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(wā`kō), city (1990 pop. 103,590), seat of McLennan co., E central Tex., on the Brazos River, just below the mouth of the Bosque; inc. 1856. It is a rail junction and a trading, shipping, and industrial center. Agriculture and livestock raising are important to the economy, and there is diverse manufacturing. The Huecos (Wacos) once had villages there, and the site had attracted other settlers years before the city was laid out in 1849. Rich blacklands supported cotton plantations and cattle ranches before the Civil War, but the city suffered a severe decline after the war. Prosperity returned when its suspension bridge (still a tourist attraction) was built across the Brazos (1870) and the railroad arrived (1881). The huge Cameron Park and artificial Lake Waco (created 1923) on the nearby Bosque provide much recreation. Waco is the seat of Baylor Univ.Baylor University,
mainly at Waco, Tex.; coeducational; chartered and opened 1845 by Baptists (see Baylor, Robert E. B.) at Independence, moved 1886 and absorbed Waco Univ. (chartered 1861). The library has a noted Robert Browning collection.
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 Points of interest include several historic homes, a reconstructed Texas Ranger fort (built 1837), and Waco Mammoth National Monument. On Feb. 28, 1993, a deadly shootout near Waco between federal officers and Branch Davidians, a Christian sect headed by David Koresh, led to a 51-day siege that ended in a blaze. More than 80 people died, most in the fire that started after Koresh's followers spread fuel throughout their compound.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved. www.cc.columbia.edu/cu/cup/
The following article is from Conspiracies and Secret Societies. It is a summary of a conspiracy theory, not a statement of fact.


Senator John McCain (R-Arizona) has described the tragedy at Waco as “an ill-conceived exercise of federal authority that led to the unnecessary loss of life.” And to this day it is unclear who fired the first shot.

Maybe there’s something in the very soil of the place that encourages conflict. More than a dozen years after David Koresh and about 104 men, women, and children of his Branch Davidian community began a standoff with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), two museums commemorate the disaster—each in opposition to the other. While about two dozen Branch Davidians loyal to Koresh built their museum at one edge of the property, a dissident group who opposed Koresh’s leadership erected a chapel to lament those who “chose to follow the man of sin, David Koresh.”

The events that led to the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas, in April 1993 will be bitterly debated for many years to come, and the repercussions of federal agencies’ attacking a religious group may continue to bring acts of violence and revenge against the U.S. government. In a strange way, the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound was the terrible realization of a self-fulfilling prophecy that had been made by its leader, David Koresh (born Vernon Howell), who prophesied that the Apocalypse would occur in the United States, not Israel.

The Branch Davidian religious group had its origins when Victor Houteff (1885–1955) separated from the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1929 to form The Shepherd’s Rod, Branch Seventh-day Adventist. Houteff envisioned himself as a divine messenger whose mission was to reveal the information contained in secret scroll mentioned in the book of Revelation. He was also to assemble a group of 144,000 Christians who would reestablish the kingdom of King David in Palestine so that Christ would be encouraged to manifest his Second Coming. In 1935, with eleven followers, Houteff founded the Mount Carmel Center near Waco, Texas. In 1942 he broke completely from the Seventh-day Adventists when they refused to encourage conscientious objection during World War II, and he changed the name of his group to the Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association.

When Houteff died in 1955, there were about 125 members residing in the Mount Carmel Center, with a few others in Los Angeles and other parts of the country. The group began to splinter upon their leader’s death, for many became disillusioned, having regarded him as the new Elijah who would help bring about the reign of Jesus on Earth after the Second Coming. Florence Houteff, Victor’s widow, solidified the group with her vision that Judgment Day would occur on April 22, 1959. After her prophecy failed to come true, she dissolved the group in 1961 and in 1965 sold Mount Carmel to Benjamin Roden, who named his faction the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association. Roden, who proclaimed himself the Fifth Angel in Revelation, led the group until his death in 1978; his wife, Lois Roden, declared herself the Sixth Angel and a prophet speaking through the feminine aspect of the Holy Spirit.

