tv Caught on Camera MSNBC April 20, 2013 5:00pm-6:00pm PDT
good evening, i am melissa rehberger. timothy mcveigh chose april 19th for the date of his attack on the murrah building it was two years after another notorious day in american history. mcveigh was angry about the violent ending to a standoff between federal law officers and a group in texas. the dramatic story of what happened in that religious compound is up next. they present witness to waco.
a large fire has broken out among the compound buildings. branch da individualian compound. >> april 19th 1993. a violent standoff between a religious sect and the federal government comes to a fiery end. >> live together or die together that was my attitude. >> all yas are on david koresh the group's prophet. the government portrays him as a dangerous cult leader. >> all he is is a cheap thug that interprets the bible through the barrel of a gun. >> if you don't follow the truth, you're going to hell! >> to his followers, he is the final messenger. >> every time you rebelled against vernon we were rebelling against god. >> nearly two decades after the blaze, questions about what really happened at waco remain. >> the team believes this fire was intentionally set by persons
inside the compound. >> i don't believe anyone inside set that fire. >> with rare footage. >> you come for my wives and kids, damn it i'll meet you at the door any time. >> firsthand accounts from inside the compound and from behind tactical lines. eyewitnesses to waco describe how koresh rose to power and how his kingdom was ultimately destroyed. >> there's a special place in hell for david koresh.
>> this is "nbc nightly news," reported by garrett utley. >> good evening, it happened outside waco texas, a heavily armed compound a religious cult their leader claiming to be jesus christ. >> on a clear winter morning in waco texas, agents from the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms attempt to execute a radon the mount carmel property of a religious cult calling themselves the branch da individualians. >> the goal was to serve a search warrant and arrest david koresh and other members who we established evidence should be tried for buying and stockpiling firearms, and they were converting weapons to machine guns. >> it is supposed to be a
routine raid. but what actually happens is nothing short of disastrous. branch da individual yans claim atf shoots first without warning. the atf tells a different story. >> agents that were there said it is the first place i have been where bullets came from everywhere. >> it's been portrayed like we attacked the atf. you know we didn't go beguning for them they went gunning for us. that's just the bottom line. >> here we had a gunbattle erupt at roughly 9:45. i got there a little after 11:00, and it was still raging. people were still dying. the average length of gun battle
and law enforcement to this day was around two seconds, seconds. we knew we were up against a very difficult, committed, manipulative individual. >> the standoff in texas involving a cult leader. >> the religious cult in texas. >> i think all three major news magazines put on their covers these closeup shots of the cult leader with the hair and fire behind him looking crazy, and captions like the sinful messiah, or death cult or something like this. it fed all the fears that we have a charles manson type character that god knows could break loose and be planning what kind of havoc upon us. of course there was no knowledge or understanding among
the more general public about who these people really were. >> majority of the people out there seeing this interview will have a negative connotation. you have taken the perspective you wanted and that's all that's been out there. >> was he determined to lead followers to an apocalyptic war? >> he thought he was the lamb of god, god, messiah thought he could do anything in the name of god. >> or is there a story about waco that hasn't been told? >> the dominant thing is child molesting david koresh. started up arms and ended up committing suicide. the way waco should be
remembered is to have a full understanding of how the government operated and how the clash between the two led to this disaster. [ male announcer ] this is kevin. to prove to you that aleve is the better choice for him he's agreed to give it up. that's today? [ male announcer ] we'll be with him all day as he goes back to taking tylenol. i was okay, but after lunch my knee started to hurt again. and now i've got to take
how do you prove to someone that he is not jesus christ incarnate? the fbi said that is the challenge it faces in dealing with cult leader david koresh. >> we are required to prove that david is not christ. which is an impossible task. >> the future leader of the branch davidians is born vernon wayne howell. on august 17th, 1959. >> vernon howell, or david koresh, that's who we know, was a pretty typical texas redneck kid, maybe from a bit more troubled family. his biological father abandoned him when he was very young, and
his mother remarried quickly in a marriage that didn't last long. and then remarried again. david was a poor student in school, and they put him in a program for children with learning disabilities. >> howell struggles to fit in and home and at school. he describes a lonely childhood. >> i always saw things differently from other people. no one understood me. reading and writing was like a foreign language to me. plain and simple. my family life was no fun either.
