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Profile: George Roden

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The flag of the Branch Davidians.The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Anna Hughes, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, George Roden, David Bunds, Seventh-day Adventists, Lois Roden, Jack Stewart, Paul Gordon Fatta

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Waco Tribune-Herald headline for its ‘Sinful Messiah’ series, with a photo of Davidian leader David Koresh.Waco Tribune-Herald headline for its ‘Sinful Messiah’ series, with a photo of Davidian leader David Koresh. [Source: Pyreaus (.com)]The Waco Tribune-Herald begins what it calls the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, formerly Vernon Howell (see November 3, 1987 and After). Based on interviews with former members of the sect, the series accuses Koresh of being a “cult leader” who physically abuses children and takes underage brides, even raping one of them. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010] Two weeks into the standoff, Newsweek will publish an article on Koresh and the Davidians that draws heavily on the Waco Tribune-Herald series. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] An August 1992 investigation by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) found no evidence of such claims (see April 1992).
Sexual Abuse Claims - Koresh, the series claims, advocates polygamy for himself, declaring himself the husband of multiple females of the community. The articles say he claims to be entitled to 140 wives or more, can legitimately claim any of the women in the community, has fathered at least a dozen children, and that some of his brides are as young as 12 or 13. The sources claim that Koresh annulled all the marriages among the Davidians, and told the men that they would receive their “perfect mates” in heaven. For the time they are on Earth, he told them, only he would have wives. Koresh keeps the men and women rigidly separated except during Bible studies. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010]
Physical Abuse Claims - The articles claim that Koresh beats children as young as eight months of age. Former Davidian Michelle Tom testified in a Michigan court custody case that Koresh beat her daughter Tarah Tom with a wooden spatula until the girl’s bottom was bruised and bloody. The girl had cried when placed on Koresh’s lap, Tom testified. A former Davidian who refuses to be identified confirms Tom’s story, saying that the little girl’s “bottom was completely black and blue.” During the same court case, Tom and other former Davidians claimed that Koresh was particularly harsh with his own son Cyrus. When Cyrus was three and living with Koresh (then Howell) in Pomona, California, Koresh once tied him to the garage for the night, after telling him that there were rats in the garage who liked to eat children. Tom and others recall hearing Cyrus scream as his father beat him.
Bringing the Apocalypse - Koresh, according to the articles, claims to be the Lamb of Heaven whose mystical task it is to open the Seven Seals of the Biblical Apocalypse, thus bringing about the end of the world. The Davidians, according to the articles, intend to slay all non-believers (whom Koresh calls “the Babylonians”) once the Apocalypse begins, and Koresh’s male children will rule at his side thereafter. Koresh says: “If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. But so what? Look at 2,000 years ago. What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man of sorrow acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain’t nothing. Know what I mean?… If the Bible is true, I’m Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.” The sources say Koresh uses “mind control” techniques to indoctrinate his followers, including marathon sermons and Bible study sessions lasting up to 15 hours at a stretch. One former member who refuses to be named says of the sessions: “You don’t have time to think. He doesn’t give you time to think about what you’re doing. It’s just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.” Other methods employed by Koresh include confusing, rapid-fire discourses about abstruse Biblical topics, and a propensity to force community members to listen to sermons at odd hours of the night. Another former member, also refusing to be named, says: “You felt like you were in the know. Others in the world might consider you average. Let them. They were unbelievers. But you knew something they didn’t—something that put you into the ultimate In Crowd, the ones who wouldn’t be taking a dip in the Lake of Fire.”
