My name is Ryan and I am an agorist. Today marks the 27th anniversary of the slaughter of the Branch Davidians in Waco by the federal government. My buddy Cam, host of the Make Liberty Great Again podcast and co-founder of the MLGA Network recently did a three-part mini-series on those fateful events and I thought that it was too good not to share. This is Part One: The Sinful Messiah. This will blow your mind.
Vernon Howell thinks he is the lamb of God when all he is is a cheap thug who interprets the bible through the barrel of a gun.” – David Troy, ATF
There is a lot of speculation about Vernon Howell. There are a lot of stories out there about Howell that may be half-lies, whole truth, or blatant misinformation. Finding a source that isn’t stained by the agenda of the storytellers is quite a feat.
So, what do we know about Vernon Howell?
Was he a messiah or a madman? A cult leader or a misunderstood Bible teacher? A statutory rapist or law-abiding spiritual polygamist? Was he a prophet or a mass killer?
I’m Cam Harless from Make Liberty Great Again and on this Red Pill of the Week, we are talking about Vernon Howell and how he became one of the most hated cult-leaders in American history.
Let’s start at the beginning.
Vernon Howell was born in Houston, Texas in 1959 to a 14 year-old-girl. His father left before he was born and his mom didn’t stick around long after, leaving him with his grandmother until he was 7-years-old.
Vernon was described as a lonely and strange child. He claimed that he had been raped by older boys and struggled with dyslexia. Despite this disability, he worked to memorize the entire New Testament by the time he was 12-years-old, but dropped out of highschool as soon as he had the chance.
He had little luck in the way of romantic relationships as a young man. At 19, he had impregnated a 16-year-old girl who promptly left him, telling him that he didn’t have what it took to be a father.
Vernon began his biblical career in a quite run-of-the-mill way. He was born and raised in a Southern Baptist Church until he moved over to the Seventh Day Adventist Church with his mother. There, he fell more deeply in love with scripture and the pastor’s daughter.
The scripture that had deeply affected him was Isaiah 34.
Come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it! The Lord is angry with all nations; his wrath is on all their armies. He will totally destroy them, he will give them over to slaughter. Their slain will be thrown out, their dead bodies will stink; the mountains will be soaked with their blood. All the stars in the sky will be dissolved and the heavens rolled up like a scroll; all the starry host will fall like withered leaves from the vine, like shriveled figs from the fig tree.
He was a man who believed thoroughly that God still spoke to people, specifically him. He believed that, when he opened the Bible to Isaiah 34, the Lord was speaking to him. He also claimed to have visions. When he told the pastor and his daughter that God had sent him a vision that he was supposed to marry and sleep with the pastor’s daughter, he was thrown out by the pastor. When he continued pursuing the pastor’s daughter and leading unauthorized Bible studies and preaching from the pulpit without permission, he was banished from the congregation.
From there, he then tried to make it as a guitarist in California and did odd jobs, until he ostensibly experienced religious enlightenment and found a home in the Branch Davidians at the age of 22.
The Branch Davidians were an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The sect began when Victor Houteff, a Bulgarian immigrant, disagreed with the mainline thought of the Seventh Day Adventists and began teaching contrary to their doctrine in one of their Sunday schools (they called them Sabbath Schools).
He claimed that he had a new message to deliver to the church. He wrote a book titled “The Shepherd’s Rod” and the Seventh Day Adventists promptly removed him from their presence.
He and his followers took residence near Waco in a place they called the Mount Carmel Center and started answering to “the Davidians,” named after King David in reference to believing that the Davidic Kingdom of Israel would be restored.
After Houteff’s death in 1955, his wife Florence led the charge. She was convinced of an imminent apocalypse and set a date for that apocalypse that her husband had not claimed in his book. They hunkered down in Mount Carmel in 1959, but when the Lord didn’t return, there was a schism.
Benjamin Roden, in his disappointment, formed another group called the Branch Davidians and took over Mt. Carmel. Benjamin led the congregation until he passed in 1978. At this time, his wife, Lois, took the reins and the congregation put their full support behind Lois and her son George.
