Sect leader tells CNN he is Christ He gives interview after shootout

March 01, 1993|By Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- "They've gone and done it again, not knowing what they do," the man who introduced himself as David Koresh whispered hoarsely, alluding to the crucifixion of Christ.

In a rambling telephone interview last night from inside the fortified compound where he said he lay seriously wounded, the man born Vernon Howell cited dozens of biblical passages to buttress his many claims, among them:

* That he is Christ, come again as the "lamb" to reveal the truths contained in the book of Revelation.

* That those truths can be understood only by loosening the Seven Seals described in Revelation and that he alone can loosen those seals. The Seven Seals described in Revelation herald the catastrophic events that mankind will go through in its final days.

* That God's wrath will come upon the world as a result of the shootout yesterday morning between Mr. Howell's followers and federal agents.

* That the Branch Davidians, which he has led since 1985, are not a cult.

* That agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had infiltrated his religious group and that he was aware of the infiltration.

Sometimes crying, sometimes gasping for breath, Mr. Howell, 33, also confirmed that he is a polygamist with "many babies" -- a charge he had earlier denied. "It's true," he said.

The Houston native said he and his followers would not surrender until he has a chance to broadcast his message on national television. Then, he said, if anyone can persuade him that his beliefs are wrong, he will submit to legal authority.

He said that although he and his followers want to live, they are prepared to die because they know "our lives have been spared in heaven."

Mr. Howell, whose words occasionally were interrupted by groans, said he had been wounded in the stomach, buttocks and arm.

He and one of his followers, who identified himself as Steve Schneider, said there were other wounded and some dead people inside the compound. They would not provide numbers, but Mr. Howell said a child had been killed.

"People were lying dead in here, babies and everything," Mr. Schneider said.

Yesterday, as the standoff continued, Mr. Howell spoke at breakneck speed, often switching topics with little apparent logic. But woven through his impassioned ramblings was his conviction that he is the Lamb of God. Revelation says the Lamb of God, which also refers to Christ, will unlock the Seven Seals.

"If you continue in my ways, you are my disciples," he said. "I said that 2,000 years ago."

"I am the anointed one," he said at another point.

Asked if he is above the law, he raised his voice for the only time in the 1 1/2 -hour interview. "I am the law," he thundered.

Asked if he was the lamb referred to in Revelation, he said, "I was the Lamb." He spoke in the past tense, he said, because he believed he was dying.

"These blankets are soaked [with blood]," he said.

Mr. Schneider, who said he encountered Mr. Howell in 1986 in Southern California, said their meeting satisfied a lifelong search for answers about the meaning of life and the Bible.

"It was beyond anything I'd ever heard," he said. "He, with his knowledge, literally blew me away. The information just went on and on. Here was the truth that was so conclusive, the science of salvation."

Others, however, were not so ready to believe.

Marc Hennig in Vancouver, British Columbia, said he considered joining the Branch Davidians in the late 1980s, after being introduced to Mr. Howell by a friend who was a follower.

Mr. Hennig was shocked, but not surprised, to hear of yesterday's shootout.

"Even during the brief time I knew these people, I could sense definitely that they were taking a turn for the worse," he said in a telephone interview. "They were becoming more aggressive."

Mr. Howell, he said, would spout biblical phrases and interweave them, somewhat chaotically, with his own religious interpretations, his views on science and world affairs.

"He was a very charismatic speaker, no doubt about it. He had what would seem to be a very, very sharp mind, but oddly sharp -- almost schizophrenic."

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