For 12 years, Clive Doyle spent every April 19th at the site of the Branch Davidian compound, remembering the day he narrowly escaped a blaze that killed his daughter and dozens of fellow cult members.
But on Wednesday, the 13th anniversary of the deadly fire that ended the groups 51-day standoff with federal agents, Doyle, 65, marked the occasion by meeting other Davidians for lunch at a Waco buffet an act of exile spurred by a recent coup within the religious cult.
Doyle and some of the other Davidians who were followers of apocalyptic cult leader David Koresh are now outcasts on the property they have so much history with. A new leader named Charlie Pace who moved to the property about nine years ago has mounted what he calls a reformation of the controversial faith.
Under Paces direction, the Koresh movement has changed its name and revamped its theology. Now known as The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness, the church seeks to separate itself from the depravity of Koresh and focus on the will of the Holy Spirit, he said.
This is a kingdom of peace and righteousness, said Pace, 56, standing before the small church on the property, about 12 miles east of Waco. Were not going to continue adultery, practice polygamy or use guns. Were going to keep the word of God.
Paces new authority was on display in several symbolic ways during Wednesdays memorial service. For one thing, members of the church burned the root of a crape myrtle planted in Koreshs memory.
The tree was one of 81 planted by Doyle and other Davidians to symbolize all of the cult members who died during the 1993 siege. Each had a stone marker with a victims name.
The trees have long been a point of contention with Pace, who says such groves are prohibited in the Bible. In ancient times, groups of trees were often planted around temples by pagans who used them as gathering spots for orgies and other unholy activities, he said.
The markers made the display even worse, Pace says, because they turned the trees into idols. Visitors who came to the land would often kneel before Koreshs tree in particular, he said.
For those reasons, the trees were a bur in Paces side. The last straw came a few weeks ago when a TV news crew brought a psychic to the property and the group spent much time gathered around Koreshs tree, said church member Ron Goins.
The next day, Pace cut it down, he said, and broke the stone marker bearing the cult leaders name.
Although some Davidians, including Koreshs mother, view Paces act as one committed in anger, Pace and his followers dismiss the idea. They say they view it as an act of honor and perhaps even salvation for Vernon Howell, which was the cult leader s name before he took the Koresh moniker.
If that sounds contradictory, its because of the love-hate relationship Paces group has with the late self-styled prophet. They say they believe Koresh was instructed by God to take on his sinful persona one involving sex and violence to bring prophesied judgment upon the church.
Koresh was a maniacal pervert, Pace says, but Vernon Howell was a true believer who sacrificed himself to carry out Gods will.
Goins sums it up this way: David sinned for Gods sake.
Pace and his followers also believe Koreshs actions caused him to fall under a biblical curse that necessitated his destruction. To lift the curse and give Howell a chance at resurrection, they believe they had to burn his crape myrtle and replace the stone marker with one bearing Howells name.
Pace said the new stone is in the process of being made. It will be placed in some sort of new memorial along with the other markers, also now removed from the spots where they were adorned with crape myrtles. But for the burning of Koreshs tree, the church had to go to Plan B Wednesday.
Originally members planned to burn the trees branches on an altar during the memorial ceremony. But when Koreshs mother, Bonnie Haldeman, arrived and learned the branches were from her sons tree, she snatched them up and threw them into the bed of Koreshs fathers pickup.
The two then left the property to meet Doyle for their alternate, lunchtime gathering. As the group ate inside, other patrons at Ryans Family Steakhouse likely had no idea the brush-filled pickup bed outside contained evidence of a rift within one of the nations most infamous cults.
Its just a friggin tree, but its a symbol, Haldeman said. ...(Charlie) thinks David said he was God. Well, who does Charlie think he is?
Back at the churchs property, Paces followers lamented that the Davidians had stolen the branches, but they plunged ahead with their plans. They just used the root of the crape myrtle rather than its branches for the ritualistic burning.
We do this in gratitude, not in disrespect at all, said church member Norma Ruhling, 64, as she added kindling to the hole where the root remained.
