Waco, 20 Years Later: Where Are They Now?

Waco, 20 Years Later: Where Are They Now?



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1. David Koresh
Born Vernon Wayne Howell, he changed his name to David Koresh in 1990 after becoming leader of the Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In addition to proclaiming himself the messiah and preaching that the end of the world was near, Koresh built up a weapons arsenal that included machine guns, AK-47 assault rifles, hand grenades and massive quantities of ammunition. He also took numerous wives, some allegedly as young as 12 or 13, and condoned harsh corporal punishment. During the final assault on his compound on April 19, 1993, Koresh died of a gunshot wound to the head. Various theories abound, including that he committed suicide or that he was shot by a follower while trying to escape. He was buried in an unmarked grave at Memorial Park Cemetery in Tyler, Texas.

2. Janet Reno
The Waco standoff had already begun by the time Janet Reno became the first female attorney general on March 12, 1993. She approved the FBI’s tear gas plan the following month, explaining that negotiations with the Branch Davidians had stalemated and that the children inside the compound were at risk. “We will never know whether there was a better solution,” Reno said in 1995. “Everyone involved … made their best judgments based on all the information we had.” Nonetheless, a Republican-led congressional report called her decision “premature, wrong and highly irresponsible.” She was also criticized when facts emerged contradicting some of her earlier statements. After leaving the attorney general’s office in 2001, Reno ran for governor of Florida but narrowly lost in the Democratic primary. Since then, she has given speeches around the country and served on the board of directors of the Innocence Project, which helps to exonerate wrongly convicted prisoners through DNA testing.

3. Bill Clinton
Newly inaugurated President Bill Clinton closely followed the events at Waco but apparently left the final decision-making to Reno. In a statement, he recalled that he had asked Reno several questions about the tear gas plan prior to concluding that “if she thought it was the right thing to do, she should proceed.” Reno supported this version of events, saying in 1995, “I’d advised the president … and he said he would back me up.” It was “not a decision of the White House,” she added, but a decision made in “the law enforcement arena—where it should be.” Nevertheless, some critics consider the siege a blemish on Clinton’s presidency. Since leaving office, Clinton has authored an autobiography, done philanthropic work and gone on diplomatic missions, including to North Korea, where he negotiated the release of two captured American journalists. He also campaigned for his wife during her failed presidential run in 2008 and for Barack Obama in 2012.

4. Robert Rodriguez
After being leaked to the media, word of the February 28 raid reached the Branch Davidians when a local cameraman unwittingly asked Koresh’s brother-in-law for directions. Robert Rodriguez, an undercover agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) who had infiltrated the compound posing as a trade school student, excused himself in order to warn his superiors that the element of surprise had been lost. But they decided to proceed anyway, leading to the shootout in which 10 people died. Rodriguez later filed a lawsuit against the ATF and a slew of its officials, alleging that they defamed him and conspired to make him a scapegoat. An out-of-court settlement reportedly netted him nearly $2.3 million. Having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, Rodriguez retired with disability benefits in December 1999. As of 2010, he lived in San Antonio, Texas.

5. Timothy McVeigh
Although domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh did not play a direct role in the Branch Davidian standoff, he visited Waco to see the siege for himself and became incensed at the government’s actions. On the two-year anniversary of the tear gas assault, McVeigh set off a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which housed the ATF, among other agencies. The explosion caused the north face of the structure to collapse, killing 168 people and injuring hundreds of others. A state trooper pulled McVeigh over just an hour and a half later for driving without a license plate and subsequently arrested him for unlawfully carrying a handgun. Within days he had been linked to the bombing. “It was a bunch of stuff the government did, and the last straw was Waco,” McVeigh, a U.S. Army veteran and supporter of right-wing survivalist groups, reportedly told his father following his conviction on multiple counts of murder and conspiracy. He was executed by lethal injection on June 11, 2001.


This past quarter I taught a new class for graduating religious studies students planning to serve as pastors within the Seventh-day Adventist church. 1 It was an upper division biblical studies “topics” seminar that started with the Jewish apocalyptic roots of the book of Revelation. We then considered the various ways people read the book of Revelation, with a focus on the importance of the book for our church since the beginning of the Advent movement. The course concluded by considering the ethical ramifications of our interpretations of this final book of Scripture, and the potential of its moral vision language for shaping the behavior of contemporary believers. One of our two-hour sessions was devoted to the tragedy at Waco. I would learn in our discussion that only one of my students was alive at the time, and he was a one-year old. It made me feel old. These graduating seniors were exploring for the first time an event that had significantly shaped the early years of my own ministry, as well as my graduate studies and scholarship as a New Testament professor teaching in an Adventist university. Has it really been 25 years? Given all that has taken place since, how do we now reflect on the tragedy? What have we learned? Has anything changed?

This article reconsiders the Waco event from the perspective of a quarter century. After a brief description of the tragedy and Spectrum’s initial coverage, I will review recent scholarly studies and media treatment of the event. In particular, I will consider the wars between different worlds that continue 25 years after Waco: specifically the war between pro-government and anti-government groups, and the war between literalistic and literary ways of reading the Bible. 2 The vast majority of those who perished in the flames had been at one time members of the Seventh-day Adventist church and at the time they died, many of them still thought of themselves as Adventists. 3 Would Adventism today respond differently to a raid and siege of a group of Branch Davidians in some remote location in America?

The Tragedy

During the spring of 1993 as I was gathering the necessary materials for applying to graduate schools, the Waco tragedy was still very fresh in my mind and it sharpened a growing interest in doing interdisciplinary work in New Testament studies and ethics. On April 19, 1993, after the flames engulfing the Mount Carmel Center ceased, seventy-six people, including twenty-three children, were dead. Along with hundreds of thousands of television viewers, I watched the inferno as I had watched the preceding standoff between government agents and those inside the Center. The disturbing images were heart breaking. After fifty-one days the conflict was over. 4 But was there any “victory”? The cost had been huge.

The next month, an issue of Spectrum (23:1 [May, 1993]) contained a large special section devoted to “Ranch Apocalypse.” In his editorial introducing the special section—“We Didn’t Start the Fire But the Tinder Was Ours”—Roy Branson included a note about the launch of a new popular independent journal called Adventist Today, whose very first issue was devoted to Waco. 5 In preparation for our class discussion, my students read the Spectrum articles and wrote at least one question they wished they could ask the author(s) of each article. They also received copies of the first issue of Adventist Today. Their questions and the class discussion provided new insights and perspectives on this tragedy. For example, some students who read these pieces in the context of the recent #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, wondered why Adventists did not act years earlier when David Koresh (then Vernon Howell) first exhibited his unhealthy attraction to young girls? One said: “forget [arguing about] disfellowshipping him he should have been jailed.”

How do we think differently about Waco in 2018? In the mid-1990s I wrote that: “After 51 days the war between two very different worlds was over.” It seemed true. The government agents and law enforcement officers were still standing Mount Carmel and its occupants were ashes. But in another sense, the war between the two very different worlds was anything but over. The smoldering ashes of Waco would continue to flare at times into yet more intensified wars and on various fronts.

The War between pro-government and anti-government groups

Public interest in the tragedy remains high—particularly at this quarter-century waymark. Although at the time of the siege and immediately after the fire, most media depictions of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians were harshly critical, recent portrayals have been more sympathetic. And there have been numerous media attempts at review. For example, during this 25 th anniversary, a made-for-television, six-week series called “Waco” has aired on Paramount Network (beginning January 24, 2018 and concluding on February 28, 2018 the exact date of the raid on the Waco compound). 6 Accompanying the series has been an online companion documentary series “Revelations of Waco” (9-13 minutes each) featuring people who left during the siege or who survived the fire. Especially interesting for Adventist viewers are comments by Clive Doyle (former Adventist from Australia) and Sheila Martin (whose husband, Wayne Martin, was also a former Adventist). In addition, the executive producers/writers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle participate in a “Behind the Story” feature for episodes #2-6. These are 3-5 minutes in length.

I was surprised when the first episode of the Paramount “Waco” series began with footage far from the flat, arid wasteland of Waco, Texas. Instead, viewers were taken into the woods outside of Naples, Idaho and were shown footage of the eleven-day siege at Ruby Ridge (August 21-31, 1992). 7 While I had not made any connection between Ruby Ridge and Waco back in 1993, others certainly have over the years. I would learn that not only were the same government agencies involved in both standoffs (FBI and ATF), but even some of the same personnel from those agencies. Viewers made connections even as the movie shifted its focus to residents of Mount Carmel as they, too, watched the events at Ruby Ridge. It was a clever way for the cinematographer to cause viewers to identify with the Branch Davidians. We, like them, were all seeing Ruby Ridge unfold before us. Randy and Vicki Weaver had just wanted to be left alone in their remote cabin in northern Idaho. But now, at the hands of U.S. Marshalls and the FBI, Vicki was dead, and so was their fourteen-year-old son, Sammy. As viewers get to know the people at Mount Carmel, we cannot help but wonder: which of these mothers and children will die?

Each episode of the “Waco” TV series continued to nurture audience sympathy for the misunderstood members of the Mount Carmel Center as an undercover agent finds a community of people who love their children and believe in supporting each other. The nurture continues as the ATF is portrayed botching a search warrant that some argue was illegal and the search morphs into an all-out raid. FBI negotiators are shown arriving on scene after the raid to find their conversation partners within the community (primarily Koresh, Steve Schneider, and Wayne Martin) reasonable people just wanting to be left alone (and now to bury their dead). The allegations of abuse of the small children in Waco are not only minimized, they are challenged by the series. FBI negotiators will state that the children released in the first part of the standoff are healthy, normal, well-adjusted children. 8 Also in the series, the sexual abuse of underage girls by David Koresh is acknowledged but given a neutral spin. Sisters Rachel and Michele Jones, both of whom bore Koresh children, are conflicted, but conclude that he is always loving. This is an extremely disturbing part of the series, especially given the actual testimony of women who left Mount Carmel prior to the standoff who had been sexually abused by Koresh. 9

Earlier films on Waco described as documentaries include “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” (1997) and “Waco: A New Revelation” (1999). These films, both supported by Second Amendment activist Michael McNulty, set the stage for the 2018 TV series’ sympathetic portrayal. 10 Both of the earlier documentaries suggest that the way the Branch Davidians were demonized in the media was neither accurate nor fair. The point they try to make is that the “unbalanced zealots” were not the Branch Davidians inside the compound, but the vengeful government law enforcement agents outside who were eager to end an embarrassingly botched raid that had left four of their friends dead and sixteen wounded. 11 The documentaries suggest that the American people have not been told the whole truth. Questions asked by the documentaries include: who fired first on February 28? Who set the fire on April 19? Were the child abuse allegations exaggerated in order to get support from the Justice Department for the aggressive actions on April 19? To what degree was the White House involved? To what degree was there a cover-up? Supporting materials drawn from congressional commissions and investigations provide evidence of some poor judgments by the ATF, the FBI HRT (Hostage Rescue Team) and leadership in Washington, D.C. The documentary filmmakers suggest that the government is at least partially responsible for the “murder” of the 82 people at the Mount Carmel Center who died in 1993. 12

Those on the anti-government side agree. They take Waco (and Ruby Ridge) as a call to resist the United States government. For them, the Waco community might have embraced an incomprehensible theology, but nevertheless, it was a community of ordinary freedom-loving American citizens. They had been bullied by the government and then murdered for responding to an unprovoked deadly attack on their own property. The attack spawned a range of responses with varying levels of resistance. For some, Waco was the “catalyst” for complex conspiracy theories, and some of the theorists would go on to use Waco to launch their own media careers. 13 “For people who are on the hard far anti-government right, Waco is the parable—the government is out to get you.” 14 Another kind of extreme response that flared out of the smoldering ashes of Waco resulted in further carnage. This was the decision by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols to seek revenge against the government by detonating a bomb at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the Waco fire. On that April 19 day, 168 people (including 15 children) died. Over 680 people were injured.

Those on the pro-government side of the assessment of the Waco tragedy note that the special council led by Senator John Danforth cleared the government and its law enforcement agents of any wrongdoing (even while identifying poor judgment at times). 15 The council’s 14-month investigation included 56 lawyers and investigators, and the report cleared Attorney General Janet Reno of any wrongdoing. In addition, the report concluded that no government agents had shot into the building on April 19, nor had they started the fire. David Koresh was deemed to be totally responsible for the fire and the deaths of the 76 people at Mount Carmel. That said, the report also noted that had the government been willing to wait for a longer period of time, perhaps the conclusion to the standoff would not have been so deadly.

