What is Waco American Apocalypse about? Netflix documentary explained

Cameron Frew
Stills from Waco American Apocalypse

Waco: American Apocalypse, a new documentary series about the infamous Waco siege and cult leader David Koresh, has dropped on Netflix – here’s what you need to know.

“It was a bunch of people you could tell really loved each other,” former Waco resident and lieutenant Kathy Schroeder says at the beginning of the documentary.

However, their affection and devotion towards one another and their cult leader led to the biggest gunfight on American soil since the Civil War.

This is the true story of Waco: American Apocalypse, a new three-part docuseries that’s streaming on Netflix now – here’s what you need to know.

What is Waco American Apocalypse about?

Waco: American Apocalypse is said to be the “definitive account of what happened in Waco, Texas in 1993 when cult leader David Koresh faced off against the federal government in a bloody 51-day siege.”

“The conflict began with the biggest gunfight on American soil since the Civil War and ended with a fiery inferno captured live on national television. In between, it riveted TV viewers across the globe, becoming the biggest news story in the world,” the synopsis adds.

The documentary series has been released to mark the 30th anniversary of the “Waco massacre”, featuring interviews with one of David Koresh’s spiritual wives, the last child released from the compound alive, a sniper from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit Chief, journalists who who covered the story, and members of ATF tactical team who lost friends and colleagues in the firefight.

It’s directed by Tiller Russell, the filmmaker behind Netflix’s Night Stalker docuseries, and features never-before-seen footage of the siege and FBI recordings.

Who is David Koresh?

David Koresh, born Vernon Wayne Howell, was the former cult leader of the Branch Davidians. He died in the Waco siege, although it’s unclear if he was killed or if he took his own life.

He was born in Houston, Texas, in 1959. After having an illegal relationship with a 15-year-old girl who fell pregnant, he claimed to have become a born-again Christian and joined his mother’s church: the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

He was expelled from the congregation after believing God had given him a sign that the pastor’s daughter should be his wife. In 1981, he moved to Waco and joined the Branch Dividians, a religious sect that readily prepared for the apocalypse and the second coming of Jesus Christ.

David Koresh

The group had been created by Benjamin Roden after the death of the founder of the original Davidians, Victor Houteff. Following Roden’s death, Koresh had a relationship with his widow Lois and competed with his son George. The group split into two, with Koresh taking his followers to eastern Texas before returning heavily armed in 1987. While Roden was shot in the takeover, he survived.

Not only did Koresh claim to be the messiah and say he’d been told to assemble an “Army of God”, but he ordered that other men in the sect remain celibate while he took wives of all ages, including many children.

In an earlier interview with ABC News, one ex-member of the cult said: “He believed he was King David… his message changed over the years because he was always looking for the next big thing to teach that would shock people into listening to him.

“It was important for David Koresh to isolate the group from the world because the world is an influence that is constantly pulling and distracting you from the message.”

What was the Waco siege?

Amid reports of child abuse, rape, and the Branch Dividians stockpiling illegal weapons, authorities secured a warrant for a raid on the group’s Mount Carmel compound.

The SWAT team arrived at 9:45am on February 28, 1993. It’s unclear who shot first, but six of Koresh’s followers and four ATF agents were killed in the first firefight. This would be the first of many losses across the 51-day standoff, with more than 1,000 law enforcement officials eventually surrounding the compound.

While the FBI managed to negotiate with Koresh for the safe release of children and other members, the leader soon refused to cooperate. A tear gas attack was launched on the compound, before a large fire engulfed the center and brought the siege to an end.

How many people died in the Waco siege?

A total of 86 people died in the Waco siege.

Four ATF agents lost their lives alongside 82 members of the Branch Davidians, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself.

FBI Agent Bob Ricks earlier told the Dallas Morning News that he believes Koresh’s right-hand man Steve Schneider killed him after realizing “he was dealing with a fraud.”

“After he had caused so much harm and destruction, he probably now wanted to come out, and Mr. Schneider could not tolerate the situation,” he added.

Waco: American Apocalypse is streaming on Netflix now.

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