Vernon Howell found his home at Mt. Carmel in 1981 and was well-received and well-loved by all there.
In 1983, Howell claimed that he had the gift of prophecy. This caught the eye of the widow turned spiritual leader and a trist started between them. The twenty-four year old had no issue with being sexually active with a sixty-seven year old woman. In fact, it is said that he wanted to impregnate her as he thought that their union would bring about the Chosen One.
Howell was then allowed by Roden to begin teaching his own message called “The Serpent’s Root.” This caused controversy in the group. George Roden, Lois’ son and heir apparent of the Branch Davidians and Mt. Carmel began to see Howell as an interloper. They clashed and brought disunity to Mt. Carmel.
According to several reports, after his seduction of the elder Roden, he claimed to have revived her decrepit womb with his supernatural seed. Allegedly, this miracle gestation ended in miscarriage. Shortly thereafter, Howell lost interest in the relationship.
When Howell announced that God had instructed him to marry 14-year-old Rachel Jones, whose parents consented to the marriage, the rift between George Roden and Howell reached a short period of calm.
But the calm didn’t last. Roden wanted to ensure that leadership would pass to to him upon his mother’s passing. He, claiming the support of the majority of the congregation, grabbed some followers and some firearms and forced Howell and his group off of the property.
Vernon and his group travelled to Palestine, Texas and lived roughly, in buses and tents, barely eking by. During this time, He visited Jerusalem and underwent an ecstatic religious experience and claimed that God had been revealed to him on Mt. Zion.
The revelation was that he was the last prophet and that it was his mission to restore the glory of the biblical Kingdom of David. The Seventh Day Adventists, the Branch Davidians, and Mt. Carmel had a long history of prophets and great prophecies. With each new prophet came new disappointment. Vernon would not let himself be that disappointment.
That day in Jerusalem, Vernon Howell was no more. He emerged from his ecstacy David Koresh. A man whose name we all know.
He took the name David as a means to show that he was a spiritual descendent of the line of King David and would be a new messiah. Koresh is the Hebrew form of Cyrus, after Cyrus the Great that freed the Jewish people from captivity under the Babylonians.
During his exile, Koresh began to recruit new followers in California, the UK, Israel, Australia, and New Zealand.
Koresh wanted to be God’s tool and set up the Davidic kingdom in Jerusalem. Until at least 1990, he believed the place of his martyrdom might be in Israel, but by the following year, he became convinced that he would be martyred in the United States. Instead of Israel, he said the prophecies of Daniel would be fulfilled in Waco and that the Mount Carmel Center was the Davidic kingdom.
Upon Lois’ death in 1986, her son, George Roden, assumed the role of prophet and leader of the Branch Davidians at Mt. Carmel.
The Branch Davidians that followed Koresh wondered if they would ever be able to return home. Despite being in far-away Palestine, Koresh now enjoyed the loyalty of the majority of the Branch Davidian community. By 1987, Roden’s support from the community was in steep decline.
Roden felt that he had little choice but to challenge Koresh to a spiritual dual. He thought that if he could prove that Howell didn’t have as much spiritual power or supernatural authority, that he wasn’t the prophesied second messiah, that the Branch Davidians would come back to his side in the power struggle.
So, Roden did what any sane person would do. He went to a graveyard and exhumed a corpse.
Roden challenged Koresh to do the impossible. He challenged him to raise the dead.
Upon hearing this challenge, Koresh found just what he was looking for. He called up the police and told them that Roden had exhumed a corpse criminally and that he would like them to press charges against the man.
The only problem was that the police didn’t have any evidence to justify a warrant or an arrest. They let Koresh know that he needed to provide some sort of proof.
Koresh didn’t hesitate. He grabbed seven of his followers and went to Mt. Carmel with firearms and a mission. They were going to get photographic proof of Roden’s misdeeds.
Koresh and his men were seen by Roden and a gunfight broke out on Mt. Carmel.
When the sheriff arrived, Roden had a minor gunshot wound and was pinned down behind a tree. Koresh and his seven followers were charged with attempted murder.
