Koresh, a 33-year-old aspiring rock musician who variously claims to be the son of God and the Old Testament King David, has convinced the men and women in his fortified camp near Waco that their only salvation lies in dying with him.
Tony Kakouri, a Briton who spent six harrowing weeks in the compound, said that during Koresh's rambling Bible classes he constantly warned his followers that the authorities were coming to kill him. According to the Scriptures, they could enjoy resurrection only if they fought to the death for him.
'He would say that when they come and get me, give them hell with weaponry. He said that we would have to kill with guns,' said Kakouri, a 24-year-old greengrocer's assistant from Wood Green, north London, who has now left the Branch Davidian cult.
Kakouri's descriptions of life on Mount Carmel, the 31-hectare (77-acre) cult headquarters, echo the experiences of survivors of other cults. The leader apparently used well-worn aggressive techniques to assert his domination of those convinced he was divine: deprivation of sleep and food, intimidation, isolation, long indoctrination sessions, sexual abuse and manipulation of the group against the individual.
Men twice Koresh's size and strength unprotestingly presented their wives for sexual intercourse with him because he claimed the sole right to procreate, Kakouri said. Many women seemed desperate to oblige their scrawny, pot-bellied master, despite his unprepossessing appearance.
Kakouri's own initiation to the Branch Davidians, a breakaway group from the Seventh-day Adventist church, was typical. In 1988, he was baptised a Seventh- day Adventist.
About 18 months later he was approached after a Saturday morning service by a Davidian, who gave him some literature to study. The Adventist church leadership is emphatic that the Davidians are a disconnected group, founded in 1929 by a former lay leader, Victor Houteff. But, according to Kakouri, they continue to frequent Adventist services, where they try to recruit supporters.
After studying the Davidian creed for three months, Kakouri began evangelising on its behalf around the 40 London Adventist churches. Then he came across a splinter group, called the Branch Davidians, which invited him to Bible sessions at a flat in Sebbon Street, Islington, north London, home of an elderly sect member, Victorine Hollingsworth. She is believed to be among the besieged group at Mount Carmel.
They preached unfamiliar, Scripture-based teachings that contradicted what he had learnt, he said. When he asked for more information he was urged to accompany the group to Mount Carmel to meet Koresh, also known as Vernon Howell.
'Whenever I began to inquire what the group was really about, they used this infamous phrase, Come and see,' he said.
On 27 March 1991, his 22nd birthday, Kakouri and a friend took off from Gatwick for Dallas- Fort Worth with 30 British Branch Davidians from London, Nottingham and Manchester. Their leader was a former Nottingham social worker, Livingstone Fagan.
It was a mainly working-class group, of families with children and single adults of both sexes, recalled Kakouri. Many appeared not to have regular jobs. Most made the trip to Waco twice a year, in March / April and October, coinciding with the Jewish feasts of Passover and Yom Kippur, which Koresh had decreed the high points of the year.
On arrival after a 10-hour flight, the group waited for six hours at the airport before Koresh sent a minibus to pick them up. The ordeal had begun.
When they reached Mount Carmel, the weary and hungry Britons were herded into the chapel block, where Koresh was playing heavy-metal rock music on an electric guitar. They endured this for 45 minutes before being shown their sleeping quarters.
The complex was quite different from the fortified structure Koresh built later. It consisted of about 20 wooden shacks, spread 200 metres along a road. Men were segregated from women.
After an hour in the huts, the new arrivals were summoned to the kitchen block, where Koresh was to take Bible classes. 'As soon as we sat down, he started shouting all sorts of abuse at us,' Kakouri said. 'He called us all motherfuckers. He was very intimidating straight away. Now I'm thinking: well, this guy is abusing me, but I can't step out of line because if he's the son of God, I'd better shut up.'
Koresh then began what he termed a Bible class, which lasted 10 hours. 'He began talking and talking at 12.30 without any breaks. You could go to the toilet and you could get a drink of water if you wanted to, but that was it. We were subjected to many hours of Bible studies. One study we had was 18 hours long.'
This was to be the pattern. So- called Bible study was carried out at night. During the day Koresh often retired to his quarters, leaving his flock, whose numbers grew from about 50 to 150 over the next six weeks, to try to sleep.