Twenty-five years after the tragedy and more than a decade after the commissions and investigations were wrapped up there remain two warring sides: those who believe that a cover-up had occurred at the highest levels, and those who appreciated the efforts—however flawed—of government law enforcement who had been faced with an unprecedented situation. ABC journalist Terry Moran puts it succinctly: “For some Americans this was a legitimate law enforcement operation… and for others this was an overreaching and violent federal government.” 16

Gary Noesner in his memoir Stalling for Time, published in 2010, suggests a helpful middle path as a way forward. 17 One of the earliest FBI negotiators at Waco, Noesner helps us better see the clash of perspectives and assumptions on both sides. Noesner describes Koresh’s fixation on control and power, even as he admits that his own side made mistakes, too. Noesner cautioned his colleagues during the siege that the FBI HRT’s military-type actions contradicted the words and work of the FBI’s negotiators (at times they were working at cross-purposes). For example, the perception of tanks moving onto the Mount Carmel property only reinforced predictions by Koresh that his community would soon be in conflict with evil forces. These were the very ideas FBI negotiators were trying to challenge by gaining the confidence of people inside like Steve Schneider. While deeply critical of some of the tactics of the FBI’s HRT, Noesner lets his readers know that Waco resulted in new policies and approaches to confrontations with groups like Waco, with much more positive results. 18 In “Revelations of Waco,” one of the short online companion pieces to the six-part TV series, Noesner suggests that the only correct way to look back at Waco is to see it as an American tragedy a very complex situation where both good and bad decisions were made on both sides. 19

The FBI changed some of their policies and procedures after Waco. Have any Adventist policies changed? Are Adventists more prepared now in our PR departments for moments of crisis management? 20 In the 1980s the Australian denominational response to intense media interest during the Michael and Lindy Chamberlain episode 21 was not to dissociate from the Chamberlains. Clearly the “regular standing” of the people involved was quite different. But were American Adventists too ready to draw clear lines between themselves and the people in Mount Carmel? Was there an almost collective “holding of the breath” in the hopes that the connections between “them” and “us” would not be made?

The War between approaches to reading Scripture

Following the tragedy in Waco, several Seventh-day Adventist colleges invited me to their campuses to talk with students about “Rescuing Revelation from Waco.” Typically the campus organized a Friday evening or Sabbath afternoon event, and I met with sometimes dozens, sometimes hundreds of students who had questions about what had happened and why so many young, former Adventists (including college-age students) were among the dead. As we talked candidly together, we considered ways of reading the book of Revelation that would lead to life-affirming interpretations, rather than the deadly kind. I remember spending a lot of time with them in reflecting on the first phrase of the book of Revelation: “The revelation of Jesus Christ.” How should that first phrase of the book chart the continuing reading journey?

In 1993, it proved easy as mainstream Adventists to separate ourselves from Waco when it came to Koresh’s ethics—we were all appalled by the allegations of child abuse and sexual immorality. Even the buildup of firearms felt foreign to campuses of Adventist students. 22 But how were people their own age so vulnerable to Koresh’s teachings? As they had learned that Koresh recruited followers from Adventist campuses, they expressed concerns: were they somehow vulnerable, too? Should they just ignore the final book of the Christian canon? Is the book of Revelation just too dangerous to study? 23

While it would be fascinating to ask those same students now—twenty-five years later—how they have reconciled Waco with their reading of the book of Revelation, I was able to ask my current students what their questions and concerns were as we discussed the twelve Spectrum articles. I will briefly discuss their reactions to three of the pieces. First, Joel Sandefur wrote “Apocalypse at Diamond Head” after interviewing Pastor Charles Liu on April 8, 1993, just eleven days before the fire. 24 The subtitle to his article was: “Pastor Charles Liu remembers 14 members leaving his Diamond Head Seventh-day Adventist church in Hawaii.” Koresh’s preaching and Bible studies in Hawaii in 1986-87 convinced these church members to follow him back to Texas. They left everything—businesses, careers and sometimes even family members—to join Koresh in Waco, Texas. Among the group was a church deacon and Sabbath School leader, Steve Schneider, and his wife who would later become one of Koresh’s wives and give birth to his daughter. All three in the Schneider family would die in the fire.

As my students read this interview, they wondered about the Bible studies Koresh gave to Pastor Liu’s church members. Why didn’t people have the resources to challenge Koresh’s theology? (They did not like the idea that there was nothing much one could do in the situation other than forbid them from using the church facility.) Why would people go along with a teacher/preacher who never allowed them to ask questions or have dialogue? They found it difficult to imagine even a very charismatic person having that kind of complete social control today. They were interested in Liu’s mentioning that most who went with Koresh were recent converts to Adventism. Was this because they had been more recently exposed to the high drama of end-time events comprising evangelistic meetings? Did they perhaps share a similar social class? And what about Koresh’s Ezekiel 9 interpretation? Why would any Adventist be drawn to a group whose theology centered on a mission to call Adventism to repent and to warn its leaders with threats of physical destruction? 25

When my students learned that their beloved professor, Charles Teel, had contributed one of the pieces in the Spectrum issue, they were eager to read his reflections from 1993 in his article: “Kissing Cousins or Kindred Spirits?” 26 They wondered, along with Teel, how a person moves to such a theological place as Waco? Is it, as Teel suggests, when one interprets the book of Revelation—a favorite of Teel’s—with a “wooden literalism”? Was it Koresh’s approach to interpreting prophetic and apocalyptic literature—an extension of what they saw their evangelists do—that resonated with these Adventists? And, in that sense, were they much closer to us than “kissing cousins”? 27

The students seemed to readily identify with Norman Martin, MD, the church member I had interviewed in 1993 whose brother Wayne Martin (a Harvard-educated lawyer) died in the fire along with three of Norman’s teenage nieces and a 20-year old nephew (Wayne’s four oldest children). 28 Students wondered why Wayne and his family were drawn to life in the compound. What did such an educated person find so appealing about Koresh’s message? And, most importantly, how did his brother cope emotionally with the tragic loss? Their interest along with my own curiosity led me to correspond with Norman, asking if he would be willing to follow-up on our earlier conversation of over two decades ago. I was delighted and grateful that he agreed.

To my inquiry about how he had coped with his loss and how things had changed for him over the last 25 years, Norman replied that as a retired army colonel and a former track athlete, he had “never shed a tear in public before the Waco tragedy.” It was different for him now. Now it was easy to tear-up in certain situations. During certain hymns he finds himself having to stop singing. He also noted that, although 25 years ago he blamed his sister-in-law, Sheila, for introducing his brother to Vernon Howell, he now understands that Wayne actually made his own decisions. “This realization was hard for me to digest,” he noted, but his attitude to Sheila had “softened because of this understanding.” Norman still experiences the deep hurt and anger at the loss but has learned to manage these. He finds that during family visits he needs to tactfully steer around discussions of the 144,000 that still consume his sister-in-law. 29

As one who remains actively involved in his local Seventh-day Adventist church, Norman Martin’s assessment of the official church’s response to Waco in 1993 is worth noting: “Our world church headquarters reacted with deliberate speed to tell the world that there were no SDA church members [among] the Branch Davidians.” While this might technically have been an “accurate statement” he wondered if “a short second or third sentence would have helped many Adventist families to weather the storm.” He noted that the Branch Davidians had “actively recruited” church members for many years. Acknowledging this “would have helped me to feel that many understood, many were caring, and many knew this full and correct history.” Norman Martin’s insights reiterate the point that Charles Teel made: the people who died in Waco were our brothers and sisters, even if they often did not sound exactly like us.

My students’ questions in 2018 reminded me of similar questions I had considered in my doctoral studies in the late 1990s. In 2002 my dissertation suggested that although Adventists did not recognize Koresh’s ethics, they would recognize something in his approach to biblical interpretation. My thoughts about his hermeneutics have been confirmed during the past 25 years by others who have studied what Koresh actually taught at Mount Carmel and of how he recruited Adventists from churches and colleges. But the new (and surprising) idea for me was that his strange ethical behavior could be perceived by his followers as being consistent with his way of reading the Bible.

From the beginning of the siege, David Koresh used apocalyptic language. He proclaimed that he believed the fifth seal of Revelation 6:9-11 with its forecast of coming martyrdom had begun. 30 It was a simple plain reading interpretation. While in the news media at the time, we were embarrassed and could not recognize ourselves, in the literature that has been written since then by both scholars and by survivors of the fire, we find that there are numerous other distinctive commonalities. The people living in Mount Carmel were careful in the strict observance of Adventist dietary patterns. They believed in the significance of William Miller’s preaching and the prophetic year of 1844. They kept the seventh-day Sabbath, read the works of Ellen G. White accepting her as inspired and believed that God still works through prophetic gifts. They believed that the final judgment was coming on “Babylon” (the United States), and that we are all living in the “last days.” When it came to interpreting the Bible, they believed that one should only read the King James Version and should do so with a plain reading (literal) approach. This approach gave the members of Mount Carmel, like it gave Adventists, an “exclusive truth” as “God’s true people.” 31 As religious studies professors James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher point out, “Only through an understanding of Adventist history can one ever hope to accurately comprehend Koresh within a meaningful context.” 32

Kenneth G. C. Newport, former Adventist and currently an Anglican priest and professor of religion at Liverpool Hope University in England, has written several books on the Branch Davidians, 33 in which he shows a theological thread going from William Miller to the Seventh-day Adventists to the break-off group Shepherd’s Rod to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists to the Branch Davidians. The thread is “the historicist, premillennial, anti-Catholic reading of Daniel and Revelation.” It is the method or approach, suggests Newport, rather than particular content. 34 He admits that much of Koresh’s message might be strange to Adventist ears, but while “the content was novel, the method well-worn.” 35 The observations of these scholars are supported by the publicly acknowledged self-understanding of the Waco group.

The memorial at Waco listing the names of the 82 people who died from February 28, 1993 to April 19, 1993 also features the names of the “Seven Shepherds of the Advent Movements.” The Seven Shepherds are listed as: “Ellen G. White: Founder of Seventh-day Adventist Movement” 36 “Alonzo T. Jones: Leader of 1888 Message Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Movement” Ellet J. Waggoner: Leader of 1888 Message Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Movement” “Victor T. Houteff: Founder of the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Movement” “Benjamin L. Roden: Founder of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Movement” “Lois E. Roden: Leader of Living Waters Branch – A Division of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Movement” and “Vernon Wayne Howell: Founder of the Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Movement.” (See Fig 1.)


Figure 1: The Waco Memorial

The lineage connection to Seventh-day Adventists is quite clear. But what about Koresh taking girls barely into their teen years as his “wives”? That’s not Adventist! Even the hint of a connection upsets us. Recent memoirs of survivors of the siege and fire give a perspective that, while disturbing, helps us at least to understand the connections they made for themselves—a justification based on a literalistic reading of Scripture so familiar to many Adventists.

Koresh’s mother, Bonnie Haldeman, while uncomfortable in discussing the matter in depth, refers to how in the Bible great men of God took multiple wives, and that some were very young. 37 Clive Doyle’s memoir includes a lengthy discussion of “Branch Davidian Theology,” something that Doyle embraced from the age of 15 when he and his mother were disfellowshipped from their local Adventist church. 38 Doyle joined the Mount Carmel community when Ben Roden was its leader, and then saw Vernon Howell as the successor to Roden’s wife, Lois. Doyle came to the conviction that David Koresh was a manifestation of God whose uniqueness was proven by his ability to explain the seals of the book of Revelation. 39 Treating the book of Revelation as a detailed chronological timeline of history and the last days, is an extension of the usual Adventist approach. Using this logic, the “Lamb” in Revelation could not be Jesus Christ, in Clive Doyle’s reading, for Christ was already with the Father on the Father’s throne. The “Lamb” must therefore be a current manifestation of God. He is the one seated as the rider on the four horses (Revelation 6:2-8), he is the seventh angel of Revelation 10 who understands mysteries and is able to open the scroll. He alone can explain it to those who are interested in knowing. The Lamb comes after Jesus Christ, and the Lamb is the one who gets married (Revelation 19, 21). The Lamb’s children are the 24 elders who are born for judgment. This theology, based on a plain literalistic reading, though sounding very stretched, was the basis of the sexual ethics at Mount Carmel. In 1986 Koresh began convincing his community that he should take multiple wives in order to produce children. 40 By 1989 he was convincing his community that no one else should be having sexual relations with their spouses since they were to be living celibately in these last days based on a literal reading of Revelation 14:4.

