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The Branch Davidians (or the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists) are a religious sect which was founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden. They are an offshoot of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, established by Victor Houteff in 1935.
Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist, wrote a series of tracts which were titled the "Shepherd's Rod." The tracts called for the reform of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In 1935, after his ideas were rejected by Adventist leaders, Houteff and his followers settled on a tract of land on the western outskirts of Waco, Texas, where they built a compound called the Mount Carmel Center and began preparing for the Second Coming. After Houteff's death in 1955, his wife Florence became the leader of the Davidians. That same year, Roden, a former follower of Houteff who called himself "the Branch" (Isaiah 11:1), called for Davidians to come to Mount Carmel Center to hear his message. This was the beginning of the group that would be popularly known as the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists.
In 1957, Florence Houteff sold the old Mount Carmel Center and purchased 941 acres near Elk, Texas, thirteen miles northeast of Waco, naming the property New Mount Carmel Center. After the failure of Florence's prophecy of apocalyptic events on or near April 22, 1959, she dissolved the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in 1962 and sold all but 77.86 acres of the New Mount Carmel property. Roden took possession of New Mount Carmel in 1962 and began his efforts to purchase the remaining 77.86 acres. On February 27, 1973, New Mount Carmel was sold to "Benjamin Roden, Lois Roden, and [their son] George Roden, Trustees for the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists." From this point on, the property was simply known as Mount Carmel. Upon the death of Roden in 1978, his wife Lois became the next Branch Davidian prophet at the compound.
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 1984 the core group of Branch Davidians shifted their allegiance from Lois' son George to Koresh.
The Branch Davidians are most associated with the Waco siege of 1993, a 51-day standoff between members of the sect and federal agents. The conflict ended when Mount Carmel was destroyed in a fire. Ten people were killed during the initial raid by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms agents on February 28, 1993, and 76 Branch Davidians of all ages died in the fire that was the culmination of an FBI tank and CS gas assault on April 19, 1993.
In 1929, Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist Sabbath School teacher in a local church in Southern California, claimed that he had a new message for the entire church. He presented his views in a book, The Shepherd's Rod: The 144,000—A Call for Reformation. The Adventist leadership rejected Houteff's views as contrary to the Adventists' 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. In 1942, he renamed the group the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, 'Davidian' indicating the belief in the restoration of the Davidic Kingdom of Israel. Following Houteff's death in 1955, the segment of the group loyal to Houteff continued as the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, led by his wife Florence. Convinced of an imminent apocalypse, in a time frame announced by Florence Houteff which was not found in the original writings of her husband Victor, Florence and her council gathered hundreds of faithful followers together at their Mount Carmel Center near Waco in 1959 for the fulfillment of Ezekiel 9.
The anticipated events did not occur, and following this disappointment, Benjamin Roden formed another group called the Branch Davidians and succeeded in taking control of Mount Carmel. This name is an allusion to the anointed 'Branch' (mentioned in Zechariah 3:8; 6:12). 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, Lois Roden, and his son, George. After Lois Roden died, George Roden assumed the right to the Presidency. But 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
Vernon Howell's arrival on the Waco compound in 1981 was well received by nearly everyone at the Davidian commune. Howell had an affair with the then-prophet of the Branch Davidians, Lois Roden, while he was in his late 20s and she was in her late 60s. Howell wanted a child with her, who, according to his understanding, would be the Chosen One. When she died, her son George Roden inherited the positions of prophet and leader of the commune. However, George Roden and Howell began to clash. Howell soon enjoyed the loyalty of the majority of the Branch Davidian community.
As an attempt to regain support, George Roden challenged Howell to raise the dead, going so far as to exhume a corpse in order to demonstrate his spiritual supremacy. This illegal act gave Howell an opportunity to attempt to file charges against Roden, but he was told he needed evidence. This led to the raid on November 3, 1987, of the Mount Carmel Center by Howell and 7 of his followers equipped with five .223 caliber semiautomatic rifles, two .22 caliber rifles, two 12-gauge shotguns and nearly 400 rounds of ammunition. Their objective seemed to be to retake the land that Howell had left three years earlier. Although they claimed to have been trying to obtain evidence of Roden's illegal activity, they did not take a camera.
The trial ended with the jury finding the followers of Howell not guilty, but the jury members were unable to agree on a verdict for Howell. After his followers were found not guilty, Howell invited the prosecutors to Mount Carmel for ice cream.
It is claimed that Howell was never authorized to name his breakaway sect the "Branch Davidians", 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
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. This practice later served as the basis for allegations that Koresh was committing child abuse, which contributed to the siege by the ATF.
Interpreting Revelation 5:2, Koresh identified himself with the Lamb mentioned therein. 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.
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".
On February 28, 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. The ATF attempted to breach the compound for approximately two hours until their ammunition ran low. 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. 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. His wife claimed that he was merely returning from work and had not participated in the day's earlier altercation. Schroeder had been shot once in the eye, once in the heart, and five times in the back.
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. Allegedly, the children had been physically and sexually abused long before the raid.
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. 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. Some Branch Davidian survivors maintain that the fires were started either accidentally or deliberately by the assault. 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. The siege 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. Seventy-six more died in the final assault on April 19. The events at Waco spurred criminal prosecution and civil litigation. A federal grand jury indicted 12 of the surviving Branch Davidians 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. As of July 2007, all Branch Davidians had been released from prison.
