Today marks the 25th anniversary of the massive fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian complex northeast of Waco, ending a 51 day standoff at the site and raising questions that remain unanswered to this day, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.
David Koresh, real name Vernon Wayne Howell, the self-appointed ‘Messianic leader’ of the cult, which is a fringe offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist church, was among the 76 Davidians, including two dozen children, who died in the fire.
The actions not only of the Davidians, but the FBI and the ATF remain under scrutiny today.
Dr. William Pitts, a religion professor at Baylor University in Waco, says the FBI never understood the religious implications of the cult and its beliefs, and went into the standoff and ended it considering it to be simply a criminal matter.
“Religious motivation can be a very very powerful force, and these people sincerely believed in what they were being taught, and wanted to hold true to those teachings,” he said.
The standoff remains part of the modern American culture, with several movies and TV shows out just in the last year to mark today’s anniversary of the fire.
The standoff began February 28, when the ATF, attempting to serve a warrant on Koresh for illegally possessing a .50 caliber machine gun, arrived on the ranch property heavily armed, with armored personnel carriers and were immediately hit with fire from inside the compound. Ten people, including four federal agents, died that day, and that set the stage for the bizarre standoff.
During the ensuing 51 days, the FBI broadcast everything from the sound of screeching cats to heavy metal music from loudspeakers across the EE Ranch Road from the compound. Negotiations continued by phone daily, and at one point, Koresh was allowed to broadcast his interpretation of the story of ‘The Lamb and the Seven Seals’ in the Book of Revelation on a Dallas radio station in hopes that would end the standoff.
Pitts says the FBI has made major changes in its strategy toward dealing with religious fringe groups and cults in the past 25 years, something that was demonstrated in the peaceful resolution of the FLDS crisis in west Texas in 2008.
“Policies as I understand it, have bee modified rather considerably.”
Pitts says there are still members of the ‘Mount Carmel Community’ living in the Waco area, including at least two men who served lengthy federal prison terms due to a trial held in San Antonio following the standoff.
“There are survivors of this event live in the Waco area, and others scattered lots of different place,” he said. “They will gather for a memorial service today, as they have every year.”
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