When, in February of 1993, the Branch Davidian cult were suddenly put under siege by federal law enforcement agencies pursuing the arrest of the cult leader, David Koresh, I knew this was a story we should cover firsthand, and so we sent young, upcoming novelist Darcey Steinke to Waco, Texas. Her assignment was to find out who Koresh and the Davidians were, and what they had done that was so bad to bring upon themselves the wrath of an angry and vengeful government.
Darcey came back with an inspired story — she discovered Koresh had been a failed rock star, and had simply transferred his delusions of grandeur and fame and need to be adored to the next most obvious career path, religious cult leader.
I interviewed Darcey last week about her memories of the assignment and what she discovered.
— Bob Guccione Jr., founder of SPIN, November 5, 2015
Bob: How did you find out about Koresh being a failed rock star?
Darcey: By the time I got to Waco there was already a full press circus waiting outside the ATF road block. A line of photographers, their cameras with huge telescopic lenses waited near the check point. A dozen satellite media trucks. Legion of reporters, print and TV, local and national. Even international. Also, the tabloid press was there as well. I always remember that in the press conferences whenever the tabloid reporters were called on everybody moaned. Though their questions were often funny: “How does David Koresh keep so many wives satisfied?”
So it was clear to me I was going to have to find a way to make the story my own. To make it fresh. To find my own way into it. I was writing for SPIN, a music magazine, and reading some of the stuff that was first published about Koresh, I knew that he played guitar and had played in bands. I figured the local music store would be a good place to start. I come from a small town myself and I know that the local music store is a sort of hangout for local musicians with big dreams. As it turned out, David Koresh had come into the store on many occasions and so I learned about his musical ambition there. The owner was also able to hook me up with other local musicians who had jammed with Koresh in the compound.
What was your first impression of Waco, the situation surrounding the siege — the tension in the town, the attitude of the law enforcement agencies surrounding the compound and streaming into the area?
I had not been on any stakeouts before so I was surprised by many things. First, there was a real summer-camp feel in the press corp. Some reporters had set lawn chairs up in front of their trailers and I remember one had music blasting and plastic flamingoes. There was a lot of card playing, bulls**tting. Much making fun of David Koresh and his “wives.” I think the press was bored. But also surreal things kept happening, like disturbed people running into the compound. The whole thing had a very particular American gothic vibe about it. All the big American themes — guns, cults, sex — were in play and it made people sort of giddy.
Law enforcement also did not seem to take the Davidians seriously, either. The ATF made jokes about Koresh in press conferences. And I remember at night from where the press was held I could see the bright lights they shined on the compound so nobody inside could sleep and they played the sound of rabbits being slaughtered. This seems horrible to me now, like torture.
How was Koresh viewed by the locals before the siege?
People thought he was odd. I think some of the rock musicians I talked to frankly thought he had a good thing going: He did not have to work and had many young lovely women at his disposal. I remember someone telling me that people thought it was strange that at his rock showcases, he’d have all these old people from his cult.
Texas is a sort of wild, live-and-let-live place, so most people did not give him much thought.
Who do you think was to blame for the way it ended? Was there ever likely to be a peaceful solution?
I think it was the government’s fault. I found out that Koresh jogged everyday at the same time on the same route [before the siege]. And so if they wanted to take him they could have just pulled up in a police car and arrested him. It was insane to come to the compound of an obviously unstable person — who you know has a ton of weapons — with heavily armed ATF agents. Just crazy. They had an hourlong gun battle. I still think this is just insane. I mean, very American sadly, but crazy.
After the Compound burnt down — and we will never know if the ATF lit the place on fire or if the Branch Davidians did it themselves — I saw some videos of some of the people inside, people that died in the fire. The videos had been sent out but had been repressed because they made the people inside look so normal and lovely. And this is what I remember: families with little kids and lovely older ladies talking about the community there. Community that they had not been able to find any place else. People seeking God, seeking the divine.
So many innocent people died. That’s what is still hard for me about the government’s role.
What did the media miss?
The thing that reporting the Waco story really taught me was how complicated and nuanced and rich the news is. I was used to reading basic fact-based news about the siege but once I got down there I saw how much complexity there was: the Texas gun culture, the failed rock star, exhausted/confused people who wanted to give the authority of their lives over to someone else, people longing for close community, a leader who had let his power and desire go to his head. And the ATF too, they felt unmanned and threatened by what had happened and so were trying to discredit and crush the Branch Davidians. Also, all of the stories of the people inside. You think a cult is filled with similar types of people but I found so many different kinds of people had found their way to Waco.
