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Who Is David Koresh?

The True Story of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians Will Disturb and Anger You

Image Source: AP Photo / Waco Tribune Herald

The new six-part series Waco, based on the true story of religious cult leader David Koresh and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, premieres this week. The show, which stars Friday Night Lights's Taylor Kitsch as Koresh, has sparked a renewed interest in the infamous cult leader and the tragic events that occurred for a month and a half in early 1993. Koresh was also portrayed by Evan Peters in an episode of American Horror Story: Cult.

The Branch Davidians are a religious group that actually originated in the 1950s, but their movement made headlines in 1993 when then-leader David Koresh entered into a standoff with the US government that ended in the deaths of nearly 80 cult members, including himself. Koresh (real name Vernon Howell) was a 33-year-old Houston native who joined the Branch Davidians at their Waco compound in 1982, changed his name to David, and began claiming that he was a prophet. He did everything you'd expect a cult leader to do: manipulate minds, control actions, and force followers to perform sex acts on him because women were required to be his "spiritual wives."

Image Source: Getty / Gregory Smith

In February 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raided the Waco complex on suspicions of polygamy, child sexual abuse, and illegal weapons violations. Cult members opened fire and there was a shootout, during which four ATF officials and five Branch Davidians were killed, and a siege was initiated by the FBI. The standoff lasted for a staggering 51 days before the FBI started poking holes in the roof of the house in order to pump in tear gas and force them to leave without harming them. Several Branch Davidians fired shots, but even after six hours, nobody came out.

Three fires broke out almost simultaneously in different areas of the complex, and the blaze was captured on live national TV. According to the FBI, the fires were deliberately set by Branch Davidians — and even though the FBI didn't fire any shots that day, autopsy records of the 79 deceased confirmed that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot (including children), and a 3-year-old boy was stabbed (the medical examiner believed these to be mercy killings).

As for David Koresh? The authorities confirmed that he was shot in the head before the fire engulfed the Waco complex. The FBI believes that Steve Schneider, Koresh's right-hand man, "probably realized he was dealing with a fraud" and shot and killed Koresh before committing suicide with the same gun.

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