"People started waking up, running around. I started to hear popping sounds around the building. They started to break the walls, break the windows down, spread the CS gas out. The speakers said, 'This is not an assault.' I thought, 'If this isn’t an assault, I’d hate to see what is.'"
David Thibodeau was a resident of the Branch Davidians' Mt. Carmel "compound," located just outside Waco, Texas, when the place was raided in 1993 first by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and, later, by the FBI. Thibodeau is one of nine Branch Davidians to survive what is widely recognized as the single biggest disaster in federal law enforcement history: As a result of the two raids, 80 Branch Davidians were killed, including 21 children; four federal agents also died there as well. The 30-year-old Thibodeau, one of four Waco survivors not charged with any crimes, is the author, with Leon Whiteson, of A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story (New York: Public Affairs). He recently talked via telephone with Reason's Washington Editor, Michael Lynch.
Reason: How did you get involved with David Koresh and the Mount Carmel community?
David Thibodeau: I was a drummer living in Los Angeles in 1990. I had finished music school and was playing with a band. It wasn’t going as well as it should have been. I went into Guitar Center and David Koresh and Steven Schneider were looking at a drum set and they asked me to play it. They handed me their card, which said, "Messiah Productions." All this religious scripture was written on the back. The last thing I wanted was to join any kind of Christian band. So I said, "I’m not really looking for a Christian band, but thank you very much." David said, "We’re not exactly a Christian band. We’ve just been studying scriptures." We started talking a bit.
I ended up giving him a call and we started to play music. Over the course of the next three months or so, Steve Schneider would come over to my roommate’s house and we did studies. I started to see something there. I didn’t know exactly what. I could see that they had studied the scriptures. Steve had one of those one-inch margin bibles and in every page he had cross-references. I was really impressed with it. I was invited to come out to Mount Carmel during Passover season. I started to really see that there was something there. I was interested. I got out to Mount Carmel and saw people from all over the world.
Reason: Was anyone manufacturing machine guns or grenades at Mount Carmel?
Thibodeau: Not to my knowledge.
Reason: What was the relationship to guns?
Thibodeau: Basically, David believed that he was an American and a Texan. In Texas there are 68 million firearms for 16 million people, so they are not unusual there. He met a man named Henry McMahon, who was a licensed firearm dealer and he started going to shows and learning about the business. He started to buy through Henry and create an inventory.
The scriptural relevance of this is, let’s go to the New Testament. There’s a period of time in the Garden of Gethsemane, when Christ is saying, "If you have a cloak, sell your cloak and buy a dagger....My servants should fight that I not be delivered to the hands of the Romans." That’s just one example.
Reason: You seem to suggest in your book that the most logical explanation for Koresh’s recklessness with underage girls, if not just purely sexual, was a desire to provoke confrontations with authorities and therefore, "His message to the world was bound to fail." Can you comment on that?
Thibodeau: He often said, "Woe to them who take the good for the evil and the evil for the good." What he meant by that is there would be message of truth and it would not be understood. Koresh believed that God had a plan that would go contrary to any human planning. People would not understand this and it would be a stumbling block to the wicked. People wouldn’t get to know the message before they made the judgment. They would just wipe it out.
As far as the sexuality is concerned, David didn’t have sex just to have sex. He always had a goal, a focus and that was to have kids. He wanted to have as many kids as possible. A lot of people forget that. They just say there’s this guy, all these stupid people followed him, and he just wanted to have sex, and that was it. I can think of 100 million better ways to do it. A lot of people have a wife and then mistresses and they hide it and cover it up. David was very open about what he was doing because he believed it was a scriptural thing. It was a very complicated thing but the plan all fit together. I never understood how so many women could live together under those circumstances. It’s a mystery of God, let me tell you. How could all these guys hang out, let that happen and not do anything?
Reason: Didn’t the guys get upset? You were single--but for other guys, it was their wives Koresh was sleeping with.