[This story was originally published in the July 1993 issue of SPIN. In honor of SPIN’s 30th anniversary, we’ve republished this piece as part of our ongoing “30 Years, 30 Stories” series.]
Above Donnie Rorie’s TV is a black velvet painting of Jimi Hendrix. There are Bud cans, ashes on the aluminum lips, littered over the coffee table. Last night was a late one. In the back room, where his drums are set up on a paisley carpet, Rorie keeps the aquarium with his rattlesnake. He says he is going to take me on his Harley to Lake Waco, where he and David Koresh used to ride bikes together. But first, he wants to get a little stoned. When I refuse the purple-tinted bong, he looks apologetic and quickly rolls a joint. We smoke it, watching a video of his old band, Flashback. Rorie tells me about this friend of his from a band called Whirling Dervish, who used to rag on Branch Davidian cult members David Thibodeau and Jaime Castillo about their celibacy. He’d say to them, “Did you get laid lately or are you still waiting for those perfect bitches Koresh is promising?” When Rorie’s friend died suddenly in his sleep of an aneurism, Koresh said, “I told God to do it.” Rorie looks at me. “Kinda freaky, don’t you think?”
Waco, Texas, a town of 100,000, is proud of its cowboy heritage. Unforgiven has been playing at the theater downtown since the movie opened last year. The manager of the local Blockbuster Video says all westerns, as well as Vietnam movies such as Full Metal Jacket and Platoon (David Koresh’s favorite), are in constant demand. Interest in Apocalypse Now is “phenomenal.” Not surprising for a town known in the 1800s as “Six Shooter Junction.”
Now, as in many small American city centers, storefronts are boarded up, the department stores are empty — most commerce has moved out to the mall. There are a few state buildings, a bank, and a luncheonette, but more prevalent are pawn shops, places to get quick high-interest loans, and bail bondsmen offices. There’s a Texas Ranger Museum, a temple to law and order but also to the shootouts and violence so common in Texas history. Display cases show hundreds of guns, Colt 38s with etched silver grips and buffalo rifles. There’s even an exhibit that displays the weapons used to kill Bonnie and Clyde and details the ambush, how scores of bullets riddled each of their bodies.
In the U.S., the death trip has always had extremist followers — from heavy-metal fans to nuclear war hawks. Death-cult emperor Charles Manson begat David Koresh. Manson too had musical ambition, a taste for young girls, and a Hollywood name — Chuck Summers. But unlike Koresh, he also had minor pop success: In 1968, the Beach Boys recorded Manson’s song “Never Learn Not To Love,” as the B-side for one of their singles. Then there was Guyana cult leader Jim Jones: He too had a Christ complex, collected paramilitary equipment, and trained his followers in guerrilla-style maneuvers. On April 19, as the country watched the fire billowing through the compound at Mount Carmel, the ghosts of the 1978 Guyana tragedy — where 900 cult members committed mass suicide with a brew of Kool-Aid and cyanide — were resuscitated. Waco was a kind of Jonestown with an audience.
But before the apocalypse, for 51 days, the public gathered on a grassy slope adjacent to Loop 340 — buying David Koresh T-shirts and looking through telescopes and binoculars at the compound nearly ten miles away. Down the hill, at the mouth of Farm Road 2591, Texas state troopers from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) ran the first checkpoint. DPS and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) agents in military-style gear warmed themselves around a fire that flared up out of an oil can near a tent labeled “Camp Boredom.” Beyond the checkpoint, the road curved through low swampland — snowy egrets stalked through the grass. Set back even further from the road were a few trailers, a modest brick ranch house, and an old farm with 20 chicken coops and a goat tied to the porch.
Five miles down 2591 was the final DPS roadblock and the press site packed with some 50 cars, 20 campers, 15 television trucks, small striped tents, and a row of portapotties — the so-called “Satellite City.” Journalists lounged in lawn chairs soaking up the sun. Toward the end of the siege, the DPS agents there started to get punchy. During the day, they’d continually take photos of each other, and one night they gave the press junior DPS badges and one-free-speeding-ticket coupons.
