Being curious about how religious extremists come to be, I’ve watched a number of documentaries about the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas over the years. And last night, out of snowbound curiosity, I found myself watching a special on ABC titled Truth and Lies: Waco.
I’m not sure why this national network decided to dedicate two-hours of primetime television space to such a tragedy. Perhaps it’s because we are nearing the 25th anniversary of the event. Or maybe they were simply looking to capitalize on the apparent appeal of sensationalizing such tragedies and feeding fear-mongering conspiracy theorists desperate for such mainstream attention. After all, we’re now living in Trumpland, a sensationalized tragedy produced by fear-mongering conspiracy theorists (and the deep-pocket, deep state of wealthy one-percenters who, in a manipulative master deception that would make Keyser Soze proud, managed to dupe these rubes into thinking they were draining the swamp of corruption when in reality they just handed the keys to the swampmaster himself).
For what it’s worth, I have always harbored a degree of distrust and perhaps even a little disdain for authority. And I am not a particularly big fan of law enforcement, which I feel is an essential and important function in our society but one that attracts and recruits people with a certain viewpoint and fosters a culture that reinforces that viewpoint, all of which encourages the abuse of power and force. I would like to see more humane policing, better pay and training for law enforcement professionals, and frankly a complete overhaul of our judicial system.
That said, I do not fear the authorities, or my government. Nor do I adhere to all these conspiracy theories and “deep state” nonsense, the sort of stuff that is so appealing to those who thought The X-Files was a reality show. Perhaps if our government was a little less inept then I might share some of the rampant fear and trepidation that seems to fuel these people’s lives. But, as it stands, I don’t even own a tin-foil hat.
As for Waco, I still think that the Branch Davidians are responsible for that tragedy. Yes, the authorities made a number of mistakes, as is often the case (which, again, is one of the reasons I don’t share the fear and paranoia harbored by these conspiracy theorists, because I can’t be afraid of a force that is so frequently flawed and often inept, whereas a ruthless and efficient force like the old East German Stasi might actually inspire me to don a tin-foil cap and crawl into a bunker at the first sight of a chemtrail). But when a group of religious extremists starts talking about waging war against the government and then begins stockpiling automatic weapons, hand grenades, and other munitions that even the well-funded spinmeisters at the NRA couldn’t pass off as hunting gear, action needs to be taken.
And keep in mind that Koresh and his followers didn’t just oppose the government. They considered everyone who failed to heed his personal prophecy as their enemy, as tools of Satan. This wasn’t about government oppression or the right to bear arms. This was about a man who considered everyone who refused to recognize him as the one true voice of God to be his enemy. This was about a man who wanted a violent confrontation that would thrust him into the national spotlight. This was about a man who wanted he and his followers – including the children – to go out as martyrs in a blaze of glory.
Sadly, conspiracy theorists have used this tragedy as a springboard for the anti-government movement that helped put Trump, ironically the posterchild for everything that’s wrong with our government, in power. They see Waco, along with the tragic events at Ruby Ridge, as seminal moments in their vision of a “deep state” conspiracy within the government that’s working to turn America into Amerika, an imaginary authoritarian state where citizens are stripped of their rights and subjugated by those in power. And yet, again, the irony that these people still voted for Trump, already the most authoritarian and anti-American president we’ve ever had.
In the end, it was Koresh who ordered the death of his followers. He and his lackeys set three separate fires, killing 76 of the Branch Davidians who remained in the compound, including all of the children. Some died as a result of the fire, but many were shot or stabbed to death by fellow cult members, reminiscent of the murder-suicide finale of the People’s Temple cult in Jonestown, Guyana.
Recordings from inside the compound prove that it was Koresh and his fellow Branch Davidians who started the fires. And it appears to have been part of his final solution, his plan to martyr his followers. Weeks before they set their compound ablaze, the handful of children that Koresh did allow to leave had drawn images depicting the compound fully engulfed in flames. When asked by their appointed caretakers why the compound was burning in their drawings, weeks before it actually did, the children simply said, in what proved to be an ominous warning, “you’ll see.” Clearly the kids already knew how it would end – in an inferno.
Yet, despite such evidence, ABC opted to include the likes of Alex Jones in their two-hour special, giving voice to the irrational, to the factless fear mongers, who continue to blame the government for these deaths (and a litany of other nonsense). A shameless self-promoter, Jones used the tragedy to gain a national audience and a platform for spinning all sorts of baseless conspiracy theories to further his anti-government agenda. And now it seems ABC is looking to capture a little of that thunder – and perhaps a little slice of this sadly growing demographic – for themselves.
Could more have been done to safeguard the children in the compound? Yes, of course. And I’m not just talking about what happened during the assault, but the fact that all of the adults in that compound knowingly and willingly let Koresh physically and sexually abuse these children for months – even years. Those people – most of whom still blame the government – refuse to accept their role in these crimes.
And there’s absolutely no excuse for this. There’s no passage in the Bible in which Jesus tells a 12-year-old girl that he wants to fill her with God’s seed before raping her. These “Christians” were complicit in these crimes, in this evil, and now want to deflect that harsh reality by trying to make this about an aggressive government interfering with their rights. That’s a much easier narrative for them to swallow compared to having to admit that they were suckered by a drifter who claimed he was the voice of God and then stole their wives and raped their daughters.
For those of you who still think the government overstepped its bounds in this instance, ask yourself this: if the Branch Davidians considered Koresh a prophet of Allah instead of a prophet of God, would you still feel that way? Be honest, now. Would you want the government to stand down if there was a compound of heavily armed Muslim fanatics in the heart of Texas who considered America evil and were preparing to do battle against us? Let’s be honest, folks. Heavily armed religious fanatics who routinely sexually abuse children and have vowed to wage war against anyone who doesn’t follow their faith? In many ways, Koresh and his Branch Davidians were like a Christian version of ISIS.
Look, you may not agree with all the laws of this land. And I certainly have a few I’d like to see changed. But we still have to abide by them, even while we lobby to change them. Koresh and his cult broke the law, and preached of doing battle with anyone who challenged their freedom to do so. Yes, the authorities could have used different tactics, and more patience, but the people truly responsible for that massacre are Koresh and the adults who blindly followed him. The only conspiracy here is the one that has convinced you otherwise.
By the way, next Thursday, ABC will be airing Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. Because, hey, why should the supermarket tabloids have all the fun, right? Like those Branch Davidians, I fear our society may be getting exactly what we deserve.