Published by Hachette Books on December 31st 1969
Genres: Biography & Autobiography
Source: Audiobook provided by Libro.fm
To commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the FBI's siege at Waco compound and a tie-in to the Spike TV mini-series comes an updated reissue of the critically acclaimed A Place Called Waco by Branch Davidian survivor David Thibodeau, now titled Waco: A Survivor's Story.For the first time ever, a survivor of the Waco massacre tells the inside story of Branch Davidians, David Koresh, and what really happened at the religious compound in Texas. When he first met the man who called himself David Koresh, David Thibodeau was drumming for a rock band that was going nowhere fast. Intrigued and frustrated with a stalled music career, Thibodeau gradually became a follower and moved to the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas. He remained there until April 19, 1993, when the compound was stormed and burnt to the ground after a fifty-one-day standoff. In this book, Thibodeau explores why so many people came to believe that Koresh was divinely inspired. We meet the men, women, and children of Mt. Carmel. We get inside the day-to-day life of the community. Thibodeau is brutally honest about himself, Koresh, and the other members, and the result is a revelatory look at life inside a cult. But Waco is just as brutally honest when it comes to dissecting the actions of the United States government. Thibodeau marshals an array of evidence, some of it never previously revealed, and proves conclusively that it was our own government that caused the Waco tragedy, including the fires. The result is a memoir that reads like a thriller, with each page taking us closer to the eventual inferno.
I love audio books. In the author’s notes on the audio version of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, he talks about how the first stories we learn are read to us. I listen to audio books when I’m in the car, shopping, exercising (what? It happens!), cooking and playing semi-mindless games on my phone.
In typical book blogger fashion, I already have a tbr shelf just for audio books. Reviewing them is a bit more difficult, because I don’t take notes and I don’t always know how to spell the characters names. So these reviews will be a little different from my book reviews.
I totally didn’t know what I was getting into when I started this audiobook. I was a teen when Waco went down, and I remember talking about it in class, along with the Ruby Ridge incident (which the author references a few times). I don’t really remember how I felt about the government’s attack on Waco, but I do remember thinking that while it was handled poorly, that Koresh was a danger to the world because he was obviously running a crazy cult armed to the teeth. And while I’ve always been wary of big government, back then I probably didn’t believe that they would attack the cult based on dubious evidence and crazy rumors.
I was also a little wary upon starting the book- the author David Thibodeau was just 24 for Waco happened, and in the beginning it felt like he was trying to present the Branch Davidians as completely innocent lambs brought to the slaughter. But as the book progresses, Thibodeau addresses the issues leveled against the cult, including Koresh’s relationships with underage girls. Thibodeau doesn’t seemed as bothered by Koresh’s past actions (like the shoot out with former Branch Davidian members), but he doesn’t try to hide it either. He was bothered by some of David Koresh’s rules (like the fact that only David was allowed to have sex with the women, including the married ones and the underage ones), but he also really believed that Koresh was a prophet. He freely admits to being lost and in need of direction when he first meets Koresh… which is the story of many a cult member.
Thibodeau does dismiss Kiri Jewell’s accusations against David Koresh, which I find strange because Koresh had sexual relationships with other underage girls. I do think that initial reports of child abuse (the spanking of the kids) seem to have been inflated due to grudges. The weapons issue is… still confusing. According to Thibodeau, they mostly had guns to sell and trade, but David Koresh was also preparing for a violent end. Would things have been different if the ATF and FBI had approached trying to arrest Koresh in a calmer manner? Maybe, but even Thibodeau acknowledges he’s not sure Koresh would have gone quietly.
There’s enough fault to go around here, though, in regards to the fiery end. The government went too far, and wouldn’t back down. The members of cult refused to release the majority of the kids despite the danger. At no point after the initial attack (and on this point, I have to agree that the government went against their own rules and laws) did it seem like things weren’t going to end badly. While I understand Thibodeau’s explanation of how the parents felt (scared that their children would be taken from them despite the word of law enforcement, which to be fair, they had already broken with the few kids that were released), I still can’t forgive them for not releasing them. Surely being taken away was better than the horrific siege they were forced to endure, and the horrible deaths they suffered. Well, not surely, but absolutely. Absolutely those kids should have been released from the compound.
I’m glad I read this. It was at times uncomfortable, and unbelievable that so many people would just give their free will over to David Koresh. But I don’t know that Koresh’s cult would have posed a danger to society if the government hadn’t singled them out and led a poorly planned and executed raid. I don’t necessarily believe everything Thibodeau says, and it’s still hard for me to wrap my head around some of the crazy shiz that David Koresh spewed that his followers eagerly swallowed down as gospel truth… but there’s a reason I’ve never been in a cult.
I’m really looking forward to the Waco mini-series (which starts airing 1/24/18), and this book is, even with it’s faults, a very interesting and an insider look at what went down and the lives (many of them innocent) that were loss during the Waco standoff. I am ashamed and appalled that our government acted so irresponsibly and violently against fellow Americans. I still think David Koresh was a lunatic, and a pedophile, and needed to have been arrested for that reason alone, but I don’t think the cult posed an immediate danger, and certainly not to the level that they were attacked. But despite my libertarian leanings, I have trouble believing that a response to the ATF and FBI showing up at your door is a freaking gun fight.
My biggest complaint with the book, and with Thibodeau, is his actions since Waco. For a man who was willing to die for Koresh’s beliefs, his post Waco life feels less… biblical. He claims he wasn’t in a cult, that Koresh wasn’t some kind of mind controller, but Thibodeau settled back into his pre-Waco life fairly easily. At one point, he even seems disappointed that he didn’t end up in prison like some of his fellow Waco members, because he felt he needed that kind of control in his life to add order. In other words, he was exactly the kind of person drawn to a cult, someone lost and in need of direction that is easily drawn in by someone with a more powerful will. The very fact that David Koresh forced celibacy for every male member, excluding himself because he was too busy impregnating young women and other men’s wives, points to someone that exerted huge influence on others.
But no matter how distasteful I find David Koresh, or how nutty I find his religion and followers, the fact that the government took such drastic, violent and unlawful actions against the Branch Davidians is truly mind-blowing. The fact that, as Thibodeau so rightly points out, that there were no consequences for any of the government officials involved, that there is no oversight, is not only infuriating, but scary. It’s never good to have blind faith in anyone- not cult leaders and not government agencies. I don’t know if Waco could happen again… but I don’t know that it couldn’t happen, or has already happened on a much smaller scale. All I know that innocent lives were lost based on egos- the ATF’s, the FBI’s, the attorney general’s, and David Koresh’s ego.
At the end, Waco is a bunch of what ifs… What if the government had arrested David Koresh outside of his home (he wasn’t exactly a shut in). What if Koresh had surrendered immediately? What if the children had all been released? What if the government had continued to wait instead of mounting a final attack? What if cooler heads had prevailed?
But none of that happened, and that’s the tragedy. That’s David Koresh’s legacy. He wasn’t unlocking any seals at the end times, instead he died with 79 of his followers. The truth about many of those deaths might never be known (was it suicide and murder, did the government just lie about that too to cover up?), but Thibodeau’s account is worth reading. Take it with a grain of salt, though. But you’d need to swallow a 10 pound bag of salt to digest the government’s official account.
Robert Fass narrates and I thought he did a great job. I’ve listened to him narrate before (Snow White Must Die), and he’s got a good, steady voice and it made the audiobook that much easier to get into and listen to.