Ranch Apocalypse Revisited

By Will Baker

For folks too young to remember, who have forgotten about it, or who did not, for what ever reason, observe and process the events that took place on April 19, 1993, in Waco, Texas, I would like to provide this very brief bit of historical background. Seven years ago, a 29-year-old son and husband was fatally shot by law enforcement agents as he made his way across the fields toward the complex of the Branch Davidians. He was at his job at a nearby auto body shop when he heard there was "something up" at the compound. Almost 100 agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) had arrived at the commune with a search warrant for illegal firearms, their weapons drawn.

It is unclear who fired first, but based upon the sworn testimony of two of the ATF agents present, it appears that federal agents may have initiated the firefight. In the ensuing gun battle, four ATF agents and six Davidians, including Schroeder, died. The botched raid began a 51-day standoff between the Davidians and the FBI, which ended April 19, 1993, when fire devoured the building and the 58 adults and 21 children inside.

The recent government initiated re-enactment of the assault on, and subsequent burning of, the Branch Dividian compound by agents of our federal government brought back many memories. In doing my research for this essay I was surprised to learn that, since the tragedy, a small group of Dividians has remained active in Waco. And they have scheduled the opening of a new church on April 19, 2000, the seventh anniversary of the fire. Yes, about a dozen Branch Davidians remain in the Waco area. And each week they gather together to worship in each other's homes and in the tiny survivors' museum, a ramshackle building a few hundred yards from the original compound, which was burned to the ground. One observer described the Davidian services as a "bland bible study." The members call their Sabbath gatherings "meetings," not services, and consider them to be a time of serious study. And Davidians don't recruit members. Many of them believe that only a prophet, like Koresh, can make someone a member. They have no leader, so there can be no new members. They simply wait for Koresh to return for the resurrection.

"Truth will always rise out of the ashes," said Edna Doyle, a Davidian who lives in a trailer on the 77-acre tract with her son, Clive, who survived the fire. But what was it about Koresh’s message that could compel these folks to hang around? An article by Shelly Katz that appeared in the May 3, 1993 issue of Time Magazine provides us with a glimpse. The following excerpts are from two pieces of Koresh’s final writings:

" April 10: I OFFER TO YOU MY WISDOM, I OFFER TO YOU MY sealed secrets. How dare you turn away? My invitations of mercy…Who are you fighting against? The law is Mine, the Truth is Mine…I AM your God and you will bow under my feet…I AM your life & your death. I AM the Spirit of the prophets and the Author of their testimonies. Look and see, you fools, you will not proceed much further. Do you think you have power to stop My will? My seven thunders are to be revealed…Do you want me to laugh at your pending torments? Do you want Me to pull the heavens back and show you My anger?!…Fear Me, for I have you in My snare…I forewarn you, the Lake Waco area of Old Mount Carmel will be terribly shaken. The waters of the lake will be emptied through and the dam broken.

April 11: My hand made heaven and earth. My hand also shall bring it to the end…Your sins are more than you can bear. Show mercy and kindness and you shall recieve [sic] mercy and kindness…You have a chance to learn My Salvation. Do not find yourselves to be fighting against Me. Please listen and show mercy and learn of the marriage of the Lamb. Why will you be lost? [signed] Yahweh Koresh"

So Koresh was clearly representing himself as nothing less than God incarnate. And he had many followers. But these folks displayed a characteristic that most-but not all, I should point out- other churches do not. They were armed. And based upon the way events unfolded, the authorities clearly perceived them to be a threat. And Attorney General Reno, at the time new to her job, and already under political pressure, found herself in a very unenviable position. But that being said, was what happened seven years ago in Waco, the modern day equivalent of burning at the stake people whom we simply could not understand? And could one of the reasons why we are still investigating this matter, fully seven years after the event occurred, be our feelings of guilt over the affair? Not to mention the disturbing question of whether or not our government killed people and then tried to cover it up.

To be accurate, during the course of my lifetime I have had several moments when I felt troubled by the actions that government has taken on behalf of the citizens of this country. By way of illustration I can offer the Kent State tragedy, the actions taken against the MOVE Group in Philadelphia in the eighties, the Ruby Ridge Shooting, the Waco incident, and most recently, the response to the Seattle demonstrations. The conspiracy theorists are quick to point out their belief that this demonstrates a clear pattern of organized and focused governmental behavior. However, I am not at all convinced that this is true, but it is troubling.

But regardless of everything, it seems to me that, if after seven years we still do not know exactly what transpired on that April day in Waco, we never will. And no amount of Congressional review, or Discovery driven by litigation will change that fact. But we are left with a feeling of unease. It seems to me that Koresh and his followers were clearly operating out there on the fringe. But I have to give them the benefit of the doubt, and wonder if they deserved to be burned alive. We are often left with more questions than answers. And it sometimes seems that the more that we consider some questions, the more that new questions arise. And with the question of what really happened to Koresh and his followers, that certainly seems to be the case.


 (Essay Collection)