They got lucky. Instead of getting prison sentences, Koresh explained that they were there to get photographic evidence of criminal disturbance of a corpse. The seven followers were acquitted and Koresh’s trial was deemed a mistrial and he was set free.
After the incident, Roden’s mental health did not improve. Nor did the mental health of those around him. When Wayman Adair told Roden that he thought that he himself was the true messiah, Roden grabbed an axe and killed him with one blow to the head.
Roden was judged criminally insane and was confined to a psychiatric hospital. As he was admitted to the loony bin, it became apparent that he owed thousands of dollars of unpaid taxes for Mt. Carmel.
David Koresh and his followers were able to easily raise the money and reclaim the property.
The Branch Davidians, under the leadership of David Koresh, were finally home.
David Koresh was not naive. He knew that he would have plenty of heat coming his way from the police and the state after the earlier dust up. So, he was particular about keeping everything on the up-and-up and following the law as closely as he could to keep the state from shutting him or his church down.
So, when he found a meth lab in Mt. Carmel in an area that Roden had rented out to tenants, he promptly called the police and asked them to remove it from his property.
Koresh, like the Houteffs and Ellen G. White, were consumed by eschatology and the end of the world. David Koresh, in particular, taught extensively on the seven seals found in the book of revelation.
In Revelation, there is a vision of the Lamb of God opening up the seven seals. The seven seals contain secret information known only to God until the Lamb was found worthy to break the seals and open the scroll and to look on the contents.
The Lamb of God, who was also referred to as the Lion of Judah, has always been thought to be Jesus Christ. The opening of the seals marks the second coming of Christ.
David Koresh and his followers believed that he was the Lamb of God and that he would open and reveal the contents of the scroll that would usher in the end times.
He thought he was a second Messiah. To be clear, the terms “Christ” and “messiah” are words and titles that have been used for more than Jesus. Messiah was a word used to refer to kings or the High Priest. Cyrus the Great, for example, was called a messiah.
Jesus, in Christianity, is the true messiah. The ideal. The Christ of Christs. The sinless saviour of the world.
The Davidians believed that a messiah would come in the last days to usher in the reign of Christ.
David Koresh never claimed that he was Jesus. He claimed that he was a messiah. The final messiah that would usher in the return of Jesus. He did not claim that he was God or Jesus, nor did he claim that he was sinless like Jesus was. He claimed that he was a Sinful Messiah.
Koresh read the entire Bible through a messianic lens. Most Christians, when they read the Bible, they read it through a messianic lens that centers their understanding of the messiah on Jesus alone. However, there have been people in the Seventh Day Adventist tradition and in other churches on the fringe of Christianity that have read with the messianic lens centered on themselves. Joseph Smith is a good example of this phenomena.
Koresh was far from dumb. He had a deep knowledge of the Bible and used exegesis (although I would call it eisegesis) to read himself into the Old Testament, New Testament, and especially into Revelation.
But David Koresh was convincing. He was persuasive. He had enough knowledge to attract people from all walks of life and from all over the world. Unlike Jim Jones, he didn’t exploit the marginalized, the stupid, and the elderly. He attracted people from all over the world to hear him speak. The congregation was multi-ethnic, multi-generational, and some were seminary students, professors, and at least one was Harvard educated. He most certainly started a cult, but it was a cult among the lines of Joseph Smith rather than Jim Jones.
There were many people at Mt. Carmel who were looking for truth and wanting to understand the Bible and the seven seals of revelation. Many who knew them claimed that the Davidians were not crazy people, but that Koresh and his followers were deeply committed to a different understanding of the Bible. Some had been there for over 40 years. Some were born at Mt. Carmel.
The Branch Davidians, under Koresh, began to thrive at Mt. Carmel. Although there wasn’t running water or electricity, they made the center their home. They built their new church from reclaimed wood from the existing buildings on the property. The congregation worked together and shared their money to keep the church alive.
The Davidians were well-regarded, but thought to be odd. And that, they were.
The Davidians minded their own business, they were polite, nice, and they were described as “good people, never overbearing, clean, courteous, and likable.”
