The Real Story Behind the Waco Siege: Who Were David Koresh and the Branch Davidians?

The Real Story Behind the Waco Siege: Who Were David Koresh and the Branch Davidians?
From TIME - January 24, 2018

The standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas, dominated headlines for months. The siege left 75 peopleincluding childrendead and changed the way some Americans felt about the federal government.

On Feb. 28, 1993, federal law enforcement agents came face-to-face with the Branch Davidians, a controversial group whose followers described themselves as students of the Bible, outside the Mount Carmel compound, where about 130 of them lived.

The agents were attempting to arrest leader David Koresh and raid the groups 77-acre complex when they began to exchange heavy gunfire at the site. By the end of the shootout, four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms and six Branch Davidians were dead.

The failed operation then turned into a 51-day standoff. During that time, Koresh and most of his followers had refused to leave the compound, which was surrounded by tanks, armored vehicles and more than 600 federal agents. The standoff ended when a fire engulfed the complex on April 19, 1993. Only nine people inside survived. Critics called what happened a Waco a massacre.

The series of events, which gripped the nation two decades ago, is now the focus of Paramount Networks WACO, a six-part television miniseries that premieres Wednesday.

Heres what to know about the Waco siege.

Who was David Koresh?

David Koresh, born Vernon Howell, was the charismatic leader of the Branch Davidians, taking over control in 1987 after the death of the groups predecessor, according to FBI records. Koresh had extensive knowledge of the Bible, believed he could speak to God and prophesized about the Second Coming of Christ as well as the imminent end of the world. Authorities said he successfully converted more than 100 people and convinced them to live in his secluded compound near Waco after preaching his teachings throughout the U.S., Israel, Australia and Great Britain. Koresh was considered a highly controversial figurenot least because he used his position in the group to have sex with multiple wives, including, according to the FBI, girls as young as 10.

What started the Waco standoff?

Federal authorities had evidence to suggest Koresh was collecting a cache of weapons inside the Mount Carmel complex. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms believed the community had nearly 250 weapons, including semi-automatic rifles, assault rifles, shotguns, revolvers, pistols and hundreds of grenades, records show.

The ATF wanted to arrest Koresh for unlawful possession of a destructive device and search the 77-acre compound. Officials said the Branch Davidians opened fire on the ATF agents firsta claim which surviving members of the religious community deny to this day. When the gunfight ended, there were 10 total casualties in total. The remaining 62 adults and 21 children, who refused to leave the Mount Carmel compound, then began their standoff with the government.

How did the Waco standoff end?

Who started the fire?


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