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The Branch Davidians

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On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) 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 seventy-five men, women, and children, including the leader David Koresh.

In 1929, Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant, claimed that he had a new message for the Seventh Day Adventist church. He submitted it to the church in the form of a book called "The Shepard's Rod". In the book he points out how the church has departed from basic church teachings. The churches leaders frowned upon his claims and felt that they would start uproar in the church. The leaders decided to ban him from the church. Once he was banned he formed a new church called the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. He got the Davidian from the belief to restore the Davidic kingdom. In 1955 after Houteff's death the movement split forming the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. The term branch refers to the new name for Jesus Christ. The group, founded by Benjamin L. Roden, settled outside of Waco, Texas. The group occupied land formerly owned by the Davidian group. George Roden, the son of Benjamin, claimed he was the group's prophet but was sent to jail. The group never had a clear-cut leader until Vernon Howell took charge in 1988.

In 1981 Howell joined the group as a regular member. At the time Lois Roden led the group with a message that Christ was a woman. In 1983 she allowed Howell to teach his own message. This created much controversy in the group. A meeting was called for all Branch Davidians in 1984, which led to the group splitting into several factions. Howell named his faction the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist. It was also at this time that Howell began calling himself David Koresh. From the beginning the group was an apocalyptic faith. This meant that they believed themselves to be living in a time when Christian prophesies of final divine judgment was coming. They believed that history would begin to spiral. History would repeat itself but it would also advance at the same time until the end. Koresh used the Book of Revelation as his evidence of the spiral.

In 1992 a Texas newspaper began to run investigative reports that Koresh was abusing children at the compound. Koresh openly advocated polygamy for himself and select members of the group. Koresh claimed to be married to several of the female group members. People outside of the group began claiming that they were a cult because of the authoritarian structure with Koresh being the all-powerful leader. It is said by some survivors that Koresh had at least a hundred and forty wives. He was also entitled to take any female at anytime. Allegations that he fathered at least a dozen children by his numerous wives began to arise in newspaper reports. Some of the wives were as young as twelve or thirteen years old.

Also in 1992 a UPS deliveryman alerted local sheriff deputies that objects similar to grenade casings were delivered to the compound. From there the sheriff notified the Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, ATF for short, about the situation at the compound. The ATF began an investigation into the Branch Davidians, which uncovered some weapons violations. Also the ATF was made aware that Koresh had been teaching his followers to be prepared to kill for God. In addition Waco citizens were very wary of the growing number of Branch Davidians and weapons right outside of Waco. In 1993 search warrants were issued and the ATF began planning the raid for February 28, 1993.

The raid began early Sunday morning when ATF agents approached the compound in cattle trailers pulled by trucks. Television crews followed the agents onto the compound and filmed the initial raid. There is no agreement to which side fired first but the front of the building exploded in gunfire from within. The Davidians had fortified the lower walls with concrete, which provided cover against small arms fire. They also had constructed underground shelter and tunnels. The well armed and fortifies Davidians fought off the ATF raid and forced the agents to retreat. The initial raid claimed the lives of four ATF agents and sixteen were wounded from gunfire.

After the retreat by the ATF agents, government officials established contact with Koresh and the other Davidians. Soon after the raid the FBI stepped in to take command of the scene. For the next fifty-one days, the FBI negotiators communicated with those inside through the phone. They also began circling the building blasting sounds at the compound in an attempt to use psychological warfare. During the initial raid Koresh was seriously wounded by a gunshot to his side. As the standoff continued Koresh and his male leaders negotiated for more time so that Koresh could finish writing religious documents. During the negotiations Koresh's conversations were dense with biblical imagery that alienated the FBI negotiators. The Davidians released videotapes that showed women and children proving their willingness to stay by Koresh's side. During this time many mothers inside the compound sent their children out to the FBI. No evidence was found that the children were abused and the children were very well mannered and intellectually advanced.

Newly appointed US Attorney General Janet Reno approved the final assault on the compound on the belief that conditions were deteriorating and that children were still being abused inside the compound. Because the Davidians were heavily armed with .50 caliber machine guns that used armor piercing bullets, the agents used armored vehicles. With these armored vehicles



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