The first insider’s book on the Branch Davidians will make its American debut in early June.
Marc Breault — along with Elizabeth Baranyai, his wife, and Australian journalist Martin King — are authors of the book Preacher of Death, which chronicles the couple’s experiences while members of the Branch Davidians.
Penguin Books was the book’s Australian distributor.
The 380-page paperback will be distributed in the United States by Signet Books and undergo a title change: Inside the Cult.
“It’s easy reading,” said Breault, who grew up in Hawaii and California. “It’s not a literary masterpiece. it’s just out attempt to tell our story.”
A onetime confidant of cult leader Vernon Howell, Breault fled in 1989 and went to live in Australia with Baranyai, who had left earlier. He spent the next years brining others out of the cult and trying to get authorities to take action against Howell.
Breault said the authors wanted to get the book out as soon as possible after the April 19 fire that destroyed Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidian compound 10 miles east of Waco.
“We wanted to set the tone,” Breault said. “Our story is pretty accurate, I think. Cult member Brad Branch went on the ‘Today Show’ and blasted me. He doesn’t even know me. I was gone when he came. He said I was from England. That shows how much he knows. But I knew someone would do that. That’s why we wanted to get the book out, so we could tell people what really happened.”
Preacher of Death has sold almost 20,000 copies in Australia, Breault said.
“It’s doing well here,” he said. “There’s a lot of reordering. There are only about a thousand copies left in the warehouse. We’ve had mostly positive feedback. We haven’t had much in the way of negative comments.”
Bruce and Lisa Gent, whom Breault led out of the cult, reportedly were angered, however, by some of the book’s content, which recounts the family’s involvement in the cult. Bruce Gent’s daughter, Nicole, and grandchildren, Dayland and Paige, died in the fire at Mount Carmel.
His son, Peter, was shot and killed when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to raid the compound on Feb. 28.
Breault acknowledges the hurt feelings.
“They are apparently writing a book, too,” he said. “I think, and I hope, that this will all sort itself out eventually.”
Much of the book was written years ago, in the diaries that both Breault and Baranyai kept during their years as Branch Davidians.
“We had the story of what happened,” Breault said. “We just waited for a conclusion.”
Breault joined the cult in California while attending Loma Linda University. Baranyai joined in Australia. Both were attracted to the teachings of Howell, a man who claims a ninth-grade education but also could whiz through the books of the Bible, stringing together verses that supposedly “harmonized” the Scriptures.
They left because Howell took more and more underage girls as so-called “wives,” Breault said, and Howell proclaimed the New Light — his belief that all women in the world belonged to him.
The story of Vernon
“Our story isn’t about us that much,” Breault said. “It’s more a story of what Vernon was like and what he became, and the frustration of trying to get authorities to act. I was in the inner circle, so I used some of that so people would know we knew what we were talking about.”
Howell was a mixed bag, said Breault, who met him in 1986 — before he was claiming to be Christ. Breault successfully disputed that claim to rescue many of the cult’s Australian members.
“He was both a con man and someone who believed in what he was teaching,” Breault said. “He actually believed he was who he said he was. But within those parameters, he was very manipulative. I realize that now looking back on it.”
ATF — drawing fire from many critics for its botched raid on Mount Carmel — comes off well in the book, Breault said.
“I felt like they did a good job in their investigation,” he said. “Why the raid was the way it was, I don’t know.”
Waco-area authorities aren’t as favorably viewed in Inside the Cult.
It highlights a 1990 Waco meeting between Australian private detective Geoffrey Hossack and representatives from the district attorney’s office, the sheriff’s department, the Department of Public Safety and the U.S. attorney’s office.
Hossack presented the officials with affidavits from former cult members accusing Howell of having sex with underage girls and whipping children until their bottoms bled.
“Our real anger is that they didn’t give us any cooperation.” Breault said. “They didn’t contact any of us to get the story straight. We deserved some sort of response. It wasn’t that we wanted them to take immediate action. It was just our word. We understood that. But they didn’t seem to really investigate. That’s what we really wanted, an investigation.”
Breault said he and the others who submitted the affidavits were angered that the representative for the sheriff’s department dismissed the allegations as “sour grapes.”
“Elizabeth made the point that the private investigator who went over investigated us before he investigated Vernon, as well he should have,” Breault said. “Whatever our motives, our complaints could have been checked out. Even if we were mad, if our stories checked out, that’s what was important. The media certainly realized the seriousness of what was going on out there. Overall, I think the media was more sympathetic and more caring.”
In their book, Breault and Baranyai hope to explain that cult members weren’t as different from other people as some might think.
“We want to try to explain why people joined the group,” Breault said.
“We will stress the fact that it had lawyers, engineers, professional people. The reasons for them joining were more emotional than intellectual. They were people frustrated with society or their church. They felt they were going nowhere. They were looking for an alternative. Unfortunately, they found Vernon.”