Sources - The sources for the article include Australians Marc Breault, described as a former “confidant” of Koresh’s who has spoken against Koresh since 1990; Breault’s wife Elizabeth Baranyi; and Jean Smith. Breault, an aspiring musician, admits to feeling resentment towards Koresh—he joined the group in hopes that he and Koresh, himself an accomplished musician, would form a successful rock band, an aspiration that would not be fulfilled. They are joined by former Indiana disk jockey David Jewell, who was never a member of the sect but who sued his ex-wife, Davidian Sherri Jewell, for custody of their daughter Kiri. Breault and other former members say Sherri Jewell was one of Koresh’s wives. Kiri lives in Michigan with her father, while Sherri remains with Koresh. (In 1995, Kiri Jewell will testify that she was raped by Koresh between the ages of 10 and 14—see July 21, 1995). Other sources include Robyn Bunds, one of Koresh’s first “wives” among the community (married to him at age 17, she says, when Koresh and his small group of followers lived in Pomona and La Verne, California). Bunds claims that Koresh told her he raped the 12-year-old sister of his wife Rachel Howell, who, Bunds says, crawled into bed with him to “get warm” and was forced to have sex with him. Koresh has denied the story, and claims to have had only two children, Cyrus and Star, both with his wife Rachel. However, birth certificates for many Davidian children are incomplete; the sources say that Koresh is the father of many of the children, and routinely has the mothers leave his name off the certificates. Bunds tells reporters: “When Vernon came along, he… said you had to give him all your money. You had to live on the property. You had to give up everything else. You had to give him your mind… your body.” She claims her parents gave well over $10,000 to Koresh’s sect and bought a house in Pomona for $100,000 in Koresh’s name (then Howell). She admits to having been jealous over having to share Koresh with his other wives, and says Koresh is the father of her son Shaun, whose birth name was Wisdom Bunds; she says Shaun is terrified of Koresh because he beat him. (Koresh says Bunds, not him, beat her son, an allegation which she admits, though she says Koresh also beat the child.) She says she left Koresh in Pomona after he began having sex with her mother Jeannine, and when he attempted to kidnap Shaun and raise him among the Waco Davidians. Jeannine Bunds is also a source, having left the Waco community shortly after her daughter left Koresh. (Don Bunds, Jeannine’s husband and Robyn’s father, remains in Waco with the Davidians.) Another source is Karl Henning or Hennig (the article uses both spellings), a Vancouver teacher who lived with the sect for two months. He says Koresh holds a “truly amazing accumulation of knowledge.” Also, the article relies on the recollections of Bruce Gent, a former Davidian who says he allowed Koresh to sleep with his teenaged daughter Nicole. Yet another source is Barbara Slawson, a member during the time of Koresh’s predecessors Lois and George Roden, who says she was never impressed with Koresh and left during the time he was solidfying his grasp on the leadership of the group. Slawson says she has two grandchildren in the group. “My primary reason for trying to help is the children,” Breault says. “They have no one else to help them. If people say we were stupid, well, that may be true. But the children aren’t.” Breault says he finally left the group after Koresh had sex with a 13-year-old Australian girl he had brought to Waco merely for sexual purposes. “I realized it wasn’t a matter of Biblical anything,” Breault later testifies during the Jewell custody case. “He just wanted to have sex with her.” Koresh says that Breault sees himself as a rival prophet attempting to convince his followers to join with him against Koresh, and says that Breault is the source of the stories of his alleged sexual relations with underage girls. Breault admits telling Australian Davidians that he, too, is a prophet, though he says he eventually confessed that he had lied to get the Davidians away from Koresh, and that for a time he attempted to create a breakaway, rival sect of the Davidians.
Emotional Control - Jeannine Bunds says Koresh does not physically restrain his members. “I’m over 21, intelligent,” she says. “I could have walked at any time. I chose to stay. He doesn’t keep you. You can leave. What you have to understand, though, is he keeps you by emotion. When you’re down there, it’s all so exciting. You don’t know what he’ll come up with next. I guess everyone is looking for Utopia, Shangri-La. You don’t want any problems. It wasn’t all bad times, you know. The people in this are great. They’ll give you the shirt off their back. They’re nice, like everyone else in the world. Except they believe this.”
Newspaper Asked to Hold Off Publishing Stories - Tribune-Herald managing editor Barbara Elmore says the newspaper put eight months of research into the stories, and held off printing them after federal authorities asked her “not to run anything.” The head of the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) task force investigating Koresh (see June-July 1992) says the stories did not influence the agency’s decision to raid the Davidian compound near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] After the BATF raid, Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott defends his newspaper’s decision to publish the story, saying: “We’d been working on this story for eight months. It contained a lot of information the public ought to know. We decided it was time to let the public know about this menace in our backyard.… I’m under siege. There has been the suggestion that somehow we are responsible for this tragedy.” BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says the bureau has no complaints about Lott or the Tribune-Herald, but an unidentified BATF agent has allegedly said part of the responsibility for the deaths of four BATF agents during the raid rests on the local press. The bureau asked Lott to hold off publishing the series a month before the raid; the newspaper gave the bureau a day’s warning before running the first installment. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Newsweek, 3/15/1993]

