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Siege of Branch Davidian Compound - Timeline Event


Victor Houteff

Time Period

02-28-1993 - 04-19-1993


Though sometimes referred to as a cult, scholars of American religion consider the Branch Davidians a New Religious Movement. The word cult tends to carry negative connotations, such as the assumption of brainwashing. However, there is very little evidence to support the claim of mass coercion.

The Branch Davidians received widespread media attention in the aftermath of the United States government’s siege on the group’s Waco, Texas compound in 1993, which left over eighty people dead. This tragedy entered American popular culture via numerous television documentaries and books. Many people saw parallels between the Branch Davidians and the People’s Temple, a New Religious Movement that also experienced mass deaths after a confrontation with the United States government fifteen years prior. While some New Religious Movements are considered non-Christian in origin, the Branch Davidians have Christian theological roots that date back more than 150 years with the Millenarian Movement.

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Most notably famous for the violent incident just outside Waco, Texas in 1993 with the U.S. government where nine people were killed, the history of the Branch Davidians dates back more than 150 years. During its history, the group was known as the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, and finally the Branch Davidians. With its beginnings rooted in the Millenarian Movement started by William Miller, the Branch Davidians began as a Seventh-day Adventist breakaway group founded by Victor Houteff. Houteff believed, among other things, that he would decipher the meaning of the “seven seals”, which are described in the Book of Revelation, and that he would discover the precise timeline for the end times. His beliefs attracted a group of followers, but were officially rejected by the Seventh-day Adventist Church. After the Seventh-day Adventist Church disfellowshipped him in 1934, he established a community outside of Waco, Texas and called it the Mount Carmel Center. The group would remain there until shortly after his death, becoming a self-sufficient community.

After Houteff died in 1955, his wife, Florence, succeeded him. Upon taking control of the group, Florence Houteff announced the “Year of the Kingdom”, where God would reign over earth, would be on April 22, 1959. After that date passed and her prophecy did not come to fruition, the group saw a schism and Florence left with her remaining followers to a new nearby site also outside Waco, Texas, naming it New Mount Carmel. This is the site where the famous tragedy in 1993 would occur.

The move to New Mount Carmel did not change Florence’s problems, as some of her followers continued to become disenchanted. After challenging her authority, Benjamin Roden took control of the group until his death in 1978. After his death, Roden’s wife, Lois, took over, despite Benjamin’s desire for his son, George, to be his successor. Lois believed the third person of the Trinity was female, not male, and that the Messiah in the Second Coming would be a woman. In 1985, George Roden briefly took control of the group from his mother. Subsequently, Vernon Howell (known later as David Koresh), with the help of Lois, took control of the group after a gunfight broke out because George disinterred the body of Anne Hughes, a group member who passed away twenty years prior and was buried on the New Mount Carmel property. In 1988, George was charged with attempted murder by local authorities and subsequently lost control of the group to Howell.

Under Howell’s leadership, he taught the group that the great tribulation as described in the Book of Revelation had already begun and that they would play an important role in the end times. In 1990, Howell changed his name to David Koresh and in 1992 he changed the Mount Carmel community name to Ranch Apocalypse. During this time, Koresh began teaching what he called the New Light doctrine, which described Koresh as being tasked with creating a new lineage of children of God. To start this lineage, Koresh began taking on the role of “spiritual husband” to all of the female Branch Davidians for the purpose of fathering offspring with them. Skeptical of the the New Light doctrine, many members left the community and began telling media outlets that Koresh was a sexual predator and unhinged, dangerous cult leader. The media reports also caught the attention of the U.S. government and, in 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) acted on a warrant to search the property for weapons violations. The ATF’s arrival at Ranch Apocalypse triggered a gunfight and, after neither side gained the upper hand, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the siege. The confrontation lasted more than fifty days and by the end, the community had endured tear gas, armored vehicles, and fires on the property. Over eighty people died in the ATF and FBI raids. From ATF agents to Branch Davidians, the deaths included men, women, and children. Koresh also died during the siege.

While the Branch Davidians would continue to exist with new leadership after the tragedy outside Waco, Texas, the event sparked a national conversation on the balance between religious freedom and public safety. This conversation would continue for decades afterward as concern about government surveillance and religious persecution began to permeate politics and American culture. Many scholars of American Religion use the tragedy at Waco as ripe for discussions on what it means to have religious freedom in the United States.

Religious Groups

Timeline Entries for the same religious group: Adventist Family
Adventist Family: Other ARDA Links
Adventist Family: Religious Family Tree


Koresh, David


Millenarian Movement

Related Dictionary Terms

Book of Revelation, Branch Davidians, Christianity, Doctrine, Messiah, Millenarianism, People's Temple, Prophecy, Religious Persecution, Violent, Schism


Burning Waco Compound
Burning Waco Compound
"Waco Siege Ended." Homeland Security Digital Library

Siege of Waco Compound
Siege of Waco Compound
Image of tank and burning compound. Waco Tribune, April 30, 2013

Flag of Branch Davidians
Flag of Branch Davidians
Reconstruction of flag flying over Branch Davidian compound in Waco. Wikipedia

Book/Journal Source(s)

Cowan, Douglas E., and David G. Bromley, 2008. Cults and New Religions: A Brief History Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.
Miller, Timothy, ed, 1995. America's Alternative Religion Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.
Wessinger, Catherine, 2000. How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate New York, NY: Seven Bridges Press.

Web Source(s)
"Branch Davidian"
"Waco: The Inside Story" PBS Frontline.

Web Page Contributor

Nathaniel Wynne, MSED
Affliated with: The Association of Religion Data Archives

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