The weirdest people in Waco were not the ones at the top of the hill.
(More from the mcarp archives… the prophetic genius and brilliance are his;
the ones/zeros, pixels, pictures and subheads and pull-quotes are mine.)
Greetings from Satellite City, TX
What do they call those noisemakers Tibetan monks swing around their heads… the ones that make thatÂ hroowwwwnnngggggg hrooowwwnnngggggg noise?
We all have our unanswered questions about Waco… and that’s mine.
I have nothing to say about black helicopters, or the second amendment, or whether David Koresh was a kook or a prophet. I have nothing to say about how it ended. I wasn’t there, as it turned out, on the final day.
But one evening in late March, 1993, stuck in Waco, and stuck for a way to advance the Branch Davidian standoff story for my own station, I picked up the Gideon Bible out of my room at the Days Inn, and took it with me down to Satellite City, the media encampment at the perimeter of the standoff.
I sat in a Chevy Astro van with that Bible in one hand, and a Pearl longneck in the other, and, with the van’s dome light for illumination, began reading the Book of the Revelation â€” specifically, the passages about the Seven Seals which were so crucial to the Davidians’ understanding of their leader, David Koresh.
“And when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals I saw it, and I heard one of the four living creatures say, as if in a voice of thunder, ‘Come.'”
Up on the hill, the Davidians’ Mt. Carmel compound stood illuminated against the night sky. An FBI helicopter swooped overhead, sailing down the hillside, sweeping the fields with a spotlight.
“And when the Lamb broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, ‘Come.’ And another horse came out â€” a fiery-red one; and power was given to its rider to take peace from the earth, and to cause men to kill one another; and a great sword was given to him.”
Across the road, a television news crew from Houston had turned their satellite truck into a landbound party barge, complete with barbecue, lanterns, and boom box. Gloria Estefan sang from the stereo.
Meanwhile, from the hilltop, the occasional rumbling of tanks, and the sound effects of the FBI’s ‘psychological warfare’ campaign drifted down to mingle with the dance music and constant chugging of satellite truck generators.
“When the Lamb broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, ‘Come.’ I looked, and a black horse appeared, its rider carrying a balance in his hand.”
In fact, crews who had been parked at Satellite City more than a month had turned it into a ‘home away from home’. The media pool had searched for tents that could serve as temporary shelter, and had come up with a row of candy-striped county fair pavilions, that were lined up along the side of the road. Talk about your media circus.
Lines in the sand
CNN crews had surrounded its installation with a foot-high picket fence, and had stuck a pink flamingo lawn ornament in the ground outside its trailer door.
There were other reporters who found so many amenities of resort living available in Satellite City, they never left the place. You’d see them following around other,Â working reporters who’d come in from town, trying to beg, borrow, or steal snippets of information. Or, they’d sit in their own trailers and watch Charles Jaco’s CNN reports, and plagiarizeÂ that material for the folks back home.
It occurred to me that night â€” with beer in one hand and Bible in the other â€” that, as surreal as this scene looked from my vantage point, it must look even stranger from the bullet-riddled house on the hill. Inside, the followers of David Koresh had convinced themselves the world was coming to an end. For them, in fact, it was.
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, ‘Come.’ I looked and a pale-colored horse appeared. Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades came close behind him; and authority was given to them over the fourth part of the earth, to kill with the sword or with famine or pestilence or by means of the wild beasts of the earth.”
There they were, surrounded, on a hilltop in rural Texas, by helicopters and tanks and spotlights and loudspeakers blasting theÂ hroowwwwnnngggggg hrooowwwnnngggggg of Tibetan soundmakers â€” whatever they’re called.
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw at the foot of the altar the souls of those whose lives had been sacrificed because of the word of God and of the testimony which they had given.”
But what, amidst the tanks and helicopters and bizarre sound effects and bodies that surrounded them, did they make of that little camp down at the foot of the hill? The row of brightly-lit satellite trucks and festival tents, and the strains of Miami Sound Machine faintly drifting up the hill?
What the hell kind of apocalypse was this, anyway?
Nobody at the foot of the hill seemed to care.
“When the Lamb broke the sixth seal I looked, and there was a great earthquake, and the sun became as dark as sackcloth, and the whole disc of the moon became like blood.”
Crossing the line, never to return
Unable to focus on Revelation, I walked across the road to the Houston satellite truck. Someone noticed I seemed a little distracted. He asked why, and I told him. “Who cares?” he replied, pausing to swallow a mouthful of barbecue. “They’re all nuts up there, anyway.”
“When the Lamb broke the seventh seal, there was silence in Heaven for about half an hour. Then I saw the seven angels who are in the presence of God, and seven trumpets were given to them.”
On that spring evening in 1993, the axis of my reality shifted just a little bit. Nothing looked quite the same for years afterward. And TV news never looked the same again.
(originally published by Michael Carpenter, republished with permission.)