Negotiations between authorities and cult members at Mount Carmel probably will continue during Passover despite one Branch Davidian attorney’s suggestion that members be left alone.
FBI spokesman Richard Swensen said it was likely negotiators would talk with cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, during Passover.
But Jack Zimmerman, attorney for Steve Schneider, one of Howell’s top lieutenants, said the FBI should honor the fact that Passover is a high holy day for the Branch Davidians and not engage in negotiations.
Zimmerman, a Houston attorney, said Monday he is still hopeful the Davidians will come out of their compound after Passover.
That could mean the standoff between federal authorities and the cult could drag on for several more days.
The standoff began after Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to serve search and arrest warrants on Howell Feb. 28. Four ATF agents and at least two cult members died in a shootout.
Exactly when and how long the Davidians celebrate Passover is uncertain. The Jewish observance of Passover began Monday night.
The feast of Passover commemorates the escape of ancient Jews from slavery in Egypt. Despite its Jewish roots, the holiday also has special significance for Branch Davidians.
“It will end,” Swensen said. “And hopefully, it will end right at the end of Passover. Hopefully, it will end before Passover.”
Zimmerman said he doesn’t believe the Davidians started observing Passover at sundown Monday night. He expects their observance to begin today or Wednesday night.
“Passover is not just a day,” Zimmerman said. “It’s either a week long or eight days. But we haven’t given up hope that they’ll decide to come out earlier. But we don’t realistically expect that.”
Zimmerman said the Branch Davidians don’t feel they will be surrendering to authorities if they come out of their compound.
“All we’ve talked about are the mechanics of resolving this peacefully,” he said. “The objective is to do it in a way that is safe for everybody — the FBI and the people inside.”
Swensen said Zimmerman and Howell’s attorney, Dick DeGuerin, were given certain guidelines to follow while dealing with their clients which include determining if cult members are coming out in a short time and avoiding long Biblical studies.
He added that the attorneys are not negotiators for the FBI.
“We don’t see it that way, but if you wanted to define it that way, you could,” Swensen said, adding the goal is to get people out of the compound without bloodshed.
The FBI has said conversations between the attorneys and t heir clients are privileged. On Sunday, Swensen said, the attorneys spoke with Howell and Schneider from about 10:45 a.m. until 4:08 p.m.
Swensen on Monday confirmed reports that cult members were on the verge of surrendering last Thursday when the attorneys spent eight hours with the group.
Zimmerman told The New York Times he thought the siege was over Thursday until the cultists said they wanted to talk more about the timing.
Both attorneys have said the details of the Branch Davidians leaving the compound were wrapped up on Thursday.
Zimmerman said he and DeGuerin went back inside the compound Sunday to “tie up” loose ends they didn’t anticipate Thursday.
The attorneys are not promising the Branch Davidians how they will fare in the courts if they leave Mount Carmel, Zimmerman said.
“Our advice to our clients has already been made public,” he said. “It is in their best legal interests to come out right now and take the fight to the courtroom.”
Swensen said Howell’s frame of mind last time negotiators spoke to him was the same as normal — manipulative.
“David’s a con artist, and that is what he does,” Swensen said.
Howell claims to be Jesus Christ and able to unlock the Seven Seals in the book of the Revelation.
In related matters, Swensen added that negotiators have talked by phone with Louis Alaniz of Houston, who got past authorities to enter the compound March 24. Alaniz told them he has learned Howell’s teachings on the first three of the Seven Seals and has no interest in coming out right now.
Jesse Amen, a California man who slipped past law officers and entered the compound March 26, was being held in McLennan County jail Monday on a charge of interfering with the duty of a police officer. He also is being held without bond as a material witness, a jail spokeswoman said.
The week Amen went into the compound he told a Tribune-Herald reporter that he was a Branch Davidian. However, former members could not confirm he was ever a member of the group.
Swensen said Amen has been of “zero” help to authorities since he walked out of the compound 5:38 a.m. Sunday.
“He supports himself by picking fruit and other odd jobs,” he said. Amen told authorities he left California about a month ago, spent some time in Colorado and “decided to drop by the compound.”
Amen also told authorities Howell washed Amen’s feet when he came to the compound, Swensen said.
When asked about a rumor that Amen had been kicked out of the compound because he was “too crazy for them,” Swensen said authorities have no way of knowing the reason he left.
Swensen said 40-year-old Amen told authorities his father’s name is Lord Lightning Amen. He said he has brothers named David, Jacob and Abraham.
Whether Lord Lightning Amen is the 40-year-old man’s father is uncertain, but the Press-Enterprise in Riverside, Calif. say a man who goes by Lightning Amen was a one-time cult leader convicted of possession and transportation of methamphetamines.
The newspaper says the man, now in his mid- to late-50s, changed his name from Charles Franklin McHugh to Lightning Amen and left the Christ Family cult. The newspaper also reported that followers took on the last name of Christ, and the cult based its beliefs on the Bible, particularly the book of Revelation.
Followers were vegetarians, wore white robes, smoked marijuana and believed in non-violence and celibacy, according to the 1983 Press-Enterprise newspaper article.
Michele Levine, deputy district attorney in Riverside, Calif., said Lightning Amen was convicted during a 1990 retrial of possession of and transportation of methamphetamines.
Levine said Jesse Amen may not be the biological child of Lightning Amen, but a member of the group.
She added that a member of the California cult named Abraham sat through much of the 1990 retrial.
Sgt. Kevin Duffy, a detective in the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, said he could find no records of a Jesse Amen, or someone by that name related to Lightning Amen.
The cult members were apparently intensely devoted to Lightning Amen. When sworn in as witnesses at the trial, they ended the usual, “So help me God” with “So help me Amen,” in reverence to their leader, Levine said.