at my birthday party, my mom beat me black and blue in front of everybody. >> so he grew up in a very unstable situation as a small child. but the one continual influence in his life was the seventh day adventist church. >> the seventh day adventist movement is from the 19th century. it's, i think, most characterized by its name of adventist. the idea of advent of christ, usually called the second coming. so it's a group that began to believe that the end of time was very near. >> howell is fascinated by the new testament and its promise of a judgment day. he describes in his own words
his first conversation with god. >> i was fascinated by the scriptures and even the hokey evangelist i heard on the radio. i learned huge passages of scripture by heart and bored other kids at school with bible verses. >> you're a disaster. >> i knew that the great book was a puzzle of the truth i just had to decode in my very own way. >> how long will you simple ones love your simple ways? >> i prayed, dear father, i know i'm stupid, but please talk to me because i want to serve you. a while later, i heard his word in my heart. as if we were discussing things directly.
>> vernon howell is a restless soul. he seems to have this photographic memory, at least when it comes to reading the bible. he's not so great in school, but he knows the bible seemingly by memory. >> howell drops out of high school in the 11th grade. but remains active in his church. then, at the age of 18, temptation tests his faith. >> vernon hung out with high school students after he had dropped out. met a young lady who asked him for a ride home. she invited him into her bedroom. and i think his words were, and i fell into it.
>> she had the beauty to make good men fall. i was shy. still a virgin. kind of straight laced on account of my church life. but you know how humanity is. i was intending to marry her, but she turned her back, rejected me. i had forgotten my purpose in life. to be true to his word. god said he would give my first love back to me in time, but he never did. i lost contact with her. and our child, my first born.
i had to find my way back to my first faith. i knew it was waiting for me, out there, somewhere. >> vernon had been through a lot of things by his age, and because women weren't working for him, his life was not working for him overall, and certainly no one wanted to marry him, he just was a failure. >> i think he basically had no confidence in his own ability to direct his life. and he had a dream about this voice that said, there is something more you have to learn. so this was like an illustration to him from god that god was using these things to teach him hard lessons in life. it was right after this time that he came to mt. carmel.
so when i graduated high school, i ended up moving to mt. carmel where i met my wife, and that's when i first started living with the group. the full name is branch davidian seventh day adventist. adventist meaning they believe in the second coming of christ. this all comes down to the book of revelation, which is pretty clear there is going to be a final end, the final judgment. so, yeah, it was important stuff for david koresh. >> heart broken and confused, vernon howell makes his way to mt. carmel in search of a living prophet. he finds the branch davidian leader, nearly 70-year-old lois roden. >> lois roden was a very lonely woman and vernon really needed
the guidance and somebody to care about him all of the time. and she just latched onto that. >> the elderly leader is impressed by howell's knowledge of the bible. she takes him under her wing and invites him to live at the compound. in time, the two become romantically involved, compelling roden to let her young lover preach to the sect. >> when he was allowed by lois roden to start giving studies to the branch davidians, his demeanor changed. >> every sin that isaiah says i'm guilty of, i agree, i'm perfect to give you this message. i have been chosen of god, and god says his word is what i will be. >> he could give a testimony say yeah, i used to be this messed up guy and i got this girl pregnant. what a horrible thing i did. but look at me now. you know, i'm together and i've got this message and i'm going to make things right and we're going to get to the kingdom of god.
>> do you understand, it's war. these governments of this world are coming to an end. the minds of men are going to be focused on a fact. go ahead and laugh. go ahead and muse in your minds, and see what happens to you. fool! >> he was saying things that made sense to me. he was a fresh, new face with new ideas and he seemed to have the message that the branch davidians needed at the time. >> soon, howell announces he too is a living prophet. he claims god wants him to take a wife within the sect. he chooses 14-year-old rachel jones. >> he went to perry jones and he told perry that, you know, i need rachel to come with me, and i need you to give your daughter to me in marriage.
and perry being a devout follower that he was, woke his daughter up in the middle of the night and told her, you're going to go to vernon and you do whatever he tells you to do. he's going to be your husband now. she went and got in the van with vernon. rachel and vernon left the property together. rachel said that vernon told her, quote "you're going to marry me tonight." she went to sleep. she woke up. and he was making his presence known as her husband.
