Contrary to FBI doubts, cult leader Vernon Howell apparently was writing his revelation of the Seven Seals as promised when authorities tried to flush him out of the compound.
Tanks pumped tear gas into the cult’s compound on April 19, just days after the FBI expressed concern that Howell, also known as David Koresh, would not come out after he wrote the document.
Phillip Arnold and James Tabor, biblical scholars who tried to help the FBI end the 51-day standoff with Howell, released a transcript to the Tribune-Herald Monday containing what they say is the beginning of Howell’s document on the Seven Seals in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.
Arnold is founder and director of Reunion Institute in Houston, and Tabor is professor of ancient Judaism and early Christianity at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
They said Howell dictated the manuscript Sunday night, April 18 — the last night of his life — to a cult member who brought it with her on a computer disk when she escaped the fire the next day.
Arnold and Tabor described the text as 25 double-spaced typed pages of coherent and organized commentary on Biblical passages.
“Judging from this work, we can estimate that the finished product would have run about 50-75 pages and might have taken him another two or three weeks,” the men said in an analysis of the manuscript.
FBI agent Bob Ricks said on April 16 that at the rate Howell was working on the document, it would not be completed until about May 4 and contain more than 200 pages.
Howell told his Houston attorney, Dick DeGuerin, during the standoff that he and everyone else would come out of the compound after he finished the manuscript explaining the Seven Seals.
On April 19, the FBI attempted to put an end to the standoff. Hoping Howell and his followers would come out and surrender, the FBI ordered tanks to insert tear gas into the compound. Fire erupted at several points around the compound shortly after noon. Howell and at least 80 cult members died during the fire.
Tabor said in a phone interview Monday that the FBI never took Howell’s religion seriously.
“Crazy or a con man”
“I think they thought he was either crazy or a con man,” Tabor said. “They just took it as another delay.”
DeGuerin said Monday he is far past feeling sad about what happened.
“It angers me,” he said. “It angers me to see the continuing cover-up going on.”
But he said he doesn’t know who at the FBI he should be angry at.
He said the FBI agents he worked with — such as Bob Ricks and Jeff Jamar — were respectful and congenial.
“I truly believe they wanted this to end peacefully,” DeGuerin said, adding that he thinks the tragedy deeply hurt such agents as Ricks.
“It was a bad mistake made by good men,” he said.
Who started the fire?
DeGuerin said he doesn’t know.
It could have been an accident, he said. Or maybe cult members chose to die by means of fire while they were still free. Maybe they killed each other or committed suicide or maybe someone from the FBI or “some team assisted them in dying,” he said.
The one thing he is sure of is that the disk came out of the compound. It contained Howell’s dictated text carried out of Mount Carmel by Ruth Riddle, a survivor of the fire, he said.
“I asked her if she was able to get out with anything,” DeGuerin said. When Riddle told him about the disk, DeGuerin immediately called the Texas Rangers to secure it from the FBI, he said.
“I was afraid if the FBI got a hold of it, they would destroy it,” he said. “Because it proved that he was working on it.”
FBI agent Ricks in Oklahoma City did not return a phone call Monday to comment on the manuscript. FBI agent Dick Schwein in El Paso said he has no knowledge of the manuscript. “Who knows?” he said of whether the manuscript was actually authored by Howell.
DeGuerin said he last spoke to Howell on April 13 and got a letter from him on April 14, telling him to take the manuscript to the scholars and then release it to the public.
Dictated on last night
“According to Ruth, he was dictating on it the night before the fire,” DeGuerin said, adding that those inside had rigged a car battery to use as a power for a word processor or computer.
DeGuerin said he believes it is Howell’s work.
“I suppose there’s no hard proof of that,” he said, but added the content is consistent with Howell’s teachings.
DeGuerin said he got a copy of the disk and then passed it on to Tabor and Arnold, who have studied it for three weeks.
The manuscript contains a poem as a preface, an introduction and the first chapter which covers the First Seal. The manuscript makes clear that Howell claims to be the Lamb, as described in the Book of Revelation, who will open the Seven Seals, Tabor and Arnold say.
An anointed king
Psalm 45 is the key to the First Seal. Howell did not believe he was Jesus Christ, but a new sinful Christ who would appear at the end of time and open the Seven Seals, they say.
In Psalm 45 the “King is anointed” or made Christ and rides a horse triumphantly. This is parallel to Rev. 6:1-2 and 19:7-19.
The scholars say that Howell believed the Waco standoff between him and the federal authorities was a “waiting period,” a test for all humanity.
“It did not have to end as it did,” they said, adding they considered the document a well-planned manuscript that indicates Howell was truly trying to explain his beliefs.