Named one of The New Yorker's "Best Books of 2023"
A news-making account of the war between David Koresh’s Branch Davidians and the FBI, and how their standoff launched today’s militias
In 1993, David Koresh and a band of heavily armed evangelical Christians took on the might of the US government. A two-month siege of their compound in Waco, Texas, ended in a firefight that killed seventy-six, including twenty-five children. America is still picking up the pieces, and we still haven’t heard the full story.
Kevin Cook, who revealed the truth behind a mythic, misunderstood murder in his 2014 Kitty Genovese, finally provides the full story of what happened at Waco. He gives readers a taste of Koresh’s deadly charisma and takes us behind the scenes at the Branch Davidians’ compound, where “the new Christ” turned his followers into servants and sired seventeen children by a dozen “wives.” In vivid accounts packed with human drama, Cook harnesses never-reported material to reconstruct the FBI’s fifty-one-day siege of the Waco compound in minute-to-minute detail. He sheds new light on the Clinton administration’s approval of a lethal governmental assault in a new, definitive account of the firefight that ended so many lives and triggered the rise of today’s militia movement. Waco drew the battle lines for American extremists—in Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s words, “Waco started this war.” With help from sources as diverse as Branch Davidian survivors and the FBI’s lead negotiator during the siege, Cook draws a straight line from Waco’s ashes to the January 6, 2021, riot at the US Capitol and insurrections yet to come.
Unmissable reading for anyone interested in the truth of what happened in Texas three decades ago, Waco Rising is chillingly relevant today. Here is the spark that ignited today’s antigovernment militias.
Praise for Waco Rising
“I learned early on as a counterterrorism special agent that it takes tragedy to force change in the U.S. government. Kevin Cook’s masterful story of what truly happened in Waco in 1993 should be read by every American.”
—Fred Burton, former special agent and New York Times bestselling author
“Kevin Cook’s excellent book documents the ways in which the event galvanized the militia movement.”
—The New Yorker
“In describing the standoff with exquisite detail and care, Cook masterfully portrays the scope of the violence and heartbreak on all sides. The author’s meticulous history and character portraits also serve as timely reminders of the danger of homegrown militias and the cultlike figures who often lead them. Unfortunately, this material is still fertile ground in America. A thorough, engaging work that reminds us of the humanity behind the tragedy.”
—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
“An engrossing and original new book [with] heroic detail and depth.... Cook's account transports readers from the Davidians' early days to the prolonged standoff.”
“Cult leaders are fascinating creatures, not only for their undeniable charisma but also for their powerful hold on their followers and their tendency to self-destruct…. In chilling detail, Cook describes Koresh’s descent into religious paranoia, putting him on the path that would lead to his confrontation with the FBI.”
”With both its narrative and its marketed thesis, Waco Rising overwhelmingly succeeds.... Waco Rising is an unparalleled work of narrative.”
—The American Purpose
“[T]ense re-creations of the 51-day siege...a fast, taut read.”
“Cook digs into how Koresh’s heavily armed evangelical Branch Davidians and the war they waged against the U.S. government, culminating in a firefight that killed 76 people, paved the way to today's militia movement.”
“[F]ast-paced…. Drawing from extensive interviews with surviving group members, Cook is at his strongest when discussing the day-to-day life of the Davidians under their unstable, self-appointed prophet, David Koresh.”