‘Waco’: The Real David Thibodeau Made a Cameo in the Series Finale

The latest must-watch TV show on Netflix isn’t actually new at all. Waco aired back in 2018 on the Paramount Network. But the six-part limited series was recently added to Netflix, and the show — which stars Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon — has become one of the most popular programs on the streaming service. 

Waco is a fictionalized take on the 1993 siege at a Waco, Texas, compound occupied by a religious group known as the Branch-Davidians. The 51-day standoff between the FBI and ATF and the Branch-Davidians (and their leader David Koresh) ended in a fire that killed 76 people, including 25 children. 

Rory Culkin plays real-life Waco survivor David Thibodeau

Waco’s creators based the series on two books written by people involved in the siege. One was Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner. Noesner, who attempted to negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict between the government and the Branch-Davidians, is played by Michael Shannon in the series. The other inspiration was A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau, who is portrayed by Rory Culkin. 

‘Waco’ shows Thibodeau’s experience with the Branch-Davidians

In the show, Thibodeau meets Koresh (Kitsch) at a bar. Koresh and his band are setting up for a gig, and he asks Thibodeau to join him as their drummer. (In reality, the two met at a Guitar Center.) Soon, the aimless young man has followed Koresh back to Mount Carmel, the Branch-Davidian compound in Waco. Eventually, he becomes a full-fledged member of the community. He even agrees to a sham marriage to the underage Michelle (Julia Garner), who Koresh has actually taken as one of his many wives.  

Meanwhile, the ATF attempts to execute a search warrant at the compound to look for illegal weapons. A shootout leaves multiple agents and Branch-Davidians dead, and the standoff begins. Tensions between the government agents and Koresh simmer for weeks, ultimately concluding in an attack by the FBI.  

On April 19, 1993, agents fired tear gas into the compound in an attempt to force people out, then came at the building with tanks. Multiple fires broke out, and soon Mount Carmel was engulfed in flames. Only a handful of people escaped, including Thibodeau. Koresh and dozens of others died. A government report concluded that the Branch-Davidians set the fires. But in the show, the blaze is the result of the FBI’s actions. Thibodeau himself has insisted over the years that the group did not intentionally set the fire.

Thibodeau has a cameo in ‘Waco’ 

David Thibodeau
David Thibodeau in 2018 |Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Without Thibodeau’s book, there likely never would have been a Waco TV series. Co-creator John Erick Dowldle encountered his story when researching first-hand accounts of living in a cult for another project. That inspired him and his brother Drew Dowdle to explore the story of the siege at Waco, they told Decider.

Eventually, Thibodeau got involved with the series. He offered his insights on life inside the compound to the cast, production designer, and costume designer. He also makes a cameo in the show’s final episode. In a scene that takes place in Washington, D.C., after the fire, he can be seen sitting next to Culkin on a bench outside a hearing room. 

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