The FBI delivered its own religious message Thursday to besieged cult leader and self-proclaimed messiah Vernon Howell:
Let your people go.
Federal agents made a surrender appeal Thursday evening over blaring loudspeakers.
But a defiant reply could be heard from the group’s rural compound.
“I am not coming out until my message gets out,” said a voice heard on a loudspeaker more than a mile away.
It could not immediately be determined if the voice was that of Howell, also known as David Koresh.
Another voice said, “David, we are not here to hurt you. We are here to help you.”
The same voice also reassured people inside the compound that they would have “legal representation.”
A spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms said she could not confirm the use of the loudspeakers. And a representative for the FBI was not available for comment.
However, agents have acknowledged previously that they set up loudspeakers around the cult’s compound.
“We broached with Mr. Koresh that if he is truly a leader of his people, it’s time for them to leave and bring this thing to an end,” FBI spokesman Bob Ricks said earlier in the day.
“If he truly cares about those people, send those people out, away from harm’s way,” Ricks said.
That, however, appears unlikely to happen soon, he said. Instead, Howell’s re-emergence in the talks to end the 19-day-old standoff east of Waco marked a setback in negotiations, said Ricks, special-agent-in-charge of the FBI in Oklahoma City.
In talks earlier this week – including a face-to-face meeting on Tuesday – Howell’s top aide, Steve Schneider, said as many as 30 Branch Davidians may have been ready to leave the fortified Mount Carmel compound.
Authorities on Wednesday even sent three buses to the compound to pick up cult members expected to leave, Ricks said.
However, Howell’s re-entry into the discussions scuttled much of the progress that had been made, Ricks said.
Cult members even canceled a second face-to-face meeting that had been planned for Wednesday.
Rick said authorities believe Howell is getting exactly what he wants from the standoff.
“He does not express fear,” Ricks said. “Our psychologists tell us that a person with this type of personality probably relishes this type of situation.”
The same goes for most, if not all, of Howell’s followers.
“They do not express fear of being involved in a fire-fight,” Ricks said. “Any fear that they express is the fear of losing their eternal soul and also fear that has been planted in them of how the judicial process would work.”
No one has left the compound since Friday. Inside, there remain more than 100 men, women and children.
With little to show for it, Ricks said, negotiators have been trying a “systematic” approach toward ending the standoff.
“We have seen minimal progress in the last three to four days,” Ricks said. “We were hopeful. We saw some encouraging signs.
“Most of those signs continue to vaporize in front of us. When we do get promises, they are not followed up on,” Ricks said.
Earlier, Howell had played a more quiet role negotiations because of wounds he said he suffered in the Feb. 28 raid on the compound by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
During the 45-minute gun battle, four ATF agents and an unknown number of cult members were killed.
Negotiators already have reason not to completely trust Howell. On March 2, the third day of the siege, Howell promised to surrender after a Dallas radio station broadcasted a speech by him.
Ricks hinted that authorities felt that a major breakthrough was possible on Wednesday.
“Initially, it appeared that he was willing to come out and start leading the people,” Ricks said. “He gave us that indication, but as we pressed for a firm commitment from he that he would, in fact, allow them to go forward, he gave a very thinly veiled excuse, saying that he had to go to the restroom, and he never came back to the phone.”
Despite growing frustration with Howell and his followers, Ricks said, there are no plans to use force to end the siege.
“We believe an effort to bring this thing down forcefully will result in many lives being lost,” Ricks said. “We believe that those lives would not be lost on our side.”
He added, “We’re very concerned that part of Koresh’s grand scheme is he would like to see a large number of his people die, which would be justification for his pronouncements of the fulfillment of the Scriptures.”
Ricks said negotiators are convinced Howell still maintains complete sway over the Branch Davidians, and that he, alone, controls how long the siege will last.
“We are completely confident that no one is going to exit the compound unless Mr. Koresh allows them to leave,” Ricks said.
In other developments Thursday, Howell’s grandmother, Jean Holub, renewed her efforts to deliver a taped message to him.
“I want to talk to him and get him to come out and get this mess over,” Holub said during a news conference. “I feel that in my heart he is afraid that if he comes out, he will be killed.”
“If they would back off just enough, I feel he would come out,” she said.
The FBI has delivered several taped messages from family members to Branch Davidians inside the compound.
Also Thursday, Waco police arrested a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan for trying to enter the daily media briefing by FBI and ATF officials.
Louis Ray Beam Jr., 46, was arrested and charged with criminal trespass when he failed to follow a police order to leave the Waco Convention Center. Beam was banned from the daily briefings last Saturday for “disruptive” behavior. He was later released from the McLennan County Jail after posting a $1,000 bond.