The 6 most shocking revelations from Netflix's latest docuseries "Waco: American Apocalypse"

The three-part series delves into the deadly 1993 massacre involving members of an apocalyptic religious cult

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published March 24, 2023 5:30PM (EDT)

David Koresh from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)
David Koresh from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Between February 28 and April 19, 1993, the largest — and most infamous — massacre took place on American soil leading to the death of 86 people. The 51-day standoff, known as the Waco siege, became the most brutal news story of the year, as law enforcement, members of a religious cult and their supreme leader fought to a bitter end.

In 1993, the United States government served a search warrant for machine guns against cult leader David Koresh, who led the apocalyptic religious movement called the Branch Davidians. Koresh preached a brand of apocalyptic prophecy — which included interpretations of the Book of Revelation and the Seven Seals — and convinced his followers they would soon be under attack by the federal government.

Under the helm of Koresh, the Branch Davidians illegally stockpiled guns and ammunition, which led the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to launch a raid on the group's Mount Carmel compound located 20 miles outside of Waco, Texas. What was anticipated to be a single day affair became an almost two-month-long siege filled with violence, rage and death.

Now, almost 30 years later, Netflix is revisiting the horrific events in its latest true crime installation "Waco: American Apocalypse." The three-part series attempts to recreate the bitter siege and underscore its lasting impact through interviews with law enforcement, surviving Branch Davidian members and the journalists who were at the scene.

From Koresh's child sexual abuse allegations to his cult's unabashed devotion, here are six shocking revelations from the series:

The Branch Davidian's ruthless preparation for a near "apocalypse"
Waco: American ApocalypseLee Hancock from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In addition to convincing his ardent followers that he was the Messiah, Koresh persuaded them to follow him into a fiery ending to the world.


"The government's gonna roll up in tanks, and it's going to be this big shootout, and a big fiery ending," explained Lee Hancock, a veteran investigative journalist and former enterprise reporter for The Dallas Morning News. "He and all of his followers are going to go up in flames and be translated instantly, and then come back with him leading God's avenging army."


To prepare for impending doom, Koresh and the Branch Davidians amassed "enough armaments out at Mount Carmel to outfit a small army." They violated several federal gun laws. They converted semi-automatic assault rifles to automatics. They made live grenades and were in possession of approximately 40 to 50 machine guns and about 100 hand grenades.


On February 28, 1993, law enforcement sieged Mount Carmel Center ranch, the compound that belonged to Koresh and his religious cult. Prior to the siege, the U.S. government served a search warrant for machine guns against Koresh.

Koresh's violent takeover of the Branch Davidians
Waco: American ApocalypseDavid Koresh from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Koresh was born to Bonnie Haldeman, a teen mother, and Bobby Wayne Howell. As a child, Koresh was sexually abused, which led him to drop out of middle school and seek "people who could help open the Bible up," said Hancock. It was through a friend that Koresh joined the Branch Davidians, a religious group that had been in Waco since the '30s.


While at Mount Carmel, Koresh allegedly seduced the group's leader, Lois Roden, who was 50 years his senior. When Roden passed away, a battle ensued between Roden's son, George, and Koresh for the group leadership. Koresh was subsequently charged with attempted murder after he and a group of his followers got into a gunfight with George inside the compound.


"A jury actually hung on whether to convict, and so there was no retrial," Hancock explained. Koresh then took over the Branch Davidians.

Koresh's marriage to his 14-year-old wife Rachel Jones
Waco: American ApocalypseDavid Koresh from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In the late '80s, Koresh introduced his teaching called the "New Light," which allowed him to dissolve the marriages of all his followers and claim multiple wives as his own. Koresh's first wife was 14-year-old Rachel Jones, who was the teenage daughter of a longtime Branch Davidian.


It's also believed that Koresh had sex with children, some as young as 10 years old. Girls between the ages of 10 to 13 would enthusiastically talk about being one of Koresh's wives in the future.


"People think that a man having sex with a bunch of under aged girls is a crime," said Kathy Schroeder, a Branch Davidian. "And in conventional wisdom, that could be very well true. However, these weren't underaged girls, because you come of age at 12. So, all these girls were adults…in our belief system."

Koresh's fake promise to end the standoff
Waco: American ApocalypseBob Ricks from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

Forty-six days after the initial siege, Koresh said he and the remaining Branch Davidians would finally surrender after Koresh finished writing his religious manuscript. This wasn't the first time Koresh had made such a promise. But despite their doubts, many law enforcement officials were hopeful that the standoff would finally come to an end this time.   


When Koresh failed to make his promise, law enforcement planned their next moves in the siege. The FBI also reached out to Janet Wood Reno, who had just been sworn in as attorney general, to get permission to use tear gas.


"I don't believe it's true that anybody manipulated Janet Reno into making a decision," asserted Bob Ricks, the former Special Agent in Charge of the Oklahoma City FBI. "I think she was given the facts about David Koresh, what he had done in the past, and this was abhorrent to her, that a grown man would have been having sex with underage children."

The FBI's merciless assault of Mount Carmel Center
Waco: American ApocalypseWaco: American Apocalypse (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

On April 19, 1993, law enforcement took extreme measures to infiltrate Mount Carmel Center. They placed tear gas in the building and issued a command for Koresh and the surviving Branch Davidians inside the compound to surrender. Tanks also rammed into the building before shots were fired from inside.


In a shocking turn of events, the building caught on fire, causing a few people to jump out from the windows and off the roof. It's still unclear who started the fire — the FBI asserted it was the Branch Davidians, per video evidence, but the latter claimed otherwise.  


"All of a sudden, a rifle round goes right between our heads," recounted Chris Whitcomb, a former member of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team. "Somebody in that building, as it was burning to the ground, fully engulfed in flames, stayed behind a sniper rifle to the bitter end, and their last act on Earth was to try to shoot me in the head. That's commitment."


Only nine members of the cult survived the 51-day-long siege. Heather Jones was the last child to come out of Mount Carmel alive. In total, four federal agents and 82 Branch Davidians, including 28 children, died in Waco.

The Branch Davidian's extreme devotion to Koresh
Waco: American ApocalypseJim Cavanaugh from "Waco: American Apocalypse" (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

"We tried everything, but we could not overcome the hold he had on their minds," Jim Cavanaugh, an ATF special agent, said of Koresh's influence on his followers. "You could not convince them to come out, because that would be repudiation of the person they believed was…God."


On the final day of the siege, Koresh died from a gunshot wound as Mount Carmel went up in flames.  


"I think of Waco everyday. Every day for 30 years," said ATF special agent Bill Buford. "For Koresh, you're the most worthless individual on this Earth, or you were, that you would do that to people. And I hope you're rotting in hell, burning in hell. 'Cause that's what you deserve."

"Waco: American Apocalypse" is currently available for streaming on Netflix. Watch a trailer for it below, via YouTube:


By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon. She writes about food news and trends and their intersection with culture. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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David Koresh Docuseries List Netflix True Crime Waco: American Apocalypse