We Didn’t Start the Fire but the Tinder Was Ours

Editor’s note: This week marks the 30th anniversary of the end of the Waco siege, which saw federal agents attempt to raid the compound of the Branch Davidians, who were led by David Koresh. Eight-two Branch Davidians and four federal agents were killed in total. Seventy-six of the Branch Davidian deaths took place in a fire on April 19, 1993.  In the years since, there has been much written about Koresh and the group he led; Seventh-day Adventists have also had to reckon with Branch Davidians’ connections to the Adventist Church. Throughout the rest of this week, we will be looking back on tragedy—and thinking about the lessons learned that still have importance today.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/12306

During my time at the seminary, Branch Davidians frequently left flyers on cars in the parking lot and tried to hold discussions with students. They would occasionally find willing participants. There was commonality and difference at the same time; the discussions were often concerning the prophetic gift. They believed that their group had further revelation than EGW. Which prophet to follow???

Their apocalyptic view was not particularly different than the SDA fantasy of a soon-to-come time of trouble, running to the countryside and the mountains for refuge from the persecutors, a final test of faith where facing a choice of death or compliance would be the scenario, and where God would step in at the last moment to save the faithful and destroy the “beast people”. They named their compound Mt. Carmel for a reason; they saw themselves as the new Elijah people resisting the forces of Ba’al and fully expected a similar rescue in response to their act of faith, maybe fire from heaven coming down to consume the forces arrayed against them.

I remember when I was a teenager, watching some of the better educated SDA professionals (doctors) buying property in the North Carolina mountains to be ready to flee when the expected Sunday laws would come. Some built bunkers. Some bought small farms to be self-sustaining. Looking back on this, the level of delusion which overtook so many otherwise intelligent people is simply bewildering.

The similarities between the Davidians and SDA’s are closer than the differences. Delusions have nothing to do with IQ. It is simply the willingness to exercise faith in anyone who claims to have special revealed knowledge.

BTW, I still know SDA’s who have removed themselves far out into the boonies who are well armed and bunkered, prepping for the time of trouble.


I liked the 2018 Waco series. I don’t sympathize with fundamentalism in general or Koresh in particular, but those people should not have died. The show briefly identifies a character as a former SDA seminarian. Heartbreaking to see these others identified.

The heroes of the show are a young couple living on the compound and the FBI negotiator who is undermined and dismissed before the 76 people are burned alive in a tear gas fire.

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Most frightening about Waco, Nazi Germany, Racism, Anti-Semitism and the like, is that once people are so frightened by ignorance of the “other,” they are ripe for the ‘pickins’ as we say. Criticisms of our prophetic interpretations are appropriate because, without rational analysis and psychological sensitivity, we join the “herd” for deliverance from our fears. We need protection. The “Jews” are taking over the financial industry, the blacks are taking over our government and country, if the “minority” becomes the majority (me and mine) we are doomed.
The vast majority of average citizens in Germany, even after knowing the “dark side” of Hitler, pledged fealty to him and his “final solution” mania. Individual moral courage was also on display (it always is) but so, so rare. What gave this cult mentality its real “tinder” was disinformation, propaganda and the conviction that we now know the “truth” about what will happen if we don’t mount a resistance. Only the truth can set us free, Jesus said, referring to the truth about the Creator in the Jewish tradition. But that quip is universally valid, for all times and places and movements. it is often thought that a “common enemy” unites people who have lesser enemies (such as national foes). That offers as hollow and false a unity as one can imagine, for it evaporates when the common enemy is defeated and we can return to our individual and petty enemies. “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” Paul said. You can’t bear an enemies’ burdens for long and remain an enemy.


Glad that made the list!

Anyway, from what I understand, the SDA “spokespeople” only tried to protect the SDA church in their public comments. Did anyone from the SDA church actually go there and try to help? Didn’t they hire media consultants for themselves? As someone who would understand their mindset better than anyone else, it’s beyond inexcusable that no one from the SDA church tried to help. Am I wrong on this? Is there any record of anyone from the SDA church attempting to help?


The official church line is that Koresh didn’t understand SDA theology.

Another possible explanation is that he understood it all too well and was willing to follow to its logical, if antisocial and suicidal extreme.


And space, too!


Yes, Santa, the person who makes Christmas possible.


If MTG wants to win the war on Christmas, doesn’t she have to start by admitting that Christians stole it from the Pagans?!?!

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Do you really think she could connect those two dots?

