Branch Davidians

The cult of David Koresh in Waco, TX, in which almost every member was killed during a raid by authorities

1955 - 1993

David Koresh, the cult's leader during the Waco Seige

The Branch Davidians developed in 1955 out of a failed apocalyptic prediction of the "Davidians," an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventist Church led by self-proclaimed prophet Victor Houteff. After the apocalypse failed to happen on the predicted day, the sect fractured into various groups, including the "Branch Davidians," who gained control of their Mt. Carmel compound.

David Koresh, the group's most famous member, joined the Branch Davidians in 1981. He had previously impregnated a 15-year-old girl and later told his pastor that God wanted him to sleep with the pastor's daughter, causing him to get kicked out of the church. Finding a new home with the Branch Davidians, Koresh developed a sexual relationship with the elderly leader, Lois Roden. After Lois died in 1986, her son George was supposed to become the new leader. However, Koresh maintained that he should be the next leader, resulting in a power struggle in the cult.

Koresh won the loyalty of the majority of members, so George challenged him to a battle to see who could resurrect a dead member. Instead of accepting this challenge, Koresh reported the desecration of a dead body to the local police. Then, Koresh commanded his armed followers to take over Mt. Carmel by force. After a bloody shootout and the arrest of George by law enforcement, Koresh successfully took over Mt. Carmel as the new leader of the Branch Davidians.

With his opposition out of the way, Koresh took on the role of a prophet of God and told his followers the apocalypse was imminent. He predicted that law enforcement would try to destroy the cult but that the cult would overpower them with God on their side and bring about Armageddon. He stockpiled mass amounts of weapons, prepared his followers for war, and declared all the women in the cult to be his wife.

After former members warned authorities that Koresh was stockpiling weapons and abusing children, the ATF, ignorant of the apocalyptic expectations of the cult, launched a raid on the compound, killing six members. Since the cult saw this as fulfilling their apocalyptic prophecy, they did not surrender but instead fought back, killing four ATF agents.

After it was clear that the ATF raid had failed, the FBI took over but did not do any better. After a 51-day siege involving tanks, tear gas, helicopters, and no discernable progress, the Mt. Carmel compound caught fire, killing almost everyone inside; 76 additional deaths. The government imprisoned the remaining members and conducted an investigation, concluding that the fire had been started by the cult rather than federal agents. However, the public became skeptical, and by 1999, most Americans believed there had been a government cover-up.

Religion: Christianity

Denomination: Seventh-Day Adventist (offshoot)

Founder: Benjamin Roden

Leader: Vernon Howell ("David Koresh") (1987-1993)

Founded: 1955

Ended: 1993

Location: Mt. Carmel compound in Waco, TX

Size: 126 (1993)

Other Names: General Association of Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists; The Davidian Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association; Koreshians

Fire that destroyed the compound during the 1993 Waco Seige

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Summary of the 1993 Waco Seige