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Is Waco Based On a True Story?

April 20, 2020
4 min read

‘Waco’ is a six-episode long mini-series created by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle. Starring Taylor Kitsch, Julia Garner, Michael Shannon, and John Leguizamo, the plot delves deep into the horrors of a 51-day standoff between a religious group and the FBI. In the mix of false prophets and false legacies, the series highlights the problematics of brainwashed religious cults through one specific example.  The plot divides its screen time between the happenings in the cult and the leading investigation regarding it as it unfolds in the FBI. This is soon followed by the siege that becomes the central event for the rest of the series.

Is Waco Based On a True Story?

Yes, ‘Waco’ is based on a real-life event that saw itself unveil in 1993. However, it is important to remember that the series is a dramatized version of the real events. The true story behind the siege began when David Koresh took over as the spiritual leader of Branch Davidians.

Branch Davidians and David Koresh

Branch Davidians’ philosophy borrows from Seventh Day Adventist Church, established by Victor Houteff. In his book, ‘Shepherd’s Rod,’ he dictated certain tracts that would form the community’s central beliefs. Facing rejection of many of his ideas, he moved to Waco in Texas along with his followers. The core belief of the community is etched in the second coming of Jesus. In 1962, Ben Roden continued to lead the community. He stated that the second coming of Jesus would be imminent once they transcended morality in its highest sense. After Roden’s death, his wife Lois and son joined hands with a convert named Vernon Howell.

Howell, however, took charge of the community post the death of Lois and asserted himself as the spiritual head and authority of the community. He also changed his name as part of this process to David Koresh. The name was a decisive attempt to dictate authority as David was a reference to King David and Koresh, to that of the divine messenger, almost like a messiah.

Koresh was largely focused on interpreting the seven seals from the Revelation in the Bible. He was able to convert many to this faith and was vocal about the end of the world. The community lived in a secluded space near Waco. They barely kept in touch with the outside world apart from the bare minimum. In any case, the issues within the community began to erupt as news regarding certain practices of the spiritual leader came to light. Koresh was known to take ‘spiritual wives’ who were mere teenagers. This practice came to light as one of the ex-members went to court to take possession of his daughter’s custody. The fuel to the fire was added as news regarding him conducting a retail gun business also drifted to the officials. In 1993, ATF obtained a search warrant to raid the community site.

1993 Waco Standoff

Susan Weems/ Associated Press

In 1993, the ATF wanted to place Koresh under arrest as they had sufficient evidence to prove that he had illegal firearms in his possession and was sexually abusing minors in the compound. Several federal agents and Branch Dravidians were killed in the siege. Following this, the FBI managed to intervene and get many children to be released from the camp. It was later learned that these minors had all been subject to much sexual abuse within the camp. The standoff commenced for 51 days until the FBI went all in as the community failed to comply with constant negotiations. They used tear gas to disarm the members inside. In the end, over 76 people lost their lives. Koresh died in the siege. There have been various debates on the fire that was started in the compound as well. In any case, the violent event became etched in history for its horrific details.

The series tries to weave in the intricacies of this real event while also highlighting central characters like David Koresh. The dramatic pitch serves as means to re-investigate the events through the lens of its followers, understanding their anguish, and the predicament of the FBI. The facts that are known to us are presented with a narrative edge to make it more plausible as a set of events that have more depth and background. As any such series go, it provides perspectives from both ends, forcing its viewers to think than merely stick with the facts. 

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