Sadly, what occurred this week at the Mount Carmel religious commune probably served to reinforce for a few people the notion that self-proclaimed messiah Vernon Howell — also known as David Koresh — was being proved right.

Apocalypse, now.

What they don’t realize, or accept, is that under Howell’s leadership the group was clearly setting out to make an apocalyptic prophecy self-fulfilling.

With huge numbers of weapons being stockpiled, with threats reportedly made against the lives of former cult members, with Howell predicting that the group would clash with the government, the stage was being set for carnage of some kind.

Would it have been a hit on a former cult member or on many? Would it have been a hair-trigger over-reaction to a more routine visit by law enforcement, or a visit by the meter reader or the paper boy?

Would it have been another shoot-out between Davidians like the one in 1987 — maybe a younger, new-and-improved messiah vying for Howell’s harem? Something was going to happen under the prevailing conditions. Don’t kid yourselves.

The evidence doesn’t point to a peaceful agrarian group biding its time until the end of time.

There will be much second-guessing of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms over how it handled Sunday’s confrontation. Local citizens point out that Howell had left the compound often enough to have been served a warrant away from his fortress.

FBI on the scene

But what happened happened. The BATF admittedly was outgunned. It would call on assistance from the FBI and the armed forces in bracing for any ultimate armed conflict.

All of which raises the question: Shouldn’t the FBI have been overseeing this operation from the start? Congressman Chet Edwards said he reported concerns about the Branch Davidians to the FBI last April and again this year. All available evidence shows that criteria for FBI involvement were present — suspicions of terroristic threats and interstate shipping of illegal weapons and/or explosives.

It’s easy to say that the FBI, and the armed personnel carriers and the attack helicopters, were a day late. More seriously, citizens are left to wonder if the FBI wasn’t months late.

The McLennan County Sheriff’s Department has acknowledged its awareness of the most serious suspicions but was relying on authorities with more men and firepower to confront the Davidians. That should say something about the seriousness of this threat.

Episode not over

Even when the Branch Davidians are in custody and all innocent children are out of harm’s way, this chapter will not be over. Former cult members still fear for their lives, and surviving cult members may think they have a score to settle.

This makes it all the more regrettable that matters weren’t handled differently from the start, when first reports started to accumulate about the Davidian’s activities.

Sadly, our land is still captive to a frontier, shoot-’em-up mentality where might equals right and where deadly arsenals are commonplace.

It’s possible that within that national atmosphere, reports of a heavily armed cult would not raise eyebrows. After all, millions of Americans are armed to the teeth. It is a sordid trend that society must reverse.

If Vernon Howell is a prophet, it is because in his closely confined world, his compound, he arranged for the worst.

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.