Recently in our final months as PLP 12 students we have been working on our zettlekasten. We have officially gone through the Turning Points, Terrorism, and Music units. Our final unit before we begin our exhibition is Extreme belief’s, mainly looking at New Religious Movement’s (NRM) formally known as cults. I have been tasked with doing some background research into a certain cult to share in this post, and I have chosen Branch Davidians.
Branch Davidians are a offshoot of the Seventh-Day Adventists, which is a recognized autonomous branch of the Protestant Christian church which believe in a second coming (return of Jesus after his ascent to heaven). The Branch Davidians also believe in a second coming, though they also believe in a more apocalyptic end to society. The Davidian movement was founded in 1930, and passed through 3 people’s leadership before David Koresh became leader in the 1980’s. He joined the group in 1981, and quickly climbed the ranks, through a sexual relationship with the leader at the time, as well as the fact he claimed he prophesied the group’s future. He also claimed he was the Messiah as part of his New Light doctrine which declared all women as his wife, including underage girls, and women who were already married. Also any child of the Messiah is a sacred child, and so he went on to have 13 children with many of his illegitimate wives within the commune. The Branch Davidians lived in Mount Carmel, a large piece of land in Waco, Texas, turned into a commune. There were many things that brought the commune to the attention of the law enforcement, such as sexual abuse, child molesting and possession of illegal firearms. Though the last one caused the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) to invade the compound on February 28th 1993. In the unsuccessful invasion of the compound 5 Branch Davidians, and 5 AFT agents were killed. This began the 51-day standoff between the FBI and the Branch Davidians. During the standoff Malcolm Glawell, from the New Yorker said this of the operation:
“the F.B.I. assembled what has been called probably the largest military force ever gathered against a civilian suspect in American history: ten Bradley tanks, two Abrams tanks, four combat-engineering vehicles, six hundred and sixty-eight agents in addition to six U.S. Customs officers, fifteen U.S. Army personnel, thirteen members of the Texas National Guard, thirty-one Texas Rangers, a hundred and thirty-one officers from the Texas Department of Public Safety, seventeen from the McLennan County sheriff’s office, and eighteen Waco police, for a total of eight hundred and ninety-nine people.” Link
The 51-day standoff ended in a siege of the compound by the FBI which ended up killing 76 Branch Davidians.
This group was determined to be a cult because of their charismatic leader, the brainwashing of members, the disruption of normal life through seclusion, and offered an answer to the apocalyptic ending people had been looking for. David Koresh also had an incredibly strong hold on the members of the group, to the point that people would give up their children if they misbehaved. They were also told to beat thier children at as young as 8 months old to teach obedience. They wanted the kids to listen so that when the day came (as they were a doomsday cult they prophesied the end of the world) the kids would listen to the adults and follow orders. Children who grew up in the cult said, “You were raised with just fear, everywhere is fear” (Kiery Jewel). Inciting fear into the children gave Koresh more power, and demonstrated further the development of the Branch Davidians as a cult.
The apocalyptic ending of the cult also enticed members to join People had been attracted initially to the group because it branched away from the traditional Seventh-Day Adventists, and brought more light upon the second coming (return of Jesus after his acent to heaven). Most members though had been first or second generation members, or had been involved before Koresh became a leader. Though what enticed many people to join Branch Davidians was David Koresh’s claim that he was a messiah, had spoken to god, and knew the end of the world was coming. He spoke so powerfully, people just believed him. The answers he had gained from being a Messiah made people want to join the cult, really demonstrating that people in vulnerable states, or at a crossroads in life, will listen if you give them answers.
I highly suggest you visit this website if you would like to learn more about the cult (The Waco tragedy, explained)