Shannon Bright left the Branch Davidians and Mount Carmel two months before the shoot-out with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
But he took some doubts with him.
He still wonders if cult leader Vernon Howell — also known as David Koresh — isn’t who he says he is: Christ.
“If I believed totally, I’d still be out there,” said Bright, 20, a Waco drummer who plays in the band Blind Wolfe. “I don’t have the power to prove it one way or the other, so I’ll just have to wait and see.
“But I will say that what Dave showed me made more sense than anything that anyone has ever shown me in my life. I can’t prove he’s not who he says he is, and I haven’t seen anyone else who can, either.”
Bright began hanging out with the Branch Davidians after he met Howell, 33, and some of his followers at the Chelsea Street Pub in Waco last October.
He remembers everyone wore black leather jackets.
They invited Bright out to Mount Carmel, the compound 10 miles east of Waco where the Branch Davidians have been holed up since a Feb. 28 shoot-out that left four ATF agents and possibly six cult members dead.
Bright jammed with Howell, whom he called an “excellent” guitarist, in the music hall under his bedroom.
He and Howell hit it off personally.
“He is one of the nicest guys I ever met in my life,” Bright said.
Before long, he came to hear about the subject that dominates the Branch Davidians’ life. The Seven Seals. Howell claimed to be able to “open” them, eventually bringing about catastrophic events that would end mankind.
An intrigued Bright began spending most of his free time at Mount Carmel.
It was a huge place, built to hold the many followers of Howell’s who came and went, especially at times like Passover.
“It was self-sufficient,” Bright said. “They had everything they needed on the compound. They got everything in quantity. It was all healthy. They kept a huge quantity of food. They’ve got food for six months. And that’s three meals a day. And plenty of water. That’s no problem. They’ve got an underground well.”
A former Blind Wolfe guitar player, Eddie Goins, also visited the compound frequently. He, like Bright, said the Branch Davidians won’t be going out for food any time soon.
The kitchen had three levels, Goins said.
Howell has enough canned and dried food to last 6 months to a year, besides the store of military rations, he said.
Bright, though, was the band member who explored Howell’s message. He found the ninth-grade dropout to be unlike any Bible teacher he had known. With Howell, the Bible wasn’t a parched history lesson, Bright said. It was a how-to book on life.
“Anything you wanted to ask Dave you could, even why the leaves fall off trees,” Bright said. “He could take you to the Bible and show you why.”
He disagrees with those who say Howell uses the Bible to manipulate people, drowning them in Scripture until they give up trying to think for themselves and place their trust entirely in him.
“It’s not like that,” Bright said. “Dave has a knowledge of the Bible where he makes all the keys of the Bible harmonize together. It’s kinda neat.”
Passage in and out of Mount Carmel was free, he said.
“They didn’t have someone that stood at the gate and checked everyone who walked in,” Bright said. “It wasn’t like that. Anyone could walk in peacefully and walk right back out if they wanted to.”
Bright, however, never saw the gun room,” which cult member Paul Fatta has described as being stockpiled with weapons.
A source familiar with Mount Carmel said he was told by a cult member that the gun room was a supposed electronics mixing room, directly under the bedroom of Howell, adjacent to the music room.
Why Howell had weapons isn’t hard to understand, Bright said.
“Everything was coming down,” he said. “Dave was telling people who he was, and he said the majority of people at first would be against him. They would come and try to take him. And if he just let them take him, he wouldn’t get a chance to present his message. He had to stand his ground.”
Over the three months that Bright was at Mount Carmel, he came to hear almost all of Howell’s message. But it wasn’t until the end of his time there that Bright learned why all the women live upstairs where Howell has his bedroom, and all the men live downstairs.
Bright had taken his girlfriend to Mount Carmel to show her where he was spending his time.
“She thought I was cheating on her,” he said.
As they were leaving, Howell told Bright that his girlfriend didn’t really belong to him. She belonged to Howell.
“We argued about it,” Bright said. “He said in God’s eyes it wasn’t right. She belonged to him. I didn’t go back there after that. The way I see it, if he’s who he says he is, he wasn’t doing anything wrong. He was just telling me the truth. If he’s not, he’s stupid if he thinks he’s going to take my girlfriend and I’m not going to do anything about it.”
Bright will be in Houston this coming Monday. Blind Wolfe is playing at the Backstage club.
But he will keep monitoring the standoff, he said. Like most people, he’s curious what will happen. Unlike most people, though, he’ll be waiting to see if the message he heard Howell deliver over and over comes true.
Bright said he expects many people at Mount Carmel will die.
But Howell taught that not everyone will die.
“When the time is right, and God gives his message to Dave, they’ll go straight to heaven,” Bright said, recalling Howell’s message.
When the Branch Davidians return, they will fight their way to Mount Zion, he said.
“Dave will gather followers on the way,” Bright said. “A huge monster called Leviathan lives in the ocean. It’s so fierce, so huge, that sailors who see it will go crazy because they can’t handle it. It’s supposed to surface during all this, show itself to the world. No one can kill it.
“Everyone is powerless, except Dave — Jesus, the Lamb. He’s going to take care of it. Then they’re going to eat it. Leviathan burgers, on the way to Mount Zion. That’s what they’re going to eat. If any of these things start to happen, you’ll know something is wrong. Or something is right.”
Whatever happens, Bright thinks he is covered.
“I don’t think God will condemn me for something I can’t prove either way,” he said. “When the time is right for the truth to be known about who Dave is, everyone will know.”