The Branch Davidians settled ten miles outside Waco in 1935, and at one time had over 1,400 members. Koresh joined the group in 1984 and had an affair with then-prophetess Lois Roden, who was 67. When Lois died, her son, George Roden, challenged Koresh to a duel: Whoever could bring a corpse back to life would gain control of the cult. Roden dug up the body of a cult member and set it on the altar of the chapel. He prayed day and night for a miracle, while Koresh schemed to get Roden arrested for corpse abuse. Koresh needed to provide the authorities with proof in the form of a photograph, but Roden, sensing trouble, dragged the body into a woody spot on compound land. When Koresh pursued him there with a few followers, the two men ended up fighting an hourlong machine gun battle.
No one was hurt, but Roden pressed charges. Koresh eventually won the case, and ironically, Roden went to jail for six months on an unrelated charge. (He had been found in contempt of court for repeatedly filing motions with the Texas Supreme Court asking God to inflict herpes and AIDS on the Supreme Court judges.) By the time Roden was released, Koresh was in place as the leader of the cult. In 1991, Roden was committed to a psychiatric institution for killing a man he believed was an agent of Koresh.
Younger Davidians gravitated toward Koresh. He had a kind of hippie appeal, with his long brown hair, wire-rim glasses, and his incredible knowledge of the scripture.
He also played guitar.
Koresh’s song, “Madman in Waco,” was about his rival prophet, George Roden, who had run for President on a platform of a first nuclear strike on Russia, the right to bear arms, and legalized bigamy.
Three-score queens, and four-score concubines, and virgins without number. — Song of Solomon 6:8
Just over a year ago, at a bar called Cue Sticks behind the Kmart on Old Dallas Highway, David Koresh built his rock’n’roll empire. He made an agreement with the owner, Randy, that he would build a stage, bring in a P.A. system, book local bands, and serve as a kind of master of ceremonies, and that his own band, Messiah, would jam during breaks.
A British airbrush artist and member of the cult painted the backdrop — a caricature of two snakes, one with the head of Koresh and the other with Randy’s head. Colored in tawdry reds, oranges, and greens, the mural had a bubble coming out of each of the mouths: “Rock on, Randy,” “Rock on, Dave.”
Local band Rif Raf played Cue Sticks about twice a week during the time Koresh was musical maestro. “The painting was pretty corny,” says rhythm guitarist and washing-machine service man, Trent Duffer, in a slow West Texas drawl. He’s wearing a chain with a turquoise pendant dangling from the end. “It was like, ‘Party on, Garth. Party on, Wayne.'”
Koresh would also hang around Chelsea Street Pub & Grill, a British-style place in Richland Mall that specializes in margaritas. He’d talk about Cue Sticks and his musical connections in Los Angeles, then hint at his important understanding of the Seven Seals. Rif Raf lead singer, Jimbo Ward, who wears a Black Sabbath T-shirt and has a ring on every finger, recalls Koresh’s buying him a beer. “He had these theories on the Seven Seals, that he knew stuff people didn’t know — that they’ll need to know. He’d try and get your interest up, then invite you out to a Bible study.”
A former guitarist for Rif Raf, a guy the band describes as depressed and needing a lot of attention, got hooked by Koresh and started going daily to the compound. “We were getting pissed off,” Ward says in his raspy voice. “He was late a lot for practice. Sometimes he wouldn’t show up.” Then Koresh forced the guy to quit smoking. One day, trying to tune his guitar — his nerves fried from nicotine withdrawal — the guy snapped and threw his ax onto the linoleum floor. It cracked. But instead of buying a new one, he got a gun, a mini-14. “We were pissed,” says Shannon White, bass guitarist. “We wanted him to buy equipment.” Ward’s girlfriend turns the sound down on the TV and goes into the kitchen to get a beer. “Somebody being a musician,” says White, “it’s hard for them to work. Out on the compound, it’s a free ride, Koresh feeds you and clothes you. He was even paying off Thibodeau’s school loan. You’re free to play guitar 24 hours a day.”
Rif Raf would invite friends out to their Cue Sticks shows, but few would come. The place was taking on a weird aura. “When we took a break, Koresh would get up on the mic, jam a little. Before he got off, he’d quote from the Bible and then give out his phone number at the compound.” Koresh’s hipper male followers would hit on women in the crowd and ask for their numbers. But it would always be Koresh who would call, urging them to come to a Bible study. White tells about going early for sound check and there being “a bunch of octogenarians” from the compound with earrings, leather jackets, and tennis shoes. “It was weird, man, like he’d dressed them up to bring them out to a club.”
