Is David Thibodeau A Branch Davidian? The Waco Survivor Has A Complicated Relationship With David Koresh’s Memory

Played by Rory Culkin in the Paramount miniseries Waco; David Thibodeau was one of the few residents of the Waco Branch Davidian compound to survive the 1993 siege. Many other members of the compound followed the teachings of David Koresh, and subscribed to the group's fringe religious beliefs. But despite living amongst them, David Thibodeau is not a Branch Davidian and never was. He told the Dallas Observer that he heard the term for the first time in the TV coverage of the standoff.

Following the siege and the burning of the compound, Thibodeau detailed how he came to live with the religious group in the 1999 book A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story. The book details how Thibodeau and Koresh first met, and it wasn't religious ideals that first brought them together, but music. Bangor Daily News reported that the two met in Los Angeles and bounded over their shared interest. Eventually, Thibodeau moved into Koresh's Waco compound, but Thibodeau claimed to the Observer that even as he was living with Koresh, he never considered him the messiah, but pointed out that Koresh's followers didn't either. While Thibodeau has insisted he was never a Branch Davidian, the Waco survivor still bought into some of what Koresh was preaching.

Thibodeau spent 18 months in the Waco compound, but still regularly kept contact with the outside world. His uncle, Robert Ganem, told The New York Times in 1993, "[Thibodeau] was very positive about [living in Waco], doing what he want to do, which was playing music." Ganem further stated that despite living on a religious compound, Thibodeau was not a religious person. "David Thibodeau would not die for Koresh," Ganem claimed.

However, Thibodeau later told the Austin Chronicle that Waco was a nice place to be because of their belief structure. "It was refreshing to see a group of people who lived it and wanted to live their lives according to scripture. To me that was an honorable thing," he said. "The way they came off as people who really wanted to know impressed me."

While Thibodeau may not have considered Koresh to be a messiah, he did tell the Dallas Observer that he believed Koresh to be a prophet during his time at the Waco compound. But though he was close with Koresh, Thibodeau is aware of Koresh's flaws.

Thibodeau told the Dallas Observer, "Koresh certainly was guilty of something ... He was either a polygamist or he was guilty of statutory rape. Probably both." According to The New York Times, Koresh would groom girls as young as 11-years-old to sleep with him and would use God as a justification for his actions. While the rest of the compound was celibate, Koresh took multiple "spiritual wives." "A Bible-based community lives by the Bible, and that can be frightening in a lot of ways ... If that's the only way that you're looking at life, you're going to be very one-sided, and there's going to be all kinds of justification in that scripture," Thibodeau told the Observer.

Today, the survivor acknowledges that Koresh was the cause of a lot of hurt. Thibodeau's relationship with Koresh's memory is complicated. "I can't be an apologist for David Koresh," he told the Observer, "but I feel for people that have had negative experiences at the hands of David."

While Thibodeau may have not considered himself a Branch Davidian, his religion does not change the horror he witnessed during the ATF siege of the Waco compound. His complicated history with the group proves that each and every person in that compound had their own life, their own voice, and their own opinions. The stories of all who passed away at Waco deserve to be told.

If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.