Baylor professor interviews ‘Waco Rising’ author on eve of siege’s 30th anniversary

Professor Robert Darden and author Kevin Cook engaged in a conversation about the Waco Siege on the eve of the 30th anniversary. Grace Everett | Photographer

By Raylee Foster | Staff Writer

Fabled Bookshop and Cafe hosted an interview by Baylor professor Robert Darden Tuesday night with author Kevin Cook to discuss Cook’s recent published book, “Waco Rising.”

Wednesday marks the 30th anniversary of the Waco Siege. Cook said although the incident may have left a dark mark on Waco, Baylor has brought a beacon of light to the area.

The Branch Davidian was a religious cult founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden; by 1983, David Koresh had split from the group and created his own sect in which he preached that he was the Messiah. On Feb. 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve a search warrant for Koresh as a result of firearm concerns. A 51-day standoff began between the Branch Davidians and federal agents that ended in a siege that resulted in 76 deaths and burned its memory into history.

In his interview, Cook said Waco has become a word known to militia members across the country, and that many people have not lost sight of the incident and its attachment to the town. He believes, however, the incident had nothing inherently significant tying it to Waco.

“For the most part, what happened could have happened anywhere — that people fall in line behind the wrong leader — and that means anywhere,” Cook said. “But I do wonder whether it seems like a civic black mark, or as I see it, a fascinating thing to learn more about.”

Kimberly Mencken, senior lecturer of economics, said when she and her husband were given the opportunity to work at the university nine years after the incident, she remembered a letter she received from the university that ended with, “give us a chance to change your mind about Waco.”

Mencken said when the university had reached out, she thought of Waco as Baylor, but many family members of hers living in Texas recognized the town from the siege.

“My whole family is [in Texas], so when Baylor came knocking, we were thinking more in terms of Baylor as an ‘excellent university,’ and not really the Branch Davidian connection until we got that letter,” Mencken said. “Even my family that lived in Texas said, ‘You’re really going to live in that place with all those religious ‘Wackos?’”

Cook said resources like the Texas Collection and Archives, as well as Baylor faculty and staff’s hospitality, were a great contributing factor to his ability in understanding the truth.

“I am eternally grateful for understanding far more than I would have otherwise and I think that one thing — if to the degree that there is a black mark on the map ten miles away historically — there is a beacon in the university that is in this town that comes out of religious tradition and is devoted to the progress of illumination,” Cook said.

After the event, Cook said his intentions in writing “Waco Rising” were to present an account that lacked bias and conspiracy, but depicted the tragedy with empathy and honesty. With providing a more versatile perspective to the siege, he said he wants readers to walk away seeing the situation’s complexities.

“I hope that it will be a good option in trying to present the full humanity of the people involved, that this wasn’t a bunch of crazy fanatics,” Cook said. “My hope is that in any work like this, that it becomes more complex to readers rather than less so, when they get done with this book.”

Dr. Bill Pitts, retired Baylor professor who Cook said was helpful to him through his data collection process, attended the event. Pitts said Cook’s book offered a thorough report on the incident and it was a result of hard work and time.

“It was very fair, I thought it was based on very good research, I was really impressed with all the time he spent listening to the tapes, which as he says are online, and the way that he used those to fill in the full story as he perceived it,” Pitts said. “There’s just a sense of fairness and balance and really hard work that he put into it.”

During his interview, Cook said a lesson from the 1993 siege that is still applicable to modern times is that violence should be a last resort.

“It seems to me that if there is a lesson in what happened here in 1993,” Cook said. “It’s that violence has to be the last resort, and we’ve got to find a way in this utterly polarized political time in this country to be able to talk, to be able to compromise and not to vilify the opposite side.”

The Branch Davidian site is currently a church site run by Davidian follower Charles Pace and his wife Alexa. Many beliefs have changed since the leadership of Koresh.