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
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.
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 IntellectualConservative.com,
VIOdaily.com, AmericanDaily.com, MensNewsDaily.com, BushCountry.org, Chalcedon.com,
ConservativeTruth.com, FreeRepublic.com, WoundedShepherds.com, among others.
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