While the vast majority of Adventists would challenge and totally reject Koresh’s behavior in taking multiple wives and his goal of producing 24 children, some would find themselves embracing the same (if less consistent) literalistic approach to reading biblical passages, including the prophetic and apocalyptic parts of Scripture. 41 Such an approach reads a passage like Ezekiel 9 and assumes that God will soon be violently cleansing the church, starting with the elders. Such an approach reads Nahum 2 and, when seeing the AFT coming up the road as “Babylon,” calls those inside the home to “guard the ramparts,” “watch the road,” “gird your loins,” “collect all your strength” (Nahum 2:1). Such readers are told to expect a lot of bloodshed (2:3) as chariots (tanks) race madly through the streets (2:4). They will “hasten to the wall” (2:5) and the palace will tremble (2:6). Such an approach, on this occasion, believed that the teacher/leader who saw all this coming in advance and who was claiming to open the seven seals of God’s final revelation must be the Lamb of God. Who else had explained Scripture so clearly to them and done so thorough a “plain reading”? 42

Waco may have helped Seventh-day Adventists recognize the importance of reading Scripture literarily rather than literally, by considering a text’s historical and literary contexts. Whether a work was written after the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar or after the fall of Jerusalem to Rome makes a difference and whether the passage is prose or poetry, narrative or song helps to shape understanding. To what degree have pastors and teachers modified their Revelation seminars since Waco? Do they now seek to ensure an understanding of the ethos of the book and its spiritual message and principles rather than as a guide to a highly detailed order of last day events? When pastors preach on the book of Revelation, they need to ask what is their goal for their parishioners? Is it to help people get the spiritual heart of the book, more than end-time scenarios? How to be faithful in their daily lives? How is the book of Revelation a “revelation of Jesus Christ?” What principalities and powers seek to destroy human life today? Rather than focusing on Sunday laws, should the goal be to help church members identify contemporary coercive beast-like powers that exhibit a preference for deception over truth?

In his Spectrum article in May 1993, Ernest Bursey asked: “What can we salvage from Waco? The answers reveal yet another standoff—this time within Adventism—a standoff between those who see current events confirming Adventist interpretation of Revelation and those who see events like the Waco holocaust as confirming suspicion over the whole apocalyptic enterprise that has defined Adventism. In simple terms, we’re in the midst of a standoff between those who attend Revelation seminars and those who boycott them.” 43

The war between ways of reading Scripture continues 25 years after watching on our TVs that some readings are deadly. In the past few weeks, one Seventh-day Adventist pastor told me reflecting on his preaching of the book of Revelation after the tragedy, “when Waco occurred I used it as yet another example (an extreme one) of the kind of interpretation I had warned about.”

Twenty-five years later are Adventists more literalistic or literary in reading and interpreting Scripture? Do Adventists talk about these differences with those who embrace a variety of views? Even after the Adventist Church’s emphasis on salvation by grace through faith in the 1980s and 1990s, does Adventist preaching on the book of Revelation continue to suggest “end times” by fear?

“Do not be afraid” (Revelation 1:17)

In the 25 years since the tragedy several memoirs have been written by survivors of the raid and the fire. These tend to emphasize the importance of the sense of community that was Mount Carmel a place where people from various walks of life came for comfort, reassurance and meaning. 44 It becomes clear that part of what attracted people to this desolate part of Texas was a sense of family even though the family might have been permeated by fear. 45 Willing to undergo life without the latest accessories and appliances, the people who came had a real sense of curiosity and commitment to Bible study. They shared food, cramped space and hard work around the grounds and in the towns nearby. They watched each other’s kids and hoped to keep their children from the superficiality of much of American society.

That people with particular needs sought community is not unusual. But I wonder if the poison in the well from which Branch Davidian community drew its life was their understanding of Ezekiel 9—that theme of violence. Like break-away Adventists before them, the members of Mount Carmel embraced the idea of a separation of the true believers from those who had compromised with the world. When faced with a challenge, they reverted to actions that heightened the separation of people theirs became a call to cleanse—to violent resistance. “You know, we’re getting an army for God together,” Koresh lectured his followers. 46 When the “world” arrived at their doorstep what else could they do but resist? 47 And at least some resorted to violence. When one begins to store up guns, is it inevitable that they will be used? It was a deadly mixture—literalistic readings of Scripture, aggressive law enforcement agents, and a special people called to “cleanse” the temple and to resist Babylon with the modern “swords” of America—automatic weapons.

Joann Vaega was a little girl at Mount Carmel at the time of the raid and siege. She would be one of the 21 children who came out during the siege, although her parents would die in the fire. She remembers her childhood in Mount Carmel as being “raised with fear – everywhere is fear.” 48 Bruce Perry, child psychiatrist who worked with the children who were released during the siege, documented how the children expressed their fear of so many aspects of life. Most of the children were between four and eleven years of age and they quickly made it clear that they had been told that those outside Mount Carmel were dangerous to their well being and to their parents and friends still inside their home. “When I first met the children,” writes Perry, “they were sitting and eating lunch. As I walked into the room one of the younger children looked up and calmly asked, ‘Are you here to kill us?’ These children did not feel as though they had just been liberated. Instead, because of what they’d been taught about outsiders and because of the violence they’d survived, they felt like hostages.” 49

Fear seemed to be such a dominant part of the Waco story—nurtured both inside the community, and among the law enforcement agencies outside the perimeter around Mount Carmel. Each group fearful of what the other group would do. If nothing else, the Waco story illustrates how people do horrible things to each other when we are afraid. 50

But the book of Revelation calls its readers away from fear. Within its very first chapter, the book describes the One like the Son of Man touching a terrified John and saying “do not be afraid” (1:17). Any version of Adventism that creates fear rather than joy at a God who embraces us, has the mark of Waco Adventism.

Kendra Haloviak Valentine is New Testament scholar and Dean of General Education at La Sierra University.

1. I am grateful to the students who participated in this Winter Quarter course (January - March, 2018) and for their helpful insights. They are all completing degrees in the H. M. S. Richards Divinity School at La Sierra University (Riverside, California).

2. Research for this article led me to a study by Patricia Bernstein on an earlier tragedy, The First Waco Horror: The Lynching of Jesse Washington and the Rise of the NAACP (Texas A & M University Press, 2005). I include it here because of similar themes raised about issues of law enforcement in an American town, the role of the media, and the ways religious groups defend behavior through particular approaches to their sacred texts.

3. Ronald Lawson, “Seventh-day Adventist Responses to Branch Davidian Notoriety: Patterns of Diversity within a Sect Reducing Tension with Society,” in Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 34:3 (September 1995): 323-341, believes that the majority of those at Waco maintained their membership at local Seventh-day Adventist Churches (324).

4. This paragraph draws from my published dissertation Worlds at War, Nations in Song: Dialogic Imagination and Moral Vision in the Hymns of the Book of Revelation (Wipf & Stock, 2015): 1. In it I contrast David Koresh’s approach to reading apocalyptic literature with approaches that open rather than close down readings and interpretations.

5. The note says: “Although Adventist Today has no institutional, financial, or editorial relationship with Spectrum or the Association of Adventist Forums, we note with interest the arrival of this bi-monthly periodical of news and opinion. Its first issue is also devoted to Waco. Readers who wish to learn more about Adventist Today may look at the advertisement on the mailing wrap.” Spectrum 23:1 (May, 1993): 2.

6. This six-part series starred Taylor Kitsch (David Koresh), Michael Shannon (Gary Noesner, FBI hostage negotiator), John Leguizamo (Robert Rodriguez, undercover agent), Rory Culkin (David Thibodeau, survivor), Melissa Benoist (Rachel Jones Howell, legal wife of Koresh), Paul Sparks (Steve Schneider), Andrea Riseborough (Judy Schneider), and Demore Barnes (Wayne Martin). It draws, in part, on the book by David Thibodeau: Waco: A Survivor’s Story, David Thibodeau, Leon Whiteson and Aviva Layton (Hachette Books, 2018).

7. On August 21, 1992, after Randy Weaver failed to appear in court on firearms charges, FBI and U.S. Marshalls confronted Weaver at his home. There followed an exchange of gunfire and an 11-day siege.

8. This is in contrast to former Davidian Dana Okimoto, who tells that she was told to spank her baby (she had two sons with Koresh) for up to 45 minutes at a time actions she deeply regrets. See ABC News Special “Truth & Lies: Waco,” which aired January 4, 2018, 9 p.m. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who examined the children released during the siege would say that these “children lived in a world of fear” (59). See chapter 3, “Stairway to Heaven,” in Perry’s work The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook: What Traumatized Children Can Teach Us About Loss, Love, and Healing (Basic Books, 2017, 3 rd edition). Even Bonnie Haldeman, Koresh’s mother, who lived with the Branch Davidians from 1985-1991, tells how her oldest grandchild, Cyrus, told her that he wouldn’t be allowed to see his grandma if she didn’t spank him. So she did so, and he returned to his dad thrilled that he could now report a spanking by grandma and therefore spend time with her. See Memories of the Branch Davidians: The Autobiography of David Koresh’s Mother, edited by Catherine Wessinger (Baylor University Press, 2007), 97. Haldeman also states: “Those kids all loved David” (99).

9. See Kenneth Samples, Erwin de Castro, Richard Albanes & Robert Lyle, Prophets of the Apocalypse: David Koresh & Other American Messiahs (Baker Books, 1994), including Appendix B – “Our Lives Were Forever Changed: Interviews with those who personally knew David Koresh” (pages 173-216). See also the account by Kiri Jewell in the ABC News Special: “Truth & Lies: Waco.”

10. William Gazecki directed the 1997 documentary film with writing and financial backing from McNulty. Jason Van Vleet directed the 1999 film with credit for the screenplay given to Gazecki and McNulty.

11. Roger Ebert used this language when he and Gene Siskel were reviewing the 1997 film. Siskel and Ebert suggest that if the media had used language like “religious group” and “church” rather than “cult” and “compound” there might have been a very different result. They find the people at Mount Carmel “sensible and sincere.” And while admitting that it is “an advocacy bit of film making” it also “tries to be fair.” See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rsaif8wn15E. It should be noted that, due to a gag order by the Department of Justice, government officials were not able to participate in these documentaries.

12. Although there are different numbers given for those who died on April 19, 1993, the number of those killed on February 28 is consistent—six members of the community were killed on the day of the initial raid (five during the raid one, Michael Schroeder, was killed when trying to return to his wife and children the same day, after the initial gunfire). If one goes by the memorial at Waco, in addition to the six killed on February 28, 76 people died in the fire, including two unborn or just born (accounts differ) children. Thus, from the perspective of the community, 82 members were lost between February 28 and April 19, 1993. When one includes the four ATF agents killed on February 28, a total of 86 people died at Mount Carmel between February 28 and April 19, 1993.

13. See observations by “A Current Affair” reporter Mary Garofalo in the ABC News Special: “Truth & Lies: Waco.” Alex Jones (now of Infowars) sees his roots in Waco, in that it “awakened some of the more revolutionary feelings I’ve had.” Mike Hanson has responded in another way. Rather than create a conspiracy theory talk show, he has created a museum near the ruins of Mount Carmel, and has been part of the rebuilding of a chapel on the location as a challenge to the government. He calls the actions by the American government “murder and cover-up.” And then says: “I’m mad they did this in our name.” See ABC News Special: “Truth & Lies: Waco.”

14. Terry Moran, ABC journalist, ABC News Special: “Truth & Lies: Waco.”

15. See the Final Report to the Deputy Attorney General Concerning the 1993 Confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco, Texas (November 8, 2000).

16. ABC News Special: “Truth & Lies: Waco.”

17. This work was also used in the making of the six-part TV series. See Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator (Random House, 2000), especially chapter 7 “Negotiating with the Sinful Messiah,” and chapter 8 “Picking Up the Pieces.”

18. See Noesner, chapter 8 “Picking Up the Pieces.” A similar perspective comes through Bruce Perry’s reflections on Waco, “Stairway to Heaven,” 70. Perry reported to his FBI liaison that the children released during the siege and into his care often hinted that further aggression against their home could lead to a violent, even fiery end. While told, the FBI HRT still decided to escalate their aggressive tactics. Perry, 76-77, continues: “Just as the group dynamics within the cult pushed them [members of Mount Carmel] toward their horrific conclusion, so too did the group dynamics within law enforcement. Both groups tragically disregarded input that did not fit their world view.” See also Jayne Seminare Docherty, Learning Lessons from Waco: When the Parties Bring Their Gods to the Negotiation Table (Syracuse University Press, 2001). It should be noted that 35 people (21 children and 14 adults) came out of Mount Carmel during the first 24 days of the standoff. Noesner observes that the negotiations early on were affective.

