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An apocalyptic religious sect called the Branch Davidians became a household name in 1993 when members of the Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas, engaged in a weeks-long standoff with authorities. Now 30 years after the Waco siege, questions still linger about the conflict that claimed 86 lives. Keep reading for details on the siege, deaths and Branch Davidians.
Who Are The Branch Davidians?
The Branch Davidians are a religious group founded by Benjamin Roden in 1955 amid a schism among the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, which itself is an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Per Frontline, Davidians believe the Bible is the literal word of God and that the Book of Revelations details the end of the world, during which sinners will be punished and the righteous will be rewarded.
“We don’t perhaps use the same terminology or get into all the conspiracy theories that some people that promote that idea promote,” Branch Davidian Clive Doyle told Frontline in 1995. “But on the other hand, we do believe that the Devil is in control of the nations of the world and that they are merging toward what the Bible calls Babylon the Great.”
The group settled at Mount Carmel, just west of Waco, Texas. In the early 1980s a man named Vernon Howell rose up the ranks to become the leader of the movement before changing his name to David Koresh.
Why Did the ATF Raid Waco?
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms arrived at the Mount Carmel Center on February 28, 1993, with a search warrant regarding illegal weapons. A shootout followed, leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead that day.
While the ATF intended for the raid to come as a surprise to Koresh and the Davidians, in an effort to reduce the risk of the religious members using their stockpile of illegal weapons and explosives, a local news reporter caught wind of the search and stopped to ask a postal worker for directions. The U.S. Postal Service employee, who happened to be Koresh’s brother-in-law, tipped off the Davidians who then had time to prepare.
“Everyone thinks that we’re monsters, that we attacked innocent people,” ATF agent Robert Elder told ABC News. “We didn’t drive up there and start shooting and killing people. We responded with deadly force because deadly force was used against us.”
Following the tragic shootout, the two sides were at a standoff with the Davidians barricaded inside.
How Long Did The Waco Siege Last?
The standoff lasted 51 days as FBI negotiators tried to reach a peaceful resolution with Davidian leader Koresh. Then, on April 19, federal authorities took action, approaching the compound with tear gas and modified tanks.
“The tank came into the front doors, the two double doors… and they just blew everything back,” former Davidian member David Thibodeau revealed. “It was amazing to see a tank come through your living room.”
Four hours later, the compound was on fire. A Congressional investigation later determined Koresh and his followers ignited the fire themselves, but some still believe the feds set the compound ablaze. In the end, 76 Branch Davidians died that day, including Koresh and more than 20 children. “These children, they’re innocent, they don’t know,” Elder said. “These children being killed, that didn’t have to happen. David Koresh is the cause of why it all happened.”
Despite their apocalyptic views, attorney Dick DeGuerin doesn’t think his client Koresh intended to perish that day. “I don’t believe Koresh or any of the others wanted to die,” he told local news affiliate KTRK. “The more the public knows about how horrible what happened in Waco was, the better chance it’s not going to happen again.”