Shawn O’Bryant, lead guitarist, says he started to wonder about Koresh when he saw one of the leader’s many specially painted guitars. Most were biblically inspired and painted by the same artist who did the snake mural. One showed Koresh on a cross, a half-naked woman at his feet; another pictured Koresh playing his guitar surrounded by angels. There was one with a line-drawn fish, with a fanged Star of David biting into its belly. But it was the one painted in the style of Steve Vai’s album cover for Passion and Warfare that troubled O’Bryant. On the bottom, near the whammy bar, were the same flashy boots Vai wears on the cover, but in Koresh’s rendition they were empty and it said “R.I.P.” Shawn asked Koresh what he had against the man. Koresh looked surprised. He said, “No, I love Vai. I think he’d find it flattering.” O’Bryant, who at 23 is the youngest member of the band, rolls his eyes and leans back on the couch. He’s wearing a T-shirt covered with skulls, and a string of love beads. “That guy is no more Jesus than my dog,” he says. “You’d think if Christ is helping out a club, it’s going to do something. But it closed down.”
Credit: Photo by FBI/Creative Commons
And when he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour. — Revelations 8:1
Donny Rorie met ?oresh when the cult leader left his leather jacket behind one night at Chelsea’s. Rorie returned it to the compound. A few days later, Koresh came into Chelsea’s, shook Donny’s hand, and palmed him a $10 bill. Koresh said, “You’re a saint, man.” Rorie wears a black Harley T-shirt and a leather vest. His long hair is held in a ponytail down his back and he’s a professed gun freak. He says Koresh’s band, Messiah, played a kind of jazz fusion, with an L.A. sound behind it. “Kind of like Joe Satriani.”
Koresh liked Rorie’s former band, Flashback, and thought Rorie was a good drummer. He wanted to take Flashback to L.A., get them some exposure. He loved to warn Rorie’s former old lady about how aggressive the chicks were in L.A. Over and over, he’d say, “Will you be able to handle Donny getting all that attention?”
Koresh also loved Flashback’s lead singer. Once he showed up at the guy’s house very agitated. They went out in the backyard for a smoke, and Koresh started telling him, “You could be a leader, man. People would follow you.” Rorie describes the lead singer as hyper, a guy who could “talk about anything,” and that he had, though Rorie hates to admit it, a certain kind of “dickhead charm.”
Rorie had heard about how the government was after Koresh. He’d also heard Koresh prophesize that he’d die in a gun battle. He knew the Davidians had gas masks, food, and ammunition stockpiled, and he’d seen bench presses and free weights in the compound. Sometimes, when he’d be out on the compound trying out the guns — street sweepers, AK-47s, M-16s, and, Koresh’s favorite, 9-millimeter pistols — cult members would jog by. Four or five more laps to go, they’d tell him. But on February 28, when Rorie was driving back from Austin and 20 cop cars zoomed past him, his first thought was drug bust. He’d heard rumors that Koresh had taken too many hallucinogens, too much speed. Koresh told Rorie that during George Roden’s time there’d been a methamphetamine lab in the compound. “Koresh looked like an old junkie,” Rorie says, “He had that burnt-out, shrunken-up look. The dude burned too many brain cells. How else are you going to convince yourself that you’re Christ?”
One of Rorie’s last times out at the compound, he and David Thibodeau were sitting in his van. They’d just finished shooting guns. “Thibodeau says to me, ‘Check this out.’ He threw in an Alice Cooper tape, some song talking about the Bible. ‘Only person knows the Bible inside and out is the devil,’ Thibodeau said. That really freaked me out because David Koresh knew the Bible better than anyone.”
“This whole thing definitely had to do with thwarted musical ambition,” says Calvin Ross, owner of Lone Star Music. “He couldn’t be a rock star so he decided to be Jesus. That was his vibe — a very misunderstood savior.”
And he rode upon a cherub and did fly; Ye, he did fly upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness his secret place. — Psalm 18:10-11
In 1987, David Koresh went into Lone Star Music to give owner Calvin Ross his demo tape, “Madman in Waco.” The song was about rival prophet George Roden who, since the gun battle, had run for President on a platform of a first nuclear strike on Russia, the right to bear arms at all times, and legalized bigamy.
