Near Waco, a New Fight Over an Old Compound

Waco, USA - A new religious community is rising from the ashes of the Branch Davidian compound here, 14 years after nearly 80 people died in a fire that ended an armed standoff with the federal authorities.

About a dozen believers gather in a chapel each weekend for services led by Charles J. Pace, the leader of The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness. Mr. Pace said he planned to build a museum, a tabernacle, an amphitheater and a wellness center as part of his reorganized sect of the Branch Davidians.

But the few remaining Davidians who once lived at the compound with the religious leader David Koresh oppose the project. They fear that the museum will not accurately depict what happened because Mr. Pace despised Mr. Koresh and was not living in Texas at the time.

“He’ll portray us as deceived and put us down and say David Koresh was the devil,” said Clive Doyle, who survived the fire and moved off the property last year after clashing with Mr. Pace.

On Feb. 28, 1993, the authorities tried to arrest Mr. Koresh for stockpiling guns and explosives. Four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Davidians were killed in an ensuing shootout.

That began a 51-day standoff that ended with an inferno that survivors say was ignited by tear gas fired into the buildings. The government claims the Davidians committed suicide by setting the fire and shooting themselves. A 10-month independent investigation concluded in 2000 that Mr. Koresh was solely to blame.

Mr. Pace left the Branch Davidians in the mid-1980s. He claims that Mr. Koresh twisted the Bible’s teachings by fathering more than a dozen children with members’ wives.

Mr. Pace, 57, returned to the property — owned by the church, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists — in 1994 because “I just felt I needed to be here to represent the true church.” Since then he and his family have lived on its 77 acres.

Visitors still come to the site. But only a few charred remnants of the compound remain. Near a small chapel built a few years later are plaques with names of the Davidians and federal agents who died.

Ray Feight Sr., a contractor who lives at the site and attends its church, said the goal was to change the negative image of the Davidians. “We want the David Koresh thing to be history,” Mr. Feight said.

Mr. Pace estimates that his project will take years — and millions of dollars — to complete, partly because the property lacks running water and a septic system. He said he also wanted to pay tribute to those who died by building a memorial. Jim Vaughan, director of the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce, said raising millions of dollars for a memorial is unlikely without community involvement.

“You have to ask, ‘What is the story that the community would want to tell?’ ” Mr. Vaughan said.