David Koresh's Branch Davidians Cult Still Exists After The Botched Waco Raid
Netflix’s Waco: American Apocalypse revisits the deadly 51-day standoff.
Thirty years after the 1993 tragedy, Netflix’s Waco: American Apocalypse follows what happened in Waco, Texas, when cult leader David Koresh faced off against the federal government in a bloody 51-day siege. Dubbed the biggest gunfight on American soil since the Civil War, the Waco conflict ended with a fiery inferno captured live on national television. In all, more than 80 people, including four federal agents and at least 20 children, died during the standoff. Though Koresh was among the casualties, the Branch Davidians still exist today.
The Branch Davidians began as an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church, with Bulgarian immigrant Victor Houteff spearheading the Davidian movement in 1930. The Christian sect gained control of the Mount Carmel compound near Waco, Texas, in the early 1960s, but Koresh (born Vernon Wayne Howell) didn’t take over as the group’s leader until the early 1980s. Koresh began taking a number of “spiritual wives” (some as young as 12 or 13 years old) and procreating with them. The religious demagogue preached that the apocalypse or “end of days” would happen in his and his followers’ lifetimes, and so they must be armed and prepared to fight in a final battle.
Government agents began investigating the group over charges that children at the compound were being abused and that the Branch Davidians were stockpiling weapons. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrived to raid Mount Carmel on the morning of Feb. 28, 1993, but the Branch Davidians knew they were coming and were prepared for a gunfight. During the 51-day standoff that followed, the FBI took over from the ATF, and when hostage negotiations failed, a tactical group planned a second raid that would employ a type of tear gas to drive group members from the compound.
On April 19, the FBI’s raid plan went awry, and a fire — the source of which remains disputed —broke out at Mount Carmel, killing all but nine of the people inside. Of the survivors, several Branch Davidian members served time in federal prison for various crimes, including conspiracy to murder federal agents, according to the New York Times. By 2013, however, all had served their time and were released from prison.
In the immediate aftermath of the Waco fire, the Branch Davidians largely fell from public view, though they still have a presence both in Texas and globally. Some slowly moved back to the Mount Carmel site, and Australia native Clive Doyle, whose late 18-year-old daughter, Shari, was one of Koresh’s wives, led a small group of Waco Branch Davidian survivors who believed Koresh would return to Earth as Messiah. He returned to live at Mount Carmel in 1999 and led services in a new chapel built on the grounds in 2000. “I happen to be a survivor, a teacher of sorts, but don’t consider myself a reverend,” he told the Waco Tribune-Herald in 2003. (Doyle died in June 2022.)
A second group of Davidians called The Branch, The Lord Our Righteousness built a church atop the charred foundations of the original Mount Carmel compound. They are led by Charles Pace, who told a local ABC affiliate in 2018 that most believers follow his teachings online, though he still preaches in person. “My congregation...what it looks like today is hundreds of people coming through the gate,” Pace explained.
In early 2023, Waco Rising: David Koresh, the FBI, and the Birth of America's Militias author Kevin Cook described a recent visit to the church, which prominently sells pro-Donald Trump merchandise, including flags and t-shirts. Pace offered several deep-state conspiracy theories, including that the Clintons and Bushes had Koresh killed because he “knew too much” about their alleged human trafficking and pedophilia. “Donald Trump did the right thing: He had [George H.W. Bush] arrested for his crimes,” Pace claimed in an interview with Cook. “George Bush did not die of natural causes in 2018. They executed him for treason. This will all come out in the near future.”