Branch Davidians await return of leader Koresh

Their prophet died in 1993: Followers say God delayed Apocalypse to allow for wrongful death trial

National Post, June 24, 2000
By Jan Cienski

WACO, Tex. - David Koresh perished in the fire that consumed the Branch Davidian compound after U.S. government agents stormed it in 1993, but his followers say they expect him to return.

They have been waiting patiently since 1993 for Mr. Koresh, the charismatic Bible teacher and prophet who died with as many as 80 others when federal agents attacked their heavily armed compound on April 19, 1993.

"We're waiting for his return," said Clive Doyle, an affable Australian who survived the conflagration that destroyed the compound and who now leads the remnants of the Davidian community. "Until then we're basically treading water."

Mr. Doyle also expects the resurrection of his daughter, Shari, who was 18 when she died in the fire.

The 20 or so followers Mr. Doyle has gathered call themselves Students of the Seven Seals, a reference to the series of events that precipitates the final Apocalypse, as described in the Bible's Book of Revelations.

Most of Mr. Doyle's congregation are people who lived through the initial government raid on Feb. 28, 1993, which killed six Davidians and four agents of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Many lost family members either in that first attack or in the final conflagration.

One loyal follower, Sheila Martin, lost her husband, son and three daughters.

"We were there for the truth," said Mrs. Martin, who expresses no doubts about Mr. Koresh or his ideas.

"There are some survivors who have chosen the easy way out and who say that was all in the past but most of the survivors are hanging on for the truth," Mr. Doyle said.

Some new memb0ers have come to Waco to study with Mr. Doyle, drawn by the publicity that has surrounded the movement since the siege and by its apocalyptic, Bible-based theology.

"There's a secret, the secret is in the Bible," said Ron Goins, a neatly bearded 45-year-old who abandoned Judaism and settled on the Branch Davidians after making spiritual stops along the way, including the Hare Krishnas.

The Branch Davidians are an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. The Adventist movement was born in the 19th century, when a New England prophet, William Miller, became convinced of the imminent Apocalypse after reading Revelations and the Book of Daniel.

He predicted the world would end on Oct. 22, 1844. On that day, as many as 50,000 Millerite Adventists gathered in prayer, waiting to be taken up to the Lord after having abandoned their farms and businesses.

When the sun rose on Oct. 23, a day known as the Great Disappointment, the movement initially crumbled and then was reborn as the Seventh Day Adventists. The Davidians split in 1929, returning to the older and riskier tradition of actually naming the date and time of the end of days.

Mr. Koresh saw himself as the holder of the final seal of the Apocalypse, which would bring about the end of the world.

"The doctrine is the same but we're in a holding pattern because David's not here," said Mr. Doyle.

Mr. Doyle's little flock is making a bid to reclaim some of the life it knew before the federal raid.

Only overgrown foundations remain of the original wooden dormitories and halls built at Mount Carmel -- the name of the Branch Davidian compound. During Mr. Koresh's time more than 100 people lived on the ranch and hundreds more would visit every year.

The massive, grey concrete swimming pool where the children played is now half filled with green water. Small turtles swim lazily among pieces of charred wood that occasionally bob to the surface.

But just next to the pool stands a chapel built last fall by the Davidians with the help of some local anti-government groups.

Most Davidians live in the city of Waco, about 15 km from the ranch, but there is talk of eventually rebuilding some sort of a commune at Mount Carmel.

"We're heading in that direction," Mr. Doyle said.

For many townspeople in Waco, the continued presence of the Davidians is an embarrassment and an unwelcome reminder of the events that made their town a household name around the world.

"It's not a topic that is widely discussed publicly," said Mark Gully, one of the handful of locals who have bothered to look in on the US$675-million wrongful death lawsuit filed by Davidian families against the federal government which began this week.

In the courtroom, lawyers for the federal government blame the disaster at Waco on the heads of Mr. Koresh and his disciples.

The federal agents "were doing their jobs and they faced an armed and dangerous man named David Koresh who had armed himself and his followers to the teeth," said Michael Bradford, U.S. attorney.

The trial shows the continuing gulf between the Davidians -- who see themselves as God's favourites in the upcoming doomsday -- and the world view of the rest of the country.

In 911 tapes from Feb. 28, 1993, played for the judge and jury, Mr. Koresh and his followers talk to police dispatchers while fighting off federal agents. While officers try to negotiate a ceasefire, Mr. Koresh veers off to talk about the Seven Seals, the Book of Deuteronomy and Biblical prophecy. To Mr. Doyle's little band, that view of looking first to the Bible still holds true. They say God has delayed the Apocalypse briefly to allow for the wrongful death trial in the hopes that government officials who planned the raid would have the opportunity to repent and be saved.

But they aren't optimistic.

"We don't see a lot of remorse and regret," Mr. Doyle said. "They don't know God as the Bible teaches."

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