they actually did it the legal route. in texas, because she was only 14, of course perry had to go and sign for it. lois roden was just in shock. she was very much a jilted woman, because the man that she believed to be her husband went out and married another woman. and not just another woman, but one that was 14. >> with lois roden's power over the group in question, howell attempts to take over as the branch davidian's prophet. but roden's son, george, stands in the way. >> i grew up being told that george roden would one day take over. and the problem was, george had mental issues, and he was just
too unstable to be the prophet. >> battle for control over mt. carmel divides the once unified branch davidians. the rodens claim the land at mt. carmel for their followers, forcing howell and several of his converts to relocate to a small plot of land in palestine, texas. >> this is david. >> hello, everybody. >> over the next three years, howell travels to california, the united kingdom, and australia to recruit new followers with his apocalyptic message. >> this is the way we eat over here in america. and you need to come over and join us. we have literal food and spiritual food. >> he taught that it was time for a change in regime, and he made everyone believe very passionately that this really is the end.
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and his followers are living in a camp nearly 90 miles from mt. carmel. >> we were living in tents, and buses, and there was no running water. there was no electricity. you only ate when the community ate, what the community ate. it was very rough living. you don't have this, you don't have that, and at the same time, oh, it must be the end of times, it's exciting. why else would we be living this bizarre? >> when you live in a group that believes in the coming end and the final judgment, it's something that you're expecting to be very soon. it could be literally any day. >> howell's end of days prediction is nothing new to the apocalyptic group. but following a pilgrimage to industrial in 1985, he delivers a more shocking message. he claims himself a second messiah, chosen to open the seven seals in the book of revelation.
>> i was in jerusalem and over there i had an experience. in this experience, i was given the responsibility to teach people the prophecies. >> among the visions in the book of revelation, this talk of a lamb holding the book with seven seals on it which only this lamb can open and understand. vernon howell began to open those seals, meaning to claim understanding of what these passages of revelation said. which meant that he was beginning to claim that he was the lamb of god. >> a messenger of the covenant, who is to bring god's people a spirit of grace and truth. >> he didn't tell you he was the lamb of god or that he was a new prophet or the seventh angel or any of these other things.
he would merely ask you questions. >> this must be interpreted to get its full meaning, right? and who has the right to interpret it? >> he did think he was a messiah, a second messiah, a kind of a second christ. but he didn't think he was jesus christ. >> this message is going to do one or two things to you. it's going to bring out the best in you or the worst in you. >> he changes his name to david koresh after the '85 israel experience. he gets the last name koresh from the bible. it's actually the hebrew word for cyrus, and cyrus is this persian king who, in the bible, is actually called a messiah. and the david part is just that the messiah has to be a
descendant of king david. >> during this time, koresh announces he's entitled to more than one wife within the group. soon he has four. including david bund's 17-year-old sister, robin. >> he talked about the house of david, how he's supposed to have all these wives. so the idea was, you know, this appears to be of god. and it technically was illegal. but when you're in a cult and you've got -- answering to a higher power, you don't worry about the law so much sometimes. >> koresh learns that his former mentor, lois roden, is dead. and her son, george, is in a state psychiatric hospital. with the property up for grabs, he takes back mt. carmel and continues to recruit around the world. >> he drew people from england,
australia and from the west indies as well as americans. it was a multiracial and multiethnic setting. >> why did you come here? >> because i heard there was something here that i wanted to listen to. >> what do you think of david? >> i think he's great. >> how old are you? >> i'm 16. >> do you think he's the son of god? >> yeah. >> as his following grows, koresh begins to use fear to retain his branch davidians. >> what has god spoken? follow the vision! he's got a book. he gives the book to the lamb. get it in your mind! that's what he says! you stupid idiots! get it in your minds!
he says his heart has declared a kingdom. if you don't follow the truth, you're going to hell! >> apocalyptic cult leaders recognize by predicting the end of the world is imminent, they have people constantly on edge. wanting to be absolutely obedient to the leader and to the -- and to the rules of the group because they feel that if they are not, when the end comes, they will be judged. and they will be judged harshly. >> psalm 90, you better start fearing god because he's going to burn you in hell. >> former branch davidian david thibodaux recalls a different side of koresh.
