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Tue, 07 Jun 2022 07:01
Vernon Howell faces criminal charges in court. And soon, his followers begin to turn against him—fueling his paranoia, and setting the stage for his fateful standoff against the U.S. government.
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To listen to American scandal one week early and add free, join Wondry Plus in the Wondry app. Download the Wondry app in your Apple or Google Play mobile app store today. This is a special encore presentation of our series on the standoff in Waco, Texas, which originally aired in 2020. It's an investigation of a shocking story that sparked a national debate about religious freedom and the power of the federal government. We hope you enjoy. A listener note, this episode contains references to adult content and language and contains material that some might find offensive. It's August 1989 in Pomona, California. And just after dawn, Mark Bro, Twitch, is in his sleep, is curled up in a bunk bed inside a dimly lit garage, surrounded by beds and sleeping people all crammed into this one tiny place. The garage and house belong to the branched dividends. They're a religious sect whose teachings bro has followed without question. Until now, Bro's eyes flick open. Immediately his mind starts racing. He's running through the same terrible questions that kept him up last night. He wishes he could get up on screen, but instead he stays motionless under the covers. Bro is in his mid 20s. He is a thick mop of dark hair and a deep desire to know God. And almost for four years, he's been a disciple of Vernon Howell. Bro is Howell's trusted lieutenant. His entire life, his home, his friends, his salvation. Rest on the faith that Howell is the new embodiment of Christ. And that makes this morning and his doubts so terrifying. These last few years, Bro has learned some deeply uncomfortable truths about Howell. This week, for instance, he and Howell drove from Texas to California in Howell's Camaro. But they didn't come alone. Howell also brought the 13 year old daughter of one of his followers. They stopped for the night at a hotel. And Howell and the girl shared a bedroom. Bro replays the memory in his mind. Over and over. He feels sick to his stomach. He's given everything to Howell. In exchange, he's supposed to play a central role in the salvation of mankind. And he thinks, what if Howell isn't the Messiah? What if he's just a pedophile hiding behind a Bible? The thought sends Bro right out of bed. He dresses quietly, trying not to wake the others than steps outside. The sunlight is warm on his skin. Bro is partially blind. But he can still make out the pale blooms of a jackarandetry. Just then, the front door opens. Bro turns and sees a clean cut 20 something with blonde hair and a mustache. Which is best friend, Steve Schneider. Schneider gives a quick wave. Morning, Mark. You look awful, everything alright? Bro avoids his gaze. Not long ago, he convinced Schneider to follow Howell. And now he's not sure he can look his friend in the eye. Oh, I'm fine, Steve. You sure? Bro hesitates. Well, honestly, I'm kind of shaking up. It's fern. Schneider gives a slight nod. Enough encouragement for Bro to continue. He's been acting erratically. We're supposed to be saving people, right? But some of what he's doing, it'll scare people away. I hear you. I've been trying to recruit this couple and he's been so rude to them. No one's going to accept a profit the way he acts. Yeah, exactly. Like they feel like every day he does something to test my faith. Do you? Do you ever wonder? Schneider raises a eyebrow. Wonder what, Mark? Bro desperately wants to share the doubts that are consuming him. But he also knows the power that Vernon Howell wields over his disciples. If he questions Howell's divine authority, howell finds out, Rose Life will never be the same. He's not ready to cross that line. Well, yeah. Ever wonder why of all the people in the world, God picked Vernon Howell to be the Messiah? Schneider lasts too. Bro can feel he's broken the tension. Yeah, the Lord works in mysterious ways, Mark. Yeah, we should probably get back inside. I'll be right there. Bro watches his friend walk back into the house. Schneider remains one of the faithful, the state of innocence that Bro wishes he could return to. But it's too late for that. He's powerless to escape the question that shook him awake this morning. Is he really serving the Messiah or a monster? And if he's been serving a monster, Bro knows he owes a debt to God. In which case, he must do everything in his power to take Howell down. American scandal is sponsored by the new ABC drama Alaska Daily. When an indigenous woman goes missing in Alaska, it sparks new questions about other missing and murdered indigenous women. And that's where the thrilling new ABC drama Alaska Daily begins, and where it's headed, will have you on the edge of your seat. Two