Today was my wife’s birthday, and while it may sound odd, I took her to the Branch Davidian Compound where David Koresh and several of his followers died in a standoff with the authorities in 1993. The site is interesting to my wife because her primary interest in apologetics is with world religions and non-traditional sects (which some people refer to as cults). I also had an interest in this site because I had studied in some of my psychology classes as an example of an epic failure of FBI and ATF to apply basic psychological principles to resolve the situation peacefully.
The visit to the compound was an interesting experience. In some ways, it reminded me of my visit to Dachau, one of the Holocaust death camps in Germany. What happened at this location is incredibly sad, and even if you think of the group as an evil cult, many innocent people still died. On the other hand, it also felt a little like a horror movie mixed with Ace Ventura’s visit to Ray Finkle’s home.
When we first pulled up, the complex has a gate around it with a big “No Trespassing” sign, but it also had a sign that said “Visitor’s Welcome” with instructions on it. We followed the instructions and pulled in. The first building had signs listing the sale prices for some DVDs and other items and a sign directing us to the chapel so we drove a bit further in (about 150 yards from the gate). We walked up to the chapel and were greeted by another sign with instructions for entering the chapel and a request for a $10 donation for maintenance.
From the picture, it appears the entire complex was burned down in ’93 so the chapel must have been rebuilt right after that because it looked a bit old. It was just a plain-looking rectangle room that looked like it was probably still used for worship services. On the walls and around the room was information about the group’s history, their explanation of what really happened, and memorials for those who had died.
The Branch Davidian’s came out of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, so the information posted on the walls briefly paid homage to their shared history. Much of the content focused on David Koresh though. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but I figured they would have tried to distance themselves from David Koresh, but they didn’t seem to do that. Everything from the group seemed to refer to him positively (there were newspaper articles posted that weren’t as kind), but at the same time, they openly admitted that he manipulatively rose to power and married a 12-year-old.
The only place to visit there was the chapel. There was surprisingly little documentation and explanation of what happened. The complex was about a 30-minute drive from our home in Waco and it only took us about 30 minutes to see everything and we lingered longer than we needed to. It looked like they may play a short film on a projector, but that was not running while we were there. The whole time we were there, we didn’t see a single other person, although, there were new vehicles and homes on the compound so there were definitely people around. This added to the creepy feeling and it seemed like we were being watched the whole time.
If you’re ever in the area, it might be worth dropping by, but I wouldn’t go too far out of your way to visit this site.