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Who was David Koresh? Netflix releases true-crime series about Waco cult leader

Inside a harrowing moment in modern American history

Waco: American Apocalypse. David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse. Cr. Courtesy of Netflix © 2023
David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse. (Netflix)

Hitting Netflix today, Waco: American Apocalypse is a three-part docuseries chronicling one of the most tragic events in modern American history.

Directed by Night Stalker: The Hunt For a Serial Killer helmer Tiller Russell, it uses newly-captured testimonials and never-before-seen footage to take viewers inside 1993’s harrowing stand-off between the US government and infamous cult leader David Koresh during which 82 people died, including 28 children.

At its centre is Koresh, the religious leader and self-professed ‘Messiah’ who had promised his followers salvation but instead delivered bloodshed.

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Coinciding with the 30th anniversary of this deadly event, Russell’s series aims to take a stark look at the moments leading up to the siege while chronicling its fallout and media coverage and peering into the mind of the man behind it.

Was David Koresh a cult leader?

David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse
David Koresh in Waco: American Apocalypse. (Netflix)

Today, Koresh is widely considered to be a modern-day cult leader. As the figurehead of a religious sect known as the Branch Davidians, he amassed many followers throughout the 1980s and early 90s, ultimately convincing them that the apocalypse was on the way and only he, as their Messiah, could guide them through it safely.

While allegations of coercion and child sexual abuse circulated around both Koresh and movement, he was busy amassing an extensive armoury of weapons held at the group’s compound, the Mount Carmel Centre in Waco, Texas.

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Spanning guns, grenades and assault weapons, this deadly arsenal quickly drew the attention of the US government which ultimately secured a warrant for Koresh’s arrest through the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

However, when the ATF raided the Mount Carmel Centre in late February 1993, all hell broke loose with a bloody gunfight that lasted multiple weeks. As a result, four government officers were killed and all of Koresh’s followers were considered hostages at the centre of this vicious battle.

Eventually, the bloodshed came to an end in April of that same year when the FBI approved the controversial use of gas to flush Koresh from his compound. The resulting action led to multiple deaths, including a number of children under the age of 16 and Koresh himself.

When is Waco: American Apocalypse released?

ATF officers raiding David Koresh's compound in Netfix docuseries Waco: American Apocalypse.
The Netflix documentary series will be released from 22 March. (Netflix)

In Netflix's new documentary series, Russell calls upon the testimonials of people from both sides of the conflict to paint a definitive account of the Waco raid.

Using CGI reenactments and input from the last child to leave Koresh’s cult alive, the series aims to shine a new light onto this heartbreaking moment in American history.

“Since the story first erupted thirty years ago, it's fascinated the world as an iconic and tragic moment in American history,” explained Russell in a statement, as per GQ.

A headshot of Waco cult leader David Koresh.
David Koresh promised his followers salvation but instead delivered bloodshed. (Waco Tribune Herald/Netflix).

“A prophetic leader with an apocalyptic vision, a fierce debate over the right to bear arms, and testing the constitutional limits of religious freedom — it has powerful and provocative elements that still reverberate today.

“We tried to treat [the complex and ferociously debated events of Waco] from a deeply humanist perspective, focusing on what it feels like for people on all sides to be caught in the maws of history.”

Waco: American Apocalypse is streaming on Netflix now.