Koresh came in, sat on an amp, and complained that people misunderstood him. He asked Ross to check out the song. Please, please, please won’t you listen? / It’s not what it appears to be / We didn’t want to hurt anybody / Just set our people free. Ross didn’t think the guitar solo was bad: “His voice was not great, but then neither is Mick Jagger’s.”
There’s a madman living in Waco / Praying to the Prince of Hell. “It’s a weird twist of fate that this whole thing turned on him,” Ross says, referring to the song’s lyrics. Behind him hang two tiers of guitars: Alvarez, Washburn, Ibanez. There’s one with a Bud logo, another one painted like snakeskin — hot pinks, glitter, and zebra stripes. All the guys in the store have the same ’70s shag hairdos, including Ross. One man in the front has a tattoo on his bicep — a guitar surrounded by red and orange flames.
“Koresh came in once or twice a week,” says Ross, sitting behind the counter, Guitar School magazine stacked up by the cash register. “I remember dealing with a Marshall amp. I gave him a price and he said, ‘Oh Calvin, Calvin, Calvin, you can do better than that. We’re working for the Lord.’” Ross smiles. “I just shook my head and said, ‘We give all God’s children the same discount.'”
Money never seemed to be a problem for Koresh, who bought half a dozen guitars and amps. Ross heard lots of rumors about how Koresh got his money. One was that he owned a sprinkler service in L.A., another that he remade classic Trans Ams, Corvettes, and T-Birds and sold them. Some say he also took over the bank accounts of cult members.
“He was highly frustrated that he wasn’t getting anywhere with his music,” Ross says. “This whole thing definitely had to do with thwarted musical ambition. He couldn’t be a rock star so he decided to be Jesus… That was his vibe… a very misunderstood savior.”
And she brought forth a man-child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron — Revelations 12:5
The son of a 15-year-old single mother, David Koresh was born Vernon Howell in Houston in 1959. He never knew his real father, and he and his stepfather — whom his mother married when Koresh was small — didn’t get along. A lonely childhood is how Koresh described his early years, when he spoke with FBI agents in late-night conversations during the siege. The other kids had teased him, he said, and called him “Vernie.” He was dyslexic, a bad student, and dropped out of school in the ninth grade. But some things came easier: He did have musical ability, and, by the age of 12, had the New Testament completely memorized. He turned to his home church of Seventh-Day Adventists at 20, wanting, it seems, to become part of the community, but was expelled for being a bad influence on the young people. At some point in those next few years, Koresh went to Hollywood to become a rock star — not a musician, but a Rock Star. He wanted communicative power, young women, dominion over his destiny. To live with a kind of intense abandon and a fierce devotion to life and death. He couldn’t make it in L.A.; instead he found that dream in Waco, Texas, when he joined the Branch Davidians in 1984. Six years later, he changed his name to better attract followers and groupies.
Eddie Goins, who resembles a kind of heavy-metal dwarf — short, with lots of dyed black hair — has cuts on his calves from last night’s bar fight. His two electric guitars are set up in the living room, his amps stacked high on one wall. He jiggles his nine-month-old daughter, Niki, on his knee, and tells me that he met Koresh about a year ago, just before Cue Sticks closed. Koresh asked him out to the compound, but Goins was initially wary. “I didn’t want to become some kind of sacrifice,” he tells me. Cult members Thibodeau and Castillo started coming to Goins’ house instead, and eventually, they did some four-track recording, covers of the Scorpions’ “Hey You,” Mötley Crüe’s “Red Hot,” and “Fight for Your Right (To Party)” by the Beastie Boys.
Goins tells me that the tape was good, that Koresh was impressed. “Down here in Waco you can’t get discovered no matter how good you are. So Dave, he told me I was the best guitarist around here. He wanted to get us up in L.A., he was gonna book shows, you know, get us discovered. That was my ticket,” Goins says. “Then the ATF f**ked it up.”
Goins says he might be wrong, but he doesn’t think Koresh was Christ. He’s got nothing against the guy. “I liked him, he was cool as hell. He bought a bass for this guy in a band called Zero. The guy was supposed to pay him back, but he shagged him. Dave didn’t care, he loved helping people.” Koresh could also answer tough biblical questions. “I’d always wondered how come science says dinosaurs were here, but the Bible never talks about them. Dave — he could actually explain s**t like that.”
