Why Waco, Texas, will always occupy a notorious place in America's popular imagination

Cult leader David Koresh and his followers died more than 20 years ago

Andrew Buncombe
Monday 18 May 2015 19:58
Fire at Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas
Fire at Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas

No matter what happened before - and no matter what happened after - the Texas city of Waco will always be associated in the popular imagination with the events that played out between February 28 and April 19 1993.

It was between these dates that federal agents laid siege to a compound occupied by heavily-armed members of a religious cult headed by David Koresh.

Mr Koresh, head of the Branch Davidian church, was killed, along with 75 of his followers and four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Federal agents wanted to question cult leader David Koresh

The 51-day stand-off began after the agents failed to serve a search warrant at the New Mount Carmel Centre on the outskirts of Waco, which the Branch Davidians had established as their headquarters.

Agents wanted to investigate claims that Mr Koresh had sexually assaulted some of the female members of his group and stockpiling weapons.

Timothy McVeigh said he bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City in revenge for the attack on the Waco compound

The huge death toll – most of those who died perished in a fire – sparked outcry and anguish across the US and around the world. Many people claimed that the federal agents had intentionally started the fire, though a subsequent commission of inquiry did not support this.

Yet the public anger and suspicion was harder to measure. Timothy McVeigh claimed that the federal assault on the Waco compound was his primary motivation for bombing the Alfred P Murrah building in Oklahoma in 1995, resulting in the death of 168 people.

McVeigh said that he choose the date of the second anniversary of the attack at Waco, to launch his assault.

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