19. In that same companion piece, Dick DeGuerin, attorney for David Koresh, was asked: “What is the legacy of Waco?” to which he responded “I hope it’s that agencies with the power to use their military equipment only use it when it is absolutely necessary.” DeGuerin believes that the fire was an accident, but that federal agents should have anticipated it.

20. Ronald Lawson, “Seventh-day Adventist Responses to Branch Davidian Notoriety,” 328-329, states that the Seventh-day Adventist denomination spent between $75,000 and $100,000 on professional media consultants Porter/Novelli. “They thus defined the situation as primarily a public relations problem.”

21. In 1980 while camping in the Australian outback with their family, a dingo took the Chamberlains’ sleeping baby girl. Lindy Chamberlain would be convicted of murder of her daughter (1982) and would spend over three years in prison before being released (1986) and pardoned (1987) and eventually financially compensated by the Australian government (1992). During the legal struggle and even now in Australia, the Chamberlain case is often associated with the Seventh-day Adventist church.

22. Especially those students who had grown up hearing stories of conscientious objector Desmond Doss. For more on Doss’ story, see the 2016 film directed by Mel Gibson, “Hacksaw Ridge,” which was based on the 2004 documentary “The Conscientious Objector.”

23. Once in 1994 when visiting for the first time a particular Adventist Church, I was greeted in the foyer by a pastor I had known years earlier in another part of the country. We were delighted to reconnect and he asked me to preach sometime at his church. He then asked me what I was doing graduate work in. When I answered “the book of Revelation,” his face fell. “You must not preach about that book,” he quickly told me. “Do not even mention it from the pulpit.” Stunned (was I in an Adventist Church?), I asked him why. He responded: “This congregation lost two teenagers to Waco, and it’s just too raw. There are too many associations between their loss and the book of Revelation.” Koresh regularly used his interpretation of the book of Revelation to recruit young Adventists. Apparently Koresh even targeted Adventists attending the 1985 General Conference Session in New Orleans. I, too, was present for those meetings, although I don’t recall hearing a guy playing his guitar in the parking lotafter being denied the opportunity to address the session. See Dick J. Reavis, The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation (Simon & Schuster, 1995), 97-98.

24. Spectrum 23:1 (May, 1993): 30-33.

25. Since the founding of Davidian Seventh-day Adventism under the leadership of Victor Houteff (1885-1955) a major focus of the faith has been the call to “cleanse the people of God” beginning in the “house of God.” Reading Ezekiel in a literalistic way, Davidians have seen their role as warning (and preparing to violently kill) those defiling the temple (Adventism), beginning with the “elders” (leaders and pastors). This is why their mission work is almost exclusively to Adventist churches, camp meetings and educational institutions. When Waco survivor and Branch Davidian, Clive Doyle, was disfellowshipped from his Adventist Church at the age of 15, he and his mother went to Tasmania to tell Adventists there of the message that they needed to repent in order to avoid the wrath that was coming. He and his mother, Edna, believed that “it just wasn’t fair to let the Adventists in Tasmania get killed or go to hell without at least a chance of learning the Davidian message.” See A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian, with Catherine Wessinger and Matthew D. Wittmer (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2012): 22. Doyle also recounts: “Davidians at that time [1950s] and even up to the present day continue to attend Adventist church service on Saturday mornings” (30). And, “Davidians don’t get into a lot of baptizing of people from the Adventist church because they’ve already been baptized” (62).

26. Spectrum 23:1 (May, 1993): 48-49.

27. Although at the time of the tragedy few Seventh-day Adventist publications acknowledged the high percentage of former SDAs among Koresh’s recruits, there were some exceptions. In addition to Teel’s piece, see articles in Spectrum 23:1 (May, 1993): Roy Branson, “We Didn’t Start the Fire But the Tinder Was Ours,” 2 Ernest Bursey, “In a Wild Moment, I Imagine…,” 50-52 Douglas Cooper, “Did David Die for Our Sins?,” 47-48 Charles Scriven, “Fundamentalism Is a Disease, A Demonic Perversion,” 45-46 Ron Warren, “Our Brothers and Our Sisters,” 50. In their book In the Wake of Waco: Why Were Adventists Among the Victims? (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 1993), authors Cari Hoyt Haus and Madlyn Lewis Hamblin attempt to answer the question posed in their book’s title, but do so without listing their sources or resources.

28. Kendra Haloviak, “One of David’s Mighty Men,” Spectrum 23:1 (May, 1993): 39-42.

29. Wayne and Sheila Martin sent their three youngest children out of Mount Carmel during the siege. Sheila then followed. Her husband and four oldest children would die in the fire. With the editorial help of Catherine Wessinger, Sheila has created the work, When They Were Mine: Memoirs of a Branch Davidian Wife and Mother(Waco: Baylor University Press, 2009), which includes her early interactions with Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, meeting Wayne Martin who was an active member of his local Seventh-day Adventist Church, and the births of their seven children. Norman has developed a relationship with his brother’s two surviving children—Daniel who is now in his early 30s, and Kimberly who is in her late 20s. They were 6 and 4 when they left Mount Carmel along with their 11-year old brother Jamie who passed away in 1998.

30. James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America (Berkeley: University of California, 1995), 5.

31. Tabor and Gallagher, 33.

32. Ibid, 43. In a footnote in their book, Tabor and Gallagher, 221, note that early life at Mount Carmel was documented by Mary Elizabeth Power in her Masters of Arts thesis done at Baylor University in 1940, “A Study of the Seventh-Day Adventist Community, Mount Carmel Center, Waco, Texas.” She did interviews with Victor Houteff and most of the community’s principals of this period.

35. Ibid, 214. Newport also explores the typology approach to reading texts, emphasis on the sanctuary, America as Babylon, and the importance of end-time messages being fulfilled in an imminent future. See also the work by professor of urban studies and Seventh-day Adventist Ronald Lawson, “Seventh-day Adventist Responses to Branch Davidian Notoriety.”

36. While some splinter groups from Adventism leave because of disagreement with the role of Ellen White’s writings within the church, this series of splinter groups clearly cherish her works.

38. See Doyle, chapter 4, “Branch Davidian Theology.” Doyle was disfellowshipped in 1956 for embracing and promoting Branch Davidian theology. An Australian, Doyle and his mother were living near Melbourne, Australia.

39. By April 14, when Koresh’s lawyer Dick DeGuerin said that Koresh had told him he would come out of Mount Carmel after he had written his interpretation of the Revelation’s seven seals, the FBI HRT did not believe it. They were fed up with Koresh’s stalling. However, at the time of the fire, survivor Ruth Riddle carried out a computer disk with the first part of his interpretation. Tabor and Gallagher, 191-203, include Koresh’s manuscript in their book.

40. According to Kenneth Samples, et. al., 171, Doyle’s oldest daughter Karen became Koresh’s first non-legal wife when she was 13 years old. She never had children with Koresh. And she was not present at Mount Carmel during the raid on February 28, 1993. We know of 18 children produced by David Koresh. Fourteen died with their mothers (seven of his “wives”) in the fire. His first child was born to his girlfriend, Linda, in 1978, prior to David (then Vernon Howell) joining the Branch Davidians. One child was born to his fourth wife, Robyn Bunds, who left Mount Carmel in 1990 with her son. Two sons were born to his sixth wife, Dana Okimoto, who left Mount Carmel in 1991 with her sons.

41. It might be helpful for those not familiar with such approaches to consider the popular book by A. J. Jacobs The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (Simon & Schuster, 2008).

42. Kathy Schroder, who came out of Mount Carmel prior to the fire and who spent three years in prison for her involvement, states in a recent interview: “David Koresh is coming back with God’s army and if I’m at the right place and the right time, I’ll be gathered up with him.” ABC News Special: Truth & Lies: Waco.

43. Ernest Bursey, “In a Wild Moment, I Imagine…” in Spectrum 23:1 (May 1993): 50-51.

44. Professor Catherine Wessinger’s oral history project with surviving Branch Davidians produced three autobiographies which she edited: Bonnie Haldeman’s Memories of the Branch Davidians (2007), Sheila Martin’s When They Were Mine (2009) and Clive Doyle’s A Journey to Waco (2012).

45. Haldeman says: “we were just like a big old extended family” (88).

47. States Newport, “One should not underestimate the extent to which the arrival of government forces would have enforced upon the minds of the Branch Davidians the view that the eschatological dawn had broken” (228).

48. ABC News Special: Truth & Lies: Waco.

50. Radio host Ron Engleman (KGBS in Waco, Texas) gets the final word in the six-week TV series: “We are—all of us, Americans when did we start seeing each other as the enemy?” In the final stages of writing this article, I watched a trailer for the film “The Great Controversy Ended.” Are contemporary attempts to dramatize the book of Revelation or the Great Controversy sending us back to a Waco-like vulnerability? Do such “Left Behind”-type films encourage Adventists who do not believe in the Rapture to also read Revelation in a literalistic way? The entire clip provokes fear. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8Z1R3HKzpk.

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Two Decades Later, Some Branch Davidians Still Believe

Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, on April 20, 1993. A 51-day standoff at the compound ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 sect members, including two dozen children. Susan Weems /AP hide caption

Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, on April 20, 1993. A 51-day standoff at the compound ended in a fire and the deaths of about 80 sect members, including two dozen children.

Twenty years ago, federal agents clashed with David Koresh's Branch Davidian community near Waco, Texas. The standoff ended with a raid and fire that killed some 80 people. It's remembered as one of the darkest chapters in American law enforcement history.

Two decades later, some of the Branch Davidians who survived the raid are still believers, while a new church group has moved onto the land.

Most people born in an earlier generation know the outlines of the story. David Koresh was the self-appointed prophet of a small religious community. He was suspected of polygamy, having sex with underage girls and stockpiling illegal weapons.

On Feb. 28, 1993, a strike force from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided his compound at Mount Carmel. Four agents and five Davidians died in the gunbattle. In a 911 call, a Davidian and attorney named Wayne Martin said there were women and children inside the compound and told authorities to call off the raid.

The FBI then took charge of the standoff, and for 51 days agents tightened the noose around the Davidians using loud music, bright lights, bulldozers and flash-bang grenades. The standoff culminated with a gas raid.

On April 19, tanks punched holes in the flimsy building and began inserting tear gas. Then, a fire erupted and incinerated the building. A blustery spring wind fanned the flames, and the structure was reduced to charcoal in less than an hour.

Most of the post-incident reports blame the Davidians for starting the fire and for shooting each other in consensual suicides. Some critics maintain to this day that the FBI raid inadvertently caused the fire.

Either way, the agency's actions are indefensible, says Catherine Wessinger, a religious historian at Loyola University in New Orleans, an authority on apocalyptic groups and an expert on the Davidian episode.

"If the FBI believed they were dealing with members of a cult who were not in their right minds, then why would the FBI put so much pressure on them and then ultimately carry out an assault which just confirmed David Koresh's prophecies?" Wessinger says.

The Survivors

Clive Doyle, a 72-year-old Australian-Texan, still lives in Waco and still has Bible study every Saturday with another survivor, Sheila Martin. Doyle has become the Davidians' unofficial historian and spokesman. He says they are still waiting on the resurrection of Koresh.

"We survivors of 1993 are looking for David and all those that died either in the shootout or in the fire," Doyle says. "We believe that God will resurrect this special group."

Today, all nine Davidian survivors who were convicted for various offenses related to the initial ATF raid have been released from federal prison. Paul Fatta, who spent nearly 13 years in prison on weapons charges, was released two years early for good behavior. Now 55 years old, he lives in San Diego where he manages his family's Hawaiian restaurant. Fatta, too, still believes.

Charles Pace, the leader of a new group of Branch Davidians, stands next to a memorial for members of the sect killed during the ATF raid at Mount Carmel. John Burnett/NPR hide caption

Charles Pace, the leader of a new group of Branch Davidians, stands next to a memorial for members of the sect killed during the ATF raid at Mount Carmel.

"I would like to see some divine intervention, for God to vindicate his people," he says, "all those that have suffered over the years for truth, who've been misunderstood, have been mocked, ridiculed [and] thrown in prison."

The New Davidians

Out on the grassy rise east of Waco where it all happened, there is a new Branch Davidian community that has risen from the ashes they call themselves Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness.

