Branch Davidians

An apocalyptic sect that faced a tragic end during a standoff with federal agents in Waco, Texas.

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

The Branch Davidians are a religious sect that emerged from the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, a reform movement that originated within the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The group gained international notoriety in 1993 following a deadly siege at their compound near Waco, Texas, by federal agents, which resulted in the deaths of the sect’s leader, David Koresh, and many of his followers.

The origins of the Branch Davidians can be traced back to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Church, a movement founded by Victor Houteff in the 1930s. Houteff advocated for reform within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, emphasizing the imminent return of Jesus Christ and a call to live a pious, simple life in preparation for the end times. The Branch Davidians formed after Houteff’s death in 1955, when Benjamin Roden took leadership, promoting the continuation of Houteff’s vision. The group gained notoriety under the leadership of David Koresh, born Vernon Wayne Howell, who took control in the 1980s and led the group into a deadly confrontation with federal agents in 1993.

David Koresh, who arrived at the Mount Carmel Center in the early 1980s, asserted his leadership by claiming to be a prophet with a direct message from God, attracting a substantial following with his charismatic authority and deep biblical knowledge. Koresh emphasized apocalyptic prophecies and took several “spiritual wives,” which included underage girls, creating tension and concern within the wider community.

The situation escalated in 1993 when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) attempted to raid the Mount Carmel compound near Waco, Texas, suspecting the Branch Davidians of stockpiling illegal weapons. The initial raid led to a 51-day standoff with the FBI, which concluded tragically on April 19, 1993, when the compound caught fire during an FBI assault, leading to the deaths of Koresh and 75 other members, including children.

In the aftermath of the Waco siege, the Branch Davidians largely disappeared as an organized group. However, a few survivors and former members continued to maintain a presence in Waco, Texas, and elsewhere, with a small community still living on or near the original Mount Carmel site. This site has been reoccupied by a group led by Charles Pace, who claims to represent the true teachings of the Branch Davidians before Koresh’s dominance. Clive Doyle, a survivor of the 1993 siege, has also remained an active figure, conducting Bible studies and memorializing the events and people of the siege.

The legacy of the Branch Davidians and the Waco siege has had a lasting impact, often cited as an example of government overreach and a tragic failure of negotiation and understanding between law enforcement and religious communities. The events at Waco have also been linked to the radicalization of other groups and individuals, such as Timothy McVeigh, who cited the siege as motivation for the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995​​​​​​.

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