On July 19, 1995, committees
of the House of Representatives opened
more than a week of hearings about
the events at Waco. Dick J. Reavis,
author of The Ashes of Waco, was
the lead witness before those hearings.
Below is his statement to the Congress.
would like to thank the members and staff of this committee for the opportunity to talk to our government about the 1993 events at Mt. Carmel. It is my purpose to give you an overview of what happened there, and insofar as I can, to explain why.
The community that we today know as Mt. Carmel was founded in 1934 after a Bulgarian immigrant named Victor Houteff was ousted from the Seventh Day Adventist Church, a Protestant denomination which now claims some 8 million members around the globe, a million of them in the United States. Houteff bought land in the Waco area, and with his followers, raised an encampment which included a community store and a theological school. At Mt. Carmel during Houteff's reign, each morning students swore allegiance to a flag of Christianity, and afterwards, to the flag of the United States. Yet the settlement lived in peace with its neighbors.
Houteff called his community Mt. Carmel, after a Biblical reference, and called his organization the Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association. While he lived, Mt. Carmel prospered and its faithful put down roots, though they regarded their long stay with irony. The original settlers hadn't planned to be in Waco for long. They thought that Houteff was "the antitypical Elijah," here on earth to announce the Second Coming of Christ. When the announcement was made--it never was--they expected to move to Palestine to greet the Returned Savior on Mt. Zion. This expectation never died at Mt. Carmel, and David Koresh's followers still look forward to a future reunion in today's Israel.
During Houteff's tenure at what would be called the Old Mt. Carmel, the residents adopted a set of rules for self-government which, in effect, made their leader a king. All authority derived from the man whom the followers believed was a living prophet. Nothing in those rules had changed by the time of Koresh's rise as Mt. Carmel's leader, in 1987. For nearly fifty years before the events of 1993, Mt. Carmel lived in obedience to a theological king. Yet there was no conflict with the outside world. A struggle for succession ensued when Victor Houteff died in 1955, and its winner, at least in the Waco area, was a faction that called itself the Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association, led by Benjamin Roden. Roden settled his flock at what was then called the New Mt. Carmel, the site that we know as Mt. Carmel today.
Seventh Day Adventists of all stripes base their faith on the Bible and upon the voluminous writings of a 19th century American seer, Ellen G. White. Davidians--and there are still groups which bear the name and practice--cite Houteff's works as inspired as well. Roden's Branch Davidians added the works of their leader to the sect's canon, and when Benjamin Roden died in 1978, his successor, Lois Roden, contributed new doctrines of her own. In honor of her innovations--Lois is best-known for saying that the Holy Spirit is female--she renamed the group the Living Waters Branch Davidian Seventh Day Adventist Association. When David Koresh, then known as Vernon Howell, drifted into Mt. Carmel in 1983, Lois Roden was its prophet. Howell was an acolyte in a group with a cumbersome name and an increasingly complex theology, and his status called upon him to follow, not lead. One may call a group such as this a cult--or a nation, or even a menagerie--but terms like that do violence to the facts. The followers of David Koresh did not practice a new religion--their religion was Christianity--and they were not sufficiently organized or widespread as to be a denomination. They were a sect, like thousands of other groups that have uneventfully come and gone in the past.
A part of the prophecies that Vernon Howell inherited from the Bible and his predecessors called for a confrontation between God's believers and the forces of an apostate power which, in the fundamentalist milieu, is usually identified as the United States or the United Nations. Koresh's interpretation of these doctrines was that the confrontation would probably take place in 1995. Perhaps in preparation for that eventuality, in late 1991 he began buying guns and studying armaments. In the process, he learned that fortunes can be made by vendors at weekend gun shows. Within a few months, Koresh and a handful of associates were not only buying but also selling goods at the shows--ammunition vests, or "mag bags," gas masks and Meals-Ready-to-Eat, or packaged military rations. They did it for fun, to learn, and to make a profit. They were later accused of having "stockpiled" weapons; all gun dealers do that. Gun traders' "stockpiles"are generally called "inventories."
Gun show activity at Mt. Carmel did not involve all or even a great number of its residents. Mt. Carmel's gun show guys were like its hot rod mechanics and musicians. They were a knot, or circle, or subset of the general population, a crowd of men who had hobby interests that were only indirectly related to theological objectives and beliefs.
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