Twelve people live in a scattering of mobile homes. There's a new church, a dignified memorial to the dead, and a new leader.

"I came back here after the slaughter and I feel that the Lord has anointed me and appointed me to be the leader," says Charles Pace, a portly herbalist who lost a foot in a tractor accident. "I don't claim to be a prophet. I'm a teacher of righteousness, that's the only thing I claim."

Like their predecessors under Koresh, the new community of Davidians is — according to their leader — waiting for the end times.

"The United States has to fall in order for the One World Order to be set up," he says. "Especially if there's war in the Middle East, that's when they're going to see Branch Davidians start scrambling to find out what the truth is, and where they need to be."

Pace says he teaches the dozens of curious visitors who show up here every month the truth of what happened at Mount Carmel. But as with everything else about the Branch Davidian saga, whose truth is that?

Correction Oct. 28, 2013

A previous Web version of this story incorrectly attributed the 911 call of Feb. 23, 1993, to David Koresh. The call was actually made by Wayne Martin, a Davidian and attorney inside the compound.


20 years after Waco: Like a scene from “Apocalypse Now”

At sunrise on the 51st day of the Mount Carmel standoff, David Koresh received a wake-up call from FBI negotiators. He was told that there would be activity, but it should not be interpreted as a precursor to an entry.

This was true — no imminent entry was planned for the April 19th — because the plan was to breach walls and introduce tear gas into specific sections of the compound.

The tactics were intended to put pressure on the holdouts by using chemical agents for area denial.

Related articles

The standoff, the negotiations, and ill-fated plan

20 years after Waco: The precursors, the investigation, and the raid

The Apocalypse, Now
Koresh was asked once again to surrender and allow his followers to leave, but he refused.

The FBI did not suspect it at the time, but the maneuvers at 0600 hours marked the beginning of the end of the Branch Davidian Sect.

Dawn brought the determined clanking of armored vehicles and the “Whup, Whup, Whup,” of helicopters. This, combined with the continually-blaring loudspeakers creating a panorama reminiscent of a scene from “Apocalypse Now.”

A synopsis of the messages sent over loudspeakers was:

1. We want you to surrender
2. This is not an assault
3. We are not coming in

Doing the maneuvering were nine Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Grenadiers were firing M651 CS tear gas, as well as Ferret rounds, into targeted areas.

Five M728 Military Combat Engineer vehicles — each mounted with special booms — were punching large holes into walls to enable the delivery of tear gas. Approximately 100 canisters of non-burning tear gas were fired into the wooden structure, during the early morning hours.

In a press conference held years later in 1999, the FBI revealed that in addition to the non-burning canisters two pyrotechnic rounds were fired at a cement bunker. These were utilized 1000 yards away from the wooden facility and because of time and distance could not have contributed to the starting of the tragic fire.

Inside Mount Carmel
The Davidians, who had prepared for Armageddon, broke out their tear gas masks and put them on. They still refused to send out the children, and instead chose to cover them with wet blankets in an attempt to minimize the effects of tear gas.

The large holes punched into the walls of the compound were intended to be used to facilitate the delivery of CS. They were also meant to serve as egress for Davidians wishing to surrender as well as ingress for entry teams if it became necessary to enter.

The copious amounts of CS, which were pumped into the facility, were greatly neutralized because of an unaccounted for consequence of the breaches. The gusting 31 mph wind blowing across the plains Northeast of Waco on that day served to whip the CS around and out of the holes punched into the facility.

The Inferno
Koresh and his followers did not believe the FBI when it promised that an incursion was not imminent.

Throughout the morning, FBI surveillance tapes picked up scattered conversations among the Davidians, who were spreading accelerants about the facility.

At one point the FBI recorded the following exchange:

“The fuel has to go all around to get started.”

“Well, there are two cans here, if that’s poured soon.”

At 1207 hours — six hours after the introduction of tear gas — three fires at three different locations started simultaneously. Shots were heard from inside the building, as the fire spread. A total of nine Davidians choosing life over death limped and stumbled out of the building into the arms of FBI SWAT officers outside.

Firefighting units were not on stand-by at the scene so they were summoned after the fire had started, but did not arrive on scene until 1222 hours. They were held back, because by this time not only was the entire structure engulfed by the flames, but there had also been some explosions along with the popping of ammunition that made any approach by fire fighters a risk outweighing any possible rewards.

The After-Action
Seventy-six Davidians died on April 19th 1993. Most died from asphyxiation. Some died when the structure caved in on them and others died from gunshot wounds.

Janet Reno and the on-scene commander — FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Jamar — had hoped to prevent a Jonestown-type mass-murder-suicide, where cult members either willingly took or were forced to take cyanide laced “Kool-Aid.”

No one perceived — nor did they prepare for — a self-inflicted death by raging inferno.

Later, arson investigation experts, after considering the fact that there had been nearly simultaneous ignition of three fires at three different locations as well as a presence of accelerants at each of these sites, concluded Koresh and his followers started the fires.

The FBI surveillance tapes supported the determination that arson was the cause of the fires.

Eight of the Branch Davidians who survived the fire at Mount Carmel were eventually convicted on charges ranging from voluntary manslaughter to weapons violations. Seven of them were sentenced to 40-year prison terms.

An eighth received a five year sentence. In consideration for her testimony as a government witness still another Davidian received a three-year sentence.

The Body Count
Six Davidians died on February 28th.

Seventy-six more died on April 19th.

Law enforcement suffered no casualties on April 19th, but suffered four killed and 20 wounded during the action on February 28th.

David Koresh could have prevented this tragic ending by stepping out of the door with his hands in the air on February 28th.

Instead, he and his adult followers chose to resist the lawful warrants violently. The children he refused to allow to come out had no choice in the matter.

Vernon Howell — also known as David Koresh — first prophesied then orchestrated the fire that caused the death of so many.

The “Sinful Messiah” died for his sins.

Sadly, 81 other souls died while either standing with him, or standing against him.

Coming one week from today: 20 years after Waco: Part Four. the lessons of Waco.

About the author

Lt. Dan Marcou is an internationally-recognized police trainer who was a highly-decorated police officer with 33 years of full-time law enforcement experience. Marcou&rsquos awards include Police Officer of the Year, SWAT Officer of the Year, Humanitarian of the Year and Domestic Violence Officer of the Year. Upon retiring, Lt. Marcou began writing. He is a co-author of &ldquoStreet Survival II, Tactics for Deadly Encounters,&rdquo which is now available. His novels, &ldquoThe Calling, the Making of a Veteran Cop,&rdquo &ldquoSWAT, Blue Knights in Black Armor,&rdquo &ldquoNobody&rsquos Heroes&rdquo and Destiny of Heroes,&rdquo as well as his latest non-fiction offering, &ldquoLaw Dogs, Great Cops in American History,&rdquo are all available at Amazon. Dan is a member of the Police1 Editorial Advisory Board.


Waco in red and blue

In April 1993, the FBI assault on a compound near Waco, Texas, led to a conflagration in which 80 members of the Branch Davidian sect perished, including 20 children. The horrific incident forced religious believers to explore the consequences of apocalyptic thought and fundamentalist faith, but it also contributed to popular debate over many other issues. Waco came to signify bitter divisions over matters as diverse as violence and gun ownership, trust in government and popular sovereignty, religious persecution, and issues of gender and masculinity. The disaster generated a flood of books, articles, news stories and television segments. It became an unavoidable part of public discourse. Waco became a vital topic in the nation’s newly declared culture wars, and we still live with its consequences.

The exact outline of the Waco affair is so disputed and controversial that it sometimes seems as if rival factions are describing utterly different events. What can be agreed on is that the Branch Davidians were a small apocalyptic-minded sect related to the Seventh-day Adventists and that they had been based near Waco for some 60 years at a settlement the sect called Mount Carmel.

Philip Jenkins teaches at Baylor University. His latest book is Climate, Catastrophe, and Faith: How Changes in Climate Drive Religious Upheaval.

May 15, 2013 issue

From the late 1980s, the group was under the sway of a charismatic leader who took the messianic name David Koresh. Expecting an imminent end-time event, Koresh’s followers took their military preparations very seriously, buying a sizable stock of weapons. This attracted the attention of federal law enforcement agencies, who feared that the group was converting (legal) semiautomatic rifles into fully automatic machine guns, which was prohibited by law.

On February 28, a well-armed force from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to execute a search warrant at Mount Carmel. The raid was a fiasco. Federal agents were worsted in the ensuing gun battle. Four ATF officers were killed, and the rest were forced into a humiliating withdrawal. The FBI took over control of the situation from the ATF. A 51-day siege culminated in another federal assault on April 19, when an uncontrollable blaze swamped the compound. Depending on which account you believe, the fire was started by FBI intervention, either deliberately or recklessly, or by Koresh himself, who ordered the burning of the compound as an act of mass suicide.

The investigation of the event dragged on for years. Officially, at least, federal agencies stand acquitted of the gravest charges. But popular responses to the disaster demonstrated an enormous cultural chasm. Although the red and blue state color code would not be established until 2000, the cultural clash drawn along political lines was already very much in evidence in 1993.

Responses to Waco were driven largely by attitudes to religion. For many people, the extreme apocalyptic views of the Branch Davidians posed an obvious threat. Their religious ideology placed the group outside the realm of rational discourse and made it inherently likely that they would carry out acts of crime or terrorism. Religious extremism was firmly in the headlines at this time, because the first jihadist attack on the World Trade Center had occurred just two days before the initial Mount Carmel firefight. Waco therefore seemed an egregious example of the dangers posed by fundamentalism, whether Christian or otherwise.

From this perspective, Waco demonstrated everything that was wrong with “extreme” religion: its fanaticism and sexual hypocrisy, leading inevitably to violence and sexual exploitation. This discourse had special power in the early 1990s in reaction to the prominence of the Moral Majority and the Christian right during the Reagan era. Those triumphs had come to a crashing halt with the televangelist scandals of 1987, making evangelicals and fundamentalists fair game for media attacks in a way that they would not have been a few years earlier. It was easy to place Koresh alongside the self-evident evils of Islamic terrorism. Fanatics were fanatics and deserved no part in mainstream U.S. political life.

Early media coverage closely followed this interpretation of extreme fundamentalist faith, to the point of demonstrating a profoundly apocalyptic strand in the liberal critique of religion. Time magazine offered a double image of Koresh alongside the blind Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, the mastermind of the World Trade Center attack. Both men showed what went wrong “when believers embrace the dark side of faith.” Time continued: “From downtown Manhattan to the plains of Texas to the mountains of Bosnia, religious hatred can become a blunt instrument that ultimately destroys believer and nonbeliever alike.” These themes were reinforced two weeks later when an antiabortion militant murdered a doctor in Pensacola, Florida.

Still more potent visuals followed after the April fire. Time’s extraordinary cover showed a laughing David Koresh superimposed on the burning compound, with the biblical caption “His name was Death, and Hell followed with him.” People Weekly, another mass circulation outlet, depicted Koresh as the evil messiah, a pedophile who led his fanatical disciples to tragedy. Cartoons showed Koresh in the company of Sheikh Omar and (inevitably) with a ghostly Jim Jones, who offers David a cup of Kool-Aid. In its various forms, it seemed, religious fanaticism was rampant.

Yet that was not the whole story. A rival interpretation blamed the violence on the brutal excesses of an out-of-control federal government engaged in a systematic assault on the lives and liberties of free citizens, specifically Christians. From this standpoint, the Branch Davidians were not a cult but a persecuted church, and Waco was the scene of a massacre rather than a suicide. In 1993 more than a quarter of Americans disapproved of the FBI’s actions at Mount Carmel, and that number grew steadily in following years. By the end of the decade, 62 percent of respondents accepted the view that federal forces themselves had started the deadly fires.

This critique was rooted in religious concerns. A large proportion of the population took (and takes) apocalyptic interpretations of the Bible seriously. For anyone who read the book of Revelation as divinely inspired, it was disturbing to hear FBI negotiators dismissing Koresh’s efforts to wrestle with that thorny text as deranged “Bible babble.”

The issue of guns was also deeply divisive. From the liberal standpoint, if a group in a remote settlement owns a large stockpile of weapons, it must be plotting something catastrophic. Red-state America is more likely to see that group as gun collectors or dealers and to describe their weapons not as an arsenal but an inventory. Without clear evidence of criminal intent, argued these critics, federal agents had no justification for trying to seize privately held weapons. Indeed, the initial Waco raid looked just like the kind of mass gun confiscation that the National Rifle Association had long argued was the logical outcome of gun control legislation.

