Charles Manson wasn’t the only rock & roll cult leader. As you may have learned from watching the Paramount Network’s new miniseries Waco, David Koresh of the Branch Davidians was also known to pick up the axe from time to time…
In an era plagued by gun violence and incessant mass murders, the siege at Waco remains to be one of the most memorable shootouts in American history. As several sources have depicted the tragedy, the situation at Mount Carmel could have been handled more delicately by the ATF and the FBI, who conclusively relied on force as a method of negotiation. What began as a federal search warrant for a suspected cache of illegal weapons, erupted quite literally into a gun battle between religious cult zealots and the United States government. The standoff lasted 51 days, until the iconic conclusion on April 19th, 1993, when a tear gas attack by the FBI prompted a fire that would engulf the Mount Carmel Center. By the close of the standoff, a total of 76 people would die—including leader David Koresh.
The Branch Davidians arose in 1955 from a rupture within the Shepherd’s Rod, a derivative of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The original sect was led by self-proclaimed prophet Victor Houteff who, twenty years prior, had established its headquarters at the Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas. When Houteff unexpectedly passed, many disagreements within the church brought about splinter groups like the aforementioned Branch Davidians, now led by the quasi-prophet, Benjamin Roden. Similar to the doctrines preached in the Shepherd’s Rod, the Branch Davidians believed they were living in the final period of Biblical prophecies, right before absolute judgement and the second coming of Christ.
David Koresh joined the Branch Davidians in 1981. Known then as Vernon Howell, the Koresh of his early-twenties seduced Lois Roden, the now-widowed leader of the commune, who was in her late sixties. The following year, Koresh declared himself to be the true prophet of the group and relayed that he had been instructed by God to bear a child with Lois, who would be considered the “Chosen One.” Upon Lois’ death, her son George Roden took over leadership of the Branch Davidians and exiled Koresh from the compound in fear of his rising influence. This was up until 1989, when Roden was convicted of murdering follower Wayman Dale Adair because he was believed to have been sent by Koresh. The former Vernon Howell then changed his name to that of celestial significance (after King David and “Koresh” being the Biblical name of Cyrus the Great) and he, along with his followers, raised enough money to buy-back Mount Carmel from the US government. From that moment forward, David Koresh became the final prophet of the Branch Davidians.
David and the Bros
Besides stockpiling weaponry, Koresh lived above the law through his teachings of the “New Light Message.” The men who practiced at Mount Carmel, even those who had committed alongside their wives, were to now lead a celibate life. The women, however, would be sexually and reproductively committed to Koresh, who insisted upon a harem of available women known as the “House of David.” The reasoning was, you guessed it, because of God’s commandments, that Koresh was to hold “spiritual weddings” with any woman that their Lord had instructed him to. Many of the women of the Branch Davidian cult became wives of Koresh, several of which had already been legally married—or were underage. At least one follower in particular, Michelle Jones, had her first child with Koresh when she was fourteen years old. The two had begun a sexual relationship years prior while her older sister, Rachel Jones-Koresh, remained the prophet’s only legal wife (whom she also married when she was fourteen). The parents of Michelle and Rachel Jones had been lifelong Branch Davidians and had given David permission to bed & wed their daughters.
It is believed that Koresh had fathered over fifteen children with the women of the group. He expected his children to be perfect and that they would eventually become the ruling elders after the apocalypse and the alleged second coming of Christ. The ideology of the Branch Davidians was heavily focused on Judgement Day and it was Koresh’s prophesy that only he could open the “Seven Seals” as foretold in the New Testament’s Book of Revelation. This action would bring about the calamitous end of times, wherefore those devoted “Koreshians” would be led into the heavens by their divine leader. Koresh and his followers’ reaction to the standoff at Mount Carmel was that the Seven Seals had been opened and mankind’s decimation was upon them.