At the end of the first Bible session, Koresh approached Kakouri and his friend, the two newcomers. 'At times he would be very mellow and placid. At other times he would be very angry, vicious, abusive and vile. Not violent, he never used any violence. He would abuse you, insult you. He would say: 'You black people are the ugliest race in the world.' Half his followers are black. His whole message was to come and show humanity that they are shit, they are vile. He was the only one who was pure.'
In 1989, Kakouri said, Koresh had produced the doctrine that he was the only being entitled to marriage. 'He was the only one who could have children. Married couples were no longer to be married. If you were married, your wife was now Vernon's wife. I saw couples who were formerly married who were no longer allowed to embrace each other. They lived in the same area, but they weren't allowed to live together. Nobody had the guts to question this.
'Vernon slept with these women and had babies with them. When I was there, one of his wives, who was formerly married to a guy named Stan, gave birth to one of his children. Vernon's first wife was called Rachel. Her sister was pregnant with his child.'
There was method in Koresh's sexual rampages. He claimed to sleep only with women whom God had singled out to bear his children. But Kakouri noticed that these were invariably the more physically attractive women in the sect. And Koresh was forever telling the group to bring him in more women disciples.
'Many American guys who follow Vernon have surrendered their wives. There were many single girls who were instantly initiated as Vernon's women.' Only an Australian group had rebelled, Kakouri said. 'They abandoned the group when Vernon made the ruling about wives.'
Koresh claimed scriptural authority for his promiscuity. 'He said it was written in the Bible that he must repopulate the world with righteous children. He quoted from Psalm 45, various verses . . . the 'Song of Songs', he claimed, was talking about his relationship with women. He claimed to be this sexual being. He actually once said: 'I am Jesus Christ returned with a dick.' '
Koresh's Bible tuition was peppered with bragging about his sexual prowess. In front of everyone, including small children, he would describe his technique in minute detail. Koresh always dressed in faded rock star style:
T-shirts, jeans and cowboy boots. From one ear dangled a Star of David earring. 'There was one verse in Ezekiel, chapter eight, about women weeping for Tammuz. He would say that women weeping for Tammuz were weeping for dicks. He would constantly get the women in the group to repeat what these women in Ezekiel were weeping for, and the women would reply, 'Big dicks' in the Bible study.'
The turmoil at the compound eventually took its toll on Kakouri. 'I spent many days in tears over there, very paranoid. It was fear. It was shattering my faith in God. One of the British guys was so paranoid, he locked himself up in his cabin. He suffered a nervous breakdown and left the cult. Nobody had the guts to protest. There were men there who could have smashed him up in a fight, and they were made to look like wimps in his presence.'
During his six weeks, Kakouri saw Koresh brandish a firearm on only one occasion, when he produced a rifle. But he told his followers there would be ample weaponry for them when his time came.
'He constantly said the authorities would come in, that he would be taken, possibly killed. He taught that we would be resurrected in a special resurrection. It's in the Prophet Daniel: many that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake and get everlasting life.'
Koresh forecast that all would go through persecution and die martyrs for him, but that after a three-and-a-half-year period he termed 'the tribulation' they would be resurrected.
Any followers not around during the showdown were expected to go berserk. 'He said that after he'd gone they should freak out and kill many. They should openly kill. He quoted a scripture in Daniel: 'The Messiah, the prince, shall be cut off and the people of the Messiah should destroy the city and the sanctuary.' '
For the followers with him at the showdown, there would be no surrender. 'He did not talk about suicide. He said: 'Martyr yourselves. Go out, freak out, shoot . . . openly fire and get shot, but kill many before you die.' He said: 'If you can't kill for God, you can't die for God.'
'If you died, you'd be taken to Heaven, where you'd be shown what evil humanity is doing, and you would be prepared mentally in Heaven to come back to Earth and destroy wickedness. You would come back as spiritual beings of light, he taught us. He referred to the film Cocoon. He said that like in this film, you would be able to take your skins off and you would be able to shine like bright beams of light. He promised great power and wealth.'
Kakouri suspects that Koresh told his followers last week that 'the tribulation' has begun.
Neal Ascherson, page 23
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