Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau is a book I picked up while waiting for my mom at the library. The Branch Davidian raid in Waco was something that happened when I was still in my 20’s. It was a story that never made a lot of sense to me. The idea that some cult would rather set themselves on fire than face investigators from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) just didn’t make sense. The thought that government law enforcement agents could be anything other than the good guys just didn’t fit my world view. I was young and idealistic.

I had already done a large amount of research on serial killers, psychopaths and cults so was quick to accept the story as told by the media. Did this book change any of those opinions? I am not sure.

As the author, Thibodeau is a survivor of the standoff, his story lends a lot of credibility to the view that Koresh and his followers did not attack the FBI and were instead massacred along with dozens of women and children. He tells the tale not as a radical defender of the Davidians who were murdered by our government, but from a very realistic standpoint. He points out the full-on, bat-shit-crazy activities Vernon Howell (David Koresh’s name before he took on the roll of an anointed one.)

Koresh had all the hallmarks of a psychopathic manipulator. He told his followers that only he could have sex – no other men… it always seems to come down to that with nutjobs. Despite such demands, folks like Thibodeau were drawn into his web. He was that good… okay, not good but good at being bad. Thibodeau also bares all of Koresh’s sordid actions including sex with the underage daughters of families in the sect.

Sordid psychopath stuff aside, the real interesting part of the book are the insights into the raid. I was even a bit bored by the early history of Thibodeau. The build-up to the siege was also pretty standard stuff. The standoff itself however, was fascinating.

Depending on the side your sentiments fall, there is fault to be found with the other side for sure. To my thinking, there is plenty of blame to go around when searching for what went wrong. Killing the cult followers doesn’t serve any purpose… regardless of who is responsible. In the end, they went from a horrible situation to death… not really a great outcome.

by Chris Doelle


Also published on Medium.