A leading expert on the Davidian religious sect said Davidians around the world disavow the actions taken by the Waco cult leader.

The Branch Davidians bolted into the news following Sunday’s deadline shoot-out with federal agents on the cult’s Mount Carmel Center compound outside Waco.

“What’s happening in Waco is totally an aberration,” said Phil Ammons, who has researched the Davidians for 19 years and has written a book on the cult. Ammons is an elder and its official spokesman on Davidians for the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Seventh-day Adventists have a special interest in Davidians, Ammons said, because of the cult’s sole purpose is to destroy their church. Ammons calls the Davidians parasites since they prey almost exclusively on Seventh-day Adventist members.

Although Davidians around the world trace their origins to the original Mount Carmel Center Waco, Ammons, of Kennewick, Wash., said no other Davidian group has taken up arms or has a leader who claims to be Christ.

Ammons said Waco’s Branch Davidian leader has a personal and unique interest in guns. Ammons said Vernon Howell, who has adopted the name David Koresh, attempts to scripturally justify his arsenal buildup by saying that Jesus told his disciples to sell what they have and buy a sword. “But that is wholly inadequate to build to a thesis of weaponry,” Ammons said.

“Many members of the Seventh-day Adventists will see the name Davidians and not even realize that these people are associated with their own church,” Ammons said. “Within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the Davidians are known as Shepherd’s Rod.”

Incitive disposition

The founder of the Davidians, Ammons said, was Victor Houteff, who came to America from Bulgaria in 1907. Ammons said Houteff had an incitive disposition that caused him to be kicked out of the Greek Orthodox Church, to leave his country and to get fired from several jobs. Houteff was baptized into the Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1918 and became a Sabbath school teacher in Los Angeles where his disposition caused his “disfellowship” in 1930.

Houteff then moved across the street and continued to instruct a small group of followers. Houteff moved his tiny band to Waco in 1934. “I’m not sure if he got that from any prophetic interpretation,” Ammons said. “But I do know that once he got there and named the place Mount Carmel, he expected that he and the 12 followers who originally went to that site were going to be miraculously transported from that place to Jerusalem. And that was their intent on being on that property.”

Splintered in 1959

The group was known as the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventist until it splintered in 1959 and was renamed Branch Davidians.

Ammons estimates there are 3,000 Davidians worldwide with members in Canada, West Indies, England, Australia and Africa. The largest U.S. concentration is in New York, he said, where they call themselves Carmelites.

Ammons said all Davidian leaders share their founder’s disposition and feel they are the only people God has appointed who can interpret and understand all the prophesies of the Bible. “So the disposition that the Davidians have is not new, novel or incongruent with the leader,” he said.

The disposition of Vernon Howell, or David Koresh, is another matter. Ammons said Howell is the only Davidian leader who calls himself the messiah and who claims he can perform sexual relations with women other than his wife.

Unfortunately for Waco, and most especially the federal agents and the cult members killed and wounded in Sunday’s tragedy, Howell also is one Davidian leader who believes in stockpiling an arsesnal of assault weapons.

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.