Former cult member Marc Breault said he believes it’s a good sign that Vernon Howell reportedly now is calling himself a prophet.

Howell and his followers — who make up the Branch Davidians, a cult whose roots go back to the 1930s in Waco — remain inside Mount Carmel. They’ve been there since last Sunday, when four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were killed in a shootout.

Authorities reported Saturday that Howell was agitated that he was being quoted as believing he is Christ — despite his telling he Tribune-Herald that he is Christ, “if the Bible is true.”

“I think it’s a good sign,” Breault said. “It may show that he’s thinking of coming out and trying to beat the rap.”

Elizabeth Baranyal, Breault’s wife and also a former cult member, said Howell may be trying to establish credibility.

“It’s less crazy to say you’re a prophet than to say you’re Jesus Christ,” she said. “I can’t help but think he’s been listening to the media. His comment that God told him to wait before coming out, they’ve all made fun of that. Maybe he’s now starting to realize that he wants to back down.”

Breault said that within his beliefs Howell is very cunning.

“It could show that he’s trying to discredit us,” Breault said. “That’s good. If he thinks he can beat the rap, that gives me more hope that he and his followers will come out.”

Former cult member Robyn Bunds said she would be surprised if people believe Howell’s claim only to be a prophet.

“People are pretty stupid if they believe that,” she said. “He’s trying to tone it down, so people don’t think he’s crazy. He’s telling them one thing, but I’ve heard him say he’s Christ. You can’t that that back.”

In a 1992 interview with the Tribune-Herald, Howell confirmed former cult members’ astonishing claim that he considered himself Christ.

“If the Bible is true, I’m Christ,” Howell said. “But so what? What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain’t nothing. Know what I mean? . . . If the Bible is true, I’m Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.”

There has been some confusion over whether Howell considers himself Christ or Jesus Christ.

Christ really means anointed one, Baranyai said.

“King David in the past was an anointed one,” she said. “Anyone chosen by God was a Messiah. We’ve given it divine connotations.”

Howell has claimed to be both Christ and Jesus Christ incarnate, former cult members said.

He has also claimed to be the first Jesus Christ, too.

In 1990, Howell traveled to Australia to talk members there into staying in the cult. He debated Breault, who was challenging Howell’s claim to be the Lamb of God, who will open the Seven Seals, unloosing the catastrophic events that will end mankind.

Many Christians consider the Lamb to be Jesus Christ.

During the faceoff, Howell said he was the man on a white horse mentioned in Revelation and the lion of the tribe of Judah, because he was born under the astrological sign of Leo.

Breault made light of Howell’s claim.

He asked: Since Howell also claimed to be the man on the black horse with a pair of scales, did that also mean he was a Libra?

Irate, Howell began talking as if he were Jesus, not the supposed Jesus of today, but the Jesus of the New Testament, remembering what it was like when Judas betrayed him, former cult members said.

Breault said Howell has two big legal problems he must figure a way around if he wants to leave the compound.

“If he gives up peacefully, authorities will find the children he had with the underage girls,” Breault said. “They’ll ask where they came from. The other problem is the four slain officers. But I guarantee you that he’ll be approaching the problems rationally. He won’t wait for God to say, such and such, he’ll be figuring out a way to beat the rap. I’m still apprehensive, but Vernon’s latest move does increase the likelihood of them coming out alive.”

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.