Branch Davidians

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Branch Davidians
Small vexillological symbol or pictogram in black and white showing the different uses of the flag Flag of the Branch Davidians
Benjamin Roden
Regions with significant populations
Texas (United States)
Branch Davidian
Mount Carmel
  • Elk, Texas, U.S.

The Branch Davidians (or the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists) are an apocalyptic cult founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden. They regard themselves as a continuation of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, established by Victor Houteff in 1935.

Houteff, a Seventh-day Adventist, wrote a series of tracts titled the "Shepherd's Rod", which called for reform of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After his ideas were rejected, Houteff and his followers formed the group that became known as "Davidians" and some moved onto land outside Waco, Texas. They built a community called the Mount Carmel Center, which served as headquarters for the movement. After Houteff's death in 1955, his wife Florence took control of the organization. That same year, Roden, a follower of Houteff, proclaimed what he believed to be a new message from God and wrote letters presenting it to Davidians.[1] He signed these letters "The Branch" believing that to be the new name Jesus had taken to reflect a new stage of his work in the heavenly sanctuary. Those who accepted Roden's teachings became known as Branch Davidians Seventh Day Adventists.

In 1957, Florence sold the Mount Carmel Center and purchased 941 acres near Elk, Texas – 13 miles northeast of Waco – naming it New Mount Carmel Center. After the failure of Florence's prophecy of apocalyptic events on or near April 22, 1959, she dissolved the Davidian Association in 1962 and sold all but 77.86 acres of the New Mount Carmel property. Roden took possession of it in 1962 and began efforts to purchase the remaining 77.86 acres. On February 27, 1973, New Mount Carmel was sold to Benjamin, his wife Lois Roden, and their son George Roden.[2] From then on, the property was simply known as Mount Carmel. Upon the death of Roden in 1978, Lois became the next Davidian prophet at the compound.[3]

In 1981, a young man named Vernon Howell, later known as David Koresh, came to Mount Carmel and studied biblical prophecy under Lois Roden. By 1983, Howell had gained a group of followers and they separated from Lois' organization to form "The Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association."[4] Meanwhile, Lois continued to operate the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association from Mt. Carmel Center near Waco.[5] Howell's group and the Branch Davidians (Lois's group) were two separate organizations with different leaders, names and locations from 1983. It was not until 1987, after Lois died, that Howell filed a document claiming to be the president of the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association.[6] Koresh and followers also went to Mt. Carmel center and engaged in a shootout with George Roden that eventually resulted in Koresh's group occupying the land. These actions are regarded by Branch Davidians who remained loyal to Lois as an act of identity theft against them.[7]

Koresh's leadership ended at the Waco siege of 1993, a 51-day standoff between the sect and federal agents. Four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) and two residents were killed by the sect during the initial raid, while four sect members were killed by ATF agents on February 28, 1993. 76 members of Koresh's group, many children, died in a fire that erupted during the siege on April 19, 1993.[8]

Early history[edit]

In 1929, Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School teacher from southern California, claimed that he had a new message for the entire Adventist church. He presented his views in a book, The Shepherd's Rod: The 144,000 – A Call for Reformation.[9] The Adventist leadership rejected Houteff's views as contrary to the church's basic teachings, and local church congregations disfellowshipped Houteff and his followers.

In 1934, Houteff established his headquarters to the west of Waco, Texas, and his group became known as the Davidians.[10] In 1942, he renamed the group the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists – 'Davidian' which indicated its belief in the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom of Israel. Following Houteff's death in 1955, his wife Florence usurped the leadership believing herself to be a prophet. Convinced that an apocalypse would occur in 1959, a date which is not found in her husband's original writings, Florence and her council gathered hundreds of their faithful followers at the Mount Carmel Center, the group's compound which was located near Waco, for the fulfillment of the prophecy which is written in Ezekiel 9.[11]

A memorial at the Mount Carmel site identifying leaders of the Adventist movement from Ellen G. White to Vernon Howell

The anticipated events did not occur, and following this disappointment, Benjamin Roden formed another group which he called the Branch Davidians and succeeded in taking control of Mount Carmel. The name of this group is an allusion to the anointed 'Branch' (mentioned in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12).[12][13] When Benjamin Roden died in 1978, he was succeeded by his wife Lois Roden. Members of the Branch Davidians were torn between allegiance to Ben's wife or to his son, George. After Lois died, George assumed the right to the Presidency. However, less than a year later, Vernon Howell rose to power and became the leader over those in the group who sympathized with him.

