The Branch Davidians are a religious group originating from the Seventh-day Adventist church. In the 1930s, Victor Houteff claimed that he was God's new prophet for the church. His claims were not accepted and he left to form the Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. In 1959, a split of this movement formed the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists, headed initially by Ben Roden.
In 1990, Vernon Howell took control of the group and changed his name to David Koresh. On February 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided the Branch Davidian ranch at Waco, Texas. The raid was conducted due to allegations of illegal weapons being used on the property. The raid resulting in the deaths of 4 agents and 5 Davidians. The subsequent 51-day siege ended on April 19 when the compound was completely consumed by fire killing between 72 and 86 men, women, and children, including Koresh.
The cause of the fatal fire is disputed. The government claims that the fire was purposefully set by Koresh and his followers as a suicidal act. Koresh supporters and others claim that the fire was caused by the FBI's use of CS gas grenades injected into the wooden buildings. The government points to audio and infrared visual recordings made just before the fire broke out to support their contention. Critics note that CS gas was injected into the building by armored vehicles in an unsafe manner immediately before the fire broke out.
There have been unsubstantiated claims that some Branch Davidians were shot or fired upon as they tried to flee from the rear of the building. The claimants point to flashes of light on government aerial visual recordings as evidence of weapon fire at fleeing civilians. The government says that these flashes are reflections of sunlight on broken glass in the compound as the aircraft passed over.
The fact that fire crews were prohibited access to the burning buildings until they were reduced to ash has led many people to severely question the motivations of the FBI site chief. The FBI states that fire crews were not allowed into the compound due to the danger of explosives within the fire and possible weapons fire from surviving inhabitants.
Critics claim that people in positions of authority during the Waco massacre have never been properly investigated for their failures and instead have been awarded promotions and awards for their actions.
This highly controversial incident fueled anti-government attitudes across America, most notably in the case of Timothy McVeigh, who was convicted of planting of explosives in front of the Alfred E. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City Oklahoma City bombing. McVeigh visited the Branch Davidian site after the conflagration and is known to have been critical of the government for its actions there.
The remaining Branch Davidians have since been found innocent of charges brought against them by the United States Department of Justice.
The assault on the ranch occupied by members of Koresh's group has become a beacon for outrage for numerous American citizens who are critical of the government.