Doyle said he feels disrespected. He said he didnt go to Wednesdays memorial because he feared his presence might cause the event to get ugly. But it was a difficult decision, he said, adding that he wrestled with it until Tuesday night.
The chain of events that led to Doyles departure from the property began about a year ago, he said. His group of followers had dwindled because of deaths and people moving off the property. For Saturday meetings, only about a half- dozen people were attending.
Because his group was small but still meeting in the church building, Doyle said he decided to invite Pace and his slightly larger group of followers to join them for services. Previously, Paces group had worshipped on another part of the property.
At first, the arrangement worked, Doyle said, with both he and Pace speaking during the meetings. But eventually Pace took over and seemed to regard Doyle as a member of his church, Doyle said.
That perception was shattered in September, however, when Doyle was the only Davidian living on the property who refused to be baptized by Pace. Baptism symbolizes joining someones church among other things, Doyle said, and he couldnt do that in good conscience because of disagreements over theology.
Doyle continued living on the property and attending Paces services. But around the beginning of the year, Pace told Doyle that his group wasnt going to help pay taxes on the land unless they got full credit, he said.
Doyle and other Davidians had been paying the $2,000 annual bill with their own money and donations for some time, Doyle said. So when he heard Paces ultimatum, Doyle refused to pony up any money out of principle.
That left Pace paying the tax bill, which increased the pressure on Doyle to either join or get the hell out, Doyle said. Doyle finally moved out in February, leaving his trailer on the land for an apartment in Waco.
I thought I was extending the hand of fellowship, Doyle said of his relationship with Pace. It kind of got bitten.
Moving has left him sad, Doyle said, because he had lived on the land on and off for 40 years. But staying on the land wasnt worth the emotional stress of fighting Pace, he said.
Instead, he and other Davidians who share his theology meet in one anothers homes now, he said.
That doesnt mean Doyle has given up hope of moving back to the property. He notes how he and other followers of Koresh left the land in 1984 when George Roden, a Davidian leader at odds with Koresh, briefly took over. But later God restored the true believers to the property, he said.
Whatever God will do eventually remains to be seen, Doyle said.
Pace says his church would love for Doyle and the other rebellious apostates to re- join the group. But they will have to repent first.
Asked about the timing of the changes in the church, Pace said they were deliberately linked to the 13th anniversary of the fire. In the Bible, 12 is the number of Gods government, so Koreshs followers were given 12 years to see that their former leader had led the church astray. When they didnt, the Holy Spirit instructed members of the purified church to act, he said, adding that 13 is a number of judgment in the Bible.
Pace also said the judgment brought onto the Davidians by Koresh and his followers will be repeated in churches worldwide if they dont repent. The fact that the siege ended in fire was no coincidence, he said.
This was a sign, a signal fire to the whole world of judgment to come, Pace said.
On the 13th anniversary of a fire that destroyed apocalyptic leader David Koresh’s compound near Waco, about two dozen people gathered for a service on land where the cult members died. But unlike past memorials, those in charge of the gathering no longer call themselves Branch Davidians. A coup of sorts has taken place in the group over the past few months. Longtime Davidian and church leader Clive Doyle is no longer living on the property. Instead, the group of believers on the property is being led by a man named Charles Pace, a relative newcomer. Under Pace’s leadership, the church on the site is now being called The Branch, The Lord of Righteousness. Pace says the new name is meant to signify that the church has been purified and moved on to a new stage that is apart from the “depravity” of Koresh. As a symbol of the changes in the church, members today burned brush from near a marker placed in Koresh’s memory. They had previously destroyed the stone marker that memorialized Koresh. Pace and his followers say the actions were not done in anger. Rather, they were done to lift a curse that will allow David Koresh to be resurrected as Vernon Howell, his name before he became a leader of the apocalyptic cult. A total of 86 people died during the 51-day siege of the compound in 1993. Seventy-six of them, including Koresh and 21 children, died during the April 19 fire, which broke out after the FBI mounted a tank and tear-gas assault. The rest died during an initial raid conducted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.