The Truth About David Koresh's Cult, The Branch Davidians

It's hard to say exactly when this gritty, religious If You Give A Mouse A Cookie series of events started, but October 22nd of 1844 seems like a solid jumping off point. That was when William Miller, a lay preacher operating out of the United States, predicted that Jesus would return to cleanse the Earth of sin. The guy did a lot of homework setting up his hypothesis. He had graphs and everything. When Jesus didn't make an appearance, several new groups formed from the remains of Miller's church, with the Seventh-Day Adventists finding the most followers, holding that the October 22nd prediction had been a miscommunication. Jesus, they stated, had actually entered into the Most Holy Place of heaven on that day, and he could be expected back on Earth at some point in the future.

In 1929, a Seventh-Day Adventist named Victor Houteff split from the church to create his own version of Adventism, taking their name, The Shepherd's Rod, from the title of a book he had published explaining his disagreements with the church. They would also be known as Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists. An offshoot of an offshoot of an offshoot.

It's a long story

In 1955, Houteff died, and the church he founded was left in the hands of his wife, Florence, though the transition wasn't a smooth one. When her prediction of a biblical cleansing failed to take place on its prophesied April 22nd, 1959 due date, the group fractured again, per Britannica.

Taking control of the church's holding in the days after the failed prophecy was a new group, the Branch Davidians, led by Oklahoma native Ben Roden. After Ben died in 1978, power passed briefly between his wife, Lois, and son, George, before landing with a guy named Vernon Howell.

George wasn't wild about Vernon, and a power struggle commenced. The highlights included George Roden challenging Vernon Howell to a resurrection contest and Howell sending armed assailants to Roden's compound. Roden's mental health deteriorated until he murdered his roommate with an axe in 1989 and was institutionalized until his death in 1998.

Howell, meanwhile, retook the Branch Davidians' Mount Carmel Center compound, changed his name to David Koresh, married a whole lot of his followers — asserting that as a "messianic figure", he was "the perfect mate" for all females, and that their children would eventually rule the world.

Waco down

Things were going great ... until those pesky federal agencies got involved. Several of Koresh's wives were young teenagers, per PBS, leading to allegations of child abuse from an ex-member seeking custody of his daughter during a 1992 trial. Authorities also caught wind of Koresh's new business venture as a gun retailer, and began to get worried that the Branch Davidians might be preparing to attack ... someone ... in an imaginary endtime scenario. The ATF went zero to 100, and rather than serving a warrant, raided the compound in 1993, leading to a gunfight that killed four agents and six Davidians. Koresh was shot during the raid, but survived.

Thus began a 51 day siege of the compound by the FBI, culminating in a tragic end. Details are murky, but one way or another, the compound caught fire, killing 79 Davidians barricaded within, including Koresh. Of the 79 victims, 21 were under the age of 16.