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Antigovernment militias have made “Waco” a code word for federal overreach. Even before the fiery end of the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidians’ compound south of Dallas, where David Koresh and more than 70 of his followers died, Army veteran Timothy McVeigh visited the site. A Koresh supporter, McVeigh sold bumper stickers reading FEAR THE GOVT THAT FEARS YOUR GUNS and A MAN WITH A GUN IS A CITIZEN, A MAN WITHOUT A GUN IS A SUBJECT. Two years later, McVeigh chose the anniversary of the Waco fire to bomb the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Owning a piece of history is special to many people, especially if it item is tied to an event that made worldwide headlines. But those headlines are not always good. On April 19, 1993, 76 men, women, and children died in Branch Davidian compound fire in Waco, TX. All of them were followers of one man, David Koresh.

Now, the car that Koresh owned, and is thought to be his escape car, is for sale right here in Las Vegas. The 1968 Chevrolet Camaro SS 427 Coupe has been dubbed ‘Armageddon’s Relic’ and is being sold at Vegas Auto Gallery by its current owner, Ghost Adventures host and the man behind the Las Vegas Haunted Museum, Zak Bagans.

While no longer an SDA at the time of the Waco events, I contacted the FBI twice offering to help them to understand the mindset and expectations of this apocalyptic cult. I felt uniquely qualified in that I was formerly a scholar in apocalyptic literature and SDA eschatology, and had no need to protect the denomination. I was rebuffed, probably considered a crank. If only the FBI had in some way had an understanding of the delusional paradigm which controlled the minds of the cult… Nothing would have been more bewildering to the group than to have the pressure relaxed; they wanted and needed to be persecuted. They saw themselves as the focus of the final crisis in the controversy between God and Satan. If that hadn’t happened, the delusion would have been undermined. They were clearly expecting to be attacked and at the same time expecting God to step in at the final moment to rescue them and to destroy their oppressors. (cf The Great Controversy, The Time of Trouble).


Kudos to you for trying. I’d love to know the real reason the FBI wouldn’t even give you a chance. Was it arrogance? I think if someone in an official capacity had contacted them, maybe they would have been more willing to listen. I had heard sometime in the past, that Koresh went into town quite often. It would seem (if that’s true) that they could have apprehended him without the siege operation. I never understood why the FBI didn’t back off and let things cool down.

Yes, they were primed for an end time showdown, courtesy of the GC.

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The allegation of the far right is that after the debacle at Ruby Ridge a few months earlier, the ATF, FBI and Janet Reno needed a “shock and awe win” to look competent and tough on gun crime. If so, they understood exactly what they were doing in Texas, making de-escalation the last thing the government wanted.

Whether this allegation is true or false, it certainly would have rang exceedingly true with those inside the compound given what you say about Koresh’s mindset and eschatology, and in which case Waco can be seen as a sad but virtually unavoidable “perfect storm” of expectations and “dreams/nightmares coming true” for all parties.


If you remember Spectrum ID “Cassie” was from Waco, and had volunteered to go into the compound. She knew “Koresh” quite well - and was ignored.

The rejection on one hand could also be understood from their point of view as ’ why send one misguided person to talk to another misguided person’. I think the blame should lie exactly where it belongs, people willing to follow other peoples simply because they choose to, for what ever reason. Failure to use the brain cells in a cognitive way should never be an excuse. Brainwashing is a very subtle thing and vulnerable people are more susceptible to it. A fear based understanding of Biblical ideas/thought/reading/ etc, will greatly accelerate the process, in my opinion. Did the government make mistakes, in hind site there is always a better way. It is much easier to plan and carry out the correct process once you have finished the current one.

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This was a long and protracted event. There was no urgency to move it along faster. For a negotiator, there is nothing more important than to fully understand the mindset of those on the other side of a standoff. I’m sure the FBI negotiators violated their own protocols.


I’d forgotten that, Sirje. I sure do miss Cassie. Well, there are 2 people so far who had the compassion and character to try to help. Maybe someone from an “official” organization might have been able to meet with them. We’ll never know I guess. I’m 99.9999% certain no one had what Cassie and Bart displayed to try to alleviate the situation. Thanks for the reminder regarding Cassie.

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I am glad that not only Spectrummagazine, but BUC / TED / Newbold College put a concerted effort into commemorating the events of 30 years ago.

Thirty years back the PR strategy had been to deny the connections - keeping the name of the SDA church out of it all… Except - I knew a good number of people dying in Waco personally - good, faithful Adventists. And I remember my late father in law, then elder at the Manchester South SDA church, telling me about the strange Bible studies going on, and the even stranger sexual deviancies that seemed to be involved. But since Bible and EGW arguments seemed so fitting… people couldn’t quite make anything of what was happening and were puzzled - even the young pastor Ian Sweeney (WACO 30th Anniversary: Recognising His Voice - Newbold College of Higher Education)

It is good we finally own the links to our church. There is a lot to learn.

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Wow, I had no idea that their was this level of connection to Koresh and the others that followed.

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This is really amazing.

Just came across this article published March 24 2023 for those who may want to read more.