time Academy Award winner Hillary Swank stars as Eileen, a veteran reporter who joins a team of local journalists working to bring the truth to light from Academy Award winning screenwriter Tom McCarthy Alaska Daily premieres Thursday, October 6th on ABC and streams next day on Hulu. If you're into true crime, the Generation Y podcast is essential listening. We started this podcast over 10 years ago to dissect some of the craziest and most notable murders, crimes and conspiracy theories together, and we'd love for you to join us. Follow the Generation Y podcast on Amazon Music or wherever you listen to podcasts. From Monday I'm Lindsey Graham and this is American Scandal. In the 1980s, a young man named Vernon Howell arrived in Waco, Texas. He was here that he joined a religious group known as the Branch Dividians, though he was a newcomer how quickly gained power and took over from the group's aging leader, Lois Rodin. But Howell also clashed with Rodin's violent son, George. Howell believed that he was the new embodiment of Christ who would come to earth to bring about the end of days. Over the years, Howell's confidence continued to grow and he convinces followers to adopt an increasingly violent worldview, but some of his followers began to question him. Soon they turned against him, fueling his paranoia and setting the stage for his fateful stand off against the US government. This is episode 2, The Betrayal. It's early 1988, about a year and a half before Mark Broe woke up with terrible worries about his religious leader, Vernon Howell. Today the sun slowly rises on the outskirts of Palestine, Texas. It casts a pale glow over the Branch Dividian camp. Mark Broe shivers in the cold and hurries past the small shacks that dot the camp. He heads past the school buses that have been turned into homes and rounds a corner. He's got an electronic piano tucked under his arm and a big smile on his face. He's beaming because today is special. Vernon Howell isn't just Broe's Messiah, he's also the leader of their rock band and the two are about to head into Waco for their very first recording session. Broe reaches the van, he opens it up and sets the music equipment carefully in the back. Then he jumps into the passenger seat. Vernon Howell is already at the wheel and flashes a grin. Howell wears thin wire rim glasses in a rock and roll mullet. Whether it's a jam session or a Bible study, Howell always suggests a world of exciting possibilities. The two drive into town and Howell is in his usual talkative mood. The Broe is only half paying attention. He stares out at the Texas landscape blurring by. He thinks about how strange and how wonderful it is to be riding shotgun next to the Messiah. Broe has spent his entire life searching for God's truth. Just a couple of years ago, he was living in California and working towards a master's degree in religious studies. He wanted to be a seventh day Adventist minister, but he was told that because of his poor eyesight, he could not. The setback left him in deep despair. He was about to be saddled with a useless degree, no future, and no path to God. But then Broe met Vernon Howell. Howell took him in and he gave Bro a deeper understanding of God in the Bible. But he didn't stop there. With Howell's instruction, Broe had vivid dreams and even visions. He'd had them since childhood, but now they felt stronger, more connected to God. At first Broe was skeptical that Vernon Howell was a prophet, but the Bible was full of stories of prophets. Why couldn't the same thing happen in modern times? And why couldn't he be a part of that story? Howell pulls up in front of the big planet recording studio in downtown Waco. The two men step out of the van into the Chris Bear. They haul their instruments inside and once they're settled, Howell talks through the first song they're going to record. It's called Mad Man in Waco and tells the story of Howell's shootout with George Rodin at Mount Carmel. Howell resides the lyrics and bro nods along. Broe didn't take part in the raid itself because of his poor eyesight, but Howell's upcoming trial for attempted murder is at the center of Broe's world. Howell could go to jail and that would leave the movement without a leader, or they could win a quiddle and have a chance to take back Mount Carmel from George Rodin. Broe starts playing his keyboard, improvising under the lyrics, but Howell cuts him off harshly. That's not the party wants, it's wrong. Howell's mood can turn like that and it's been happening more often lately. Broe chaves, but he doesn't fight back. Instead, he begins to pick out the melody the way Howell wants it. He knows Howell is under a lot of pressure with a trial. Maybe when they finally make it back to Mount Carmel, Howell will be less irritable. Right now, that's all Broe can hope for. It's April 1988 on the third floor of the Maclellan County Courthouse. Judge Herman Fitz sits at the front of the