Seventh-Day Adventist Victor Houteff was excommunicated from the church in 1930 for his constant differing interpretations of certain Bible verses. Houteff then wrote a 172-page manuscript calling for reform (much like our old friend Luther himself) called The Shepherd’s Rod. A new church was subsequently established with Houteff’s manuscript as a founding document of sorts, leading to him and his followers being known as “The Shepherd’s Rod.” But they also called themselves the “Davidians” hoping to re-establish the House of Israeli King David in the New World. The name “Davidians” would be the one that stuck and the group brought property in Texas, 13 miles northeast of the city of Waco that they named “Mount Carmel” after a location in the Bible.
The thing about breaking away from one church denomination, however, is that what’s to stop another extremist with passionate opinions within your new group from starting yet another new group of their own? That’s why just 25 years after the establishment of Shepherd’s Rod, Houteff’s death opened up an opportunity for further division within the Adventist movement.
In 1959, Victor’s widow Florence Houteff announced that armageddon was once again around the corner. When the planned date of the apocalypse came and went without a Second Coming, Florence Houteff lost control of the Davidians and a man named Benjamin Roden siezed power of the group and changed its name to the “Branch Davidians.” The “branch” here doesn’t refer to the fact that it’s a “branch” of the original Davidian group but rather to two separate Bible passages in which Jesus addresses himself as a metaphorical (or literal, it’s never quite clear in the Bible) branch. The name “Branch Davidians” therefore just means “Jesus David” more or less.
When Benjamin Roden died, leadership of the church fell to his wife Lois Roden. Lois, however, was of advanced age already and did not care for her son, George Roden, meaning that she would have to look elsewhere for a suitable leader to guide the Branch Davidians through the years to come. Enter: one bug-eyed pedophile from Houston.
Who Was David Koresh?
Vernon Wayne Howell, the man who would one day be known as “David Koresh” was a poor, miserable creature. Born on Aug. 17, 1959 in Houston, Texas to a 14-year-old single mother, Howell would spend much of his youth being relentlessly bullied for…well, you know: just look at the guy. Afflicted by poor eyesight and learning disabilities, Howell had trouble fitting in anywhere and eventually looked to the world of religion to find community.
As the Netflix doc recounts, he finally found that community in 1979. After he started having mental breakdowns and experiencing visions, Howell fell in with the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound. Around 1983, when he was still in his early 20s, he began engaging in a sexual relationship with the nearly 70-year-old Lois Roden. Roden came to prefer Howell as an heir over her own son George. Ass such, after his mother died, George Roden forced Howell and his followers off of the Mount Carmel property at gunpoint. Interestingly, Roden blamed Howell for a fire that destroyed the Branch Davidians’ $500,000 administrative building though Howell chalked it up to God.