The true story behind Netflix's newest documentary, Waco: American Apocalypse

true story of netflix's documentary, waco american apocalypse
True story of Netflix's Waco: American ApocalypseElizabeth Baranyai - Getty Images

Despite their often gruesome contents, true crime documentaries have so many of us hooked – a phenomenon that's been questioned more than once. Yet, every time Netflix announces a new true crime series, we find ourselves becoming one with our sofa again, ready for a binge.

Next up on our binge list is Waco: American Apocalypse, which – according to Netflix – will unpack "the infamous 51-day standoff outside of Waco, Texas, between the US government and the Branch Davidian religious sect led by David Koresh."

So, who was David Koresh? And how did his religious sect lead to the Waco Siege? Ahead of the release of the three part documentary, here's what you need to know about Waco: American Apocalypse...

Who was David Koresh?

Before we can unpack the Waco Siege, it's important to go back to where it all began, and that's with David Koresh.

Koresh was born (as David Howell) in 1959 in Houston, Texas, and was predominantly raised by his grandparents. The family were avid church-goers, and Koresh attended a Seventh-day Adventist Church, although he was later kicked out for clashing with church leaders.

After trying to make it as a rock star in Los Angeles, Koresh headed back to Texas and joined Branch Davidians – a religious group whose leaders claimed they were of messianic (messiah) status, and whose teachings heavily focuses on end-times (apocalyptic) prophecy.

In 1990, he changed his surname from Howell to Koresh and later attempted to murder the Branch Davidians' leader. This resulted in Koresh taking over as leader and claiming himself a prophet.

true story of netflix's documentary, waco american apocalypse
David Koresh (left) in 1986.Elizabeth Baranyai - Getty Images

Did David Koresh run a cult?

Under his leadership, Koresh brought in a number of "teachings", including the practice of "spiritual weddings" which he described as the right to bed "God-chosen" female followers of all ages. As a result, Koresh fathered at least a dozen children with several members other than his legal wife.

As the years went by, Koresh became further entrenched in his beliefs, and former members have since described what went on as cult-like. "He believed he was King David," one ex-member told ABC News of Koresh, as another explained that he believed he was on a "mission" from God.

"His message changed over the years because he was always looking for the next big thing to teach that would shock people into listening to him," the former member said. "It was important for David Koresh to isolate the group from the world because the world is an influence that is constantly pulling and distracting you from the message."

Ex-members also later revealed that Koresh restricted what women were allowed to wear, banning them from wearing jewellery or makeup. He would also tell them where to sleep and what foods they could eat, saying that sugar and dairy products were forbidden.

Those who broke the rules were disciplined, with one former member – who grew up within the sect – telling ABC News: "You’re raised with just fear."

What was the Waco Siege?

The Waco Siege began in early 1993 when the US government raided a compound in Axtell, Texas, following reports that Koresh and the Branch Davidians were violating federal firearms regulations. Several agents and members of the sect were killed in the initial gun battle, before almost 1,000 law enforcement officials surrounded the compound, including hostage negotiators.

As news spread about what was happening and reporters gathered at the scene, a 51-day standoff between police and members of Koresh's cult ensued. Although at times, negotiations between law enforcement and Koresh seemed promising, with the Branch Davidians sending some children out in exchange for food and other supplies, the siege did not end peacefully.

true story of netflix's documentary, waco american apocalypse
The Branch Davidians’ compound ablaze on the final day of the siege.Gregory Smith - Getty Images

In total, the siege claimed the lives of 80 people, including cult members, children and US agents, as well as Koresh himself. Koresh's exact cause of death is unknown, but he's believed to have died from a gunshot wound to the head, or wounds from the fire that engulfed the compound on the final day of the siege.

What is Waco: American Apocalypse about?

"This immersive three-part Netflix documentary series is the definitive account of what happened in Waco, Texas, in 1993 when cult leader David Koresh faced off against the federal government in a bloody 51-day siege," reads a Netflix press release explaining what the docu-series is about.

"Released to coincide with the 30th anniversary of this national tragedy, the series is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Tiller Russell (Night Stalker) and features exclusive access to recently unearthed videotapes filmed inside the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit, as well as raw news footage never released to the American public and FBI recordings," the press release adds.

According to Netflix, the documentary is "driven by intimate and revealing interviews with people from all sides of the conflict, including one of David Koresh’s spiritual wives, the last child released from the compound alive, a sniper from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit Chief, the key journalists covering the story, as well as members of the ATF tactical team who watched their colleagues die in the shootout against members of the religious sect."

The documentary also uses "cutting-edge visual technology" to "plunge viewers" inside the siege.

When is Waco: American Apocalypse released?

Waco: American Apocalypse will be available to stream on Netflix on 22 March.

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