crowded courtroom, waiting for George Rodin to be led to the witness stand. Fitz has been a judge for nearly two decades, and the trial of Vernon Howell and his associates is one of the most bizarre cases he's ever seen. Fitz eyes the prosecutors, they look nervous. On paper, this case seemed airtight. Howell and eight of his buddies got dressed up at hunting gear, snuck onto another man's property with rifles and shotguns, then began shooting at the property's owner. It's an easy case of attempted murder. Judge Fitz thought the trial would last a few days at the most, but then he met Vernon Howell and realized this trial would be anything but simple. Fitz looks over at the defense table. Howell sits with his hands folded neatly in front of him, looking calm as can be. Behind him, the gallery is crammed with people from Howell's church or whatever it is. The judge recalls the first day of the trial when he asks any potential witnesses in the gallery to stand and be sworn in. The women all just sat there. Howell's lawyer tried to get them on their feet, but they wouldn't budge. It wasn't until Howell himself gave them permission that every one of the women stood and offered to take the stand. And things just got more colorful from there. At one point, the judge had to bar Howell and his followers from doing something unbelievable. They wanted to carry in an old, dirty coffin into the courtroom as evidence. This thinks Howell is about as crazy as they come, but he can tell that Howell has a strange kind of charisma, and he's built sympathy with the jury. Fitz watches as the bailiff leads George Rodin to the front of the courtroom. Rodin wears a black Stetson hat and an orange prison jumpsuit. He ended up with a six month jail sentence after the county courts found an old restraining order against him, barring him from living at Mount Carmel. They also found that no one had paid taxes on the property for almost 20 years. Rodin scouts at Judge Fitz, then Howell, then Howell's attorney. The prosecution squirms in their seat. Rodin is their only eye witness, but they didn't want him to testify. Instead, he's been called to the stand by Howell's defense attorney who now approaches and begins his questioning. Howell's attorney asks Rodin if it's true that he dug up a body of one of his mother's followers. Rodin doesn't hesitate. He says, of course, he did. He was trying to raise her from the dead so that everyone would know he is the true Messiah. Not Vernon Howell. Judge Fitz squirms in his seat. That's it, he thinks. That's all the jury needs to acquit right there. They'll dismiss Rodin as crazy, and they'll accept Howell's claim that he was just trying to get innocent people back into their homes. The judge clanses over at Howell. He's unnerved to see Howell smiling back. His eyes focused intently on the judge. George Rodin may be off his rocker, thinks Fitz, but that doesn't mean Howell is any more sane. Fitz thinks about the best possible outcome. After all, the dust settles from the trial. He hopes there will be peace and sanity at Mount Carmel. For all the men, women, and children crowded into this courtroom today. It's May, 1988, just outside Waco, Texas. The afternoon sun casts long shadows across the buildings of Mount Carmel. Vernon Howell surveys the property, with Mark Brobe by his side. Burge, chirp, and the trees, and Howell squints as he gaces across the large property, that's now his. God gave Mount Carmel back to Howell more quickly than he ever could have hoped. His trial ended with a hung jury, and each of his followers were found not guilty. They were all let out free and clear, and their weapons were returned. Even better, it's George Rodin who's stuck in jail. Howell is ecstatic. For years, he and his followers had to live in and make shift camp in Palestine, Texas, but now they can finally reclaim their rightful home. But as Howell makes his way through Mount Carmel, he can tell they've got a lot of work to do. Mount Carmel is hardly ready to be a training ground for the end of days. Because of George Rodin, the place looks like the apocalypse has already come. The first house that he and Bro enter has a roof that's completely caved in. The water damage and mold are so severe, it'll take months of repairs before any followers can live here. The next house is full of trash. There are signs of rats and roaches. Yet another home is stacked practically to the ceiling with pornography. One of George's associates must have been running some kind of mail order business. Howell opens the door of a little house in the back of the property. A putrid smell blows over him and he recoils. Satan's bathroom couldn't smell any worse, he thinks. He glances around and sees a propane tank hooked up to a burner. Nearby are a series of tubes, which lead from a dirty glass beaker to several plastic containers. Howell stops in his tracks. Whoa, careful Mark, looks like they're cooking meth. There's