‘Waco’: The New Leader of Branch Davidians is Nothing Like David Koresh

One of Netflix’s newest binge-worthy shows is the true-crime thriller Waco. The show tells the dramatic story of the infamous 1993 standoff between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), and the members of the Branch Davidian religious organization in Waco, Texas. Waco stars Rory Culkin as Branch Davidian member David Thibodeau, who made a guest appearance in the show’s finale. The real Thibodeau is one of only nine members of the Branch Davidians who survived the Waco fire. Thibodeau recently sat down for an interview with Brown Political Review to discuss his experience at the Branch Davidian unit known as Mount Carmel, the former leader of the group David Koresh, and the present-day leader Clive Doyle. 

Taylor Kitsch seated holding a microphone in front of a 'Waco' screen
Taylor Kitsch | Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

What is Waco about? 

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Waco is based on the true events that occurred at Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, involving members of the Branch Davidians and members of the FBI and ATF. The focus of the six-episode mini-series is the surveillance and siege of the Mount Carmel compound. Law enforcement agencies were tracking the Koresh and the Branch Davidians because of suspicions that they held illegal firearms. The FBI and ATF stormed the compound, resulting in deaths on both sides. Following the initial entry, weeks of communications between the two sides occurred and was heavily publicized in the media. The event is known as one of the most public discussions of gun rights in American history. The standoff between law enforcement and the Branch Davidians lasted 51 days. The event began when federal agents attempted to seize guns from the compound and ended with a massive fire that killed 76 members of the organization, including 25 children. Prior to the fire, 35 members were negotiated out of Mount Carmel. 

The mini-series originally premiered on the Paramount Network channel in 2018. In the show, Friday Night Lights star Taylor Kitsch portrays the infamous Koresh. According to a 1993 New York Times piece, Koresh would physically, verbally, and sexually abuse the members of the Branch Davidians in Waco. He was polygamous and said to be seen wrongly overly sexually toward young Branch Davidians by his own followers. The Waco mini-series received some criticism for portraying Koresh in a more positive light than many believe he deserved. 

Who is Clive Doyle? 

Following the death of Koresh, Branch Davidian member Doyle has assumed control of what remains of the group. Doyle was born in Australia and joined the Branch Davidians in 1964. Two years later, he moved to the Mount Carmel compound that was under the control of Koresh. Followers of Koresh, like Doyle and Thibodeau, believed that their leader would bring them to the promised land. Doyle was a true believer of Koresh’s message, and he allowed his own daughter Shari to marry Koresh at age 14. Shari was one of the children who perished in the fire. Doyle wrote the book A Journey to Waco: Autobiography of a Branch Davidian in 2012. The book gave an in-depth account of Doyle’s experiences during the Waco standoff. Doyle is not a featured character in the Waco mini-series. 

David Thibodeau and Doyle’s relationship 

Thibodeau and Doyle still reside in Waco with several other of the Branch Davidians who survived the siege and fire. According to Thibodeau, Doyle is nothing like his predecessor Koresh. In the Brown Political Review interview, Thibodeau says that Doyle is “the nicest guy ever” and “has no desire to run anything or be in charge of anyone.” He also mentions that Doyle visits the imprisoned members of the Branch Davidians, and his only goal is to help people.

Like Doyle, Thibodeau has published the book A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story about his experiences at Mount Carmel. He still defends Koresh and has said that the cult leader is not a con-man. His book, as well as FBI investigator’s Gary Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator were the inspiration for the series. Thibodeau and Doyle claim that the ATF, FBI, and the United States government deserves more blame for the Waco tragedy and that Koresh was forced to act after their unjust actions.