In April 1993, a tragic fire broke out at the Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Texas, ending a 51-day standoff between the FBI/ATF and the Branch Davidians, a religious cult. The incident sparked a polarizing conversation in the United States, as well as a story that was adapted into the 2018 Paramount Network miniseries, Waco.
With the show now streaming on Netflix, people are wondering about David Koresh, the young, charismatic leader of the Branch Davidians, played by Taylor Kitsch. Koresh had a troubling past up until the Waco standoff and was accused of attempted murder of another member of the cult. His obsession with music also informed Kitsch’s portrayal in the series.
Here’s everything else we know about the cult leader.
Koresh was expelled from his church
Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell to a 14-year-old single mother in 1959 and grew up in an abusive home. He joined his mother’s Seventh-Day Adventist Church before getting expelled for wanting to marry the young daughter of the church’s pastor. He joined the Branch Davidians, a breakaway sect of the aforementioned church, in 1981. After a series of violent acts, he later took over the group in 1990, legally changing his name to David Koresh to honor biblical kings, David and Cyrus. (Koresh was the latter king’s name in Hebrew.)
Koresh told his followers that he was a messiah
Among his teachings, Koresh taught his followers that he was a messiah from God and created the “House of David,” based on his dream that he was destined to father 24 children that would become the ruling leaders after the world’s end.
He believed this gave him the right to “marry” multiple women within the cult, despite their age or marital status. (You can see this play out in the first two episodes of the miniseries.) He engaged in many polygamous relationships (including one with his wife’s underage sister) and eventually fathered at least 13 children.
He was accused of attempted murder
Before Waco, Koresh had been tried for attempted murder after fighting George Roden, the son of previous Branch Davidians’ leader, Lois Roden. George didn’t like Koresh’s close relationship with his mother, and during the fight, Roden was shot in the chest. After a mistrial, the case was dropped.
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Koresh was obsessed with music
Koresh had a passion for rock music, so much so that he tried to make his mark in Hollywood with the dream of becoming a rockstar in his early twenties. He used music as an outlet while in Waco, even meeting and bonding with David Thibodeau over it.
Koresh’s love of music was so pertinent to the story that in the series, Taylor Kitsch spent eight hours a day learning how to sing and play guitar to prepare for his role.
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