Rise of David Koresh[edit]

Howell's arrival at Mount Carmel in 1981 was well received by nearly everyone at the Davidian commune. He had engaged in an affair with Lois Roden while he was in his early 20s and she was in her late 60s. Howell wanted to father a child with her, who, according to his understanding, would be the Chosen One. When she died, George Roden inherited the positions of prophet and leader of the sect. A power struggle ensued between Roden and Howell,[14] who soon gained the loyalty of the majority of the Davidians.[15] In 1984, Howell and his followers left Mount Carmel (Roden accused Howell of starting a fire that consumed a $500,000 administration building and press[16]), which Roden subsequently renamed "Rodenville". Another splinter group, led by Charlie Pace, also left, and settled in Alabama.

David Koresh in a 1987 mug shot

As an attempt to regain support, Roden challenged Howell to raise the dead, going so far as to exhume the corpse of a two-decades deceased Davidian in order to demonstrate his spiritual supremacy (Roden denied this, saying he had only been moving the community cemetery). This illegal act gave Howell an opportunity to attempt to file charges against Roden, but he was told that he needed evidence in order to substantiate the charges. On November 3, 1987, Howell and seven of his followers raided Mount Carmel, equipped with five .223 caliber semi-automatic rifles, two .22 caliber rifles, two 12-gauge shotguns and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition, in an apparent attempt to retake the compound. Although Howell's group claimed that it was trying to obtain evidence of Roden's illegal activities, its members did not take a camera with them.[17]

The trial ended with the jury finding Howell's followers not guilty, but the jury members were unable to agree on a verdict for Howell himself. After his followers were acquitted, Howell invited the prosecutors to Mount Carmel for ice cream.[18]

It is claimed that Howell was never authorized to name his breakaway sect the "Branch Davidians",[19] and the church which bears that name continues to represent the members of the Branch church who did not follow him.

As a spiritual leader[edit]

Howell, who acquired the position of spiritual leader from Roden, asserted it by changing his name to David Koresh, suggesting that he had ties to the biblical King David and Cyrus the Great (Koresh is the Hebrew version of the name Cyrus). He wanted to create a new lineage of world leaders.[11] This practice later served as the basis for allegations that Koresh was committing child abuse, which contributed to the siege by the ATF.[20]

Interpreting Revelation 5:2, Koresh identified himself with the Lamb mentioned therein.[21][22] This is traditionally believed to symbolize Jesus Christ; however, Koresh suggested that the Lamb would come before Jesus and pave the way for his Second Coming.[23][11]

By the time of the 1993 Waco siege, Koresh had encouraged his followers to think of themselves as "students of the Seven Seals," rather than as "Branch Davidians." During the standoff, one of his followers publicly announced that he wanted them to thereafter be identified by the name "Koreshians".[24]

Federal siege[edit]

A memorial to the four ATF agents killed in the February 28 raid on the Mount Carmel Center

On February 28, 1993, at 4:20 am, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms attempted to execute a search warrant relating to alleged sexual abuse charges and illegal weapons violations.[25][26] The ATF attempted to breach the compound for approximately two hours until their ammunition ran low.[27] Four ATF agents (Steve Willis, Robert Williams, Todd McKeehan, and Conway Charles LeBleu) were killed and another 16 agents were wounded during the raid. The five Branch Davidians killed in the 9:45 am raid were Winston Blake (British), Peter Gent (Australian), Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones, and Jaydean Wendell; two were killed by the Branch Davidians.[28] Almost six hours after the ceasefire, Michael Schroeder was shot dead by ATF agents who alleged he fired a pistol at agents as he attempted to re-enter the compound with Woodrow Kendrick and Norman Allison.[29] His wife said he was merely returning from work and had not participated in the day's earlier altercation.[27]