so much sin on this property. Meth? But I still I wouldn't put a past George. We'll box up the lab and take it to the sheriff. You think that's a good idea, Bernie? Of course it's a good idea. We won, Mark. We're on the right side of the wall. We'll just tell them that this is all George's junk. We don't want it coming back to bite us. We've got bigger things to do. Bro looks around the filthy room in size. Yeah, you're right. I just thought it'd be a little more triumphant to be back. You've been talking about it for years. Well, were you listening? I never said it was going to be a paradise. We're building an army for God. This is our fortress, a place for pure people who don't need comfort. Trust me, Mark. They'll come flooding back once they get my message. Of course. So that means we're stepping up recruitwood. Yes, exactly. You get back to California? We'll send Steve to England. I'll make another trip to Australia. We've had good luck there. OK? Well, head out just as soon as we clean up George's mess. That's going to take a while. How can feel his agitation rising? You know, we don't have much time, Mark. So we've been three years since my vision on Mount Zion. We're getting closer and closer. And soon, I'll unlock the seven seals. I know. Believe me. I know. Bro picks up the propane tank and exits the house. Shoulders slump. How returns his gaze to the decaying room? They'll clean it up just like they'll clean up Mount Carmel. But I'm not formed in this stomach. God has tasked how with bringing so many people into the light. How can he fulfill the prophecy without an army of devoted followers? He knows he needs to look calm. His flock needs to see that he's in control and self combat. But when he's by himself, the worry's set him. He hopes he'll find enough souls to save on his recruitment missions. But if he can't, there's always planned be. The Lord has already spoken to him in visions, and he's revealed other ways for how to grow his flock. What if your family was the victim of a home invasion? Or you woke up in the morgue? Or you were seriously injured miles from help? What would you do? This is actually happening. Ask our listeners this very question. While we bring you captivating real life stories of trauma and perseverance, this is actually happening brings listeners extraordinary true stories from the people who lived them. You'll hear stories about conflict, turmoil, or threats that dramatically alter the course of someone's life. Each episode is an exploration of the human spirit and how survivors manage to overcome hardship and move on with their lives, even thriving afterward. The new season of this is actually happening is available ad free only with Wondry Plus. And if this new season isn't enough, you can listen to more than 120 exclusive episodes available only to Wondry Plus subscribers. Join Wondry Plus on Apple Podcasts or on the Wondry app. It's early April 1889. Elizabeth Berenye looks out the window as her plane descends into the Dallas Fort Worth airport. Her heart is pounding within his patient. Berenye is an Australian in her mid 20s with dark brown curls and a toothy smile. She's flown across the world to see two men. One is her Messiah Verne Howe. The other is her fiance, Mark Broe. She saw Howe fairly recently back when he was on one of his recruiting trips in Melbourne. But she hasn't seen Broe in two long years. They fell in love while she was living at the Davidian Camp in Palestine, but then her visa ran out and she was forced to return home. She hopes that on this trip, Howe will finally give them permission to marry. Berenye hurries up the jetway and sees Broe and Howe waiting for her at the gate. She rushes to embrace Broe. He's thinner than she remembers, but he's still got the same gentle eyes and loving smile. Makes her feel like nothing has changed between them. When she turns to Howe, he nods at her coldly. He's not sure did he expect her to greet him first? The three of them walk outside the terminal. Howe grabs her heavy bags and loads them into the trunk of his red Camaro. He tells Broe to get into the back seat, so Berenye can sit up front with him. As they pull onto the interstate, Berenye reaches a hand into the back seat and feels Broe take it. Feels good to hold his hand again. And Howe doesn't seem to notice. He's too busy asking about the followers in Australia. Berenye was his first convert there back in 86, but since then Howe has made more visits. 