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RELIGIONS AND FREEDOM after 1945 (2 of 7)

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David Koresh and the Branch Davidians

In the United States, religious drift taking place in an atmosphere of freedom of worship produced an organization that came into conflict with state laws. This was the Branch Davidians, led by David Koresh.

Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell. His Branch Davidians were a breakaway group from the Seventh Day Adventists, and Koresh claimed to be the final prophet. Like the Seventh Day Adventists, the Branch Davidians believed Biblical prophecy and the coming of Armageddon described in many places in the New Testament.

Koresh had beginnings that were unpromising. He was born out of wedlock to a 14-year-old single mother, Bonnie-Sue. The 20-year-old father, Bobby Howell, had abandoned Bonnie-Sue, and Bonnie Sue began cohabiting with a violent alcoholic. By the time Koresh was seven his mother was married to a different man, but Koresh was not doing well in school. He is reported to have had poor study habits, but by the age of eleven, according to reports, he had memorized the entire New Testament. Whatever wisdom he gathered from this, by the time he was at the age of 19 he an affair with a 15-year-old girl who became pregnant. His mother was a Southern Baptist, and from in his mother's church he became a Seventh-day Adventist and a born-again Christian. He was attracted to the pastor's daughter and told him that God wanted him to have the daughter for a wife. The pastor expelled Vernon from the congregation.

In 1981, at the age of 22, Koresh moved to Waco, Texas, and there joined the Branch Davidians. He won the trust of the 78-year-old leader of the group, Lois Roden. She elevated Vernon to the position of a Biblical instructor. His style won for him a following which broke from the others, and Koresh and his group were forced off the Branch Davidian property. Lois Roden died in 1986, and conflict among the Branch Davidians involved a 45-minute shoot out between a few of Koresh's followers and the new leader of the Davidians, George Roden. There were legal proceedings with a jury ruling in Koresh's favor that included the return of all the guns owned by Koresh and his group.

In 1989, George Roden murdered Wayman Dale Adair with an axe after Adair claimed that he, Adair, was the True Messiah. Roden was imprisoned in a mental hospital. Koresh raised enough money for his group to buy the Davidian ranch. Elevated to a new status, it was then that Vernon Howell began calling himself David Koresh. He is alleged to have advocated polygamy for himself and was married to several of the females among his followers. Hostile former members claimed that Koresh could claim any of the females on the Davidian ranch as his.

The U.S. Department of Justice gathered information from an interview with a former member, Jeannine Bunds, who claimed Koresh to be the father of at least 15 children and that Koresh had had sex with a girl as young as 12. She said she had delivered seven of these children. This was in violation of Texas law. The government sent agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms with a warrant to arrest David Koresh. Koresh and his followers chose to resist. They killed four government agents, and the agents fought back, killing five Davidians before retreating.

The FBI surrounded the Davidian compound and tried to talk Koresh into surrendering. The FBI were concerned that the Davidians would commit mass suicide as the followers of the Reverend Jim Jones in 1978. After 51 days of waiting, the FBI received approval from Attorney General Janet Reno to move against Koresh militarily. Fire erupted inside the compound, and gunshots were heard from within the Davidian compound. Koresh and 75 others died, including 21 children.

An Army veteran, Timothy McVeigh, saw the federal government's action against Koresh and his followers as a violation of their rights. As retribution, in 1995, he and an accomplice, Terry Nichols, bombed the federal building In Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 8 federal marshals and 19 children.

Surviving followers of Koresh who had been away from the Davidian ranch were expecting Koresh to be resurrected in the year 1996.

In January 2009, Koresh's mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, 64, was stabbed to death by her sister.

Copyright © 2006-2014 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.

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