Almost 20 years later, a Branch Davidian defends the group's actions at Waco

The New York Post/September 9, 2012

During the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearm's infamous shootout with the religious group known as the Branch Davidians on Feb. 28, 1993 in Waco, Texas, Perry Jones - father-in-law of the group's leader, David Koresh - was shot. Wracked with pain and believing he would not survive, Jones said to fellow church member Clive Doyle, "I can't stand the pain. Ask David if I can be put out of my misery." But Koresh relayed the message that Jones should "grit his teeth" and "hang in there," claiming that "we are going to get help." Help did not come, and Jones died in agony soon after.

"A Journey to Waco" was written by longtime church member Doyle, one of the nine survivors of the fire that ended the siege, and purports to give the Davidian's side of the incident, with co-author [Catherine] Wessinger calling the book, in its introduction, "a compelling argument to the one-sided narrative promoted by the government."

But as Doyle spins the Davidians' tale, including the story of Koresh's ascent and incredible power over the group, it's hard to imagine readers taking their side, especially as Doyle describes Koresh taking actions that most rational human beings would have recognized as harmful to those around him.

The Branch Davidians were a spinoff of the Seventh-day Adventists formed by a man named Ben Roden and later led by his wife Lois. Koresh - real name Vernon Howell - arrived at the Davidian's complex in 1981 at age 22, and within several years was proclaimed the group's next prophet. The group's beliefs shifted depending on the identity of the leader, and Koresh's testimony included that God and Christ were one, that he had appeared on Earth in forms other than as Jesus Christ, and that when church members died, Christ would "take us into His closet and show us all the different garments He has worn."

In relaying his admiration for the man, Doyle notes casually that Koresh, then around 25, married his wife when she was 14. There is no further discussion of this, such as why the group's members (including the girl's parents) found this acceptable, or how Koresh came to also father three children by his wife's sister. Doyle also barely mentions how Koresh put them in the gun-selling business, and how this might have invited trouble.

It did just that in 1993 when, suspicious of the Branch Davidian's activities, the ATF got a warrant to search for illegally modified weapons.

The day of the raid, Doyle says he heard Koresh yell out the front door, "Hey, wait a minute! There are women and children in here!" Then, he writes, "all hell broke loose - just a barrage of shots from outside coming in. It sounded like a bloodbath." The ATF would later maintain that they were fired at first.

By the shootout's end, six Davidians had been killed (as well as four ATF agents), and they were surrounded by agents, helicopters and, eventually, tanks.

Early in the standoff, which eventually lasted 51 days, Koresh negotiated that "if agents would read a short statement from David on the radio, some small children would be released." Doyle recounts this without explaining why he thought it reasonable that childrens' lives should be used as chits for Koresh to use to spread his gospel.

It becomes increasingly less clear what the Davidians were trying to accomplish and why they didn't just give up.

By April 19, the FBI grew tired of waiting, and began gassing the Davidians in order to drive them out. Koresh ordered all the children and their mothers into a concrete vault on the premises, thinking they'd be safest there. But FBI tanks wound up driving "through the front bedroom on the first floor to get to the entrance of the vault and sprayed gas into the vault pretty much at point blank range."

The vault had no ventilation, and became "a death trap" for those inside. "I think most of them were probably dead from asphyxiation before the fire reached them," Doyle writes. "A lot of people in there died from smoke inhalation."

Seventy-six Davidians - 23 of them children - were killed in the fire, including Doyle's 18-year-old daughter, Shari.

Doyle escaped, was acquited at trial of various charges, and even resided at the complex once again from 1999 to 2006. He now lives in a nearby apartment, his biggest worry that the cult will die out along with Koresh's teachings.

Doyle writes, "It's all right for people to ask, 'Why didn't you come out earlier?' There were a lot of different factors involved. We were trusting in God, we were praying for miracles, we were looking to a leader for guidance."

He never acknowledges, or even seems to realize, that one possible reason all those people died was that they were looking to the wrong leader.

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