In order to understand the power of this “God and guns” interpretation, it helps to recall the political culture of the time, just a few weeks after Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration. Clinton owed his victory largely to economic discontent and the sharp recession that had undermined the presidency of George H. W. Bush. Yet for all the economic concerns, cultural and religious matters were very much at the forefront of the 1992 campaign. Bush had faced a severe challenge from Patrick Buchanan, whose speech at the Republican national convention galvanized social conservatives. Buchanan warned, “There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the cold war itself.”

The phrase “culture war” epitomized widespread concerns about morality issues such as abortion, homosexuality, pornography and the apparent exclusion of religion from public life. For Buchanan, the Clintons supported far-reaching changes in American life, but “not the kind of change we can tolerate in a nation that we still call God’s country.”

Quite apart from party politics, the United States was in these years undergoing a shift in gender attitudes that in many ways was quite as radical as the late 1960s and which represented a culmination of that earlier era. Between 1989 and 1994, the nation was in the throes of full-scale gender wars, in the sense of a systematic cultural assault on the evils resulting from traditional male authority and its associated violence against women and children. Gender politics—feminist and gay—achieved a new mainstream status. Patriarchal institutions—courts, legislatures, churches, armed forces—were assailed as never before, and those battles echoed through popular culture.

The year 1991 alone marked the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings in the U.S. Senate, with the attendant focus on sexual harassment the Tailhook harassment scandal and the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith. Between 1992 and 1994, charges of sexual abuse against Roman Catholic clergy became so commonplace as to spur talk of a national abuse epidemic. It was in the early 1990s that the terrifying concepts of “stalking” and “sexual predators” both entered the social and legal mainstream.

Legitimately or not, feminist activism was represented by two prominent figures in 1992–1993—Hillary Clinton and Janet Reno, Clinton’s attorney general. Bill Clinton’s electoral success depended on his huge advantage among women voters. In the climate of the time, liberals found convincing the Justice Department’s stance that the Waco raids had been forced by allegations of child abuse and sexual exploitation at Mount Carmel. (To be quite clear on this sensitive issue, there is no serious doubt that David Koresh had been engaged in the systematic abuse of younger girls and should have faced serious criminal charges for those actions. However, that abuse did not provoke the initial raid, which was wholly motivated by government fears of terrorism and gun trafficking. Only retroactively did the administration stress the abuse issue.)

But if powerful constituencies supported the administration, it also faced grave challenges. The Democratic victory in 1992 masked serious underlying weaknesses, inviting a conservative reaction focused on such traditionally male issues as gun ownership. Although Clinton won in 1992, his share of the popular vote was only a little better than Walter Mondale’s in 1984, and it actually fell short of what Michael Dukakis had achieved in 1988. Without Ross Perot siphoning off 19 percent of voters nationwide, Clinton could never have beaten the incumbent President Bush.

Conservatives regrouped over the next two years, targeting the administration’s liberal and feminist politics. Core issues included the alleged maternalism of the administration’s health care plans, its attempt to remove restrictions from gay service in the military and its support for a greater military role for women. Janet Reno’s role in the Justice Department reinforced the gender dimension of the perceived threat to civil liberties, religious freedom and the traditional social order. In 1994, Democrats lost the House for the first time in 40 years and lost further ground in the Senate. Conservatives now positioned themselves for still greater advances, planning for Buchanan’s 1996 presidential bid.

Right-wing groups made the “Waco Massacre” a watchword for oppressive federal power, a simultaneous assault on traditional religion and constitutional rights. The incident served a potent symbolic role among the grassroots organizations that now became so crucial to Republican success. From 1993, that conservative base included the extremely important world of talk radio, widely credited for contributing to the victories of hardline congressional conservatives. Waco also galvanized an increasingly aggressive NRA. In 1995, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre spoke of federal agents as “jackbooted government thugs.”

Right-wing and populist anger over Waco surged in mid-decade. Several widely circulated videotapes purported to reveal the truth of the affair, including the sinister role of government. Notable examples included Linda Thompson’s Waco: The Big Lie and the potent 1997 documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement. The events at Waco merged with other florid conspiracy theories, such as those about the Clintons’ Whitewater real estate dealings and the death of White House aide Vincent Foster.

The conservative reaction also manifested in a radical right “patriot” movement that flirted with armed extremism and antigovernment militancy. By some estimates, by 1995 militias were attracting the support of perhaps a quarter million Americans, and groups existed in all 50 states. Also at its height in these years was an aggressive antiabortion movement pledged to engage in direct action, including the overtly terrorist Army of God.

The ideological foundations of the new radical right varied enormously, from hard-core racists and neo-Nazis to more moderate conservatives who feared an assault on gun rights. In fact, the single theme unifying the various strands was that of self-defense—the idea that traditional American liberties and values were under imminent threat from an oppressive globalist-corporatist threat, an evil and probably satanic New World Order. Antigovernment sentiment merged seamlessly with explicitly religious apocalyptic fears of a kind very familiar throughout American history.

In such a vision, two incidents demonstrated the need to defend the right of free individuals to live freely apart from a corrupted society, to flee from the wrath so evidently about to come. One was the 1992 shooting at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in which federal agents killed the wife of survivalist Randy Weaver. The other was Waco, which neatly incorporated themes of religious liberty as well as gun rights. The difference between the two, of course, was that the Ruby Ridge incident was known chiefly within the circle of convinced believers, while the name of Waco was instantly familiar worldwide. It offered vastly more potential for recruitment—and for explaining a case to the media. Without Waco, the patriot movement would never have gained the traction that it did.

Patriot and militia groups remained in dialogue with more mainstream politics and won the sympathy of some political leaders. Responding to its conservative base, the Congress that assumed its duties in 1995 supported the long-demanded investigation of the Waco affair. Both House and Senate held lengthy hearings that year.

Given the surging antigovernment sentiment of 1994–95, we might be surprised that the conservative campaign over Waco achieved so little success. The reason for that is the Oklahoma City bombing of April 1995, which killed 168. As the bombing took place on the second anniversary of the Waco firestorm, it was widely taken as revenge for that event. Moreover, the Oklahoma City culprits had strong ties to militias.

The Oklahoma City bombing transformed the American political landscape, inflicting massive damage on the conservative cause and forcing moderates to abandon the patriot movement. The crisis also gave Bill Clinton new status as a symbol of national unity and moderation. This event set the stage for the Democratic victory the following year, a triumph that would have seemed inconceivable a very short time before.

But Waco and its aftereffects continued to poison the political atmosphere, contributing mightily to the polarization of U.S. politics that we often lament today. Throughout the 1990s, conservatives sustained their attack on the Clinton administration, claiming not merely that it was corrupt or incompetent but that it was overtly criminal and tyrannical. Liberals in turn used the memory of Oklahoma City and the militias to tar conservatives with violent and racist tendencies. Up through September 11, 2001, cinema and mass media overwhelmingly reflected the liberal view that this element on the right was the clear and present danger facing America. And when George W. Bush took office in 2001, liberals paid back with interest the vicious rhetoric and conspiracy-mongering that conservatives had earlier directed against the Clintons.

In some ways, tensions have lessened. Today we face nothing like the far-right terror threat of the mid-1990s. But stark divisions still mark contemporary politics, and they surface all the more vividly over such hot-button issues as gun control.

The fires of Waco mattered so much because they burned at a critical turning point in American politics and cultural debate. However terrible the Waco disaster was in its own right, it was also a potent symbol of and contributor to a bitter and seemingly irreconcilable polarization. Waco still casts a very long shadow.

This essay is adapted from a speech Jenkins gave this month at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion in Waco, Texas.


20 YEARS LATER: Where Are they Now?

Shortly after midnight on March 3, 1991, George Holliday awoke to the sounds of police sirens and helicopters outside his apartment. He grabbed his Sony Handycam and began filming.

His nine minutes of grainy footage ignited furious charges of racial injustice. He received $500 from KTLA-TV Channel 5 for rights to broadcast the tape. He owns a copy — the original remains in federal archives.

Holliday, an Argentine plumber who moved to the U.S. in 1980, still lives and works in the San Fernando Valley. He told The Times a decade ago: “I know that my name appears in the history books. To me, that’s the coolest part of this whole thing.”

RODNEY G. KING

By the end of his beating by LAPD officers, Rodney King had a broken cheekbone, a fracture at the base of his skull and a broken a leg.

Although King was driving under the influence and was on parole for armed robbery, he was never charged. He was awarded $3.8 million in compensation by the city.

King, 47, has spent his multimillion dollar award. He has had frequent run-ins with police for domestic violence, substance abuse and driving under the influence. He has appeared on Vh1’s “Celebrity Rehab,” tackling his alcoholism, and just published a book, “The Riot Within, My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption.” He lives in Rialto.

STACEY C. KOON

Stacey C. Koon, an LAPD sergeant at the beating scene, was acquitted in state court but was one of two officers convicted of federal civil rights violations. He served 30 months in prison and wrote a book, raising $4 million in legal funds.

Koon, 61, does not talk about his personal life because of continued death threats, said his lawyer Ira M. Salzman. “He’s a committed family man,” Salzman said. “And he’s moving forward with his life as best as he can.”

LAURENCE M. POWELL

Laurence M. Powell, the officer seen delivering the majority of the 56 baton blows during the 81 seconds of videotaped beating, was the only one not fully acquitted in the state trial. He was convicted with Koon in the federal case and was released in 1996 after serving a 30-month sentence.

Powell rarely spoke to the media. In a statement sent to the Times in 1992 by a family friend, Powell said that he “never harbored any personal malice toward Mr. King,” noting that his family, while he was growing up, had cared for foster children of different races.

Powell, who worked with computers while he was in prison, later worked in the computer retailing industry. Now 49, he lives in San Diego County, according to public records.

TIMOTHY E. WIND

Timothy E. Wind, 10 months out of the Police Academy, was training under Powell the night of the King beating. He struck King with his baton and kicked him, but was twice acquitted of any criminal wrongdoing. Wind, who was badly unnerved by the two trials, was the only defendant who did not testify during the trial.

The LAPD fired him. He took a part-time job as a community service officer for the Culver City Police Department in 1994, which some residents protested.

In 2000, he left that job when he was admitted into Indiana University’s law school. He graduated in 2003 and is remembered by professors as a good student with excellent writing skills. Wind, now 51, could not be reached and lives in Kansas, according to public records and acquaintances.

THEODORE J. BRISENO

Theodore J. Briseno was twice acquitted of criminal charges. He was the only defendant to break ranks and testify against the other three officers who were charged, describing them as “out of control.”

He acknowledged that he stomped on King late in the video, saying he was trying to stop him from moving.

Briseno, a 10-year LAPD veteran, was fired in 1994 and unsuccessfully fought to keep his job. He is 59, and property records show he lives in Illinois.

DARYL F. GATES

Police Chief Daryl F. Gates refused to step down after the King episode. He apologized but called it an aberration in the LAPD.

Gates became a polarizing figure, reviled by LAPD critics and lauded by people who wanted the department to forcefully put down the violence.

A commission later blamed Gates for a slow police response to the riots. He retired a month after the riots and moved to Orange County. He died in 2010. Thousands mourned in a downtown procession.

Two weeks after King’s beating, Korean American grocer Soon Ja Du fatally shot 15-year-old Latasha Harlins after a dispute over a bottle of orange juice. Latasha died with $2 in her hand.

Du faced a possible 16 year sentence in state prison. A judge sentenced her to probation, saying she was in fear from earlier robberies. The sentence and a surveillance video of Latasha being shot in the back inflamed racial tensions and became symbols of what many believed was a double standard of justice.

Du’s store burned in the rioting and never reopened. Du, 71, lives in the San Fernando Valley.

REGINALD O. DENNY

Hours after a Ventura County jury found Koon, Powell, Briseno and Wind not guilty on April 29, 1992, millions watched on TV as truck driver Reginald O. Denny was stopped at Florence and Normandie avenues, dragged from his truck and beaten unconscious with a brick, a tire iron and a fire extinguisher. He had more than 90 skull fractures.

He went through years of therapy, working on his speech and regaining the ability to drive. Now 56, he works as a boat mechanic in Lake Havasu, Ariz., and “he’s getting along somewhat,” a family member said.

Williams as he looks today in 2012

DAMIAN M. WILLIAMS

Two weeks after Reginald Denny was beaten, Damian “Football” Williams, the man who smashed Denny’s head with a brick, was arrested in a raid by 100 state and federal officers.