After the raid, ATF agents established contact with Koresh and others inside of the compound. The FBI took command after the deaths of federal agents, and managed to facilitate the release of 19 children (without their parents) relatively early into the negotiations. The children were then interviewed by the FBI and the Texas Rangers.[30]

FBI photo of the Mount Carmel Center engulfed in flames

On April 19, 1993, the FBI moved for a final siege of the compound using large weaponry such as .50 caliber (12.7 mm) rifles and armored combat engineering vehicles (CEV) to combat the heavily armed Branch Davidians. The FBI attempted to use tear gas to flush out the Branch Davidians. Officially, FBI agents were only permitted to return any incoming fire, not to actively assault the Branch Davidians. When several Branch Davidians opened fire, the FBI's response was to increase the amount of gas being used.[29] Around noon, three fires broke out simultaneously in different parts of the building. The government maintains that the fires were deliberately started by Branch Davidians.[29][31] Some Branch Davidian survivors maintain that the fires were started either accidentally or deliberately by the assault.[27][32] Of the 85 Branch Davidians in the compound when the final siege began, 76 died on April 19 in various ways, from falling rubble to suffocating effects of the fire, or by gunshot from fellow Branch Davidians.[31] The siege had lasted 51 days.


In all, four ATF agents were killed, 16 were wounded, and six Branch Davidians died in the initial raid on February 28. 76 more died in the final assault on April 19.[31] The events at Waco spurred criminal prosecution and civil litigation. A federal grand jury indicted 12 of the surviving Branch Davidians – including Clive Doyle, Brad Branch, Ruth Riddle, and Livingstone Fagan – charging them with aiding and abetting in murder of federal officers, and unlawful possession and use of various firearms. Eight Branch Davidians were convicted on firearms charges, five convicted of voluntary manslaughter, and four were acquitted of all charges.[33] As of July 2007, all Branch Davidians had been released from prison.[34]

Civil suits were brought against the United States government, federal officials, former governor of Texas Ann Richards, and members of the Texas Army National Guard. The bulk of these claims were dismissed because they were insufficient as a matter of law or because the plaintiffs could advance no material evidence in support of them. One case, Andrade v. Chojnacki, made it to the Fifth Circuit, which upheld a previous ruling of "take-nothing, denied".[35]

After the siege[edit]

A sign at the Mt Carmel Center identifying the denomination

There are several groups that claim descent from the Branch Davidians today. The group that retains the original name "Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist" regards Lois Roden's immediate successor to have been Doug Mitchell (who joined the Branch Davidians in 1978 and led the group from 1986 until his death in 2013) and Mitchell's successor to be Trent Wilde (who has led the group since 2013). This group never followed David Koresh.[36]

A Branch Davidian church at the Mount Carmel Center site

Another group exists under the leadership of Charles Pace, called The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. It is a legally recognized denomination with 12 members. Pace, while regarding Koresh as appointed by God, says that Koresh twisted the Bible's teachings by fathering more than a dozen children with members' wives.[37] Pace believes that the Lord "has anointed me and appointed me to be the leader", but he says he is "not a prophet" but "a teacher of righteousness". Others, once led by Clive Doyle, continue to believe Koresh was a prophet and await his resurrection, along with the followers who were killed.[38] Both of these groups are still waiting for the end of times.[38] Doyle died in June 2022.[39]

Relationship with Seventh-Day Adventists[edit]

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, the main church in the Adventist tradition, rejected Victor Houteff's teachings and revoked his membership in 1930.

Houteff then went on to found the Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association (an offshoot which is also known as the Shepherd's Rod). The Branch Davidians are an offshoot of the Davidians and they are also a product of a schism which was initiated by Benjamin Roden, after Houteff's death and in light of Florence's (Houteff's wife) usurpation of power.

