David Koresh preached an apocalyptic message to his followers that the end of the world was imminent -- and that the U.S. government would fatally attack the Branch Davidians

By Greg Hanlon
December 18, 2017 05:15 PM

It’s often described as the worst debacle in federal law enforcement history.

In February of 1993, federal authorities, suspecting the Branch Davidian religious cult of weapons violations, attempted to raid the group’s compound outside Waco, Texas. The initial operation ended in gunfire — and the deaths of four government agents and six Branch Davidians.

A highly-publicized, 51-day standoff ensued between the cult members, led by their 33-year-old leader, David Koresh, and the FBI and ATF. On April 19, 1993, the FBI launched an assault and initiated a tear gas attack on the compound, and soon after, a fire engulfed the compound and led to the deaths of 76 Branch Davidians, including Koresh.

The ill-fated siege is the subject of a new documentary, Truth and Lies: Waco, which airs Thursday, Jan. 4 (9 to 11 p.m. ET) on ABC.

David Koresh

After the siege, the government’s confusing — some would say misleading — disclosure of key facts gave rise to conspiracy theories, including those from far-right movements that cite the event as a reason for their distrust of government.

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Through interviews with FBI and ATF agents about the tactics used during the standoff, the documentary delves into the specifics of what went wrong.

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Filmmakers also interview survivors of the fire and children of cult members who discuss the impact of those events and Koresh himself, an infamous figure in American history.

Born into a troubled household to a teenage mother, Koresh turned to religion and joined the Branch Davidian church, a splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventists. He proclaimed himself a prophet and the leader of the group, and in that role, he exercised total control over cult members, abusing them both physically and sexually.

Koresh’s message to his followers was apocalyptic: He told them the end of the world was imminent — and that the U.S. government would fatally attack the Branch Davidians.

Truth and Lies: Waco, airs Thursday, Jan. 4 (9 to 11 p.m. ET) on ABC.

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