Davidians don't like connection to McVeigh

Waco Tribune-Herald/June 10, 2001
By Jason Embry

A group of Branch Davidians studied the Bible for about three hours Saturday. Nobody mentioned Timothy McVeigh.

The Davidians themselves may be the only ones not linking the Oklahoma City bomber to the sect whose legacy Waco cannot escape. Almost any account of McVeigh's motives for bombing the Alfred P. Murrah federal building traces back to the 1993 compound fire in which 76 Davidians died 10 miles east of town.

But Sunday, just hours before McVeigh was to leave the world he so violently shook, Davidian Clive Doyle said his group does not appreciate the supposed act of retribution.

"I don't see that blowing up a building that kills a whole bunch of kids really makes a strike against the government or law enforcement, if that's what you're against," said Doyle, who escaped with burns from the Davidian fire but lost his 18-year-old daughter. "It didn't hurt them all that much and it didn't help us."

Doyle, who shares a trailer at Mount Carmel with his mother, woke up at 7 a.m. Sunday to build a fence around the property where the famous compound once stood. The 5-foot-high fence is to keep out the vandals who come by late at night or on Saturdays, when a 10 to 20 Davidians gather to observe the Sabbath.

The group usually opens its gate and allows visitors to view its 77-acre property during the day. Many have come over the last eight years to rally behind the sect members, whom they see as victims of an aggressive and irresponsible federal government. A federal judge last year ruled that Koresh was solely responsible for the 1993 fire.

McVeigh himself has said he visited Mount Carmel after the deadly fire. But Doyle said he never heard of McVeigh until the bomber was arrested. "It's kind of hard to say in some way what we could have done to stop him," said Doyle, 60. Robert Darden, an assistant professor of English at Baylor University and co-author of the Davidian book Mad Man in Waco , said sect members were pacifists until David Koresh became their leader. He said they continue to be reactive people who do not promote revenge, but also do not stop others from rallying around them.

"I'm not real sure that they could have prevented (Oklahoma City)," he said. "I don't hold them culpable for this." Doyle recalled one man who sneaked into the compound during the siege and offered to rally thousands of militiamen who would unleash an attack on federal agents. But Koresh discouraged that, Doyle said.

The man instead stayed in the compound for a few days, where Doyle said he studied the Bible and ate meals with the group. When he left, Koresh gave him new clothes and a pair of cowboy boots. The April 19, 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City came on the two-year anniversary of the fire at Mount Carmel. About 200 people gathered that day - as people do every April 19 - for a memorial service where the compound once stood.

Ramsey Clark, a lawyer who has represented some Davidians' family members in lawsuits against the government, gave one of the final speeches at the 1995 service. When he stepped off the makeshift stage at the outdoor service, he was swarmed by reporters asking about a bombing that had just occurred in Oklahoma.

He heard only a little bit of conversation about the bombing at an afternoon lunch. "I think the Branch Davidians were still very much into the ceremony they had and the remembrance of what had happened at Waco two years before," said Clark, who served as U.S. attorney general under Lyndon B. Johnson. "It wasn't known to be as disastrous as it was."

Davidian Sheila Martin, who lost four children in the blaze, said she regrets that one incident may have led to the other. But she also questions why the Davidian survivors and victims have not received the same sympathy and grief as their counterparts in Oklahoma City.

"We hear that so much has been given to the children in Oklahoma City," she said. "We've never heard of them wanting. They want for their families, of course, but we want for our families also." Darden questioned her comparison.

"When they had a chance to get out and the people in Oklahoma City had no chance at all, I think that's apples and oranges," he said.

Ron Goins, who moved to Waco from Philadelphia three years ago, helped Doyle put up the fence Sunday. He often spends the night in a camper next to the Mount Carmel church that volunteers built and Davidians opened last year. Goins, who is Jewish, came to Waco in part because he believes the government was wrongly hostile to Koresh and his followers.

"I felt the same rage (as McVeigh), but I didn't feel the responsibility upon myself to take lives, especially since there were innocent people who died in Oklahoma City," said Goins, 46. He added that the McVeigh bombing shifted public attention away from scrutiny of the government and toward "mad bombers, lone gunmen and things like that."

Doyle said he doesn't know enough about the McVeigh case to determine whether the bomber should be put to death. He did not plan to watch news coverage of the morning execution. But he does know that people will continue to connect the two events. And that, he said, only takes attention away from the memory of Mount Carmel. "April 19 is not so significant to a lot of people now because of other things."

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