Williams, who was 19 at the time of the incident, was convicted and served four years of a 10-year sentence.

After his release, he was arrested and convicted of aiding in a murder at a drug house in 2000 and sentenced to 46 years to life. Williams, 39, is in Calipatria State Prison.

His mother Georgiana Williams is still a Front Page listener and active member of the community and lives in Fontana.

Miller, Williams, and Watson

Antoine “Twan” Miller

Miller was a 19-year-old who lived with the Williams family. Miller’s mother was a drug addict and as a child, Miller was sent to live with his grandmother. When he was 12, his grandmother killed his grandfather and was convicted of this murder, leaving Miller homeless. Williams’ mother, well-known around the neighborhood as kind and caring, took Miller into her home. Miller’s only previous arrest was for joyriding. At the age of 31, Miller was shot and killed in a Hollywood nightclub on February 1, 2004.

Henry Keith “Kiki” Watson

Henry was a 27-year-old former U.S. Marine and an ex-convict who had served time for robbery. After his release from prison, he married, had children and was working two jobs. According to Williams, Watson was known around the neighborhood as a “gentleman”. After he was freed from jail in 1993, he appeared on the Phil Donahue show and apologized to Denny for the attacks. Later, he would serve three years in prison for a narcotics conviction. Fifteen years after the attacks, Watson said during an interview “Nobody specifically sought out Reginald Denny to cause him any harm. We got caught up in the moment, just like everyone else.” As of 2012, Watson still lives in Los Angeles and operates his own limousine service.

Gary Williams (unrelated to Damian Williams)

Gary was alleged to be a habitual crack user who was routinely reported seen at a local gas station as a beggar.

Anthony Brown

Anthony was also a member of Eight Tray Gangster Crips.

Lance Parker

Lance was a 26-year-old process server who had no previous criminal record.


20 Years After the Waco Tragedy: What Have Adventists Learned?

In 1993 incidents involving guns and multiple deaths were less familiar to Americans than they are today. Adventists were shocked when a shoot-out with Federal police occurred on February 28 at a rural outpost run by an ultra-fundamentalist Adventist splinter group. Four Federal agents were dead, 16 wounded and television helicopters began to circle over an army of police around the modest compound near Waco, Texas.

A stand-off lasted six weeks with constant bulletins on television and radio identifying the group as Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists. There were interviews with a young man who was introduced as the group&rsquos leader&mdashhe was born Vernon Howell and had assumed the name David Koresh&mdashthat sounded eerily familiar in tone and style to anyone who sat in Sabbath discussions of end-time events in the 1960s and 1970s. The news also reported that he had been charged with threatening people with guns and accused of child molestation that he practiced polygamy, even with girls below the age of consent, while insisting on celibacy for the other men.

After the combined police forces overran the Mount Carmel Center on April 19 in an ill-conceived plan to end the stalemate, a total of 86 people lost their lives in this tragic incident. Four of these were the Federal agents shot on the first day, and 82 were residents from the Mount Carmel group, including 20 children, some as young as one year. After thousands of pages of testimony and forensic evidence, it is still debated how the fire got started as police punched holes in the walls and lobbed tear gas on that April morning two decades ago. Nine people went to prison. The May 3, 1993, issue of Time put the story on the cover.

&ldquoHow could this have happened with Adventists? Were these people really Adventists?&rdquo These questions were never printed in the Sabbath School Quarterly nor even in any of the supplements, but they consumed considerable time and energy among Adventists across North America and in Europe, Australia and New Zealand. They were forced to confront the ugly reality that very pious and conservative, sincere Bible-believing people could let extreme views run away with their minds and lead them to do unthinkable things.

Vernon Howell had been an active member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church until he was disfellowshipped in 1979. A significant number of the people in the Branch Davidian group were still on the books somewhere as regular members of the Church. The Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventists began in 1929 when Victor Houteff, a lay Sabbath School teacher in the Fullerton Church in southern California, felt that he had a message from God for the denomination and privately published The Shepherd&rsquos Rod: The 144,000 and A Call for Reformation. He was soon kicked out and in 1935 moved to the Waco area and invited followers to join him in building an outpost on a ranch. When he died in 1955, Ben Roden took over leadership because&mdashthe group believed&mdashthe &ldquospirit of prophecy&rdquo had selected him. By 1977 his widow, Lois Roden, was the leader and began to publish the concept that the Holy Spirit represents the feminine aspect of Divinity, which received wider attention than anything the small splinter group had done up to that time. Throughout all these developments, the group continued to believe in the prophetic gift manifested in Ellen G. White and honor most of the core doctrines of the Adventist faith.

Crisis Management and Apocalyptic Faith

At the time Pastor Gary Patterson was assistant to the president of the denomination&rsquos North American Division (NAD) and just a few months prior to the incident he was part of a team that presented a seminar on crisis management at a convention for conference staff professionals. &ldquoUnfortunately, we did not follow our own advice,&rdquo he told Adventist Today recently. &ldquoWhen the event broke upon us, we were unprepared to deal with it. &hellip It took two or three weeks to put the plan together before we had trained personnel and a central spokesperson to address the media.&rdquo

&ldquoThere were those within the denomination who saw this event as an opportunity to receive national attention for their views on apocalyptic Scripture and theology,&rdquo Patterson recalled. &ldquoThe news media was focused on a sensational story rather than &hellip biblical interpretation and &hellip the more [they] attempted to gain media attention for their views, the more the church became attached to the cult group in the media stories and in the minds of the public.&rdquo A crisis team was eventually able to disconnect the denomination from &ldquothe extreme views and actions of the Branch Davidians and remove the name of the Church from the news stories.&rdquo

By the following year a national telephone survey of the general public conducted by the Center for Creative Ministry for the NAD found only a very small percentage of Americans still associated the denomination with the events in Waco. Some have labeled the successful effort at crisis management as hypocritical because there are still evangelists who seem to the average American to be using bizarre images and themes.

Although the Second Coming of Christ is central to the Adventist faith, there is the risk that the idea that it could happen at any time &ldquomay be used in a manipulative, rather than in a motivational manner, attempting to control behaviors out of fear,&rdquo Patterson observed. &ldquoAs the church deals with the fact that it is now 170 years from the 1844 date [which began the movement], it becomes obvious that although the expectation of the return of Christ always remains as a near-term immediacy, yet the purpose of the church is to establish the kingdom of God in the present world, while at the same time looking for its full coming in the &lsquoalready but not yet&rsquo concept.&rdquo

Interest in the apocalyptic has become widespread in both popular culture and secular literature in recent years. It is no longer unique to Adventists. &ldquoThere are wide varieties of understandings of the future in the broader contemporary Christian world,&rdquo Patterson points out. &ldquoAnd in the secular world, notions of potential apocalyptic doom exist in both scientific circles and the media, as well as in the entertainment industry. The idea of apocalypse is not out of mainstream thinking, but views on the nature of the apocalypse vary widely.&rdquo

Lessons Learned from the Waco Tragedy?

&ldquoThe church &hellip must move away from &hellip perpetual spiritual infancy,&rdquo wrote Dr. Caleb Rosado in a paper reflecting on the Waco incident that was presented to the 1993 meeting of the Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, &ldquoto &hellip spiritual and social maturity, where it no longer behaves as children, tossed about by every ill wind of spiritual deceitfulness, but as spiritually mature adults (Ephesians 4:13, 14).&rdquo An ordained Adventist minister and sociologist now on the faculty of Warner Pacific College in Portland, Oregon, Rosado predicted that &ldquomore apocalyptic cults will &hellip emerge&rdquo in the future. &ldquoDavid Koresh was simply the 1993 model.&rdquo

Referring to the analysis of a number of scholars who have studied the Waco incident (and have concluded that Federal authorities did not understand how to deal with religious extremists, thus contributing to the tragic outcome) Rosado suggested that the church &ldquomight better serve&rdquo if it were &ldquoto take a proactive posture of serving as intermediary and assist in the negotiations, rather than merely creating distance between itself and the group.&rdquo

As the Adventist movement has grown to perhaps 30 million adherents around the world and significant cultural diversity, it has developed five distinct social dynamics or &ldquooperational value system&rdquo patterns. Each is developing in a different direction, Rosado told Adventist Today recently. There is a &ldquotraditional&rdquo church, a &ldquomilitant&rdquo church, a &ldquolegalistic&rdquo church, a &ldquocorporation&rdquo church, and a &ldquocaring community.&rdquo The first three categories are &ldquoseen as a sect&rdquo by other Christians and the general public and that &ldquohas not changed all that much&rdquo in the last two decades. The Branch Davidian group came out of the &ldquomilitant&rdquo vane. The &ldquocorporation&rdquo church tends to be seen by other Christians as an Evangelical denomination and is more middle class, &ldquosuccess-driven, technology savvy, and market-oriented.&rdquo This is the mainstream of the denomination in North America. The &ldquocaring community&rdquo segment is &ldquomore inclusive of ethnic minorities and immigrants,&rdquo said Rosado. It is &ldquomore relevant to society and has moved away from the apocalyptic approach and [the] attitude that we are right and the rest of the world is wrong.&rdquo Adventists in this category &ldquosee as more pressing the needs of the world, issues of justice, gay rights, women&rsquos concerns, and [are] concerned with the poor, global warming, and the big social issues of the day.&rdquo

The result of Church growth and successful missionary efforts in so many nations around the world is that the Adventist movement is stretched between its apocalyptic roots, still present in some circles and even out of control on occasion, as in Waco 20 years ago this month, and its educated, professional, institutional communities, who are &ldquomaking a contribution to the world&rdquo through the Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA), &ldquoour hospitals and universities.&rdquo

&ldquoIn the long term, seeking to manipulate behavior or recruit new followers through the notion of impending doom produces both fearful and hostile people,&rdquo Patterson warned. &ldquoThe long term motivation of the church is to establish the kingdom of God in the Earth and live in His will, all the while looking to the full coming of the kingdom. &hellip The Church today must focus on living in the present with an expectation of a return at any moment.&rdquo

What does that mean? &ldquoWe care for the environment because it is our home we care for our bodies because it is the life we have been given we work for peace in our world and communities,&rdquo Patterson told Adventist Today, &ldquobut we know that the only solution to the devastation in our world will ultimately be an apocalyptic event that &hellip makes all things new.&rdquo He has been serving in recent months as interim pastor for New Hope Adventist Church in the suburbs between Baltimore and Washington DC.

Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Waco and home to one of the most prominent sociology of religion programs in America, will host a symposium next week reflecting on the events 20 years ago. Although no Adventist scholar is scheduled among the presenters, Adventist Today will have a journalist at the event and give readers a detailed report.


20 years later: Remembering Branch Davidian siege – Waco still in spotlight from siege

Aerial of the Branch Davidian compound taken just two months before ATF agents raided it. Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the shootout 20 years ago. (Associated Press)

Aerial of the Branch Davidian compound taken just two months before ATF agents raided it. Four agents and six Davidians were killed in the shootout 20 years ago. (Associated Press) By Jasmine Wariboko
Guest Contributor

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Waco siege, a 51-day standoff at Mount Carmel Center near Waco, involving government agents and the Branch Davidians, a religious group led by David Koresh (born Vernon Howell).

Twenty years later, the events of the siege are still remembered.

“It is considered a bizarre footnote in American history,” said local CBS affiliate KWTX-TV managing editor and Baylor part-time lecturer Rick Bradfield.

It began on the Sunday morning of Feb. 28, 1993, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve Koresh a search warrant based on grounds that the group had an illegal possession of firearms and explosives.

Not long after the ATF arrived at the compound, gunfire occurred.

“There is a dispute about who fired first,” Bradfield said.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation quickly became involved in order to resolve the conflict.

The siege gained attention from all over the world. Over the course of 51 days, at least 1,000 reporters and photographers were stationed all around the Mt. Carmel neighborhood covering the siege, according to Bradfield.

The area was referred to as “Satellite City,” Bradfield said.

On the morning of April 19, 1993, the siege came to an end when the building on the compound caught fire. This led to the deaths of about 80 Branch Davidians, including Koresh.
Since then, Waco is often only thought of in relation to the siege.

“Waco became synonymous with excessive government power,” Bradfield said.

Robert Darden, an associate professor in the journalism, public relations and new media department at Baylor, shared his frustrations about this perception of Waco.

“They use the word Waco as a verb. I’m not sure that’s fair,” Darden said.

