Paranoia with purpose

Like-minded "Patriots" find their own around the new Branch Davidian Church in Waco

Allen Croft, fresh from losing his job over his complaints about his boss' employment of illegal immigrants, traveled from Rocky Face, Georgia, to attend the ceremony.

"Most people are asleep. They're 'sheeple' [part sheep, part people], but there will always be someone who remembers and will fight this," he said.

He gestured toward the assembled reporters besieging Mount Carmel with notebooks, satellite vans, cameras, and microphone booms. "All this, and I bet not even 10 percent of these interviews will be used on TV or in print. Anyone who wants the real news should listen to shortwave radio."

There were several Branch Davidian survivors on hand, none more prominent than Clive Doyle, the new trustee of the Davidians' church. Doyle is a dumpy man, so soft-spoken that his comments at an impromptu press conference were muted by the phalanx of television reporters and constant breeze. He has a propensity to weep while he speaks to crowds.

Doyle ended Wednesday's inaugural sermon, which focused on the fiery destruction of the Jewish temple at the hands of the Babylonians, by saying: "I just hope we will prove to be worthy to worship here, and I hope you will return to worship with us."

It is easy to sympathize with Doyle, because it is now difficult to see anything that required the immediate intervention of heavily armed federal agents -- especially when supporters view Koresh's headquarters as a church rather than a "compound." That stokes the attendees' fears more than anything; they feel marginalized by mainstream society and the government because of their religious beliefs, which dovetail into politics through gun-control debates and the Clinton administration's tenacious pressing of federal authority.

It was common for attendees to discuss Mount Carmel's strange tenants, distancing themselves from their religion while at the same time supporting their right to worship any way they pleased. Some conservative Christians showed up to defend Koresh's religion, even though it blasphemed their own by declaring him the reincarnation of Christ.

"If they can do it to the Branch Davidians and get away with it, they can do it to the Baptists. They can do it to the Jews. They can do it to the blacks. They can do it to anyone," Alex Jones said. "They had different beliefs. Does that mean we kill them? Does that mean we have to use tanks against them?"

Jones served as master of ceremonies and ringleader. While other survivors and supporters carried themselves with a friendly, if offbeat, dignity, Jones fell into his attack-dog radio persona so often, it became clear he knows no other way to communicate in public.

Sympathizers give him leeway in his angry presentation because he is their most accessible spokesman, and they are stuck with him.

"He has a background in commercial radio, and that probably affects his style," said Julie Hartman, a 41-year-old drug counselor from Austin who, like virtually all of the volunteers, heeded his call to get involved with the Mount Carmel project. "One thing is that he's 26. Just from knowing him during the last few years, I do believe his heart is in the right place, and that he is sincere."

His more lucid comments eventually gave way to gibberish -- berating the media for all manner of coordinated duplicity, alleging that the government orchestrated the Oklahoma City bombing. He pumped his fist and led militant chants from the church pulpit. When he wasn't ranting, his face fell into a slack and bovine stasis, waiting for the next chance to explode into a vitriolic outburst.

"You are the Paul Reveres of our age!" he screamed at the crowd, face slicked with sweat and growing red. "We are going to win! We cannot be stopped! Victory is ours!"

His most ignoble moment came when someone alerted him that a former ATF agent had pulled up to Mount Carmel on a motorcycle. Jones launched himself like a Stinger missile. He had already begun screaming at the man when he realized it was Robert Rodriguez, a former ATF agent who worked undercover to infiltrate Koresh's group before the raid. Rodriguez has testified he tried to convince his superiors to cancel the raid because Koresh had been tipped off.

Jones ripped into him, asking whether he enjoyed sneaking into people's homes to shoot their children, calling him a coward for "hiding behind the government."

"I didn't come here to argue," Rodriguez said. "I came here to pay my respects, for many reasons."

Others recalled Rodriguez weeping at court hearings and admired his personal pilgrimage to Mount Carmel. Rodriguez now rides a shiny Harley-Davidson bike and sports a crisp, unscuffed leather jacket with an ATF patch. His chaps, like his bike and clothes, were spotless. Last year Rodriguez won $2.3 million in damages from the ATF when the agency's leaders and raid commanders tried to paint him as emotionally unstable -- part of their effort to discredit his account of the siege, including his warnings not to raid the compound.

Alex Jones left and returned, seemingly armed with the identity of the biker. "I know who you are. I realize that you're not as bad as the others," Jones said. "They were still misguided Stormtroopers."

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