30 more Australians have come to accept him as the new Christ. Berenye looks out the window at the Texas Plains. It was a long flight and her jet lag feels like a heavy weight, but she knows how upset Howe will be if she falls asleep while he's talking. He's going on and on about the improvements they've made at Mount Carmel, the new paint, new roofs, new buildings, and soon they approach the renovated site. Howe pulls off the main road and a cluster of beige buildings come into view. Berenye's heart lifts. Finally she'll get to see her old friends again. They approach the roadside shack and Howe slows the car. A man steps out, a shotgun in one hand. Berenye freezes, unable to speak, but then it happens fast. The man with a shotgun sees Howe and gives a nod, and they pass through. Berenye remembers that back when she lived at the Palestine camp, sometimes they were guards. But at the time they were under threat from George Roden. She thought Mount Carmel was a simple place where people lived for God's truth, not a fortress with armed guards. Berenye squeezes Bro's hands tighter, but his grip has gone slack since they passed into Mount Carmel. They park in front of the main house and step out of the car. Howe then escorts her away from Bro, her fiance, and takes her toward the women's dormitory. She looks over her shoulder. Bro is quickly receding into the distance. Vernon Howe instructs her to rest up. There's going to be a lot of Bible study this evening. After that, he says, Sheen Bro can catch up. That night, Berenye and Bro sit close to each other in a pew at the Mount Carmel church. Some 50 followers are gathered under the freshly painted rafters. Some are old faces from the Palestine camp, but many are new. Berenye hears British accents. She sees Australians she remembers from meetings in Melbourne, and it feels good to be next to Bro, even though they barely had a chance to say a word to each other. Howe paces at the front of the church. All day, Berenye had been looking forward to hearing him speak. What Howe had told her in Australia about the end of days, that felt like a message of mercy. She can't wait to receive more of his beautiful truths about an end to suffering. But instead, she is shocked by what Hermes Sayas preaching this evening. His message is dark and disturbing. Full of violence and persecution, death and war, he warns of the forces of Babylon, the earthly authorities who will come to spill the blood of God's people. He asks his followers if they are prepared to walk through a hail of bullets for the Lord. Berenye steals a glance at Bro. Is this the message he's been embracing the last two years? Is back as straight? His eyes look fearful. Berenye wonders whether Bro is afraid of howe's dark prophecies, whether he's afraid of Messiah himself. It's later, in April of 1989, at the county courthouse in Waco. Elizabeth Berenye stands beside Mark Bro in a small room adorned only with a mahogany desk and the Texas and United States flags. Two of their friends look on. She still can't quite believe that today is her wedding day. She was surprised when Howe approached her the day before and gave his blessing. Bro had been asking Howe for the go ahead for more than a year and finally he gave in. Today Berenye wears a white cotton dress and holds a bouquet of wildflowers from the fields of Mount Carmel. Bro wears a navy blue suit, the same one he wears for recruitment trips. The judge greets them and within five minutes, he pronounces in man and wife. Straight from the courthouse they head to their wedding banquet at Sizzlers. They're joined by the two witnesses to the ceremony, Steve Schneider, Bro's best friend, and Sherry Jewel, a close friend of Berenye's back when she was living at the Palestine camp. Food arrives, heaps of fried chicken, sweet corn and rice. Howe would definitely not approve of these excessive portions, but Berenye is starving after two weeks of living under his strict dietary rules. She can only imagine how hungry the others must be. She's relieved to see Bro and Schneider dive in with a bandin. He notices her matron of honor, eyeing the spread with guilt, until her hunger gets the better of her and she begins eating as well. Bro jokes that it's too bad they didn't get married in winter that they could cram food into their pockets and sneak it back to Mount Carmel. Berenye smiles at her husband, but inside her mind races. If Bro's willing to joke like that, maybe he's harboring some of the same doubts she is. She knows even a small doubt can be a torment, but her doubts have grown larger and larger. Ever since she witnessed Howe's dark sermon, she wants to talk to Bro about how she feels, but she's not even sure how to start the conversation. Berenye reaches out and takes her new husband's hand. Their marriage has just begun, and already she's pulling at the one thread that could unravel their entire lives. Late that night, Mark Bro gasses adoringly at his new wife. His eyes trace her profile as she stares up at the low ceiling. They've laid out blankets and a tool shed at Mount Carmel. This threadbare space is the best they could manage for a honeymoon suite away from their respective dormitories. Still after years of waiting, Bro feels like their lives have finally been set in motion. If only Berenye's visa weren't expiring again. The thought that they only have another week together has been weighing heavily on him. He wonders