John H. Kundts, a special supervisory agent for the FBI, said the men were arrested away from the home at 2439 S. Kittredge Way after the search uncovered materials that appeared to be explosives.
Two of the men have links to the Branch Davidian religious sect that was decimated in a standoff with federal authorities in April 1993. But two highly placed federal sources said there is no direct link between Thursday's arrests and the ongoing trial of Oklahoma City bombing suspect Timothy McVeigh. Prosecutors have cited McVeigh's anger over the Branch Davidian standoff as a possible motive for that bombing.
Ronald David Cole, 27, wrote a scathing book on the standoff called "Sinister Twilight" in which he accused the federal government of murdering the Davidians, according to Kirk Lyons, a lawyer for the surviving Davidians.
Also arrested was Wallace Stanley Kennett, 33, a Branch Davidian who left the group's Mount Carmel Center before the siege began and "teamed up" with Cole after the fire, Lyons said. The third man was identified as Kevin I. Terry, 24.
The three are expected to make their first appearance before a U.S. magistrate Friday.
Neighbors said Aurora police knocked on their doors at about 2 p.m. Thursday and ordered them to leave their homes. Police and about a dozen FBI agents still milled around the house at mid-evening and the neighbors had not been allowed to return home.
"One of the cops that evacuated me said there were some semi-automatic weapons, chemicals and stuff to make bombs with," said Leo Fritz, who lives on the street. "We were concerned but not nervous. The mention of explosives got us a little."
Area residents said the three men had moved into the home within the last month and were the latest in a series of renters to occupy the property. "They were really private. They didn't say anything at all. They were loners," said Fritz's 12-year-old son, Bryan Fritz.
One federal source said the focus of Thursday's arrests was on the unlawful possession of automatic weapons. He said it wasn't clear if the weapons had been manufactured originally as machine guns or had been converted from semiautomatic guns.
Authorities wouldn't say how many weapons were taken from the home. But there was also concern about the possible explosive devices, which is why the residential area was evacuated and cordoned off. Two homes on either side of the raided home and two across the street were evacuated.
Lyons, a director and lawyer for the North Carolina-based CAUSE Foundation, said that Cole and Kennett have been extremely strident in their statements. Surviving Davidians who are suing the federal government over the raid have tried to distance themselves from the pair.
Cole and Kennett "are not considered members of the Mount Carmel Survivors Association," said Lyons. "They are kind of considered outsiders - "we're glad you like us, we are glad you support us,' but the Davidians have always kept an arms' length, although I think they like Wally and like Ron."
The Davidians have always been concerned that Cole and Kennett "are a little too with the program. Cole and Kennett are a lot more militant in their pronouncements" than the normal Branch Davidian, said Lyons.
Most Davidians are peaceful, non-violent people, he said.
Lyons said Cole's book claims that the Davidians were murdered as some fled from the back end of the building, away from the eyes of the media. Cole does not believe, as the government claims, that the Davidians set fire to themselves, Lyons added.
He said that Cole and Kennett claim to be followers of the message of Branch Davidian founder David Koresh.