As an out-of-state student at Baylor, I certainly had to adapt to an unfamiliar cultural setting when I moved to Waco. ‘The Branch Davidians’ and ‘David Koresh’ were names that I had heard in passing conversation, but I had never taken the time to truly understand the story behind the names.
ABC first aired their documentary “Truth and Lies: Waco” on Jan. 4 of this year, which included a cross-section of sources and contributors from the Branch Davidians and members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. ABC successfully interviewed members of multiple parties involved in the standoff, giving its audience a balanced account of the story and allowing the viewer to feel as if they were in Waco at the time of the siege.
The producers of the ABC documentary compiled interviews and video segments of Koresh from varying viewpoints, which helped to portray Koresh from both sides of the same story. The documentary included both positive and disturbing footage of Koresh, which suggested that the angle of the documentary was accurate rather than slanted.
David Koresh physically abused the young Branch Davidian members, forcing them to be completely obedient to adult members. Similarly, he instilled an obedience in the adults toward himself. This created a hierarchy of command that fully relied on Koresh’s leadership position. This factor was one of the two reasons that led to the attention from law enforcement and the media — the other, that a UPS delivery man found grenades in a box heading for Mount Caramel.
Koresh had forewarned his followers of the events that would ensue (he expected the siege to occur), and trained them accordingly so that escape would not be considered an option by the members. The ATF was focused on preventing illegal activities from occurring, while the Branch Davidians felt that an oppressive government was the enemy. Koresh intentionally enforced this notion within the minds of his followers.
Former members of the Branch Davidians were interviewed throughout the documentary, and responses were two-sided. Some members mourned his loss and still believed in the work that he did, while others admitted that he did not always make the correct decisions and took the word of God out of context, yet they still expressed a sense of respect for him.
Members of the ATF raiding party were more unanimous in their feelings toward Koresh. Many of them also agreed upon the fact that a lack of preparation and mishandling of raiding tactics sent the standoff to fatal depths, amounting to 84 total deaths in the initial raid and the fire.
Overall, the documentary did a phenomenal job of portraying the growth of the Branch Davidians members’ dedication to their leader over time. David Koresh had convinced his followers that, beyond being a mere religious figure, he was worth dying for.
Cults are successful when reality and logic can be stripped form an individual or a group, to the point that their moral compass eventually reflects that of their leader’s. Koresh recruited lost souls looking for a purpose. A number of former members claimed that Koresh studied the Bible so intensely that he was able to say the right things to convince more followers to join him. This documentary not only featured the view points of multiple parties, but also explored the flaws of both the government and the Branch Divisions during the famous standoff. “Truth and Lies: Waco” invited viewers into the world of a man who convinced himself and 75 others that he was the Messiah, all the white portraying him as a human being.