If you’ve been catching up on your true crime inspired dramas chances are you’ve stumbled upon Waco on Netflix. The miniseries originally aired on Paramount Network in 2018 and chronicled the 1993 standoff between the U.S. government and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. But as addicting as this six-episode series is, the true story behind what happened in Waco is even more shocking. So how accurate is Waco on Netflix?
The Branch Davidians were founded in 1959 as a religious community and branch of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. From its very beginning the Branch Davidians believed that Jesus wasn’t the Christian messiah and that the real messiah was still to come. So when the branch’s leader was imprisoned for murder and David Koresh stepped up claiming to be the real messiah, many were ready to take his word as law. Some members of the religion didn’t believe or follow him, but those that did are the ones who made history darker.
Born Vernon Wayne Howell, Koresh established the House of David, essentially a way for this cult leader to “marry” multiple women within the religion. These “marriages” were with both single and married women and included at least one underage girl. It’s also been reported that Koresh would routinely molest children. Koresh believed that it was the purpose of the House of David to create 24 children, all of which would serve as the ruling elders after Christ’s return. Koresh also instructed his followers to horde food, supplies, and weapons to prepare for the end times. It’s that latter detail that led to the Waco siege.
The 51-day standoff started when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms obtained a warrant to search the Branch Davidians’ headquarters at Mount Carmel Center because of the group’s rumored illegal firearms. The ATF was also given arrest warrants for Koresh and a few of the cult’s higher members. Those suspicions were almost immediately proven right.
While attempting to raid the ranch a gunfight between the bureau and religious members started, leading to the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians. From late February to mid April of 1993, American federal authorities, Texas state law authorities, and the U.S. military battled the cult. A total of 86 people were killed, only four of which were government officials. Roughly a third of those deaths were the result of a tear-gas attacks orchestrated by the FBI that turned into a fire. That fire was responsible for 76 deaths, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and David Koresh.
So yes. Paramount’s Waco gets most of the broad details right. But much like any drama based on a true crime, it takes some liberties with the day-to-day specifics of life in Waco, as well as who the members of the Branch Davidians were.