In a room upstairs, Mike Sticklind, convenor of the North England Conference, recounts what happened when David Koresh and Steven Schneider, the leader and deputy leader of the Branch Davidian sect, came to Britain to poach members of his church. He tells of the spies set on the newcomers, of the vain attempts to win back those who joined them, of the secret investigation conducted into the charismatic young cult leader, and of what that inquiry revealed.
It was in 1990 that Mr Sticklind asked a young chaplain at the Adventists' Newbold College in Bracknell, Berkshire, to carry out research into the Branch Davidians, its beginnings, recruitment methods, operations and beliefs. When he had written his report, however, the chaplain suddenly refused to hand it over. He had, it appears, been threatened by Branch Davidians. 'They said that if I did this, they would come and burn my house down,' he told Mr Sticklind. Only when he was assured that his name would not be revealed did the chaplain hand over his findings. Mr Sticklind then produced an internal memorandum, based on them.
It was a short but prescient document. 'Vernon (Koresh) is 'A LAMB OF GOD' (Rev. 13),' it said. 'He is 'A CHRIST' (just as Cyrus and David were). Jesus's sacrifice was insufficient, therefore Vernon will die as a further sacrifice in 1993, in fulfilment of Daniel 9 and Isaiah 53.'
The memorandum explains the tortured reasoning that led Koresh to foresee his death this year. Ellen G White, founder-member of the Adventist church, died in 1913. From Psalm 90:10 Koresh picked out the line about most men having 70 years, the fortunate having 80. He decided that he was 'a lucky one': 1913 plus 80 equals 1993.
The logic may be dubious, but as Mr Sticklind added in his document, 'their tactic, if you try to engage them in logical debate, is to become illogical. Then if you switch to illogic, they switch to logic. They are cunning and clever. They cannot be beaten in normal terms.'
Since the inferno in Waco last week, British Seventh-day Adventists have been distressed to find their church associated with Koresh's cult. The 1990 document, and the stories told by Mr Sticklind and others, reveal the hostility and suspicion they felt at the time about the activities of the Branch Davidians in this country, and the lengths they were prepared to go to combat them. Schneider first came to Britain in the 1970s, attending Newbold College as a student, Mr Sticklind said. 'He was sent down for being drunk and disorderly in the town, but the mere fact that he had been at the college enabled him to abuse that familiarity when he revisited Newbold in 1988.' On this visit Schneider established contacts with some of the younger students, but was rebuffed by the college authorities when he asked to address the students. Instead, he borrowed a local Adventist's home for the purpose, attracting audiences of about 15 at a time.
News of these sessions, in which Schneider said he was preparing the way for 'another', reached the college authorities. 'There wasn't alarm exactly, because most of the people who went to hear Schneider were not taken in by him,' Mr Sticklind said. 'But some people in the college were a bit disturbed and decided to try to find out more about the Americans.'
Some weeks after Schneider began his scripture sessions, Koresh, then known as Vernon Howell, joined him. Staff at Newbold, by now anxious to know what was going on, tried to talk to students who had shown interest in Koresh and Schneider. 'They refused to discuss it,' Mr Sticklind said. 'They would talk about anything under the sun, except those sessions and how they were being influenced.'
The Adventists probed more deeply, setting 'spies' on the Branch Davidians. Hugh Dunton, a teacher at Bracknell, went to a meeting addressed by Koresh. 'I sat a few feet away from him. He was unshaven and needed a bit of grooming. He strummed a guitar as he talked. It was rambling stuff, illiterate. But he was playing on people's fears of being damned.' Dr Dunton, finding the whole thing distasteful - especially Koresh's many 'sexual allusions' - walked out.
The Adventists learned that the sessions Koresh and Schneider conducted often ran for up to 17 hours. Both could speak for up to six hours without a break, quoting the Bible from memory. When Adventist theology students challenged Koresh, he either ignored their questions or said: 'I'm not telling you everything now. Come to America and you'll get the full story.'
The Koresh-Schneider crusade in England was not a great success in numerical terms. But when Schneider came back in January 1990 the Adventist church elders became anxious.
Pastor Theo Stewart, who runs an Adventist church in Nottingham, said last week that he was convinced young members were being 'brainwashed' into believing the Adventist church had become 'Babylon', a corrupt and sinful place.
The sect's method 'is to send Steve (Schneider) in first', Mr Sticklind's memo says. 'He approaches young people with the gambit (that) he has astounding Bible light which will 'blow away their minds', but . . . to prepare for that, they must be willing to give two/three weeks undivided attention. He runs daily, lengthy sessions, often into the night. You must listen without objection . . . Their policy is to agitate and confuse, working against the basic assumptions of Adventism . . . They harmonise minor prophets and Psalms with Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and then impose that interpretation . . . Once they have confused and bombarded with all kinds of criticisms, they come in with their new light.'
The Newbold chaplain's research showed that 'Vernon' was regarded by the Branch Davidians as 'the prophet who will be confirmed by the sign of 144 virgins giving birth by Him/Holy Spirit. Their talk is heavy with sexual allusion. Vernon, in particular, works to attract pretty young girls. He also plays rock music as he talks for endless hours, in a brainwashing manner.'
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