Branch Davidian Standoff (2014)

The Branch Davidians (or the General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists) are a religious association 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 Bulgarian immigrant and a Seventh-day Adventist, wrote a series of tracts entitled the “Shepherd’s Rod”, which called for the reform of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After his ideas were rejected by Adventist leaders, Houteff and his followers founded the Davidians and settled on a tract of land on the western outskirts of Waco, Texas, United States, 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”, after the branch referred to in 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 Branch Davidians.

In 1957, Florence sold the original 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 Branch Davidians 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.”[2] 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 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 1984 the core group of Davidians had shifted their allegiance from Lois’ son George to Koresh.[4] Koresh’s leadership of the Davidians ended at the climax of the Waco siege of 1993, a 51-day standoff between members of the sect and federal agents, when Mount Carmel was destroyed in a fire. Four ATF agents and two residents of Mt. Carmel were killed by members of the Branch Davidians during the initial raid, while four members of the Branch Davidians were killed by ATF agents on February 28, 1993. Seventy-six Branch Davidians of all ages died in a fire that erupted during the siege on April 19, 1993.[5]

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.[22][23] The ATF attempted to breach the compound for approximately two hours until their ammunition ran low.[24][25] 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.[26] 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.[27] His wife said he was merely returning from work and had not participated in the day’s earlier altercation.[25] Schroeder had been shot once in the eye, once in the heart, and five times in the back.[28]

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.[29] The children were then interviewed by the FBI and the Texas Rangers.[29] Allegedly, the children had been physically and sexually abused long before the raid, though no evidence of abuse was ever produced.[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.

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