Davidians rebuilding near Waco Supporters break ground for church at compound site 09/20/99
("The Dallas Morning News", September 20, 1999)
WACO, Texas - As grasshoppers flitted through 90-degree heat, workers as young as 4 and as old as 71 broke ground Sunday for a new Branch Davidian church at Mount Carmel.
Shovels and pickaxes tore into the soil outside Waco - the same scenery that six years ago formed the backdrop for the fire that killed David Koresh and about 80 followers.
"It means a lot," said Mr. Koresh's stepfather, Roy Haldeman, 71, a retired carpenter who lives in Tyler, Texas. "I feel good about it."
About 60 people dug holes on the old compound site Sunday to hold support beams for a 38-by-40-foot white frame church.
Mr. Haldeman lived at the compound for about 18 months in 1992 and 1993. On Sunday, he cast a stoic glance at the workers and said the project was "too deep" to explain what it meant to him.
On April 19, 1993, flames destroyed the sect's compound. The fire ended a 51-day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the federal government.
Sunday's caravan of volunteers from Austin to Waco also included Mr. Koresh's
mother and consisted of about 60 vehicles, including pickup trucks, motor homes and a luxury sedan. It arrived at Mount Carmel at 9:30 a.m.
The scene was reminiscent of a barn-raising - hamburgers sizzled and a portable stereo pumped out Christian country music.
The project was organized and led by Austin radio talk show host Alex Jones, who has said the Branch Davidians were the victims of "a government cover-up of its violation of the First Amendment."
"This is a statement," the 25-year-old Mr. Jones said. "This is about saying the witch hunt of 1993 is over." Mr. Jones called the church project a "healing process" for the Branch Davidians and the nation.
Mr. Jones began the drive to rebuild the church during a broadcast on his KJFK-FM show Sept. 13.
He said that he and others have been talking for three years about building on the site. Recent revelations about the FBI's use of incendiary tear-gas rounds and the escalating controversy over the government's conduct spurred him to act, he said.
"All of it - it's all about public opinion. We know that now is the perfect time; that's why we're doing it," said Mr. Jones, who wore a pin with the message: "You burn it, we build it."
"This is a monument to the First Amendment," he said. "You think about speech and the press, but it is also religion and the expression thereof."
The project will include a memorial inside the church to those who died in the fire. The church will be built in two to three months, he said.
Exactly who owns the 77-acre compound site in Central Texas isn't clear.
It has been claimed by at least three parties: Clive Doyle and other followers of David Koresh, who lived at Mount Carmel about 10 miles east of Waco; Douglas Mitchell, who says he is the divinely appointed leader of the Branch Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Association; and Amo Bishop Roden, who has said that she was married "by contract" to the late Branch Davidian ex-leader George Roden.
Mr. Doyle, who survived the 1993 fire, has said his group has clear title to the land because they have maintained it, established a memorial there and paid taxes on the land, which lies in an unincorporated part of McLennan County and does not require a building permit for improvements.
Mr. Doyle, 58, said Sunday that he has been leading about 12 to 20 congregants in Bible studies around Waco and probably will lead services at the new church.
"I think it is a very magnanimous gesture. This to me shows care and concern," he said. "We will leave it in God's hands to increase our membership or not."
Among the volunteers was Mike Robbins, 25, of Austin, a customer-relations manager at a car dealership.
Mr. Robbins, who hauled four cases of bottled water, bags of cement, other construction materials and some food in his pickup, said he wasn't a Branch Davidian but had constitutional concerns about what happened to the group.
"I came out here to support the First Amendment rights and the rights of every citizen," he said. "There is a lack of tolerance in this country, and I'm here to fight that."
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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