Vernon Howell joined the Branch Davidians in 1981 and almost immediately attracted Lois Roden’s attention as the next mighty prophet to come from the group. After a series of conflicts with George Roden, Benjamin and Lois’s son, Howell, took control of the Davidians in 1988 and changed his name to David Koresh in 1990. “Koresh” was a form of the name Cyrus, and Howell was inspired to take the name by the text in Isaiah 45, in which the prophet predicts that a Persian king named Cyrus will permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. If Houteff had declared himself the Fourth Angel in Revelation, Benjamin Roden the Fifth, and Lois Roden the Sixth, David Koresh pronounced himself the Lamb of Revelation, who would open the seven seals of the scroll and interpret the secrets that would immediately bring about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Obsessed with the book of Revelation and the fast-approaching Apocalypse, Koresh began in 1984 to establish a new lineage of the House of David from his seed. As did the great King David, Koresh took many wives so that they might bear his children. Since his mission as the Lamb was to interpret the scroll of Revelation, he envisioned himself as one of the pivotal characters in the drama of the Apocalypse and the perfect male to sire many children for the time of rebuilding after the battle of Armageddon. And because the final struggle between good and evil was now rescheduled to begin in the United States, rather than Israel, it behooved the community of believers to begin to stockpile, food, water, and weapons. In 1992 Koresh renamed the Mount Carmel commune “Ranch Apocalypse.”

Koresh left four biological children who escaped the inferno at Ranch Apocalypse. One, a son born before Koresh even joined the Branch Davidians, lives in a Dallas suburb. Three boys born to mothers who left the cult before the siege at Waco are listed in probate records as the legal heirs to his estate. At the present time, the estate is probably worth nothing, but if the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Waco survivors against the federal government should garner any damages, the boys would be among those entitled to collect. Two of the children, Jared Michael and Sky Borne, lived with their mother in Hawaii. The third, Wisdom Day, now known as Shaun, resides in California with his mother, who left Koresh in 1990.

Shortly after Koresh moved his flock to Ranch Apocalypse, rumors began to circulate that the Branch Davidians had become a cult that abused children, observed distasteful religious practices, and possessed large amounts of illegal firearms and explosives. On February 28, 1993, ATF agents raided Ranch Apocalypse.

Branch Davidian Sheila Martin left the compound that day because one of her sons was ill. It was her husband, Wayne, one of Koresh’s top aides, who placed a frantic 911 telephone call when camouflage-clad ATF agents showed up to serve an arrest warrant on Koresh for weapons charges. Wayne shouted into the phone that there were seventy-five men surrounding the compound and they were shooting at the community. He begged them to call off the attack because there were women and children in the building.

Six Branch Davidians and four ATF agents were killed, and at least one Davidian and twenty-four agents wounded, in the initial gunfight. Later the FBI took over, and the siege that ensued lasted fifty-one days.

On April 14 Koresh had a vision that instructed him to write his translation of the seven seals in Revelation and then surrender. But the encircling forces had grown tired of his biblical babblings and apocalyptic pronouncements. On April 19 the FBI attacked with a finality that ended the standoff.

Koresh and eighty-six (this figure varies from seventy-five to eighty-seven) of his followers were killed in the subsequent fighting and the terrible fire that swept through the compound, totally destroying it. At least seventeen (some say twenty-one) of the dead were children. Ever since the destruction of the compound, accusations have circulated that the FBI was responsible for starting the fire with incendiary tear gas cartridges. One former soldier named Timothy McVeigh stated at his trial that he was so outraged by the attack on the Branch Davidians that he bombed the federal building in Oklahoma City two years to the day after the fires ravaged the compound.

The controversy over the last days of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians will continue for years to come. Even after the 1994 trial in San Antonio of eleven surviving Branch Davidians, which included seven weeks of testimony, 130 witnesses, and more than a thousand pieces of evidence, jurors said they still could not decide who had fired the first shot on February 28, 1993.

Prior to the siege at Ranch Apocalypse, there were about 130 members of the Branch Davidians. After the destruction of the compound, there were estimates of thirty to fifty members who had managed to leave the commune before the final days or who had escaped the conflagration. Current membership is impossible to determine.

President Bill Clinton, Attorney General Janet Reno, and other government officials described Koresh as a madman who brought his followers and their innocent children to awful deaths. Senator John McCain of Arizona, by contrast, described the tragedy at Waco as “an ill-conceived exercise of federal authority that led to the unnecessary loss of life.”

Conspiracies and Secret Societies, Second Edition © 2013 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



a city in the southern USA, in the state of Texas; situated on the Brazos River. Population, 95,000 (1975; including suburbs, 155,000). Waco is a transportation and trade center of an agricultural region specializing in the cultivation of cotton and grains and cattle breeding. It has enterprises of the cotton-ginning, vegetable oil, textile, and chemical industries. A university is located in the city.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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