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Waco Shakedown

Thirteen years after it went up in an apocalyptic blaze, the site where the Branch Davidians' Waco compound sat-and where a new Mt. Carmel Church was built in 1999 with help from famed radio nutbar Alex Jones-remains at the center of a bizarre conflict.
Κείμενο Shermakaye Bass

Illustration by Christy Karacas

Thirteen years after it went up in an apocalyptic blaze, the site where the Branch Davidians’ Waco compound sat—and where a new Mt. Carmel Church was built in 1999 with help from famed radio nutbar Alex Jones—remains at the center of a bizarre conflict involving land-ownership rights, a spiritual coup, and a patch of “heathen” trees. A new cult of personality is emerging in Waco under a man of God named Charlie Pace, a longtime Davidian, though never a follower of David Koresh. He’s referred to David as the Antichrist, a false idol, and other mean things. Calling themselves the Branch, Lord Our Righteous, and boasting a dozen or so followers, the Pace devotees have taken over Mt. Carmel to put things right. This latest Branch’s main problem lies with some actual trees—a group of 76 crape myrtles that were planted 11 years ago in honor of the Davidians who died during the ATF siege. Pace contends they are thinly veiled idols that were being “worshipped” by Koresh’s surviving disciples, a scattered few of whom remain in the region. “That whole grove of trees was planted and had nameplates at the bottom of each tree, with the names of the people who died,” Pace rails. “God is against groves because that is where heathens traditionally gathered to worship. We’re talking about a grove that doesn’t even bear fruit and is specifically intended to idolize those who died here!” Former Koresh follower Clive Doyle, who survived the raid in ’93 and for the past few years had tended the land as the main sect’s de facto leader, recalls Pace’s pronouncements well: “Charlie had started living on the land again, because anybody who is of the church can, and he went around the trees putting a ‘curse’ on them, saying God was going to destroy them all.” When God didn’t, Pace decided to amend his prophecy and take action: “The Lord told me, ‘If you want to break the curse of Koresh on that property and let the world know that you worship the Lord and not a man, get rid of those trees—especially that one tree. The one that’s supposed to be for David.’ I said that we were going to have a symbolic burning of the tree, and that Koresh’s legacy—the curse—would then be removed.” And so it came to pass on this last April 19, when Koresh followers have traditionally held a service to commemorate the anniversary of the fire, that Pace took the pulpit and described his plan to his disciples. Pace had shattered the graven stone plaque bearing Koresh’s name and chopped down the former leader’s tree. He then laid the myrtle’s remains out to dry, pointing its four main branches toward the four points of the compass, and began to set them ablaze. But an avenging angel swooped in and Pace wasn’t able to finish the arbor exorcism. Bonnie Haldeman, mother of David Koresh himself, who’d come to attend the memorial as usual, nabbed the remains of David’s tree and threw them in the back of her husband’s pick-up. “When Charlie cut down David’s tree,” Bonnie told us, “I shoved it off at first. There’s a lot of things in my life that I’ve got to worry about besides a tree. But then, when I found out he was going burn it, that upset me. “I don’t like to hold grudges, but I hate that Charlie talks about David like he does. He says David was the serpent—I guess because David made that tape in the 80s called ‘The Serpent’s Root.’ But he was never around during the years that David was there receiving his teachings. The people that knew David saw who he really was. We had a special, special teaching from a very special person. I may not agree with everything he did, but he was my son. Even the mother of Jesus had a hard time with her son at times. David was one of God’s children, and I have to believe that I’ll see him again.” SHERMAKAYE BASS