20th anniversary of Branch Davidians stand-off tragedy

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Today, April 19, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the fiery, deadly end to a 50-day stand-off between the U.S. authorities and the Branch Davidians cult, whose compound was located just outside of Waco, Texas.

On February 28, 1993, U.S. federal agents attempted to serve a search warrant on the group.

Agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms also wanted to arrest the group’s leader, David Koresh (real name, Vernon Howell) on charges of illegal firearms and explosives charges.

That raid resulted in a confrontation during which four agents and six members of the Branch Davidans were killed.

The FBI siege that followed lasted 50 days, ending on April 19 in an inferno that killed 76 Davidians, including 21 children. [See: Branch Davidians, 20 years later]

To-date the way the siege was handled — and just about everything surrounding the government’s approach to the Branch Davidians — remains controversial.


The role of the media, particularly that of the local Waco Tribune-Herald, has also been scrutinized and critiqued, as has the involvement of a belligerent, self-styled ‘cult expert’ whose insight into the theology of bible-based cults to this day remains sub-par.

On the other end of the spectrum are so-called cult apologists — religious professionals who, as documented here, defend and sometimes even promote religious cults.

In the middle are thoughtful cult experts like Michael Langone, executive director of the International Cultic Studies Association — a global network of people concerned about psychological manipulation and abuse in cultic groups, alternative movements, and other environments.

The Deseret News‘ article Lesson from Waco: Religion matters when dealing with the nonconventional is largely dominated by the views of cult apologists, who as always try their best to paint the testimony of apostates as completely unreliable. [Case in point: J. Gordon Melton, who has gone as far as to assert that apostates invariably lie]

Fortunately, Langone provides some balance. According to the article he

agreed the government overreacted to bad information and fatally misdiagnosed the siege on the Branch Davidian compound as a hostage situation.

He said investigators need to sort out fact from fiction before taking action.

“Ex-members and current members can give distorted views, but that doesn’t mean it’s all untrue,” Langone said. “There is some truth in what they say.”

Here is just one of a number of documentaries and TV programs on the Waco tragedy:

Waco After 20 Years: A Warning Against Unrestrained Government
20 years after fire, David Koresh’s tragic spell lingers
Feds learned from mistakes made in Branch Davidian standoff
British man recalls how is sister became a follower of cult leader David Koresh
Need a cult expert?

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This post was last updated: May. 9, 2014