A Brief Stop at Mount Carmel
(I was in their neighborhood,
so I thought I'd stop by...)
by Daniel Tobias
Also see my sequel: Return To Mount Carmel
I was just passing through the Waco area in May, 1995, and I decided to take a look at
the place where the big Branch Davidian affair took place about two years earlier.
The tourist bureau wasn't particularly eager to send people that way (they
said that there had been gunfights between rival Davidian factions), but
they had a photocopied sheet giving directions to the place anyway.
So, I headed out there, looked around, took a few pictures, and this is the
There was no longer a big crowd of government agents, media
reporters, and other hangers-on as there was on the first anniversary
of the burning of the Davidian home and church, as recounted on the web by
Phyllis Staff in Mount Carmel Revisited (a site that's apparently not up
any more; the address at which I used to link to it is now a porn site!).
But, then, there's been another year for things to calm down, plus
I went on an ordinary day, not the anniversary of the tragedy.
While a few cars, trucks, and motorcycles were parked there, the
only person I actually encountered was one Branch Davidian lady,
as I'll mention later. I don't know who the owners of those
vehicles are, or where they were.
The government no longer bars the way to the site, but a
homemade barricade with hand-lettered signs indicated that entry
to the area was dangerous due to broken glass and other hazards,
and was at the visitor's own risk. Tours were offered for a fee,
or you could just wander around yourself for all anyone cared.
I don't know if the disclaimers of liability would stop somebody
from suing them if they got hurt, in this sue-happy age, but then
again, what's left of the Davidians probably doesn't have sufficiently
deep pockets to make a suit worthwhile, so this probably protects
them better than any legalese.
At any rate, I chose not to head into the main, destroyed portion of
the property, but instead concentrated on the easily-accessible front area.
This area consisted of a driveway and a few shacks. Not a lot of ruins
of the other Davidian buildings were visible from here, except for
a lone bathtub lying in the middle of a field.
One of the shacks had a crude paint job covering the lower half, with some
painted-on words and insignia partly visible from its older decor.
On the side of this shack was a sign commemorating the people who died in
the assault, siege, and fire of the Davidian home (they prefer it not to be
referred to as a "compound", as the media likes to do).
An adjacent shack serves as a "museum," with various signs and papers attached to
its walls giving philosophical, political, and religious opinions of the Davidian
faction which presently controls the property. This faction is an anti-Koresh
group, which claims to be the original Branch Davidian leadership which was
illegally usurped by Koresh, but which regained the property in a legal case
during the aftermath of the ATF raid. The two Davidian factions are strongly opposed
to each other, and some of the papers on the walls here relate to their internecine
feud, but both factions share a strong dislike of the federal government, especially
(not surprisingly) the ATF and FBI.
Since my visit came in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing, the author of the
signs took pains to inform the public that the Branch Davidians in no way
authorized that event.
One sign shows a map of the site for the benefit of tourists, but reiterates the
warning that "extreme caution is advised," and also pointing out that "destroyed evidence"
(on the part of the government) is provable.
Apparently living in these shacks was one woman, who was typing when I
approached. (Perhaps another political pamphlet to put up on the walls?)
Once I got her attention, she was friendly, and quite willing to explain
her positions. She is a member of the Davidian faction which presently
controls the property, and is probably the author of most of the material
up on the walls. The door to the building she was in was labeled "Messianic
Jews," and she regards the Davidians (a splinter group from the Seventh Day
Adventists, which observe the Jewish sabbath) as the true spiritual descendants
of the Jewish people.
Like most people connected with religions which are out of the "mainstream,"
she seemed very sympathetic with the concepts of individual liberty and freedom
of conscience, things which I value highly as a libertarian.
I wonder, though, whether if their group were to gain control of the
government, they would continue to support such freedoms, instead of using their
newfound power to impose their religious views on everyone? After all,
the early Christians favored personal liberty while they were persecuted by
the Roman Pagans, but once they gained control, they became the persecutors for
a millenium of inquisitions, crusades, and witchhunts.
But, right now, the Davidians (all factions of them) are presently in the
role of persecuted rather than persecutors. Thus, my underdog-sympathy is
with them, even if I think some of their views are wacky. I know that some of
my beliefs are considered wacky to some others, so I must hold firm
to the concept that everyone should have the right to the belief system of
his or her own choice, no matter how bizarre. Certainly, nobody's liberties
are safe if the government is to make a practice of burning down the homes of
anyone with politically-incorrect beliefs. Thus, a lot more scrutiny of the
government's actions here is needed than has been given so far. See the
other sites below for a lot more information.
UPDATE: The buildings which I photographed burned down
on January 1, 1997. Authorities aren't sure what caused the fire.
SEQUEL: Return to Mount Carmel
Here's how to get there, in case you're curious. The directions below
are from the tourist center brochure, with my own notes in brackets.
From the Waco Tourist Information Center [I-35 at University Parks Dr.]
take IH-35 North just across the river to the Lake Brazos Exit.
Go right on Lake Brazos. [This appears to have been renamed Martin Luther King Dr.;
I don't know if the tourist center directions are just out of date or
are following a right-wing political correctness that ignores such
Just across from the Holiday Inn is Orchard Lane. Turn left
on Orchard Lane and go to Loop 340 where you will turn right. [Note: Do
not turn on the first "loop highway" you cross, I think it's route 742;
I did that by mistake and ended up going round in circles. Keep going on Orchard Ln.
until you get to Loop 340.]
A short distance on the left is FM 2491. Turn left onto that road.
You will come to a split in the road, but stay on 2491 which bears to
About 5 miles from Loop 340, you will see large wavy metal gates (Double
E Ranch Road) on the left (not far from the split). Just beyond that
property is a gravel road on the left (Double EE Ranch Road). Turn down
that gravel road. The Mount Carmel property is a short distance on the
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