Bangor resident David Thibodeau is helping reframe one of the most captivating domestic conflicts in U.S. history.
Thibodeau survived the 51-day standoff between the Branch Davidians and FBI agents outside Waco, Texas, in 1993. He later recounted his story in “A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story,” a book that is one of the texts used by producers of TV miniseries currently airing on the Paramount Network.
Morning Edition Host Irwin Gratz spoke with Thibodeau about surviving Waco.
Gratz: Before the TV series launched you did a round of interviews about this. I’m curious as to what it has been like revisiting this standoff.
Thibodeau: Frankly it’s been much better, and the reason for this I think is because of a newer generation that maybe needed the space of 25 years to get the kind of interest that it deserves.
So let me take you back to 1993. What were some of your first impressions after you arrived there?
That I had gone back into the 1800s. It was a very monastic lifestyle — very, very sparse. We washed our clothes in buckets. There were three meals a day and there was a work involved. People worked on the houses, and then we’d play music at night. After that it would be a study, and the study could go anywhere from 4 to 8 hours sometimes.
Come Feb. 1993, the ATF agents make the initial attack on the compound. They’re repelled and they back off, and the siege gets underway. What are you thinking now?
He (Branch Davidian leader David Koresh) talked about being attacked for many years — years before I was there — that the government forces would come in and shut them down for what he was teaching. When you’re there and you see it happening, you actually can read the Psalms 1-150 and see exactly the events that are taking place. It’s pretty powerful.
You were one of the few people to actually survive the standoff and you come back here to Maine. What was that like?
I was just happy to be alive, honestly, at that particular time. There were some effects though. Every time I would hear a helicopter fly anywhere near the house — I staying with my uncle at the time — I would instantly be under the bed hiding from it, hiding from the sound. That was of course a form of PTSD that took me some time to get over.
What really bothered me though were the preconceived ideas that people had of me, who I was, how I would act, who I would be. I felt like I was always Dave Thibodeau, I was always a kid who left Bangor to go be a drummer and try to play music for a living. And I just found this amazing experience, but I haven’t really changed.
Some have said that the book you wrote and this TV series now are attempting to rewrite the perceptions of the standoff at Waco. Is that the case?
No, I’ve been upset for 25 years because people don’t know what happened. People don’t know who the people at Mount Carmel were. Those people were so demonized by the American press and the government, who told the press what to say, how to think about it, how to speak upon it. “Use the word cult, use the word compound instead of church, use the word ATV instead of a tank, a military tank going through your building.” Imagine that for a second.
I think that the story is actually being told for the first time. I don’t think that we’re rewriting history. I think it’s time for the true history to come out.
This interview has been edited for clarity.