>> at the time i met david, i was living in hollywood, just graduated music school. i was working several dead-end jobs and just really not enjoying that very much. i remember as a kid i used to watch the tv preachers on tv and just think, that's absolutely ridiculous most of the things they're saying. none of this made sense to me at all. >> imagine a teacher that taught the bible like he lived it instead of like he just read it. that's exactly what it was like. one of david's purposes were to weed out those who were serious or not. we weren't there to be comfortable, we were there to learn the truth. i believe that david thought that he was an inspired person and believed he could teach the seven seals. so it became very clear that this guy's got something. it's not that he didn't give you a room for debate, because he did.
♪ please, please, please, won't you listen ♪ ♪ it's not what it appears to be ♪ >> by the late '80s, the number of branch davidians at mt. carmel swells to over 100, under the leadership of its self-proclaimed prophet david koresh. ♪ there's a madman living in waco ♪ >> you look at people today that have everything and they're still not happy, there's something missing. we didn't have the something missing. we didn't have the everything, but god, it was so much more
special, you know. we had a purpose. we had a reason to get up every day. >> but other followers, like debbie bund, paint a darker picture. >> he would change the rules daily. he would eat when he wouldn't let other people eat. he would eat on holy day where we were supposed to fast. and the reason he could do all of these things is because god told him to. >> and no one could refuse the lamb anything. not single malt scotch. not ice cream. not sex. whatever he wanted, he had to have it because that was god's way. >> in a way your brain goes numb. you not only don't have to think for yourself, you're highly discouraged from thinking for yourself. while you may have rebellious
moments and it's upsetting, you get mad, you're like, i'm hungry, i'm tired, at the same time we believe that vernon had the word of god. so every time we rebelled against vernon, we were rebelled against god. >> with his grip over the group tightening, koresh introduces the new light doctrine. this new set of rules dissolves all of the marriages on the property, and mandates that the sexes live separately. >> from the outside, i think any of us hearing it would have to say that it's the craziest, most bizarre thing in the world. but it gets worse. all those women are potentially now mates of david koresh. they're his wives.
because the messiah is going to have these many wives. and they're going to have children. >> there would be 24 of these children. and he found that in the book of revelation. there's a group of 24 elders that will be the pillars of the new kingdom. these children of david koresh were the most precious central focus of the group. it's absolutely the most difficult thing to believe. but as he presented it, as they believed it, it was that it was for this most, most, most holy purpose. >> david koresh's ability to manipulate scripture was phenomenal. i can remember working with one waco davidian and i asked this davidian how can he rationalize having sex with any woman or child in the compound? and he quoted me a scripture, a verse that was in psalm about the head of the king being anointed with oil. according to the davidians,
though, david koresh's head that needed to be anointed was the head of his penis and it was anointed by the excretion of women in orgasm. >> following the new light doctrine, husbands give up their wives to koresh, including his right hand man, steven schneider and his wife, judy. >> say hello to your grandma, grandpa. aunt sue. >> soon, judy schneider gives birth to koresh's daughter. in this video, her legal husband, steve, works the camera. >> we will put her on. what is your name? >> my name is judy schneider koresh and this is my daughter. >> when i first came to mt. carmel and started realizing that a lot of the children were fathered by david, i think if i had someone i really cared about
going into it i don't know if i would have stayed. i was in the unique position where i was a single guy and to me, going through the experience and staying with my conviction was worth it. more than one wife is acceptable in the scripture. as long as you can take care of them. his kids, in essence, were special. they were his children and part of, you know, one of the seals was him actually having children for god. the mothers really wanted them being raised as close to pure scriptural life as possible. it made me wonder, how does he do it? how can he be in control of the situation to that extent?
