Thursday, July 8, 2010

David Koresh

Frustrated musician and future apocalyptic cult leader David Koresh (1959-1993) attended Garland High School in Texas (as Vernon Wayne Howell) before dropping out during his junior year. From his earliest days in elementary school, Koresh was a poor student diagnosed with multiple learning disabilities. However, when it came to the bible, he turned out to be a savant. Indeed, Koresh had a photographic memory and nearly total recall of numerous passages of scripture. In 1981, he joined the Branch Davidians, a Waco, Texas-based religious sect that had broken off from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1930. Koresh soon became romantically involved with their "prophetess," Lois Roden, a woman in her seventies, but later tried to diminish her standing by proclaiming his own powers as a visionary. After Roden's death and following the commitment of her son, George, to a mental hospital in the late 1980s, Koresh effectively took command of the Branch Davidian faith.

Like Charles Manson, Koresh fancied himself a rock musician, but he was not nearly as prolific a recording artist as his fellow cult leader (who has put out at least two albums of psychotic material). Koresh's best known song is an eerily prophetic composition that he released in 1987 that concerned arch rival, George Roden. The song, entitled Mad Man In Waco, contains the lyrics "There's a mad man living in Waco, praying to the prince of hell..." It was issued on 45 and cassette to local record stores, and according to a biography of Koresh by Brad Riley and Bob Darden, failed miserably. It has, however, served as catchy promo music for the various documentaries that have been produced about the Waco incident.

By 1993 Koresh and his adherents who resided at the church's headquarters at the Mount Carmel ranch outside of Waco, had become the focus of the federal authorities because of their activities with firearms. Specifically, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had determined that the Davidians had been converting guns into automatic weapons. After a horribly botched February 28, 1993 ATF raid on the compound (a protracted shootout left four agents and six cult members dead), a 51 day standoff ensued.

During the media-saturated siege, it became known that Koresh had committed numerous statutory rapes of girls he had chosen from his flock to become his "wives." The cult leader reportedly had as many as 19 wives and sired at least 12 children. On April 19th, the FBI breached the Davidian compound with tanks and began shooting tear gas canisters into the building. Several hours later the structure was in flames. By the end of the standoff only a few Davidians had escaped the building with their lives. A total of 74 men, women and children died in the inferno (Koresh and his chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, were later found to have died from gunshot wounds). All of the official investigations into the siege have determined that--based on audio and visual evidence--the Davidians started the April 19th fire.

In the days following the arrest of Timothy McVeigh (1968-2001) for the April 19, 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, it was revealed that the accused mass murderer had been interviewed by a journalism student near the Davidian compound during the standoff. McVeigh had traveled to Waco to demonstrate his solidarity with the "oppressed" cult members and to sell bumper stickers with phrases such as "Fear the Government that Fears Your Gun," and "A Man With a Gun is a Citizen, A Man Without a Gun is a Subject." McVeigh would later cite the outcome of the Waco siege as the principal source of his hatred of the federal government (and, no doubt, it was also the inspiration for the date that he chose to commit his act of domestic terrorism).

Legacy: McVeigh is interviewed near the Davidian standoff on March 30, 1993

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