Who was David Koresh? When did he become Branch Davidians leader, what did they believe, Waco siege explained

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now

This article contains affiliate links. We may earn a small commission on items purchased through this article, but that does not affect our editorial judgement.

The three-part docuseries will be released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the siege of Waco

Dropping on Netflix this week, Waco: American Apocalypse tells the true story behind infamous cult leader David Koresh.

The three-part docuseries dives deep into the infamous Waco siege between The Branch Davidians led by Koresh and the US Government. The tragic events which rocked Texas back in 1993 played out on news channels around the world and claimed the lives of 75 people.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Directed by Tiller Russell who brought us Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer, which told the story of Richard Ramirez, this new documentary will be released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the siege and features never-before seen footage as well as first-hand interviews. So, who was David Koresh, who were the Branch Davidians and what did they believe? Here’s everything you need to know.

Who was David Koresh?

Koresh was born in 1959 in Houston, Texas under the name Vernon Wayne Howell. As a child he lived with his grandparents and attended a Seventh-Day-Adventist church. He initially moved to Hollywood to try and make it as a musician, but according to the History Channel in 1981 at the age of 22-years-old he moved back to Texas and joined The Branch Davidians, an off-shoot movement from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church founded by Victor Houteff

David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)
David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix) | Courtesy of Netflix

By 1990 Koresh had established control over the group, following the attempted murder of George Roden in 1987. Under his leadership the group became more radical with Koresh taking on “spiritual weddings”, restricting what clothes women were allowed to wear, when group members could sleep and what they could eat or drink.

What did Branch Davidians believe?

The Branch Davidians were an off-shoot movement from the Seventh-Day Adventist Church founded by Houteff in the 1930s. Houteff established the compound in Waco, calling it Mount Carmel. According to Vox, the groups core belief was that the apocalypse was imminent and they taught their followers that they would bring about the future of the Kingdom of David.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

In an interview with ABC News in 2018, former Branch Davidian members discussed life under Koresh. Clive Doyle said that the cult leader: “believed he was King David”. He continued: “He was using music to reach a lot of people. We’re thinking maybe it’s a stage name. But it was more than that.”

Other members talked about the harsh conditions at the compound, Joann Vaega who was 6-years-old when she left the group explained: “as a kid, being disciplined was like a 24/7 thing”. She also commented on Koresh’s doomsday prophecies, in which she said he explained they were: “the chosen people to survive because David was the son of God.”

The Branch Davidian compound during the siege in Waco in March 1993 (Photo: BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP via Getty Images)The Branch Davidian compound during the siege in Waco in March 1993 (Photo: BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP via Getty Images)
The Branch Davidian compound during the siege in Waco in March 1993 (Photo: BOB DAEMMRICH/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

What was the Waco Siege?

In February 1993, the Branch Davidians compound in Waco, Texas came under siege after the group was found to be violating federal firearms regulations and law officials arrived to investigate child abuse allegations. It lasted 51 days and ended in tragedy on 19 April. Nearly 1,000 officers surrounded the compound and despite hostage negotiators trying to reach a peaceful solution, it was determined Koresh would not surrender and the FBI was given permission to raid the compound. In the carnage that ensued the compound went on fire, 75 people died, including group members, their children, Koresh and US law officials.

When can I watch Waco: American Apocalypse?

Waco: American Apocalypse will be available to watch on Netflix from 22 March.

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.