if that's why Berenye is so quiet now. Because I don't want you to leave. I know, Mark. I just wish you could come back with me. Yeah, that would be incredible. Berenye turns and fixes her eyes on Bro. Then why don't you? Bro stammeres. A small part of him had hoped she would ask this question. But now he has to answer it. I don't know. His Vernon needs me here. We're building an army. You know, for Berenye cuts him off. Vernon's changed, don't you think? His message is different. It's darker and angrier. I don't doubt that he's the Lamb of God, but after hearing him preach, I'm not sure whether his path is mind to walk. Bro is surprised to find himself nodding in agreement. Yeah, sometimes I ask myself the same thing. But just saying these words aloud, Bro feels his stomach drop. It's like a void is opening up in front of him. He has to take a step back from it. But Liz, let's just forget about it for now. I think about Vernon howl all day, every day. Can it just be the two of us here tonight? Bro is gripped by fear and the darkness of the tool shed. Berenye has given voice to something he's refused to admit even to himself. His steadfast belief in howl's message has started to crack. The thought is terrifying. Losing faith would mean losing everything. His home, his friends, his place at the right hand of Messiah. He prays for reassurance, for something to assuage his doubts. The one thing he knows for certain, whatever path the Lord reveals, he and his wife will travel it together. It's nighttime in July 1989. Mark Bro is in the office at Mount Carmel typing on the computer. He's working on a letter to his mother in Honolulu. But it's hard to know what to write. He's on a knife's edge between saying that everything is normal and that everything has changed. It's been nearly three months since Berenye returned to Australia and the doubts his wife stirred in him have only grown. In the time since, he's snuck off an application to immigrate to Australia. But even if it goes through, Bro is unsure whether he'll act on it. So much depends on Vernon Howell. Just then Bro hears a heavy thud and looks up at the ceiling. Howell's bedroom is just above him. Howell said he was going to pack for the recruiting trip in California, but from the sound of it, he's probably up there cleaning his AR15 rifle, getting ready for the final earthly battle. Bro's size. Berenye is right. Howell's message has grown darker. But Bro also knows that God's word is continuously revealed. Who is he to question where God is leading Howell? Just then Bro hears the office door open. In walks a 13 year old girl. She lives at Mount Carmel with her parents. And Bro is especially fond of the family, in part because they're Australian. Being around them reminds them of his wife. But he wonders, what is their daughter doing here, this late at night? The girl hurries past Bro without acknowledging him. He watches her walk up the stairs that lead to Howell's bedroom. His mind starts racing. Maybe she's just delivering something to Howell, or she's here to tell him something. But Bro is afraid he knows exactly what's happening. He decides to wait in the office until she comes back down. Bro starts playing a computer game, hoping to distract himself. He knows that Howell's marriage to his wife Rachel was legal, even though at the time she was 14 years old. Her parents have given their consent. But since then Howell has taken many others he calls wives. Most are of legal age, but some are not. Even Rachel's younger sister was given to the Messiah. She gave birth to one of Howell's children, when she was only 14. It's all part of the vision that Howell says he received in Israel. The revelation that he should have children for the Lord. Bro has accepted this as truth. After all, the Bible is full of young wives and mothers, and it doesn't condemn polygamy outright. So long as Bro has had complete faith, Howell's behavior has made perfect sense. But maybe Bro does not have complete faith. What if Howell isn't God's representative on earth? That would change everything. If Howell is no longer a Messiah fulfilling biblical prophecies, he's a man fulfilling his sinful desires. Bro is drifting into a troubled sleep when he hears the girl's footsteps. It's five in the morning. He sees the girl stop at the bottom of the stairs looking startled to see him awake. Bro begins to speak, but the girl scurries away. Bro walks to the door and watches her move quickly across the yard to the house where she lives with her parents. His mouth is dry. In a sense of guilt rises up to his parts throat. If Howell is hiding behind false prophecies, then this child isn't a vessel of the Lord. She's a victim. Bro knows that the laws of Texas are clear on the matter. Each one of the miners is a case of statutory rape. With the ones who are under 14, it's a felony. Bro closes his eyes and prays for God's guidance, asking one question. And he continues to follow