We watched Waco last Sunday night. It was, for me, unimaginably powerful.
Here’s a trailer from YouTube.
In 1993 the ATF got a search warrant for the Branch Davidian headquarters in Waco, Texas, and an arrest warrant for David Koresh, the religious leader of the group, on weapons charges. Instead of serving the warrants, the ATF launched a surprise raid, trying to force entry. There was a gun battle. The raid failed. No one has ever figured out who fired first but both sides blamed the other. The FBI took over, then for 51 days all America watched the Feds fumble the operation. Finally, on April 19 the FBI launched an assault that resulted in the deaths of 76 people, including 25 children and 2 pregnant women.
These events in Waco took place against the backdrop of Ruby Ridge, a similar incident in Idaho six months earlier. That one was an 11-day siege of the Randy Weaver family cabin after Weaver resisted arrest on weapons’ charged. The FBI killed Randy Weaver’s dog, 14 year old son Sammy, and his wife Vicki.
None of these people were particularly warm and fuzzy characters. Randy Weaver was a white supremacist, and David Koresh seems to have turned the Branch Davidian women into his personal harem. They weren’t “nice people” but the bad guys here are the government agents who went after them.
I don’t imagine it’s a parallel that will occur to most people, but I see my early Mormon ancestors in these stories. Joe Smith was a prophet with questionable morals and tactics. He seduced other men’s wives, engineered a ponzi scheme, created a private army, destroyed a printing press when it was used to print an opposition newspaper, and on and on.
Smith was, of course, immeasurably more successful in his own lifetime than either David Koresh or Randy Weaver. Next to Uncle Joe they look like two-bit wannabes. Even so, in the eyes of their contemporaries the early Mormons must have looked every bit as outlandish as the Branch Davidians. And those Mormons didn’t have just one equivalent of the Siege at Waco; they went from crisis to crisis. Everything from the Panic of 1837 to the Haun’s Mill Massacre to the assassination of the Prophet at Carthage Jail and the exodus to the western wilderness.
After watching Waco, I’m reflecting on what makes our Mormon history “sacred history” and Branch Davidian history just some crackpot and his followers resisting arrest?
I think it might have helped that Joseph Smith’s church survived the early setbacks and was fortunate to get some distance from American mobs while it matured a bit under the leadership of Brigham Young. I would be surprised if any of my Mormon relatives think of our pioneer ancestors as being in the same category as David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.