i have a different perspective now, obviously, than i did then. and the perspective now is david koresh definitely broke the law when it comes to having sex with underaged girls. >> the local authorities investigated this, and their problem was, they couldn't find a complainant, meaning before you can arrest somebody, you have to have somebody that says a crime was committed. and nobody saw what david was doing as a crime. the young women felt it was a great privilege and the parents thought this was a great honor being bestowed upon their daughters and if you're a hard core mt. carmel bible student, you're not worried about man's law, you're worried about eternity. that's god's law. >> ultimately really when it came down to it, he wanted lots
and lots of young girls. he got to where he got very touchy-feely with me. he wanted to stroke my hair and smell it. did it in front of my husband once. he goes, you are going to be my wife now. i said, no, that's not going to happen. he says oh, yes, it is going to happen. god told me it's going to happen. he said it's already planned out. he said i have a hotel room for us tonight. and i said, you know what? i'm not as strong as you. i said, but if you take me, it will be by force, it will be rape. and i said i will put you in jail for it. so he tells me in no uncertain terms you will be sorry. you will not speak of this again. do you understand me? >> according to debbie, this rejection embarrasses koresh. within months, he kicks her and her husband david off of the mt. carmel property and out of the branch davidian fold. >> i left the group and my mother and sister and father were all still involved.
god has already wrapped up in his right hand a book sealed with -- >> the seven seals. >> by the early 1990s, the branch davidians are living in relative peace at the mt. carmel property. but a more violent side to the group is about to be revealed. >> i was the chief of the public affairs branch of the bureau of alcohol, tobacco and firearms.
we received information that they were engaged in buying and stockpiling firearms, converting weapons to machine guns. so we began an investigation and determined in fact they were doing exactly that. people do, in fact, have a right to bear arms. that's not the business of atf. we have no issue with that. however, there are laws. to take a semi automatic weapon and convert it to be a machine gun, you have to have the prior permission of the united states government. >> david koresh and the group at mt. carmel did increasingly believe, as the years went by, that at the end of time, they would be called upon to fight on the side of righteousness. and they read the bible fairly literally.
>> there will be no excuse. >> i never saw any sign of the illegal weapons. him and the other guys started buying weapons at gun shows legally and kept sheets on all the firearms that they had. >> at first it started off as a business. but then when i think he found out he was being investigated it became a very defensive thing. if they come and attack us, we're going to fight back. in the seven seals, you start to understand we are setting up the kingdom of god to an extent and that is to be protected. we were sheep, but at the same time, we weren't going to stand up to being run over and lied about. but we were definitely the sheep of god and the sheep of god don't fear the wolves. when you believe that you're on
the right path, you don't really fear anything. so there kind of was an army mentality in the sense that our group is our group, and we fear god. we don't fear what man can do to us, we fear what god can do to us. >> there were individuals in the group who i am confident that if they had been told to get a gun and go out and kill people, they would have done it. i think vernon understood this. and i think that he cultivated a closer knit group of people around him who he felt were more loyal and more unquestioning. >> even though jesus said love your enemies and the idea of christianity is peace, if you read the book of revelation, there are armies of heaven and they fight on the side of right and lots of people get killed and righteous forces defeat the evil forces.
so he taught his followers and he himself believed they needed to be prepared for that. >> i waited patiently for the lord. >> the group was transformed by koresh from a relatively benign group that really didn't see itself as all as an army to an army of god. that was heavily armed by david koresh purchasing, modifying and manufacturing weapons. >> in the winter of 1993, the atf puts the final touches on an affidavit that allows them to secure a warrant to search the branch davidian property for illegal firearms. but according to author dick revis, their decision to raid mt. carmel may have been a pr stunt. >> the atf had a budget hearing coming up.
they were being sued by their black and female agents for discrimination. they didn't feel comfortable asking for more money with a record like that. so they thought, we have this compound of white, fundamentalist christian gun nuts. what greater prize could you take to a democratic congress. then we'll get some more money. that's the suspicion. >> the idea that we would stunt for money is despicable beyond all belief. our reason for going into mt. carmel was, we had obtained the evidence to get the warrants to do it and we were feeling these people were about to erupt. we don't trade lives for appropriations. >> by the end of february, the atf is granted the search warrant for mt. carmel. preparations get under way for
what should be a routine raid. >> what was supposed to happen on that saturday morning was that after their worship services, the men would leave the building and proceed to the grounds to do their chores, which would leave them separated from the armory where the weapons were stored and give us an opportunity to get on the property and get between most of them and the women and children. but clearly the events on that saturday morning did not develop according to what we expected to develop. and at that point the operation should have been aborted. only thing we'd ever grown together was a record collection. no. there was that fuzzy stuff on the gouda. [ both ] ugh! when it came to our plants... we were so confused. how much is too much water? too little? until we got miracle-gro moisture control. it does what basic soils
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