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Waco Massacre Should Never Have Happened
by J. Grant Swank, Jr., Pastor
20 April 2003

On April 17, some of the children of those parents who died were interviewed on PRIMETIME. Their questions to the agents responsible for their families’ deaths were summed up in this one: Why did the government really kill off our mothers and fathers and siblings?

David Koresh was indeed a religious nut. Handsome, slender, given to verbiage ad infinitum, Bible pointing, intense eyes. He had the power to grip a soul. He could manipulate an audience, including males.

Koresh, brought up poor, child of a fifteen-year old mother, wandered as a youth. He got hold of a Bible and memorized large parts of it, joining the Seventh Day Adventist Church for awhile. He got in trouble with the youth group, so was kicked out.

He was not born David Koresh. His real name was Vernon Wayne Howell, birthed in Houston in 1959. He never knew his father, reared by his grandparents.

Koresh told FBI agents in dialogue prior to the final showdown that his youth was lonely. He was "teased" and given nicknames he didn’t like, such as "Vernie." He was dyslexic, not a good student, left high school. He did have musical talent. He wanted to be a star, so hung out for awhile in Hollywood. That not working, he left California to return to Texas where he joined up with a cult, the Branch Davidians. One time it had 1400 devotees.

Koresh had affairs, one with a self-proclaimed prophetess by the name of Lois Roden. She was in her late sixties. They traveled to the Middle East. When she died, he returned to Texas where he became the chief of the Branch Davidians; he legally changed his name. He considered himself to be the head of the House of David, in line with the biblical ancestry. (Koresh is Hebrew for Cyrus, Persian king who permitted Jews once captive in Babylon to return to Israel).

On this tenth anniversary of the Waco fiasco, resulting in the deaths of 74 men, women and children, it is still an historical tragedy that should never have happened. Those people died in a fire like unto our imagining of hell’s pit.

That was April 19, 1993. The FBI formed the rationale, believed by many, leaving others skeptical.

On Thursday, April 17, some of the children of those parents who died were interviewed on PRIMETIME. Their questions to the agents responsible for their families’ deaths were summed up in this one: Why did the government really kill off our mothers and fathers and siblings? No tight answer was provided in the interview.

I watched the scene back then ten years ago. It was if it were yesterday in my mind. As a pastor—a religious person with theological training—I knew Koresh was of course a religious offbeat. He was a cult leader—plain and simple, of which there are many and have been many. Cult leaders brainwash people. They can do horrible things, many times sexually, in the name of religion. That went on in the Waco compound.

But when I witnessed on TV the government, from the President to Janet Reno on down to the local authorities, giving the signal to attack with guns those in the commune, I could not believe me eyes. I said, "This has to be happening in a Communist country."

Certainly what was going on in those buildings was not right or legal. What was going on did not warrant attacking humans so as to egg them on to kill themselves or envelope themselves in a killer fire. There are other ways of dealing with cults and their leaders.

The guns in that commune were legal. The local sheriff checked that out and confirmed it. These cultists were law-abiding American citizens, though they were weird. Yet they were murdered by US government agents acting under directives from Washington DC.

The question obviously is this: Can this happen again somewhere?

"Few Americans realize that on February 28, 1993 when BATF agents in National Guard helicopters zoomed in on the Branch Davidians' church and home, Mount Carmel Center, they did so with guns blazing, like Americans raiding a Vietnamese village in that far off war. It is likely FBI agents deliberately sabotaged negotiations with Davidians to prevent their exiting Mount Carmel. Their goal was to destroy the building and its damaging evidence, even if that meant the massacre of dozens of men, women and children, all witnesses to the brutal attack," writes Carol Moore in OVERVIEW OF DAVIDIAN MASSACRE.

Koresh promised to surrender to the FBI. However, the FBI was intent on destroying the buildings. The morning dawned and tanks rammed holes into the main edifice, pumping deadly quantities of CS gas into the structure. The tanks leveled parts of the commune. The structures were soaked with inflammable CS gas and spilled kerosene.

Ten years later the children, telling the offbeat reality of the cultic happenings that went on within the secret confines, still shed tears, look into government faces to ask their simple questions, and leave the interview with doubt and confusion. More tragically, they leave with hardened distrust, concluding that once again they have been told lies or half-lies, in other words, not told the truth.

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., is the Pastor of New Hope Church in Windham, ME.  He is a a graduate of an accredited college (BA) and seminary (M Div) with graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.  Pastor Swank has been married for 41 years and he has 3 adult children.  He is the author of 5 books and over 2000 articles in various Protestant and Catholic magazines, journals and newspapers. He writes a weekly religion column for PORTLAND PRESS HERALD newspaper, Portland ME.  His columns have appeared on,,,,,,,,, among others.

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