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Branch Davidians: Thinking About the Followers A Harvard-Trained Lawyer, Not a Mindless 'Fanatic'

Many who witnessed the climactic events in Waco think that all of the Branch Davidians were senseless "religious fanatics."

I knew and corresponded with one who has been described as "second or third in command" of the group. His mannerisms were gentle, and he did not have a mean streak in his body. He was reserved, always polite and never prone to violence.

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Douglas Wayne Martin, the 42-year-old African-American Harvard trained lawyer, who perished on April 19th with three of his six children in the inferno that engulfed his religious group's living quarters ten miles from Waco, Texas, was a respectable and likable man.

The last time that we talked, during a phone conversation two years ago, he said that things were going well for him, his wife, Sheila, and their children in that south Texas town. He enjoyed the practice of law and he had made some friends. His numerous letters to me over the years said the same.

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Our last conversation was not unlike those that we had years earlier when I was a student at the North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham and he was on the law faculty.

He was highly suspicious of the federal government. He often said that government improperly imposed itself in the lives of its citizens. Doug believed that the type of world depicted in George Orwell's "1984" would soon become reality and that all of us would be constantly watched, our movements monitored and recorded.

While Doug had an intense belief in the evil of government, he did not encourage or support the destruction of it. He was neither an anarchist or a revolutionary. He was simply a passive witness who seldom raised his voice beyond a whisper when he made his observations.

He did not attempt to impose his views on others. He was fiercely religious, but he seldom discussed the depth of his faith which was whole and abundant.

And in large measure, his passivity and his meekness led to his undoing. During the eight years that Doug attended law school faculty meetings, he seldom raised objections to policies and practices that were in contravention to his own or to those that may have offended his personal sense of fairness and ethics.

He loved to teach. He respected his students and they were fond of him. They called him "Professor Martin," but he suggested that they call him "Doug." As long as they were not uncomfortable he was not uncomfortable.

During his first year at Central he taught legal methods. The next year the dean brought in another professor to teach the course with him. A highly sensitive man, Doug's heart was bruised. He felt offended. But he kept his peace.

On another occasion, he was unhappy with the professional and personal standards of an faculty member who was hired to assist him in running the law library. He told a few of us, privately, that he did not believe that she was capable or industrious.

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When his assistant was appointed to a senior administrative post at the school he was incensed, But again, Doug, who listened to Bach and Beethoven in his office while eating his bag lunch, said nothing to the dean who made the decision.

He confided to a few of us that he wanted to leave the school. But with six children and a mate who cared for them at home, leaving was not an option that was acceptable. He was trapped and he knew it.

During the time that Doug was at Central, the school of law was experiencing radical shifts in the racial complexion of its student body. While the undergraduate school was 95 percent or more African-American, the law school's student body was approaching 50 percent white. The tenured faculty at the law school was more than 70 percent non-African American.

There were racial tensions between black and white students. And there racial tensions among black and white faculty members.

The vast majority of us in the law school community, students and faculty, were simply unable to see beyond race to humanity.

Doug had mastered that art years ago. And he found our feuding amusing and sad. He pitied us and cautioned us that our racial views had to change or we would destroy ourselves over skin color. And while he understood us we did not understand him nor his prescience.

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He had white friends, black friends, brown friends and yellow friends. He did not tolerate racial prejudice. He believed in racial peace. His views placed him at odds with the legions at the school of law and in the world that surrounded him.

Perhaps, the apparent non-existence of color focus was one of the things that he found appealing about the Branch Davidians.

He believed in being happy. I have vivid memories of attempting to study patent law during my second year of law school,and Doug would pass by my cubicle, a smile on his face,and ask what I was up to.

I thought it should have been obvious to him. What else would I be doing in the library at 1 a.m. " am making an effort to learn this stuff,"I would say, "Learn law but pursue happiness first," he would reply.

I knew that Doug as a Seventh Day Adventist. He seldom talked about it. His faith was private and it was expressed in his living.

His wife, Sheila,learned of the Branch Davidians and became enamored with the group. She wanted the family to leave North Carolina for Texas to join the group.

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Doug, while unhappy with North Carolina for a myriad of reasons, including the state's political climate at the time, was not sold on Texas nor the Davidians.

Members of their church attempted to convince Sheila that it was not wise to travel to a part of the country where they had never been and to become a part of a group that she knew little about.

But she was persistent, and she was unhappy. Doug listened quietly to his wife's opinion. While he did not share in his wife's desire, he loved her and he loved their children. He was not going to see the family dissolve. He decided to move to Texas to keep the family unit together and stable.

A year after his arrival in Texas, I received a letter, informing me that the group that he had joined had split and that a gun battle had preceded it.

He said that he was somewhat confused about the events. For one, Doug was against violence, physical and intellectual. We had never spoke of weapons. He was the type who was fearful of them.

He said that he was somewhat surprised with the friction and its result. But he did not talk of leaving. He thought that things would work themselves out and that there would not be anymore "gun battles" as he described the incident.

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Not too long after the incident I phoned him and he said that he had become a member of the Taxas bar and that he enjoyed practicing law in Waco. He said that he enjoyed his clients and that his family was happier in Texas than it had been in North Carolina.

In later conversations we simply talked about family matters. He talked about penny stocks and computers. He never spoke of David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians.

He talked a little about the types of cases that he handled; divorces and personal injury. He was never interested in exploiting his Harvard law degree and lining his pockets with large sums of money. His faith gave his life meaning, and that was enough for him.

I am not aware of the immediate acts that permitted him to participate in a violent confrontation with federal authorities. I do know that he asked that Sheila and three of their minor children be allowed to leave the compound a month before his death. Their three adult children remained behind with their father.

This much I do know. The Doug that I knew was not a "religious fanatic." He was a decent and honorable family man who loved to laugh and who sought to bring joy to the lives of those he knew.

If he caused any pain, it was without intent. I believe he is in a better place now. One that he was always searching for. And knowing Doug as I did, I am convinced that if he believed that he sinned, his final act was to ask for forgiveness.

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Joseph Green-Bishop is a Baltimore writer.


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