A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian by Clive Doyle with Catherine Wessinger and Matthew Wittmer. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2012. 298 pp.
On February 28, 1993, ATF agents raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The Davidians had separated from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in 1955. This particular group lived communally under the leadership of David Koresh, a self-professed “Lamb of God” and “incarnation” of the Father.
Authorities were concerned that the Davidians had ordered large numbers of weapons and were allegedly illegally converting semi-automatic rifles to automatic. Who fired first in the raid remains disputed, but the ensuing gun battle left 6 Davidians and 4 ATF agents dead. 20 ATF agents were injured; several Davidians were wounded, including Koresh. The resulting siege lasted for 51 days. When FBI agents stormed the compound on April 19, a fire started (the cause is also disputed: government agents say Davidians set the fire to commit suicide; Davidians say gas was ignited by FBI flash-bang grenades) and most of the remaining Davidians were killed. Nine survived.
Clive Doyle was one of them.
Branch Davidian Theology
While I have read dozens of memoirs from former cult members, this is the only autobiography I have read where the person continues to believe that the group leader was divinely inspired and the group was correct in its teachings. Conspiracy theorists will love the book for its portrayal of government agents as inept, overbearing, and cruel. Cult experts will be fascinated by Doyle’s recounting of the inner workings of the Branch Davidian sect and for the chapter on Branch Davidian theology.
Here are some of the most unique and troubling aspects of Branch Davidian belief:
p.76 – “David made a big point that he saw himself as the Lamb opening the book to us. He did not open it to everyone else. He opened it to us. I believe it was opened to him and he passed it on to us.”
p.76 – The Holy Spirit is female.
p.77 – Trinity is family of Father, Mother, Son
p.77 – Modalism. Jesus was the Father in flesh.
p.77 – Incarnation of the Spirit in the end times as female contending with the whore of Babylon.
p.78 – Melchizedek was an incarnation of God, not a man who was a type for Christ.
p.78 – Elihu in Job was an incarnation of God, not just a wise counselor.
p.80 – There are multiple incarnations of God in human history.
p.80 – “I believe David [Koresh] was a manifestation of God. When David first started to teach, we looked on him as a prophet. But the more we studied and the deeper we got into the prophecies, we believed that he was a manifestation of God or the Messiah figure predicted for the Last Days… By the time of the ATF raid on February 28, 1993, we looked at David as being in a category higher than a prophet.”
p.80 – “David began to see himself as this latter-day Messiah, or the Lamb who takes the book out of the hand of the One on the throne and begins to open it (Rev. 6). David took on the role of a son to the Son, in a sense.”
p.80 – “People ask, ‘Did David teach he was Jesus?’ No. ‘Did he think he was God?’ God, in the sense of God coming down in human form, he probably did.”
p.81 – In heaven, there will be a Quadrinity of Father, Mother, Son, and Wife.
p.83 – “When [David Koresh] is resurrected he will judge the world.”
p.84 – “Wave Sheaf” (Lev. 23:10-14) are the firstfruits in every generation who are most devoted to God and have more faith. Those who step out in faith ahead of everyone else.
p.85 – These “firstfruit” believers are usually martyrs. Even the 12 disciples were unworthy of ascending with Christ until they suffered and were martyred.
p.86 – Branch Davidians were martyred for following the most “present truth.”
p.87 – David Koresh taught that his children would be the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4. “David didn’t have twenty-four children as far as I know. Just how that will be taken care of in the Last Days, whether it includes miscarriages, I don’t know.”
p.88 – Stratified heaven. Wave sheaf will be at the wedding of the Lamb, all others will be at the Marriage Supper.
p.89 – Branch Davidians practiced the Old Testament feast days.
p.91 – Form of universalism: God raised up Muhammaed and Buddha and other major teachers to enlighten people so they can be saved.
p.92 – U.S. is the two-horned beast in Rev. 13:11.
p.116 – David prophesied persecution, said Mt. Carmel should prepare for it. Ordered a large shipment of rifles.
p.119 – Once David bought weapons, he became an expert in their use.
This heterodox theology puts the Branch Davidians outside of all creedal confessions of historical Christianity.
Paradox of Criticalness/Uncriticalness
While an insider’s view of the siege of the Branch Davidian compound offers an alternative perspective, readers should exercise as much skepticism of Doyle’s account as they do of the government’s. Neither side has all the truth; each side has its own limited perspective colored by presuppositions and worldview issues.
Doyle’s sincerity–and his lack of criticalness of Davidian belief and practice–is heartbreaking. He truly believes that David Koresh was/is the incarnation of God. Readers should ponder the reasons for Doyle’s uncritical belief in Koresh and his criticism of the government. For example, Doyle says nothing about David Koresh’s well-known practice of polygamy. He also barely mentions the presence of weapons at the Davidian compound, besides alluding to a “large shipment” of rifles, mentioning a shooting range in passing, and at one point saying that many of the Davidians were armed during the siege. For Doyle, it seems unremarkable that his apocalyptic group would possess an arms cache or would fire at federal agents. Doesn’t everyone? Doyle claims he saw only two Davidians firing at dozens of ATF agents on February 28, yet four heavily armored agents were killed and 20 wounded. Doyle seems not to understand that two shooters alone could not have produced those results.
While Doyle makes a big point that the Davidians were peace-loving and that the ATF raid was unprovoked, the fact that David Koresh prophesied persecution; said that most “wave sheaf” believers would be martyred; bought a large shipment of rifles as well as gas masks, ammunition, pistols, holsters and MREs; and that numerous Davidians resisted the ATF raid by killing or injuring almost 25 agents, would suggest that the group had the capability and expectation of resisting arrest in an apocalyptic fashion.
It is clear that the government botched the initial and final raids, and that government agents misunderstood the Davidians. What agents did not misunderstand was the presence of armed Davidians who resisted the search warrant which resulted in 4 dead and 20 wounded ATF agents. Despite all of Doyle’s protests to the contrary, Davidian theology and practice helped to produce the environment in which such a tragedy could occur.
Related: Malcolm Gladwell wrote a thought-provoking article in The New Yorker on 3/31/14 about missteps by federal agents during the siege of the Branch Davidian compound. Gladwell pulls from Doyle’s autobiography for much of his content. You can read the article here.