20 years later: Remembering Branch Davidian siege – Waco still in spotlight from siege
Today marks the 20th anniversary of the Waco siege, a 51-day standoff at Mount Carmel Center near Waco, involving government agents and the Branch Davidians, a religious group led by David Koresh (born Vernon Howell).
Twenty years later, the events of the siege are still remembered.
“It is considered a bizarre footnote in American history,” said local CBS affiliate KWTX-TV managing editor and Baylor part-time lecturer Rick Bradfield.
It began on the Sunday morning of Feb. 28, 1993, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve Koresh a search warrant based on grounds that the group had an illegal possession of firearms and explosives.
Not long after the ATF arrived at the compound, gunfire occurred.
“There is a dispute about who fired first,” Bradfield said.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation quickly became involved in order to resolve the conflict.
The siege gained attention from all over the world. Over the course of 51 days, at least 1,000 reporters and photographers were stationed all around the Mt. Carmel neighborhood covering the siege, according to Bradfield.
The area was referred to as “Satellite City,” Bradfield said.
On the morning of April 19, 1993, the siege came to an end when the building on the compound caught fire. This led to the deaths of about 80 Branch Davidians, including Koresh.
Since then, Waco is often only thought of in relation to the siege.
“Waco became synonymous with excessive government power,” Bradfield said.
Robert Darden, an associate professor in the journalism, public relations and new media department at Baylor, shared his frustrations about this perception of Waco.
“They use the word Waco as a verb. I’m not sure that’s fair,” Darden said.
Darden, who co-wrote a book about the siege titled “Mad Man in Waco,” was in Waco at the time of the siege and interviewed Davidians, FBI agents and victims. Darden said he is upset at how people mention the siege when referring to the subject of gun control.
“For Waco to become an example of how the government should take away our guns is by people with an agenda and do not have a really good background of what happened that day,” Darden said.
Darden, who has actually spoken to members of the Davidians who live in Waco and don’t have a connection to the events that surrounded the siege, said members of the group don’t like how their religion was negatively publicized in the media.
“I know that some of the Davidians and the Branch Davidians I’ve talked to years ago resent the fact that all of this attention was on Koresh,” Darden said.
The group is still upset about the siege and the effect it has had on how other people view their religion.
“They don’t want anything to do with what happened to Koresh or be related to that,” Darden said.
Regardless, businesses saw Waco as an economic opportunity, and Waco experienced a burst of commercial growth. Bradfield said chain stores now had a chance to expand their market. Even years after the siege took place, members of the community avoid talking about it.
“We have struggled to find people who are willing to talk about the effect this had on Waco,” Bradfield said, “but there have been television specials and documentaries in recent years that recount the Waco Siege.”
Darden said the city of Waco hasn’t tried to do anything to remember the siege.
“Waco hasn’t tried to capitalize on this,” Darden said, “If you want to get directions on how to get out there (Mt. Carmel Center), you’re not going to find them at the tourist information office.”
However, Bradfield said he believes Waco should try to shed light on the siege in an honest way.
“There should be a museum to put the event into American historical context,” Bradfield said.