the Messiah, or should he use what he knows to destroy Vernon Howell. It's August 1989 in Pomona, California. Mark Bro sits on a couch paging through his Bible. He's in the branch Davidians house, but at the moment he's only pretending to read. He can't concentrate. These terrible doubts that took Ruth and Texas have festered here in California. Bro has had no choice but to join this recruiting trip, but deep down, he's also hoped that spreading the word of God would restore his shattered faith. Instead, it's left in feeling like a hypocrite. At this point, Bro is almost certain that he'll abandon Vernon Howell. He can't stand to be Howell's accomplice any longer. But can he really walk away from everything he's given his life to? If he's wrong to doubt Howell, how will he be punished for turning against the Son of God? Bro has been watching his leader closely ever since that night in the office, and Howell has been unusually silent recently, a rarity for him. Bro wonders of Howell can sense his doubts. Maybe God has given the prophet a window into the mind of his most trusted disciple? Bro looks at the other followers, waiting expectantly in the living room. He hopes Howell won't hold a Bible study today. He's not sure he can take it. But it's Saturday, the Sabbath, so there's almost sure to be a study, and probably a long one. Howell emerges from his room at 1 p.m., he always sleeps late, and he says a study will begin soon. Bro watches as the 13 year old Australian girl peeks her head out of the bedroom. He feels shaky and sick. Howell's sinful acts have continued, and Bro has done nothing to stop them. Bro scoots to the far edge of the couch, as people gather for the Bible study. Howell walks to the front of the room, where he's surrounded by followers. They're seated on couches and sitting cross luggage on the floor. Bro wishes he could flee. He looks to the door, but then Howell begins speaking. The book of Matthew says that we should be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect. Can any of you meet that standard? Bro sees everyone waiting anxiously for Howell's next words. He imagines that they're all hoping for the Messiah's approval, as Bro once did. But instead Howell begins to berate them. If God were to judge you according to that scripture, none of you would stand at chance. God would shake out most of you. You'll be rotting fruit falling from the tree. Howell casts an angry look around the room, and stops to stare directly at Bro. You claim to be led by the Spirit, when you're actually led by the devil. Bro feels a rising panic. Does Howell know that he's going to leave? But suddenly Howell shifts his attention. He turns to Steve Schneider. Steve, why did you marry Judy? Schneider turns and looks at his wife. Because I love her. No Steve. You married her because you had a feeling between your legs, and you wanted to satisfy it. You had lust in your heart. You didn't really love your wife, did you? Bro sees Steve and Judy's faces turn ashen. They're one of the most loving couples he's ever known. He wants his marriage to be like fairs, but he can only imagine their pain and confusion now. All of you husbands in this room. You loved your wives the way the world feels love. Now it's time to love them the way God did that I am the inheritor of all things. You all married my wives. God gave them to me first, so now I am taking them back. Bro thinks of Baronye. She's far away in Australia, but that doesn't mean Howell can't get to her. His heart starts pounding. He has to say something. Vernon, stop this. What's your teaching is adultery. Howell's eyes are full of rage. How dare you? How dare you accuse me? How dare you try to deny God his righteous children? You're destroying lies, Vernon. How can that be the will of God? The entire room falls silent. Bro's heart is slamming in his ears. Now that he's openly defied Howell, he knows that he has lost all connection to his behavior. He's given everything for his salvation and now it slipped through his grasp. Bro cries out in rage and despair. Howell stares at him in a alarm. So does everyone else in the room. Bro shuts his eyes and imagines himself alone on a patch of earth surrounded by the fires of Hell. But when he opens his eyes again, he realizes he doesn't care anymore. He's finished with this false Messiah. He will never again serve Vernon Howell. It's January 1990. A cold rain falls at Mount Carmel, darkening the earth. Judy Schneider walks out of the home she used to share with her husband Steve. She's hoping she'll find Vernon Howell alone today. She is something important to tell him. Howell is her new spiritual husband and he's just announced a new name. It's David Kuresh. Judy has no trouble with the change. The new name fits the Messiah better than the old one she thinks. David, for the King of the New Kingdom and Kuresh is Hebrew for Cyrus. The King who will overthrow Babylon and restore God's chosen