If you asked the Branch Davidians, David Koresh was basically the messiah.
"They believed that David Koresh was the key to their eternal salvation," we hear in the Waco: American Apocalypse trailer.
The latest true crime on Netflix documentary is a three-part series focusing on the 51-day siege in Texas between Koresh's followers (the Branch Davidians), and federal and state law enforcement officials back in the early 1990s.
Unlike other documentaries and shows about cults, Tiller Russell's project specifically focuses on the tragedy itself rather than the man responsible for it, so let's dive into what we know about the controversial leader.
Who is David Koresh from 'Waco: American Apocalypse'?
Born Vernon Wayne Howell in Houston, Texas, David Koresh was raised by his grandparents and considered an outcast growing up, according to a PBS biography. He had been attracted to music and religion and began to follow his mother's faith, the Church of Seventh-Day Adventists, as he got older but he was ultimately expelled from the religious group for his poor behavior.
After a brief stint in Hollywood, where he was attempting to create a music career for himself, Howell ventured to Waco, Texas and joined the Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic new religious movement that regarded itself as an offshoot of Seventh-Day Adventists. There, he engaged with a prophetess, Lois Roden, over 30 years his senior. After Lori's passing, Vernon and her son, George, fought for control over the group and he even killed George in 1987 with a handful of "followers," a crime for which he was acquitted.
Shortly thereafter, Howell took control over the Branch Davidians and assumed a new name, David Koresh, as he considered himself to be the new head of the Biblical House of David. During his reign, Koresh convinced his followers about the lord's apocalyptic return and had multiple underage wives, similar to Warren Jeffs from the FLDS, which was the subject of a documentary on Netflix in 2022.
According to Kathy Schroeder, one of the most notorious surviving members of the Branch Davidians, all of David's practices were seen as normal by the group.
"People think that a man having sex with a bunch of underaged girls is a crime,” Schroeder says in the documentary. “And in conventional wisdom, this could probably be very well true. However, these weren’t underaged girls because you come of age at 12. All these girls were adults in our belief system.”
The month-and-a-half-long siege at the Branch Davidians' base, the Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas, began when US officials served a search warrant for machine guns against Koresh on February 28, 1993. By March 7, 1993, Koresh revealed that he and his followers were "ready for war,” according to Netflix Tudum.
Considered the deadliest government-led assault in the country since the 1890 massacre at Wounded Knee, the Waco Massacre took the lives of more than 80 Branch Davidians, including 28 children.
How did David Koresh die?
David Koresh died of a gunshot wound to the head at the age of 33 years old on
April 19, 1993, just as the Mount Caramel compound was set ablaze during the Waco Siege. However, it's not known whether he died at the hands of someone else or attempted to kill himself.
Do the Branch Davidians still exist?
Yes, the Branch Davidians do still exist today, though several present-day groups claim association with the original cult.
Per the History Channel's findings, Clive Doyle—a member of the Branch Davidians who was not imprisoned following the Waco Siege—was the lay preacher of the sect, but that changed in 2003 when Charles Pace came into the picture. According to Newsweek, the group's survivors created a new branch of the cult, called The Lord Our Righteousness, which Pace led. The original group has a small presence, allegedly, and Kathy Schroeder likely would've been one of them if her children's lives weren't put in jeopardy back in 1993.
"I know that what I learned there and what I believed in was right for me," Schroeder said in a YouTube video. "Even to this day, if the raid had not happened, and we were all still alive, I would still be there."
Watch the 'Waco: American Apocalypse' trailer:
Waco: American Massacre is available on Netflix. Have a look at other best true crime documentaries currently streaming.
Need a TV show recommendation? Maybe a few decor tips? Danielle, a digital news writer at Future, has you covered. Her work appears throughout the company’s lifestyle brands, including My Imperfect Life, Real Homes, and woman&home. Mainly, her time is spent at My Imperfect Life, where she’s attuned to the latest entertainment trends and dating advice for Gen Z.
Before her time at Future, Danielle was the editor of Time Out New York Kids, where she got to experience the best of the city from the point of view of its littlest residents. Before that, she was a news editor at Elite Daily. Her work has also appeared in Domino, Chowhound, and amNewYork, to name a few.
When Danielle’s not writing, you can find her testing out a new recipe, reading a book (suggestions always welcome), or rearranging the furniture in her apartment…again.
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