Review: 'Waco: A Survivor's Story' is a fascinating look at cult leader

 

David Thibodeau was one of the few survivors of the raid on the Brand Davidian community in Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. He is one of even fewer who were not arrested in the aftermath of the confrontation. As the 25th anniversary of the lengthy standoff approaches, Thibodeau’s book, “Waco: A Survivor’s Story” (originally published as “A Place Called Waco”) has been updated, revised and rereleased. A six-part mini-series based on the book will air Jan. 18 on the Paramount Network.

Thibodeau takes readers into the community headed by David Koresh, a man who believed he had special understanding of the Bible and was confident the end of the world was in the offing. Thibodeau presents Koresh as an ordinary guy with extraordinary insight and an unshakable belief in his divine mission.

Understandably, Thibodeau has a much dimmer view of law enforcement, including the FBI and ATF. He describes ham-handed efforts at surveillance, an inconsistent approach to negotiating, sketchy paperwork to justify violence, and, of course, the violence itself — both at the beginning and end of a siege that lasted from late February until the fateful day in April.

In the main text, Thibodeau is perhaps too lenient in his examination of Koresh, especially when considering the leader’s “New Light” doctrine that prohibited the men in the community from engaging in sexual activity while Koresh claimed all the women — including many in their teens — for himself. In a new afterward, he addresses this, acknowledging the immorality of the New Light doctrine. He also makes it clear that he condemns Koresh for not sending the children out of his compound before the final assault and conflagration.

Thibodeau was aided by Leon Whiteson in the composition of the original text, and at times, the resulting prose is sometimes dry and the dialogue is often stilted. Nevertheless, “Waco: A Survivor’s Story” is a fascinating look at a community that was brutally (and needlessly) destroyed for the sins — both real and imagined — of its leader.

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