In 1993, a splinter religion from the Seventh-Day Adventists lived on a compound in Waco, Texas. They kept to themselves mostly. Suddenly the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) descended on the compound on February 28th. They had warrants to search for weapons and to arrest David Koresh. Everything that happened after became the Waco disaster.
Branch Davidians Beginnings
In the 1920s, Victor Houteff, a member of the Seventh-Day Adventists religion, started an intensive study of the Bible. He started teaching his ideas from his study in his church. His ideas disagreed with church teachings, and in the 1930s the church leaders excommunicated Houteff. Still, some people believed Houteff and followed him to Texas. There they bought the compound in Waco and settled in. Houteff taught his people that they would prepare the world for the coming of Christ. He sent people to preach and more people joined them at the compound
When he died in 1955, his group split into two when his wife and one of the members both declared themselves leaders of the group. Houteff’s wife declared the coming of Christ to happen a few years after Houteff died. When that did not occur, she resigned from leadership handing the role completely over to the other leader, named Ben Roden.
Ben Roden led the group now called the Branch Davidians. His wife Lois also declared herself to receive revelation and when Ben Roden died in 1978, Lois continued leading this small group. In 1981, a young man named Vernon Howell joined the group. Then when Lois Roden died in 1983, he declared himself leader, saying he received revelations. The son of Ben and Lois Roden, George Roden, also attempted to take leadership.
George succeeded in kicking out Vernon Howell, now named David Koresh. Koresh and his group moved nearby and lived in tents and huts for a few years. Then the police arrested George Roden, and David Koresh took full command of the Branch Davidians and the Waco compound.
David Koresh Leadership
David Koresh taught about the imminent arrival of the coming of Christ and all the disasters that would happen. For this purpose, he started to prepare for the coming events. He started stockpiling what he thought they would need, like food and water. These events led to the Waco disaster in 1993.
Rumors whispered that the Branch Davidians stockpiled weapons. They said that the group changed the semi-automatic guns to automatic without a permit. Rumors also talked of physical abuse. People heard that David Koresh had many wives, some as young as 10 or 11. Then in 1993, the ATF decided to investigate.
On February 28, 1993, with about 100 men, the ATF approached the compound to serve the warrant to search the property and arrest David Koresh. Those in the compound saw them and a shootout happened, leaving people dead on both sides. No one knows who fired that first shot, but after 45 minutes of gunfire, the ATF withdrew. They called in the FBI for help as well as the Texas Rangers. By the end of the day, the Branch Davidians were surrounded by law enforcement.
The Waco Disaster
From that moment it feels almost like a comedy of errors and misunderstandings occurred. For 51 days law enforcement surrounded the compound and tried negotiating. Negotiations did not seem to be working. They started to feel like Koresh was manipulating them. While among the differing law enforcement groups they struggled to work together.
Eventually, the FBI decided they needed to do more and started discussing entering the compound by force. On April 12, they discussed using tear gas to help breach the compound. The law enforcement did not feel the David Koresh or his followers would emerge, saying he had broken all promises so far. Also, they heard of the possible physical and sexual abuse happening and worried about the children.
On April 14, Koresh sent out a letter to the law enforcement. He said he and his followers would emerge after Koresh wrote a commentary on the seven seal from the book of Revelations in the New Testament. They asked for supplies to accomplish it. Still the FBI discussed tear gas and breaching the compound.
Then, early in the morning of April 19, 1993, the FBI shot in tear gas and drove tanks into the compound. Three fires started around the property and 90 minutes passed before anyone could see what happened.
In the end, over Koresh and over 70 people died, including children. Some died of fire, smoke inhalation, and gunshots. FBI denies shooting anyone or starting the fire. Arson reported that the fires had started in the buildings. This had become the Waco disaster.
People started questioning the actions of the FBI, wondering if they had overstepped their bounds. They criticized their methods and willingness to use tear gas on citizens. They feel this could have ended peacefully without death.
Could it have ended differently? Was the FBI already biased against the Branch Davidians? Did they act too soon, or wait too long? These are some of the questions regarding this Waco disaster. There are thoughts and suppositions but that’s all they are. No one really knows what might have happened if different choices had been made.
Personally, from what I have read about this I don’t think a different outcome would have happened if they went early or waited. From the reports, Koresh led the group. They trusted him and believed him the Messiah. They would do anything he wanted, especially after law enforcement surrounded them. This seemed like something Koresh said would happen, of everyone fighting against them.
Then on the FBI side, Koresh would not deal straight with them. He broke promises and would not negotiate. That final letter on April 14, probably felt like another trick, so they ignored it. They wanted to finish this stand-off before something radical happened. Only 15 years before this, 900 people committed suicide at the behest of religious leader Jim Jones. The law enforcement probably did not want a repeat of this event, even if on a smaller scale.
From the sounds of it, Koresh had prepared his people to fight and die. Essentially that is what happened. They stayed in the compound holding out law enforcement. As soon as law enforcement moved to enter, they died, by their own hand or others. In essence, it was the same, they died for their messiah, David Koresh.
While the Branch Davidians is mostly associated with David Koresh and the Waco disaster, it still exists as a religion today. There are still a few Branch Davidian groups out there. Some of the groups stick with the original leader, Victor Houteff’s teachings. While others allow David Koresh as once a leader of the Branch Davidians.
Sources for The Waco Disaster
- “The Waco tragedy, explained” The Vox
- “The deaths of 76 Branch Davidians in April 1993 could have been avoided – so why didn’t anyone care?” The Conversation
- “The Real Story Behind the Waco Siege: Who Were David Koresh and the Branch Davidians?” TIME
- “Davidians and Branch Davidians (1929-1981)” World Religions and Spirituality
- “REPORT TO THE DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL ON THE EVENTS AT WACO, TEXAS” The United States Department of Justice
- “The Branch Davidians” CRI Truth Matters, Life Matters More