, emotional slavery and servitude.'" ...

Ross bragged on the "Up to the Minute" public television program that he "consulted with ATF agents on the Waco sect and told them about the guns in the compound." On April 19th he told the "Today Show," "I was a consultant offering ideas, input that was filtered by their team and used when they felt it was appropriate." The Justice Department report mentions a Rick Ross television appearance during the siege where he declared he hoped Koresh would be a coward and surrender rather than end up as a corpse. ... [Carol Moore and Committee for Waco Justice, [http://www.firearmsandliberty.com/waco.massacre.html "The Massacre Of The Branch Davidians—A Study Of Government Violations Of Rights, Excessive Force And Cover Up"] , January 28, 1994. retrieved on 2008-04-29]

Land dispute

The deaths of the majority of Koresh's group gave others the opportunity to dispute their hold on the Mount Carmel property. Within months Amo Bishop Roden, George's former wife, moved onto the land to begin a one-woman occupation. Most survivors and supporters recognize Clive Doyle as the trustee of the organization and the land. Renos Avraam, one of the imprisoned Davidians, has declared that he is receiving prophetic new light as the "Chosen Vessel of the Remaining Bride." However, most of the survivors spurn his "Hidden Manna" faction.

In 1996 the court ruled that the land belongs to the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Church. However the court has refused to rule on who exactly constitutes "the church".

Also in 1996, a number of Koresh's remaining followers filed an action to quiet title to the church's property under a claim of adverse possession. Adverse possession requires that the claimant file it against a party that holds title to the property. They filed this suit claiming to be the "trustees" of the church, while contradictorily claiming they possessed the property adversely against the trustees of the church.

Another non-Koresh Branch Davidian leader, Doug Mitchell, joined the case in 1998. Mitchell contends that when Koresh left Mount Carmel in 1984 he adopted the name "Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist" for his followers, thus "leaving" the church, forfeiting their claim to be the true Branch Davidians. 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". Judge Alan Mayfield felt that the matter involved church issues which the court could not rightly consider.

The survivors dropped their claim for adverse possession the day before the trial began, proceeding only on their claims of being the Trustees of the Church. 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 survivors' and Amo Roden's claims were considered, but he was allowed to defend against the others' claims. In 2000 a jury ruled against both the survivors and Amo Roden. However, they continued to stay on the property, along with Charles Pace.

Approximately fifty [ [http://www.cesnur.org/2005/pa_pitts.htm CESNUR 2005 International Conference - The Davidians, The Branch Davidians and Globalization, by Bill Pitts ] ] to seventy [http://bdsda.tripod.com/newsletters/april_2005.html] people attended the yearly memorial service on April 19 2005.

At that time, survivor Clive Doyle was living at the Mount Carmel Center with supporter Ron Goins, operating a small visitor museum as well as holding weekly Bible studies on the Sabbath. Charles Pace and his family also lived on the property and held worship services.

However, relations began to break down. In August Pace held a baptism for his members at Mount Carmel, joined by Goins. This left Doyle as the only Koresh follower on the property, and he says he came under increasing pressure to convert or leave. In February 2006 he decided to move into town, emptying the visitor museum as well.

This has left Pace's group in control of Mount Carmel. Pace had opposed the planting of the grove of memorial trees as paganism, and his group has chopped down David Koresh's tree and smashed his plaque, to prevent it from being used for idolatry. They have also removed the plaques from the other trees, with plans to incorporate the stones into their own memorial to the dead. Pace, a naturopathic doctor, also plans to make a wellness center out of Doyle's repossessed house and a health food/herb shop out of the visitors' center. Meanwhile, the survivors nurse hopes of reclaiming the property.

Bibliography

* Kerstetter, Todd. "'That's Just the America Way': The Branch Davidian Tragedy and Western Religious History", "Western Historical Quarterly", Vol. 35, No. 4, Winter 2004.
* Lewis, James R. (ed.). "From the Ashes: Making Sense of Waco" (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1994). ISBN 0-8476-7915-2 (cloth) ISBN 0-8476-7914-4 (paper)
* Newport, Kenneth G.C. "The Branch Davidians of Waco: the history and beliefs of an apocalyptic sect" (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). ISBN 9780199245741
* Reavis, Dick J. "The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation" (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1995). ISBN 0-684-81132-4
* Tabor, James D. and Eugene V. Gallagher. "Why Waco?: Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America" (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995). ISBN 0-520-20186-8
* Thibodeau, David and Leon Whiteson. "A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story" (New York: PublicAffairs, 1999). ISBN 1-891620-42-8
* Wright, Stuart A. (ed.). "Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict" (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

ee also

* David Koresh
* Millennialism
* Benjamin L. Roden
* Lois Irene Scott Roden
* Seventh-day Adventist Church
* Shepherd's Rod
* Waco Siege

References

External links

* [http://www.sevenseals.com Official Website of the Hidden Manna Branch Davidians]
* [http://www.the2branches.org The Branch Davidians Official Website]
* [http://www.the-branch.org/study15.html The Warfare of Vernon Howell (also known as David Koresh) and others against the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists (Mitchell)]
* [http://religiousmovements.lib.virginia.edu/nrms/bran_arch.html Branch Davidians]
* [http://www.myspace.com/bdsda Mt. Carmel Survivors & Supporters on Myspace]
* [http://www.bdsda.com Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists (www.bdsda.com)]
* [http://www.branch-davidianhistory.net Branch-Davidian History, Setting the Record Straight] Original Publications of The Branch Message from 1955 to 1985, before the takeover by Vernon Howell (David Koresh) in 1984 at New Mt. Carmel, Waco, Texas.
* [http://www.christianitytoday.com/bc/2007/002/15.29.html Waco Revisited: The theology of the Branch Davidians] by Richard J. Mouw, book review of "The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalypic Sect" by Kenneth G. C. Newport
* [http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/Independent%20Ministries/branchdavidian.htm Some Background on the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Movement from 1955 to the Early Part of 1991] from the Seventh-day Adventist Biblical Research Institute
* [http://www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org/Independent%20Ministries/branchdavidians.htm The Branch Davidians/Shepherd's Rod—Who Are They?] from the Biblical Research Institute, by George W. Reid
* Time magazine May 03, 1993, [http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19930503,00.html cover]
* [http://usgovinfo.about.com/blwacoguns.htm Guns Recovered at Branch Davidian Compound]
* [http://shepherdsrod.org/ shepherdsrod.org - Information and History from an SDA perspective]


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