With any apocalyptic scenario comes survivalism. Koresh and his followers were among those who prepared for the end. There was a prophecy going around Mt. Carmel that told of a fight between the people of God (the Branch Davidians) and an apostate government that they called Babylon (The US government).
Koresh thought he was going to take down Babylon by way of sacrifice, using Nahum as his proof text. He likened tanks to chariots and spoke of fire.
The Davidians wanted to keep themselves and their children safe from the corruption of the world and from the machinations of this apostate power.
So, they had their own property, they had weapons in case they needed to defend themselves and their children, and they didn’t involve themselves in much outside of Mt. Carmel (outside of Koresh making music, selling products to keep themselves alive and fed, and sharing the their version of the gospel when they could). Neighbors would sometimes come to Mt. Carmel to spend time with the Davidians and would go to the gun range with them to shoot.
There was a lot of activity and regulation that was based on Koresh’s understanding of theology and his view of his personal calling.
Inside of the commune that was Mt. Carmel, there were classes going on daily. Members were able to leave when they wished, but there were rules and regulations set up by Koresh for those who stayed.
There were some silly regulations, like consumption of dairy products and milk being baby food and not for adults. Mt. Carmel was completely devoid of sugar and junk food. They were very specific about eating well, working, and living a healthy life.
There were some rules that most certainly would not fly outside of the walls of their church and would be utterly rejected by any other Christian denomination.
Part of Koresh’s theology was that he would be the Lamb of God that would ride in on a white horse as in Revelation. He believed that he and 24 elders would reign over earth. He believed that he was called to have 24 children who would become the 24 elders that would rule with him.
This belief was said to color Koresh’s view on sexuality and sensuality completely. According to several people around him, he viewed sex as a means to an end rather than as an end in and of itself.
To this end, he had spiritual marriages with many women in Mt. Carmel. The men and women were said to be split up and lived separately, the men being asked to remain celibate whether they were married or not. The wives of these men were said to be the wives of Koresh.
This, of course, didn’t sit well with everyone and some left Mt. Carmel at this pronouncement. Some wives stayed while their husbands left. It was certainly an abuse of authority if you didn’t buy into his doctrine hook, line, and sinker.
This meant that girls who were of a legal age to marry, like Koresh’s first wife, could become his wives. This meant that 14 year old girls were spiritually married to Koresh.
Just a note. That’s disgusting. That should never happen.
Ultimately, Koresh fathered 13 children to seven women in the compound.
This does show another area where Koresh knew the law and followed it.
Some of the people that left Mt. Carmel or had children that joined the congregation made claims that he was marrying 10 to 12 year old girls and having relations with them. One being his wife’s younger sister and a girl named Kiri Jewell.
It was also said by those outside of Mt. Carmel that Koresh had aggressively spanked or beaten his 3-year-old son Cyrus and had made him sleep in the garage while withholding food from him.
When these accusations were brought to the police, the sheriff investigated the claims and was unable to ever come up with evidence that this was the case.
There were many who knew of the situation and disregarded these claims outright. They found inconsistencies in the stories that led them to believe that these accusations weren’t based on facts. There were others that held onto these accusations as hard facts of his misdeeds. They claim that he covered them up. It was said that they had assigned a false husband to one girl to trick the sheriff into believing there was no wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, the truth of these claims can never be fully known. I’m not sure I understand how assigning a 24 year old fake husband to a 12 year old girl helps their situation at all, but that’s neither here nor there.
Despite all of this, things were peaceful at Mt. Carmel. Things were seemingly going well and the children and people were thriving.
To bring money into the church, Koresh played music and he taught Bible studies. But, more was needed.
David Koresh and the Davidians, seeing the gun regulations that Clinton was enacting, saw a market that they could make some money in. Selling weapons.
So, the Davidians got their licenses, started acquiring products and began selling guns legally at gun shows. They were making money doing that and were able to continue living their lives as they saw fit.
Koresh was playing music, teaching, and bringing people into his fold.
But on February 28, 1993, the ATF had different plans. And that’s where we’ll pick up on Part Two of the Waco massacre in the next Red Pill of the Week.