FGCU professor says Branch Davidian leader stole ideology from Estero cult

Reporter: Corey Lazar Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:

A Florida Gulf Coast University professor is using her research on the Koreshans, who gave the state park in Estero its name, to draw a connection between that group and the Branch Davidians of Waco, Texas.

You may have driven past Koreshan State Park in Estero without thinking much about it. The people who used to live there were part of a religious group that followed a man named Cyrus Teed. The Koreshans Unity cult had a unique set of beliefs: celibacy, equality—since they held that God was both man and woman—and working toward immortality.

The Koreshans settled in Estero and tried to build a utopian community.

Lyn Milner is an FGCU professor with a special interest in the Koreshans. She wrote a comprehensive book on the group called “The Lure of Immortality.” Her research is helping to draw a connection linking the Koreshans to the infamous Branch Davidians.

“You know, Cyrus Teed was sort of a hapless fellow,” Milner said. “Right here, we have this little piece of local history, which is interesting, right? And suddenly, it is of national or international importance, you know, which… it would be humorous if it weren’t heartbreaking.”

Teed also believed we live in the center of the Earth, since the globe was concave, with the universe on the inside.

Koreshan State Historic Site. Credit: WINK News

The Koreshans built their Estero compound in 1894. Eleven buildings are still there at the park. After Teed died, his followers wrote a book about their beliefs.

Milner now believes that the book is a smoking gun linking the Koreshans to the Branch Davidians led by David Koresh.

“The FBI negotiators said to David Koresh, ‘Hey, there’s this book here that parallels a lot of your theology,'” Milner said. “‘And, if we didn’t know any better, there’s some copyright infringement going on here.'”

2023 marks 30 years since the devastating FBI siege at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco ended with cult members dying for their beliefs. Would all that have happened if they knew their ideology was stolen from the Koreshans?

“I had been frustrated for years,” Milner said. “Both [Teed and Koresh] believe they were the modern-day incarnation of Cyrus, the king of Persia, and that they had been sent to free people from Babylon… and Babylon stood for government or for any force that they perceived as evil.”

In 1993, the FBI raided the Branch Davidian compound. Inside, 130 of David Koresh’s followers refused to leave. The 51-day standoff killed 75 people, including some of the Branch Davidians’ children and FBI agents.

But Milner believes more lives could have been saved if Branch Davidians knew their ideology was taken from the Koreshan Unity cult.

“Especially had the leaders… I think it’s most likely that [Koresh’s] right-hand man would have been the first, and when a leader leaves, it’s more likely that there’ll be a domino effect,” Milner said.

Milner partnered with Jeff Guinn, who wrote his own book about the Waco standoff. Together, they made a discovery.

“The whole thing was a surprise to me, I have to tell you,” Guinn said.

Guinn came across the little book written by followers of Cyrus Teed about their beliefs.

“He was the Lamb of the Book of Revelation,” Guinn said. “He was going to open the seven seals of the Great Book. And he was going to bring about this final clash between the true followers of Christ and Babylon, the American government, to usher in the new kingdom of God after Armageddon. That struck me as fascinating because this is the exact same thing David Koresh is proclaiming almost a century later in Waco.”

Both Guinn and Milner believe it’s possible the early leader of the Branch Davidians picked up that book in the Waco library and modeled his beliefs after Koreshan Unity and Cyrus Teed in Estero, then passed those beliefs to David Koresh and his followers.

The group was preparing for the end of days, and they believed they had to fight through the siege in Waco in the way the Book of Revelation said they must. But if they knew their beliefs were stolen from someone else, would they have left the compound before the building burst into flames and killed them?

“This book makes it so obvious that David Koresh wasn’t original,” Guinn said. “No, some of them certainly would have stayed with them, believing in him no matter what. But surely at least a few of them would have said, ‘No, wait a minute, this calls everything into doubt.'”

Both authors believe this new revelation trickles down to our everyday lives. They say if we can look at the whole, accurate story behind historical events, we can make better decisions and move forward as a nation.

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