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Waco: Did David Koresh Really Play Music During the Siege?

Yes, David Koresh's Musical Moment During the Siege on Waco Really Did Happen

Branch Davidian founder David Koresh (L.) during his first visit to Australia to recruit members. He was accompanied by Clive Doyle (R.) on the trip. (Photo by Elizabeth Baranyai/Sygma via Getty Images)

When the FBI laid siege to David Koresh's compound in Waco, TX, in 1993, what resulted was a 51-day standoff between the authorities and Koresh's religious cult. The confrontation included a lot of negotiation — and music. In the 2018 show Waco, which is based on the tragedy in Waco, the FBI and the ATF (the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, now known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives) resort to blasting music and other annoying sounds at the compound to try to get Koresh — pictured above with Waco survivor Clive Doyle — and his followers to surrender. After the authorities cut the power to the compound, Koresh starts a generator, plugs in speakers of his own, and plays music with his band, aimed right back at the FBI. The question is, how much of that is real?

The real Koresh was indeed a musician. And he did meet David Thibodeau through music, but it was at a Guitar Center, not a bar during a gig. Koresh did have a band, though, that played locally, and you can still find his music online.

The FBI did try to use music and other sounds to torment Koresh's group into surrendering. Doyle recounted much of the siege in his autobiography. He wrote that the noise from the FBI was constant and included "rabbits being killed, warped-up music, Nancy Sinatra singing 'These Boots Are Made For Walking,' Tibetan monks chanting, Christmas carols, telephones ringing, reveille." In retaliation, Koresh sent his own loud music back, though according to a 1993 Entertainment Weekly story, Koresh did this before the compound's power was cut — not by using a generator like in the show.

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As for Koresh's musical retaliation, there are a few differing account. EW's retelling of the siege claimed he played tapes of his own songs, while the Los Angeles Times noted that guitar music blared from inside the compound. However, an FBI agent told PBS's Frontline that Koresh actually played music with his band. R.J. Craig, who was part of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, said: "He had his little band in there and, all of a sudden, he starts playing and we were 200-plus yards away and we had to yell at each other to hear. It was . . . and it went on for several hours, this concert, rock concert. Just showing us that his speakers were more powerful than ours."

In the end, though, Koresh's music and pleading for peace were no match for the authorities, who flooded Mount Carmel with tear gas on the 51st day of the standoff. A fire then broke out, killing dozens of Koresh's followers and Koresh himself.

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