On 19 April 1993 tanks trundled across the wooden complex of Mount Carmel near Waco, Texas. Filling the main building with gas, they brought to an end a fifty one day siege of the Branch Davidians, a Seventh Day Adventist sect, causing a massive blaze which saw nearly eighty cultists die, including their leader, David Koresh.
What had begun as a legitimate, if heavy handed, attempt to search the compound for arms, the resulting fire fight had eventually set the scene for their own particular apocalypse.
Koresh himself was an enigmatic figure. Born Vernon Howell to a teenage single mother, he grew up a loner who withdrew into the Bible (stories circulated of periods of abuse during this time). By the age of twelve he had memorized the entire New Testament. Dropping out of school in 1977, he dreamt of being a great rock musician, but lack of talent proved a hindrance. Eventually he joined the Seventh Day Adventists, but was expelled for his extreme views two years later.
Koresh headed off to Waco, where an apocalyptic splinter group, the Branch Davidians, had been based since the 1930s. He worked there as a handyman, before a spiritual experience led him to take over the sect. To achieve this, one story is he challenged one of the leaders to a spiritual duel, convincing him to dig up a corpse so that Koresh could resurrect it. As the man went off to the graveyard, Koresh phoned the police and the man was arrested. Koresh – the Sinful Messiah, as he became known – took over, instituted an oppressive regime and allegedly began a series of sexual abuses. With such a character, it had to end in disaster.
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