Florence believed that she was a prophet. But her prediction of the demise of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which according to her should have occurred 42 months after Houteff's death (1959) failed to materialize. Likewise, Ben Roden believed that he was a prophet as well as a rightful heir to the leadership of the Davidians.

While they were still formally members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Branch Davidian leaders demanded a reform of the church and when their demand was met with opposition (by both the Seventh-day Adventists and the Davidians), they decided to leave that denomination and at the same time, they widely distanced themselves from the Davidians.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church deprived both the Branch Davidians and the Davidians of their membership in the denomination, in spite of this fact, the Branch Davidians actively continued to "hunt" members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, and encourage them to leave it and join their group. The Seventh-day Adventists were reportedly "apprehensive" about the group's views because Branch Davidians claimed that they were the "only rightful continuation of the Adventist message", based on their belief that Victor Houteff was the divinely selected prophet and the successor of Ellen G. White. Both the Davidians and the Branch Davidians claimed that Houteff was their spiritual inspiration, as the founder of the Davidians. The Seventh-day Adventist Church issued warnings about the Branch Davidian sect's views to its members on a regular basis.[40]

Schisms within the Branch Davidian sect[edit]

There is documented evidence (FBI negotiation transcripts, during the standoff, with Kathryn Shroeder and Steve Schneider with interjections from Koresh himself) that David Koresh and his followers did not call themselves Branch Davidians.[41] In addition, David Koresh, through forgery, stole the identity of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists for the purpose of obtaining the New Mount Carmel Center's property.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Seven Letters to Florence Houteff and the Executive Council of the Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association [1]
  2. ^ Kenneth G. C. Newport, The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 199–222, 125–27, quote on 128, ISBN 978-0199245741; Eugene V. Gallagher, Davidians and Branch Davidians (1929-1981)
  3. ^ Davidians and Branch Davidians (1929–1981)
  4. ^ June 10, 1985 document written by Vernon Howell, [2]
  5. ^ March 28, 1985 document written by Lois Roden, [3]
  6. ^ Oct. 30, 1987 document written by Vernon Howell [4]
  7. ^ Waco Untold: How David Koresh Stole The Identity of the Branch Davidians [5]
  8. ^ "Waco – The Inside Story". PBS. Retrieved April 28, 2020.
  9. ^ The General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. "The Shepherd's Rod, Vol. 1". Archived from the original on March 13, 2016. Retrieved March 18, 2011.
  10. ^ Pitts, William L. "Davidians and Branch Davidians". Handbook of Texas – Texas State Historical Association. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  11. ^ a b c Melton, John Gordon. "Branch Davidian | Religious Organization". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  12. ^ Zechariah 3:8; "'Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. Retrieved May 17, 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  13. ^ Zechariah 6:12; Tell him this is what the Lord Almighty says: 'Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from his place and build the temple of the Lord. Retrieved May 17, 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  14. ^ "Biography: David Koresh". PBS. Frontline. Retrieved May 21, 2016.
  15. ^ David G. Bromley and Edward D. Silver (1995). The Davidian Tradition: From Patronal Clan to Prophetic Movement. in Stuart A. Wright, Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict: Chicago: University of Chicago. p. 54.
  16. ^ Alan Nelson; Sandra Gines (January 17, 1988). "Crying in the wilderness: A religious commune sets up a dwelling place in the woods amid a struggle between rival prophets". Retrieved December 17, 2021.
  17. ^ "BIOGRAPHY: David Koresh". PBS. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  18. ^ Nossiter, Adam (March 10, 1993). "Warning of Violence Was Unheeded After Cult Leader's Gun Battle in '87". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved May 19, 2016.
  19. ^ Waco Untold: How David Koresh Stole The Identity of the Branch Davidians [6]