Several 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".
Branch Davidians after Waco
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One modern incarnation of the Branch Davidians exists under the leadership of Charles Pace, a follower of Ben and Lois Roden, who was a member of the Branch Davidians from the mid-1970s. The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness is a legally recognized denomination with 1200 members. Pace claims that Koresh twisted the Bible's teachings by fathering more than a dozen children with members' wives. Pace believes that the Lord "has anointed me and appointed me to be the leader," but he claims that he is "not a prophet" but "a teacher of righteousness". Other Branch Davidians, led by Clive Doyle, continue to believe Koresh was a prophet and await his resurrection, along with the followers who were killed. Both incarnations are still waiting for the end of times.
Relationship with Seventh-Day Adventists
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, the main church in the Adventist tradition, rejected Victor Houteff's teachings and revoked his membership in 1930. Houteff went on to found the Davidians (a splinter group, otherwise known as the Shepherd's Rod). Branch Davidians are considered a splinter group from that dissenting group (the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod) and the product of a schism among the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod initiated by Benjamin Roden.
Branch Davidian leaders, while still formally members in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, pushed for a reform of the church and when this was met with opposition (from both the common Seventh-day Adventists and also the already excluded Davidians/Shepherd's Rod), they decided to leave that denomination while at the same time widely distancing themselves from the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod (their "parent group" that arose earlier and was also excluded for their own attempts to reform the Seventh-day Adventist Church). The Seventh-day Adventist Church deprived both the Branch Davidians and the Davidians of their membership in the denomination, but in spite of this fact the Branch Davidians actively continued to "hunt" members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, encouraging them to leave it and join their group instead. The Seventh-day Adventists were reportedly "apprehensive" about the group's views as Branch Davidians claimed to be the "only rightful continuation of the Adventist message", based on the idea that Victor Houteff was the divinely selected prophet and successor to Ellen G. White. Both the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod and the Branch Davidians claimed Houteff as their spiritual inspiration, although he was the founder of the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod. The Seventh-day Adventist Church issued warnings about the Branch Davidian views to its members on a regular basis.
Schisms within the Branch Davidian sect
There is documented evidence (FBI negotiation transcripts between Kathryn Shroeder and Steve Schneider with interjections from Koresh himself) that David Koresh and his followers did not call themselves Branch Davidians. In addition, David Koresh, through forgery, stole the identity of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists for the purpose of obtaining the Mount Carmel Center property.
The doctrinal beliefs of the Branch Davidians differ on teachings such as the Holy Spirit and his nature, and the feast days and their requirements. Both groups have disputed the relevance of the other's spiritual authority based on the proceedings following Victor Houteff's death. From its inception in 1930, the Davidians/Shepherd's Rod group believed themselves to be living in a time when Biblical prophecies of a Last Judgment were coming to pass as a prelude to Christ's Second Coming.
In the late 1980s, Koresh and his followers abandoned many Branch Davidian teachings. Koresh became the group's self-proclaimed final prophet. "Koreshians" were the majority resulting from the schism among the Branch Davidians, but some of the Branch Davidians did not join Koresh's group and instead gathered around George Roden or became independent. Following a series of violent shootouts between Roden's and Koresh's group, the Mount Carmel compound was eventually taken over by the "Koreshians".
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- Kenneth G. C. Newport, The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of an Apocalyptic Sect (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), 199-22, 125-27, quote on 128, ISBN 978-0199245741; Eugene V. Gallagher, Davidians and Branch Davidians (1929-1981)
- Eugene V. Gallagher, Davidians and Branch Davidians (1929-1981)
- Catherine Wessinger, "Branch Davidians (1981-2006)"
- 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 2017-05-11.
- The General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. "The Shepherd's Rod, Vol. 1". The-branch.org. Archived from the original on 2016-03-13. Retrieved 2011-03-18.
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- "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". www.bible.com. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
- "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". www.bible.com. Retrieved 2017-05-17.
- "Biography: David Koresh". PBS. Frontline. Retrieved 21 May 2016.
- 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.
- "BIOGRAPHY: David Koresh". PBS. Retrieved 23 May 2016.
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- The General Association of Branch Davidians
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- "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].
- 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 25 February 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."
- 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 2012-07-10.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
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- 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.
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- Leon., Whiteson (1999). A Place Called Waco : A Survivor's Story. PublicAffairs. ISBN 1891620428. OCLC 41368317.
- p. 7403 of the trial transcripts
- Associated Press (April 19, 2006). "Six Branch Davidians Due for Release 13 Years After Waco Inferno". Fox News.
- Andrade v. Chojnacki, 338 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2003), cert. denied (2004).
- The Associated Press. "Near Waco, a New Fight Over an Old Compound". New York Times. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
- Burnett, John (April 20, 2013). "Two Decades Later, Some Branch Davidians Still Believe". National Public Radio. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
- Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict by Stuart A. Wright, p.22
- "United States Department of the Treasury: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (Tape #126 Transcription)" (PDF). March 13, 1993.
- Mitchell, Douglas (2018). Waco Untold, How David Koresh Stole the Identity of The Branch Davidians. USA: Ten Strings Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9998026-0-1.