Goins would often play all night with Blind Wolfe, sleep all day, then go out to the compound at eleven o’clock at night, sometimes jamming until four or five in the morning. “People there were real nice, it was a simple place. The main parlor is where the musical equipment was set up, on the altar. One wall was decorated with autographed photos of Metallica, Saxon, and Heart.” Koresh’s equipment was extensive, 30 guitars, lots of amps, all kinds of sophisticated digital delays and reverb. “Everything David had was mint. He had a bad-ass Harley and a black ’68 Camaro.”
Once when Goins wore a tie-dyed shirt out to the compound that said “Nobody Knows I’m a Lesbian,” Koresh got mad, and went and got him a new one that said “David Koresh — God Rocks.” Another time, Shannon Bright, the drummer from Blind Wolfe, brought his girlfriend to a late-night jam session. “Dave went ape-shit, telling her that he was ‘the Lamb,’ that all women belonged to him.” When the couple left, an enraged Koresh said that the drummer “would burn in hell for f**king that girl.” Goins says that Koresh hated the idea of anyone having sex besides him, that he’d say over and over, “What woman wouldn’t want to sleep with Jesus Christ?” Goins thinks Koresh was sleeping with about 20 of the women in the compound. “Late at night he’d say he was going to head to bed — then he’d tell one of the guys to get this girl or that one and tell her to come up to his room.”
Once, during some range practice out at the compound with two of Koresh’s laser-sighted rifles, Goins confronted Koresh. “If you’re Jesus, man, why do you need to have sex?” Koresh replied that he was “populating the Earth with perfect people.” Goins said to him, “If you’re God, man, why not just zap them here?” Koresh looked sheepish and explained, “It’s kinda fun the old-fashioned way.” Goins smiles and looks up at me. “I kinda have to agree with the man on that one.”
Goins got a call from Koresh, the Friday before the initial ATF raid. “He wanted me to come out there and write some songs, jam a little.” But Goins couldn’t make it because his band was playing a gig in Dallas. When I talked to Goins on Day 42 of the standoff, he was still hoping that Koresh, Thibodeau, and Castillo would make it out, so he could hook up with them and start playing again. He wanted to testify on behalf of Koresh in court. “He’s been done s**tty,” Goins says, shaking his head. “This is supposed to be America.”
Credit: Photo by FBI/Creative Commons
In those days, men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. — Revelations 9:6
An hour from Koresh’s compound is the Zendik Farm Commune. Arol Wulf, 55, one of the founders, is gorgeous, tall with long gray hair, slate-blue eyes, and a paisley tattoo on her cheek. “We’ve been through it all,” she says, gesturing to group members working in the fields beyond the wood fence. “Beatniks, hippies, punks, the heavy-metal scene.”
The farm is populated by young people in their early 20s to late 30s. Most of the men have long hair with goatees or beards, one woman wears a necklace of shark’s teeth, and another has dyed her hair magenta. They all believe in a philosophy called Ecolibrium, originated by Arol’s husband, the 72-year-old Wulf Zendik. He believes our culture is a death culture — “suiciety.” Through tapes, an underground magazine, and a multitude of cable-access TV shows, the group gets their message out. They also have weekly workbooks that not only list each of the members’ duties but report on emotional matters and even detailed sexual information about that week’s liaisons. “We try to eliminate gossip,” one woman says. “We’re committed to being completely honest with one another.”
The farm is beautiful, spread out over rolling hills. The Colorado River runs through the property. Blue bonnets and Indian paintbrushes grow near the water’s edge. The main house is painted in shades of purple and yellow, and along the front room’s four walls are cedar window seats covered with hand-quilted cushions. Everyone looks healthy, thin, and tan, dressed in cut-off jeans, T-shirts, some of the girls in gauzy hippie dresses. There are ten mutts sleeping on the floor, as well as a duckling.
The members of Zendik Farm feel for the Branch Davidians. “These guys in Ninja outfits come running up to your house,” Wulf says. “What would you do?” She feels it was a sexual thing, that the ATF thought Koresh had too many women. She tells how when the cops would show up at the old Zendik commune outside L.A., suspecting drugs, she’d always send the men up into the hills. “Men,” she says, “they’re just not fit to lead. They get so freaked-out, so macho.” She also feels that the government is threatened by group living situations. “There’s no reason every family on a block needs their own lawnmower, but in order for capitalism to thrive, there can be very little sharing of property.