people. Judy now feels more a part of that mission than she's ever been before. Judy approaches Kuresh's bedroom, knocks on the door. Kuresh opens it right away. He is a haunted look in his eyes. It's the same look he's had since Mark Bro left the flock. When they were all in California, Bro had said he was packing his bag to return to Mount Carmel. But he never showed up. In the first few days, Kuresh stood watching the main road, waiting impatiently. Then the painful truth seemed to set in. Kuresh seemed to know that his most trusted disciple was never coming back. That's when the shouting and tirades began. Eventually he settled into a tired misery. Judy steps into Kuresh's living room and the two sit down together. Kuresh immediately launches into his lament. She's heard it a dozen times. He blames Elizabeth Berenye for the loss of his closest disciple. He says that Bro couldn't accept the Lord's truth, and he loved his wife more than he loved God's wisdom. He couldn't accept the Lord's truth that all the group's women should become the Messiah's wives, and that they should bear his children. Judy and Steve faced a similar struggle, but ultimately Steve was willing to give her up. He loved her so much he wanted her to be closer to God. It was a painful moment. They've been trying to have children for over ten years of marriage. Now they knew they never could. Judy tries to cheer up Kuresh. She tells him that she has some good news. She's pregnant with one of his children, one of God's children. Kuresh tells her that's wonderful news. The best news he's had in a while. Judy beams, and she hopes that once this new baby arrives, the Messiah will forget all about the betrayal of Mark Bro. Just later that month on the outskirts of Melbourne, Australia, Mark Bro. Surveys the faces of a dozen branched obedience who have gathered before him in a simple suburban living room. A couple in their 70s sits upright on chairs brought in from the kitchen, a young mother bounces a baby on her lap. Bro was hoping for a larger crowd, but this is a start. Bro stands at the front of the room, clutching his Bible. He knows the book by heart. Bro looks over at Barron Y. who gives him an encouraging smile. He and his wife have come up with an audacious plan. Bro will style himself as the new prophet of the branched obedience. He will preach his truth to the people, and that truth will topple Verna and Howe. It will topple David Kuresh. Taking a breath, Bro starts in on a sermon. He announces the vision he's received from God. David Kuresh is a false Messiah. The room buzzes with confusion. But as he describes their leader's sin and hypocrisy, he can feel the people's shock turning to anger. Bro continues, and the anger in the room grows. It's thrilling. He knows by the end of this meeting, he will have his rival flock. Kuresh has long prophesized a battle against earthly powers. Bro has decided he'll help bring about this vision. He and his new followers will gather proof of Kuresh's crimes and they'll give this evidence over to the authorities. If Kuresh wants a battle with the forces of Babylon, that is exactly what he'll get. From Wondry, this is episode 2 of Waco from American Scandal. In our next episode, a suspicious package sets off a federal investigation into Mount Carmel, and has the accusations against him mount David Kuresh prepares his followers for a battle with the US government. If you like our show, please give us a 5 star rating and leave a review and be sure to tell your friends. I also have two other podcasts you might like, American History Tellers and Business Movers. Follow on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, or wherever you're listening right now. Or you can listen to new episodes early and ad free by subscribing to Wondry Plus in Apple Podcasts or in the Wondry app. You'll also find some links and offers from our sponsors in the episode notes. Supporting them helps us keep offering our shows for free. Another way you can support this show is by filling out a small survey at Wondry.com slash survey to tell us what topics we might come next. You can also find us and me on Twitter. Follow me at Lindsay A Graham, Lindsay with an A, Middle Initially, and thank you. If you'd like to learn more about Waco, we recommend the books Inside the Cult by Mark Bro and Martin King and the Branch Davidians of Waco by Kenneth GC Newport. This episode contains reenactments and traumatized details. And while in most cases we can't know exactly what was said, all our dramatizations are based on historical research. American scandal is hosted, edited, and executed produced by me, Lindsay Graham for Aresha, audio editing by Molly Bach, sound design by Derek Barons, music by Lindsay Graham. This episode is written by Michael Canyon Meyer, edited by Christina Malsberg. Our senior producer is Gabe Riven, executive producers, our Stephanie Gens, Jenny Lauer Beckman, and Marsha Louis for Wondry.