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  • Writer's pictureLee Weaver

"WACO" - Book Review


Jeff Guinn

Who could ever forget the sight of the fiery demise of nearly 100 men, women, and children in the destruction of the Branch Davidian cult’s “Mount Carmel” retreat/compound near Waco, Texas on April 19, 1993? After a failed raid by the ATF* in which four ATF agents and six Davidians died by gunfire, a 51-day siege by the FBI* was followed by a direct attack against the poorly built structure by the FBI using military tanks. Attempting to drive the occupants out by using noxious gas projectiles lobbed into the structure, the FBI accidentally, unknowingly, or purposefully included some combustible gas modules. The resulting fire completely obliterated the structure. In the ensuing fire, seventy-five more cult members died, many of them women and children. In his book Guinn describes the actions and errors in judgment of cult and government alike.

“David Koresh” was born August 17, 1959 as Vernon Wayne Howell. Guinn describes young Vernon as having a somewhat unsettled youth; Guinn goes on to document Howell’s early adulthood in the Seventh Day Adventist church which led him eventually to an association with a woman claiming to be a prophet. Lois Roden, the supposed prophetess, invited Howell to join her Living Waters group (principally made up of former Adventists) whose headquarters near Waco were called New Mount Carmel. Thus began the twelve-year journey metamorphosing Vernon Wayne Howell into “David Koresh,” who claimed to be the coming Lamb of the Book of the Revelation.

The journey was never smooth, particularly for members of the cult. Koresh demanded and was given complete domination over every aspect of life in the compound, including other men’s wives and daughters. The surprising thing, frightening, to many readers will be how a group of people, individually and corporately, can totally give up and give in to such domination and control. It gives weighted meaning to the scriptural warnings against false prophets.

Guinn’s research is impeccable. In this book he cites dozens, perhaps hundreds, of direct quotes from survivors of the raids, members of Branch Davidians (who escaped fiery death by being away at the time), as well as former or retired ATF and FBI agents. The story is well-documented throughout its 327 pages, with twenty-eight pages of chapter notes and a nineteen-page detailed index.

*ATF: Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms

*FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation

Reviewed by Lee Weaver

© March 2023

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