“We started in tribes,” Wulf continues. “That’s how we took over the Earth. Do you think if each little family was in their own house, independent and isolated from others, we would have survived? No way!”
The last light streams into the front windows and the smell of broccoli and tofu wafts in from the kitchen. Wulf says, “David Koresh may have had some weird beliefs, but at least he understood the deep longing in people for community. You have to give him that.”
Credit: Photo by FBI/Creative Commons
I will kill her children with death, and all the churches shall know that I am He, who searches the minds and hearts. And I will give to each one of you according to your works. — Revelations 2:23
I first visited Waco on the 28th day of the siege, and by that time, the reports coming out of the daily ATF and FBI press conferences were steeped with anger and irritation; Koresh was officially termed a “thug” by ATF spokesman David Troy, and FBI spokesman Bob Ricks joked about a pregnant woman still in the compound, saying that he had a pretty good idea who the father was. Beneath the stream of facts packaged for public consumption was a kind of symbiotic doublespeak. The agents knew that their audience included not just us, but David Koresh himself. He was listening in on the live broadcasts with his battery-powered radio, somewhere in the labyrinth at Mount Carmel.
On my second visit, several days before Easter, the FBI was still insisting that the Branch Davidians would come out of their own accord. The press asked Ricks if the agents were being too soft. Ricks got angry. He pointed out that now, instead of music being blasted over the loud speakers, the agents had begun testing out annoying sounds: the alarm of a phone off the hook or the screams of rabbits being slaughtered.
Faced with the FBI and ATF’s brand of authoritarian cruelty, I couldn’t help but drift toward sympathizing with Koresh, the first cult leader of my own generation. The more people I talked to, the clearer the image of the man became: a quiet but arrogant outcast who confused manipulation with strength of character. During Messiah jam sessions, if Koresh messed up his guitar part, he always blamed it on the drummer, or on the bass player. He was immune to responsibility, unable to accept his own mistakes. I wouldn’t like Koresh, but I was fascinated, and so were the thousands of people who visited the siege sideshow.
On Easter Sunday, cars lined the highway on both sides. A woman strolled the grassy hill handing out copies of the Bill of Rights, and a man held up a sign which read “Atheist Awaiting Gawd’s Message.” Flanked by a crowd of people, Christ Didymus Thomas showed off the stigmata on his hands, announcing that he was Jesus’ twin brother. Further on, fortune teller Zena Mars sat at a sort of altar; on it a black Buddha, ceramic turtledoves, a crucifix, a photo of Mother Teresa, and a tiny blue glass poodle. Bent over a telescope focused on Mount Carmel, a woman in Easter finery, a floral print dress and straw hat, paused for several minutes. She straightened, eyes blinking from the sun. “How neat,” she said. At twilight an old man with long gray hair down to his butt walked up from the highway. He cornered a bunch of us, said that his name was God, and in a low melodious voice told a beautiful but incomprehensible proverb about a glass of water.
Against one wall in Mark Bunds’ living room are cages filled with hamsters and guinea pigs. Above them is the flag of Texas — on each end, a black leather holster with a gun inside. Bunds was briefly a member of the Davidians 16 years ago. He has thick glasses and speaks slowly and deliberately, but fidgets nervously with a gun catalog as he tells me how Koresh took his half-sister Robyn and his stepmother Jeannine for “wives.” At first, Bunds thought his father was in the compound the day of the siege, but then found out that he had been away that day. His father has since been spotted at various hotels in the area. “I can’t figure out how Koresh managed to flip-flop my father,” Bunds says. “When I was young, l listened to Pink Floyd and my father, he’d always say it was designed by Satan… strictly the devil’s work.” Bunds tells me that his father is around 60, stubborn, and very conservative, but that he was still completely seduced by Koresh’s teachings, that he even started to like rock’n’roll, particularly heavy metal. This upsets Bunds. “I went over to Channel 25’s studio to see some pictures of a man people think is my father. The gray hair is right and it could be his profile. But I can’t be sure.” Bunds looks down at the coffee table, at a pamphlet which he picked up from the local Seventh-Day Adventists explaining the Seven Seals. His voice thickens, “The thing that really throws me is, in the picture, he’s got an earring. It’s just so totally out of character… it blows me away.”