Entity Tags: David Jewell, Bruce Gent, Star Howell, Sherri Jewell, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Waco Tribune-Herald, Cyrus Howell, Barbara Elmore, Shaun Bunds, Barbara Slawson, Branch Davidians, Bob Lott, Sharon Wheeler, Tarah Tom, Rachel Howell, Elizabeth Baranyi, Don Bunds, George Roden, Robyn Bunds, Jean Smith, Jeannine Bunds, David Koresh, Kiri Jewell, Nicole Gent, Karl Henning, Michelle Tom, Newsweek, Lois Roden, Marc Breault

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Amo Roden.Amo Roden. [Source: Amo Roden]Reporter Peter J. Boyer publishes an article in the New Yorker depicting the almost-mesmerizing attraction the scene of the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre (see April 19, 1993) has over radical right-wingers. The site of the Branch Davidian compound, on a hill outside Waco, Texas, has been razed and burned over, but enough debris remained for Amo Bishop Roden to come to the site, fashion a crude shack from fence posts, pallets, and sheet metal, and take up residence there. Roden, the wife of former Davidian leader George Roden (see November 3, 1987 and After), says God told her to come to the site to keep the “end-time church” of Davidian leader David Koresh alive. She makes money by selling Davidian memorabilia, including T-shirts and photos. “People come by every day,” she says. “And usually it’s running around a hundred a day.” Most of the people who come to the site are tourists, she says, “but some are constitutional activists.” Boyer writes that Roden’s “constitutional activists” are “members of that portion of the American extreme fringe which believes the FBI raid on the Davidian compound exemplified a government at war with its citizens.” Boyer writes that those radical fringe members regard the Davidian compound as “a shrine,” and view April 19, the date of the Davidians’ destruction, as “a near-mystical date, warranting sober commemoration.” Last April 19, two things occurred to commemorate the date of the conflagration: the unveiling of a stone monument listing the names of the dead, and the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has himself made the pilgrimage to Waco (see March 1993). Alan Stone, a professor of psychiatry and law at Harvard, says the mistakes made by the federal government at Waco will continue to fuel right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theories until the government acknowledges its mistakes: “The further I get away from Waco, the more I feel that the government stonewalled. It would be better if the government would just say, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, and we’ve done this, this, and that, so it won’t happen again.’ And, to my knowledge, they’ve never done it.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Amo Roden, 2010] Religious advocate Dean Kelley writes that Roden collects money from tourists and visitors, ostensibly for the Davidians who own the property, but according to Kelley, the Davidians never receive any of the donations. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] Four years after Boyer publishes his article, a similar article, again featuring an interview with Roden, is published in the Dallas Morning News. Paulette Pechacek, who lives near the property, will say of her and her husband, “We expected it [the visits] for months afterwards, but it surprises us that people still come.” [Dallas Morning News, 6/27/1999]

Entity Tags: David Koresh, Peter J. Boyer, Paulette Pechacek, Branch Davidians, Amo Bishop Roden, Alan Stone, George Roden, Timothy James McVeigh, New Yorker, Dean M. Kelley