Darden, who co-wrote a book about the siege titled “Mad Man in Waco,” was in Waco at the time of the siege and interviewed Davidians, FBI agents and victims. Darden said he is upset at how people mention the siege when referring to the subject of gun control.

“For Waco to become an example of how the government should take away our guns is by people with an agenda and do not have a really good background of what happened that day,” Darden said.

Darden, who has actually spoken to members of the Davidians who live in Waco and don’t have a connection to the events that surrounded the siege, said members of the group don’t like how their religion was negatively publicized in the media.

“I know that some of the Davidians and the Branch Davidians I’ve talked to years ago resent the fact that all of this attention was on Koresh,” Darden said.

The group is still upset about the siege and the effect it has had on how other people view their religion.

“They don’t want anything to do with what happened to Koresh or be related to that,” Darden said.

Regardless, businesses saw Waco as an economic opportunity, and Waco experienced a burst of commercial growth. Bradfield said chain stores now had a chance to expand their market. Even years after the siege took place, members of the community avoid talking about it.

“We have struggled to find people who are willing to talk about the effect this had on Waco,” Bradfield said, “but there have been television specials and documentaries in recent years that recount the Waco Siege.”

Darden said the city of Waco hasn’t tried to do anything to remember the siege.

“Waco hasn’t tried to capitalize on this,” Darden said, “If you want to get directions on how to get out there (Mt. Carmel Center), you’re not going to find them at the tourist information office.”

However, Bradfield said he believes Waco should try to shed light on the siege in an honest way.

“There should be a museum to put the event into American historical context,” Bradfield said.


To downtown and back, alone, at age 6

As a little boy I loved to run, ride my stick horse and play cowboys and Indians, and soldiers &mdash the latter usually as a fighter pilot, flying my P-47 Thunderbolt.

I my first idol for emulating was Gene Autry, atop his horse Champion. Then I transitioned into Roy Rogers. When I did, my stick horse miraculously changed into the golden palomino, Trigger. I enjoyed cowboy music, especially Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers. "Tumbling Tumble Weeds" and "Cool Water" are two of my all-time favorites. Cowboy music has always had a deep meaning for me.

I started at South Waco Elementary, 15th and James, in September of 1940. During the summer before was when I really started to feel like somedody, especially the few times when on a Saturday would find me heading "to town" &mdash Austin Avenue.

Making the trip to Waco's commercial and cultural epicenter was very exciting to a young boy. Downtown encompassed the area from the square, the block surrounding the Waco City Hall, all the way to about Ninth and Austin.

It included wonderful stores, all up and down that wonderful large wide street Stores such as: Goldsteins, R.E. Cox, F.W. Woolsworth, Kresses, Levines, R.T. Dennis, 1st National Bank and the Red Goose shoe store, featuring Buster Brown shoes. The Raleigh hotel, with its intriguing "Purple Cow Restaurant" on the ground floor, at 8th and Austin, looked very mysterious to a pre-teenagcr,

Austin Ave had all the movie theaters except for two on the square. The Gem, bearing the advisory, "coloreds only,", was on the east side of the square at the corner of Austin Avenue or maybe one building over. The Rex Theater was on the west side of the square, next to the alley between Austin and Franklin.

Going up Austin on the north side was the Crystal Theater between Third and Fourth streets. To its south between Fourth and Fifth was the Grand. In the middle of the next block also on that side was the Strand.

The Orpheum was just off Austin, one half block to the north on Sixth Street, next to the alley. Between 7th and 8th, on the south side of Austin was the Rivoli, a long, narrow theater almost next to the king of them all: the Waco Theater &mdash now known as the Hippodrome.

The Waco and the Orpheum were considered the two top theaters.

Austin Avenue, was bustling with many clothing stores, pawn shops and the tallest building in the world (or so I thought), the Amicable Life Insurance Building &mdash ALICO.

Many times have I gone into that building just to ride that elevator as far up as one could go, then go into the restroom and look out the window. What a view.

To me two of the most places were right next to each other.

One was Johnnie's Shoe Shop. As you walked by you caught the wonderful smell of leather (all cowboys love that smell). Johnnie's had one of downtown's most famous characters, a shoeshine named Red. He was proud to tell us he was from Ethiopia. I didn't even know where Ethiopia was until I was in high school. Red, would be on the sidewalk, hawking clients for the "shine stand" part of the shop.

Inside were five or six elevated chairs along the right side of the wall, so the "shine boys" could get to the customers' shoes and boots more easily.

It was a real education to stand there and listen to those guys popping their shine rags. The song "Chattanooga Shoe Shine Man" could have been recorded right there, each shine boy trying to outdo the other at their trade. Many years later, when I got a little money, I would go to Johnnie's just to try to get Red to shine my boots &mdash he was a true icon.

Next to Johnnie's was Mrs. Keton's Bakery a place of beautiful sights and smells. As a child, most of the time I could only gawk and inhale. When I could get possession of three cents, I would treat myself to one of those glorious cream puffs. Never, have I found one to compare.

Many times when penniless I would stand there a while, probably hoping someone would come along and treat me to one. It never happened.

When I got older, I enjoyed the mystery and excitement of the darkened stairwell that led to a basement pool hall (collapsed by the Waco tornado in 1953). I knew for certain that at the bottom of that darkened stairwell was hidden something more than just a pool hall.

This area boomed until about, 1955, when I went into the army. It provided so many of us with marvelous times, which I shall never forget.

Growing up in South Waco

Before I relate my first and subsequent trips "to Town" and the Kiddie's Matinee, a few words about the home in which I grew up: There normally were nine of us living at that little house at 1618 Speight Ave. My immediate family numbered 7, but there were always other relatives living with us &mdash all my life. We never gave it a second thought, or at least I didn't.

The meager amount of money that my daddy made (about $18 per week), had to be managed carefully. The minimum wage effective in 1938 was 25 cents per hour (no overtime provisions in the first phase of the law). In 1939 it was raised to .30 cents per hour. A nickel per hour more doesn't seem like much, but it was actually a 20 percent increase. Think about that in terms of today's earnings.

I think my daddy had a Ph.D. in economics, earned from the school of Hard Knocks. Otherwise, he and my mama could not have done what what they achieved. I had been born at, 1024 So. 18th St, on the corner of 18th and Dutton, in a rented house, in 1934. My folks, like most hard-working Americans, always wanted to own their own home. Many people had lost their homes between 1930 and 1939 &mdash the Great depression continued until WW II, before the highest unemployment rate in history began to ease, primarily because of the war-time economy.

My folks were able to take advantage of someone else's loss. Insurance companies had re-possessed many thousands of homes and were eager to sell them at very low prices and good terms. The house at 1618 Speight sat on a lot 50 feet wide and 165 feet deep. It had five rooms, one bath, no hot water heater, and 800 square feet of living area.

We purchased it on a ren-to-buy agreement The contract called for the payment of $15 per month, including 5% interest, on a loan of $1,650, for a period of 10 years. We made a down-payment of $361.

We had no money, but we had two Jersey cows &mdash Brownie and her calf, Friday. We had chickens and usually raised a hog each year for slaughter. Therefore we had milk, butter, eggs, fryers and pork. Our Jerseys gave enough milk that Mama even sold some to a couple of neighbors. Also she sold some butter and eggs. Our garden was the envy of the block. Mama canned everything she could get her hands on.

The summer of 1940 my daddy, my sister (who was married by this time), and my oldest brother were all working at the Texas Coffin Co. One of my brothers was working at Salome's grocery at 13th and Speight and another was working as an elevator operator at the Hardin Apts., at 13th and Austin. At 6, I was the only unemployed member of the family.

That's when we had one of the earliest trips "to town" I can remember: to attend a Kiddie's Matinee, something I'd only heard about on the big radio we had in our living room. The bus fare was five cents round-trip, or three cents one way. (By the way, that fare was still in effect in March of 1946, when I left Waco to begin a new adventure living on a farm three miles north of Hico.)

To the best of my memory, the price of a ticket to the Kiddie's Matinee, could be covered in one of three ways: (1) fork over five cents, (2) present a Jones' Fine Bread wrapper (3) present a bottle cap &mdash actually a bottle stopper from a bottle of Pure Milk.

Convincing Daddy

Since we were pretty poor, we never bought "light Bread," &mdash our word for commercially baked, sliced bread. That was for special occasions only. Mama bought flour by the 25-pound bag and baked biscuits by the dozen. Having our own milk cows, there was no chance at a Pure Milk bottle stopper. Therefore, I had to come up with 10 cents cash money &mdash bus fare and movie ticket. That's not much by today's standards, but it amounted to about one-half hour of work for Daddy. Consequently, I had to use my best, most pitiful appeal. My daddy was sure that no economic value was to be had from blowing 10 cents on a picture show. My battle to go to the Kiddies Matinee had to be a two-pronged attack, because I had to convince Mama that I was perfectly capable of getting to town and back.

None of this would be possible in this day and time, because of the meanness that exists in today's society. I convinced Mama by telling her that all I had to do was to walk the block and a half to the corner of 15th and Speight and catch the only bus that came by there.

Great corner for burgers

Many are very familiar with that corner, because it had the best two hamburger joints in Waco: Diamonds and Heaton's Eatons.

Some of you were thinking Cupps. Actually, Mr. Cupp first opened up half a block block west of there. I knew that Cupps inside and out, a white-painted concrete block building, one-half of which was portioned off into a grocery store. That's where I had my first job, as a dishwasher in the summer of 1945. I worked for Mr. Cupp until I moved to the country in March, 1946.

Not only could they make great hamburgers, but Mr. Cupp was one of the finest men I ever knew. He paid me .25 cents per hour &mdash twice what I was worth.

That was big money. The first time I caught the bus to a matinee I was somewhat embarrassed, because Mama tied up my money &mdash those 10 cents &mdash in the corner of a handkerchief and I had to struggle with my small hands to get it the knot out of it. In the future I would get that thing untied before that bus driver stopped for me.

What a show

The Waco Theater was wonderful &mdash so big and beautiful with those high-domed ceilings and the soft-cushioned seats. The balcony was the first I had ever seen. After I got older, I found out why the boys and girls liked it so well. The program that day was really great &mdash not just a picture show butan amateur talent show with a variety of acts, as was the practice on a matinee Saturday. Once a man ate an incandescent light bulb as a part of his magic act. He put the microphone right up to his jaw and we could hear him crunching the glass. I was very impressed and was sure that he had actually eaten the bulb. I was not tempted to try it at home. My favorite entertainer was a teen-age boy in a cowboy hat and beautiful western shirt, a neckerchief around his neck. "Just iike Roy and Gene," I admired. He played one of my favorite songs,"0l Shep," about a boy whose pulled him from certain death in a water hole. It brought tears to my eyes then. It still does today.

The boy in the western shirt and bandana won the talent show many weeks in a row. 1 always intended to ask Hank Thompson, if it was him, but never got the chance.

After the week's talent show, the entertainment was on the big screen &mdash cartoon features, and then at least one serial. The serials, sometimes lasting 10 to 15 weeks, were a drawing card, always with a cliffhanger ending to keep the audience in suspense. The next week the hero would stage a miraculous escape. We would yell, clap and cheer when the miracle occurred. It kept us coming back. And why not? They were FUN, FUN, FUN.

At the end of the show we would all, yes all, sing "GOD Bless America," led by Kate Smith, up on the movie screen.

The trip home

Now came the challenge of the bus ride home. Being only 6 and not having gone to school at that time, I could not read. I could recite the alphabet and count to 100 (taught at my mama's knee). However I did not have any training in recognition in print. I was supposed to get on the S. 15th Street bus, but managed to get on the North 25th bus.

I will admit I should have questioned Mama a little closer, but had I done that it may have given her the idea that I was not quite competent enough to make the trip alone. As soon as the bus turned north at 4th street, where Montgomery Wards was located, "I knew I had dirtied in the churn."But the bus driver was very caring. Seeing the panic on my face, he gave me a transfer to catch another bus at no cost.

Some anxious moments followed, but when I saw that wonderful school building at 15th and James, I knew that I was O.K. &mdash that the next corner I would see Diamonds and Heaton's Eatons. I had traversed the universe, on my own as a, 6 year-old South Waco boy. I was as happy as I could be.

The summer of 1940 &mdash a good time, well-remembered. maybe not perfect in every detail, but my memories of that summer are all good.

To paraphrase an old Ivory Snow commercial, these narrations are 99 and 44/100ths true.

Billy Loden's varied career included rural postal delivery and ownership of a small business.


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