Just a day before the initial raid at Mount Carmel, the Waco Tribune ran its shocking, multi-part expose’ on the cult of David Koresh titled “The Sinful Messiah.” Among the story’s heinous depictions of child abuse, statutory rape, polygamy, paranoia, and a heavy artillery, another persona of David Koresh had also been characterized—that of a rocker. At 22 years of age, Koresh was kicked out of his mother’s Seventh-day Adventist Church in Houston for trying to marry the pastor’s daughter. An aspiring musician, Koresh then moved to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a rock star. His attempt was considered an “utter failure,” and this is what led Koresh to Waco, Texas.
It could be said that David’s rock ambitions were what led him to literally try to become Jesus Christ. Plenty of rock stars regard themselves in self-idolatry, so the career trajectory checks out. While in Waco, Koresh engaged himself in the local music scene and began booking bands at a club behind the K-Mart called Cue Sticks. Koresh would oftentimes invite local bands back to Mount Carmel for jam sessions—held sometimes late into the night. Bands would play in the main parlor of the compound, also where the altar was located and where services were conducted. For a wacko religious cult, the Branch Davidians had a comprehensive music set-up, with a vast selection of quality instruments and an elaborate sound and recording system. It was David’s intention that by interacting with musicians and those in local nightlife, that he would gain new recruits to the Church. Some were dissuaded by David’s blathering of the Seven Seals, while others, like known follower David Thibodeau, would become vital components to Koresh’s kingdom. Thibodeau met David at the Guitar Center in Hollywood and upon Koresh learning that he was a drummer, he was asked to join the Branch Davidians in Waco. Thibodeau would be the one to participate in the “mock wedding” with the underage Michelle Jones in order to cover up any suspicions of sex with minors.
The Paramount Network’s depiction of David Koresh
In the first episode of the Paramount Network’s series Waco, David and his rock band of Branch Davidians cover “My Sharona” at the local pub. In another episode, during the part of the siege when the ATF would amplify sounds of rabbits getting murdered late at night, David is able to revive their generator for ten minutes to play a cover of The Call’s “I Still Believe” (on a Flying-V guitar, mind you). Ironically, David Koresh had his own original music, and some of it is actually pretty good. Is it fucked up to say that it’s good? [Admit it, “Look at Your Game Girl” is actually pretty catchy. ]
None of Koresh’s music caught the public ear until after the Waco fiasco, naturally. Voice of Fire was a three-song CD that was released in 1993, so shortly after the standoff ended. Sandwiched in-between two religious rock tracks is an fifty-seven minute sermon conducted by David Koresh at Mount Carmel. There’s also an hour-long discography of David’s music online. The collection features Koresh on the electric guitar, singing songs of religious content of great intention. And let’s not forget the track titled “Jesus Loves Me,” with guest vocals by some kid. It’s definitely creepy. But, let’s remove the artist from the art and maybe there will be something there?
David Koresh does “Mad Man in Waco”
One quick note about the song “Mad Man in Waco.” Seems pretty obvious what the subject matter would be, but Koresh actually wrote it about George Roden, his direct competition for the throne (also who killed a guy with his axe). In order to prove who the true messiah was, George Roden challenged Koresh to a competition to be the first person to raise the dead. Roden dug up the corpse of a woman who had died two decades prior and Koresh alerted the authorities of corpse abuse. Koresh needed proof, so he and others showed up to Mount Carmel, dubbed “Rodenville,” and a gun battle ensued (Roden had an Uzi). Can you believe there was a shootout in Waco six years before the ATF showed up? Speaking of shootouts, April 19th marks the 25th anniversary of the fire at Mount Carmel. It’s also the 23rd anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, which was a direct retaliation to what went down in Waco.
Listen to the music of David Koresh below:
“Book of Daniel”
“Waiting on You”
“By the Rivers of Babylon”
“Darkness in the Light (unknown remix)”
BBC Panorama episode on ‘The Sinful Messiah’ from 1993
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
‘Charles Manson Superstar’: The underworld Pope is (finally) dead. May he rot in Hell