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The visitors’ center at the new Branch Davidian church outside Waco, Texas.The visitors’ center at the new Branch Davidian church outside Waco, Texas. [Source: Waco Cult (.com)]Workers break ground on the Mt. Carmel property near Waco, Texas, for a new Branch Davidian church. The Davidian compound that stood there before was burned to the ground six years ago during a standoff with FBI agents (see April 19, 1993); only about 12 Davidians remain in the area. The project is led by radio talk show host Alex Jones, who says the Davidians were victims of “a government cover-up of its violation of the First Amendment.” Jones, whose radio show features radical conspiracy theories and a variety of right-wing and gun advocates as guests, says of the church raising: “This is a statement. This is about saying the witch hunt of 1993 is over.” The party of workers includes the parents of Davidian leader David Koresh, who died during the standoff. Koresh’s stepfather Roy Haldeman says of the project, “I feel good about it.” He lived at the compound during 1992 and the early months of 1993. Jones says he and others have been talking about building a structure on the site for three years. “All of it, it’s all about public opinion,” he says. “We know that now is the perfect time, that’s why we’re doing it.… This is a monument to the First Amendment. You think about speech and the press, but it is also religion and the expression thereof.” During an interview with an Associated Press reporter, he wears a pin reading, “You burn it, we build it.” Jones has contributed $1,000 to the project, and says it will be complete in two or three months. The ownership of the Mt. Carmel property is in dispute. At least four parties claim it: Clive Doyle and a group of Davidians who lived at the compound; Douglas Mitchell, who claims to be the divinely appointed leader of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association; Amo Bishop Roden (see May 15, 1995), who has said that she was married “by contract” to the late George Roden, the former Branch Davidian leader (see November 3, 1987 and After); and Thomas Drake, Roden’s old bodyguard. Doyle says his group has maintained the grounds, erected a memorial to the Davidians slain in the standoff, and paid the taxes on it. He says he has been leading a small number of congregants in Bible studies in the Waco area and intends to lead services at the new church. One volunteer working on the church is Mike Robbins of Austin, a customer relations manager at a car dealership. He says he is not associated with the Davidians, but has constitutional concerns about what happened at the compound: “I came out here to support the First Amendment rights and the rights of every citizen,” he says. “There is a lack of tolerance in this country and I’m here to fight that.” [Associated Press, 9/19/1999; Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000; Waco Tribune Herald, 5/3/2000] In November 1999, Jones is fired from his job as a host on Dallas’s KJFK-FM after refusing to stop broadcasting interviews with surviving Davidians, and for refusing to stop discussing his theories about government conspiracies surrounding the April 1993 debacle. Jones moves to a public-access cable TV channel and over the Internet. [Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000] The target date for the completion of the project is pushed back to April 19, 2000, the seven-year anniversary of the conflagration at the former compound. About $40,000 has been raised for the project, volunteers say, but $50,000 more is needed. Doyle and his mother, Edna, live on the property in a mobile home. A good number of the volunteers helping build the church are anti-government activists who share theories about the government’s secret plan to destroy the Davidians, many of which are aired and discussed on the air by Jones, who regularly features survivors of the 1993 debacle on his cable show. The Michigan Militia has donated $500, and vendors sell T-shirts emblazoned with machine guns and slogans such as “Death to the New World Order.” Construction work is only done on Sundays, in deference to the Davidians’ Saturday Sabbath. [Howard News Service, 12/22/1999; Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000] The church will be dedicated for services on April 19, 2000. The construction costs will come to at least $92,000. Some of the surviving Davidians do not want to worship at the new church, but prefer to meet in private homes. [Howard News Service, 12/22/1999; Associated Press, 4/19/2000] At the dedication service, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark says: “This is an occasion for joy, because from the ashes has risen the church. The world must never forget what the United States government did here.” Clark is one of several lawyers representing the surviving Davidians in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the US government (see April 1995). Five Michigan Militia members, dressed in combat fatigues and berets, will present sect members with a commemorative plaque from their group for the new building. [Dallas Morning News, 4/20/2000] Doyle will eventually win a court verdict awarding him ownership of the land. [The Mercury, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Alex Jones, David Koresh, Amo Bishop Roden, Branch Davidians, Clive J. Doyle, Thomas Drake, Ramsey Clark, Roy Haldeman, George Roden, Douglas Mitchell, Mike Robbins, Michigan Militia

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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