  20. ^ "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: Child Abuse | DOJ | Department of Justice". Archived from the original on May 11, 2017. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  21. ^ Melton, John Gordon. "Branch Davidian | religious organization". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  22. ^ Revelation 5, New International Version (NIV) | Chapter 5 | The Bible App | Retrieved May 17, 2017. {{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  23. ^ Krell, Keith. "14. When All Heaven Breaks Loose! (Revelation 5:1-14)". Live Like You're Leaving: Revelation. Archived from the original on January 11, 2018. Retrieved May 17, 2017.
  24. ^ "Mr. Ricks [FBI negotiator] said today that Ms. Schroeder had told him that members of the sect, a renegade offshoot of Seventh-day Adventists, henceforth wanted to be known as Koreshians." By Robert Reinhold, Published: March 15, 1993, New York Times [brackets added].
  25. ^ Affidavit of Davy Aguilera, Special Agent with the U.S Treasury Department, BATF, Austin, Texas, sworn before Dennis G. Green, United States Magistrate Judge Western District of Texas – Waco on the February 25, 1993. Aguilera affirmed: "On January 13, 1993, I interviewed Larry Gilbreath in Waco, Texas, and confirmed the information which had previously been related to me by Lt. Barber. Mr. Gilbreath told me that although he had been making deliveries at the "Mag-Bag" and the Mt. Carmel Center for quite some time, his suspicion about the packages being delivered to those places was never aroused until about February 1992. At that time the invoices accompanying a number of packages reflected that they contained firearm parts and accessories as well as various chemicals. He stated that in May 1992, a package which was addressed to the "Mag-Bag" accidentally broke open while it was being loaded on his delivery truck. He saw that it contained three other boxes, the contents of which were "pineapple" type hand grenades which he believed to be inert. He stated that there were about 50 of the grenades and that he later delivered them to the Mt. Carmel Center."
  26. ^ Fiddleman, Theodore; Kopel, David (June 28, 1993). "ATF's basis for the assault on Waco is shot full of holes - Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms fatal attack on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas". Insight on the News. Archived from the original on July 10, 2012.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  27. ^ a b c Gazecki, William; Gifford, Dan; McNulty, Michael. "Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997)". Film Documentary. IMDb – Internet Movie Database. Retrieved November 25, 2012.
  28. ^ Elaine., Shannon (2001). No Heroes : Inside the FBI's Secret Counter-Terror Force. Pocket Books. ISBN 0671020625. OCLC 46772515.
  29. ^ a b c Neil Rawles (February 2, 2007). Inside Waco (Television documentary). Channel 4/HBO.
  30. ^ Psychotherapy Networker (2007). "Stairway to Heaven; Treating children in the crosshairs of trauma." Excerpt from the book The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog by Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz.
  31. ^ a b c US Department of Justice (1993). "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: The Aftermath of the April 19 Fire". The U.S. Department of Justice. Archived from the original on May 11, 2017.
  32. ^ Thibodeau, David; Whiteson, Leon (1999). A Place Called Waco : A Survivor's Story. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1891620428. OCLC 41368317.
  33. ^ p. 7403 of the trial transcripts
  34. ^ Associated Press (April 19, 2006). "Six Branch Davidians Due for Release 13 Years After Waco Inferno". Fox News.
  35. ^ Andrade v. Chojnacki, 338 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2003), cert. denied (2004).
  36. ^ FAQ [7]
  37. ^ The Associated Press (April 15, 2007). "Near Waco, a New Fight Over an Old Compound". The New York Times. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  38. ^ a b Burnett, John (April 20, 2013). "Two Decades Later, Some Branch Davidians Still Believe". National Public Radio. Retrieved May 12, 2016.
  39. ^ Clive Doyle, leader of Branch Davidian survivors, dies at 81. Waco Tribune-Herald. Retrieved June 16, 2022.
  40. ^ Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict by Stuart A. Wright, p. 22
  41. ^ "United States Department of the Treasury: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (Tape #126 Transcription)" (PDF). March 13, 1993. Archived from the original (PDF) on June 24, 2019. Retrieved January 13, 2019.
  42. ^ Mitchell, Douglas (2018). Waco Untold, How David Koresh Stole the Identity of The Branch Davidians. US: Ten Strings Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9998026-0-1.

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