Days that Shaped America: Waco – A religious cult at Mt. Carmel

Days that Shaped America: Waco – A religious cult at Mt. Carmel

A religious cult at Mt. Carmel

During the latter half of 1992 and into 1993 Government officials in the McLennan County Sherriff’s office had received troubling reports about the activity of a religious cult called the Branch Davidians who lived in a large compound at a remote area called Mt. Carmel outside Waco, Texas. Over 100 men, women and children lived in the compound that was presided over by their leader David Koresh, a charismatic religious figure who had persuaded his followers that he was a Messiah on a mission from God who would raise the faithful from the dead.

Koresh had considerable influence over his group, encouraging the general belief that he was indeed a Saviour and the Chosen One.

The sounds of explosions and automatic gunfire had been heard from the area,

and even more disturbingly there had been rumours that polygamy and child abuse were being practiced by the Davidians. It was known that many of the members were armed, and reportedly ready to resist any sort of Government intervention. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) planned to raid the compound, and because of the expected trouble 76 heavily armed agents were assembled.

A raid is launched

On 28 February 1993 the raid began, and almost immediately agents were engaged with heavy gunfire from inside the compound.

In surreal scenes reminiscent of a full-scale military battle, the crackle of automatic weapons, interspersed with the loud explosions of hand grenades, erupted across the countryside. A reporter at the scene described it as a “war zone”.

After some two hours of all-out combat a cease-fire was negotiated

and it was soon learned that four US Agents had been shot dead together with six Branch Davidians.

The FBI take over

An FBI Hostage Rescue Team took control of the operation soon after, establishing contact with Koresh inside the compound, and a lengthy standoff followed that lasted an amazing 51 days. During this time increasing reinforcements for the FBI team moved up, including combat vehicles and tanks.

The second raid

Finally the FBI stormed the compound on 19 April 1993, and 75 Branch Davidians perished in a huge fire that consumed the entire complex.

The death toll included 22 children under the age of 17, with many of the victims exhibiting gunshot wounds. Koresh himself perished in the confrontation, reportedly from a self inflicted gunshot to the head.


The tragedy has generated considerable debate up until the present day, with one side maintaining that Koresh had ample time to negotiate a peaceful solution and get his family of Branch Davidians out of the compound – but chose not to do so. Others claim that the Government response was far to heavy-handed and that the deaths that followed were largely unnecessary.

There was one member of the public who was particularly incensed with the way the Government had dealt with the raid – and he planned terrible retribution. His name was Timothy McVeigh and his revenge was the Oklahoma City bombing that took place on 19 April 1995 – two years to the day after the second Waco raid.



By: R. Whitaker

Image: Mug shot of David Koresh, 3 November 1987, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.