Bookworm: ‘Waco Rising’ will then make your jaw drop

Terri Schlichenmeyer

“Waco Rising: David Koresh, The FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias”

  • By Kevin Cook
  • c. 2023, Henry Holt
  • $29.99, 288 pages

Or else. That doesn’t leave a lot of wiggle room, does it? The options are few; the choices, not good: you follow instructions – like it or not – or what happens won’t be pleasant. But, as in the new book, “Waco Rising” by Kevin Cook, the results of a slow reaction changes society.

Born late in the summer of 1959 to a fourteen-year-old mother, Vernon Howell didn’t have the best kind of growing up. His mother flitted from man to man and most of them didn’t think much of her son, who suffered from hyperactivity and dyslexia and didn’t do well in school. Still, young Vernon had a keen mechanical ability and he knew the Bible better than almost anybody. Because of this, the religious commune where he landed as a young man was a good place for him to be.

“Waco Rising: David Koresh, The FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias” by Kevin Cook.

Founded in 1935 by a splinter of Seventh-day Adventists, by 1988, the group was struggling to find a true prophet who would control the community. The issue had gotten litigious, Vernon got involved, then he briefly left the main group before returning to the compound and wresting control by paying a few thousand dollars in back taxes. He changed his name to David Koresh, and he settled in to grow the Branch Davidian community.

Believers came from all over the world, bringing their spouses and families, and Koresh set up rules by which his followers had to abide. Children were homeschooled. Most marriages were erased except his own. And it became an honor for fathers to “give” Koresh their 8-to-14-year-old daughters so the girls could be his “wives.”

This, among other things, bothered one of Koresh’s followers, and he left the group on less-than-good terms. As soon as Marc Breault returned to his native Australia, he began petitioning local authorities to investigate the Branch Davidians for various crimes and allegations.

And so, armed with accusations, firepower, and surveillance equipment, the authorities – the FBI, ATF, and others – moved in across the road from the Branch Davidian compound in late February of 1993. And they waited...

As sure as you can trace a road with your finger on a map, there’s a path to follow through history inside “Waco Rising.” And fair warning: it’s a chilling one.

“Waco Rising: David Koresh, The FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias” author Kevin Cook.

Taking readers back nearly a century ago to set the stage, author Kevin Cook tells the story of the Branch Davidians, and David Koresh’s methodical, charismatic takeover of the compound and the lives of his followers. While the narrative is twice marred by dark “jokes” that have no place in this story, Cook offers readers a wealth of tiny details that they may have forgotten in the past three decades, or misunderstood, and the story moves quickly, edge-of-the-chair-like, as though you’re watching it unfold on TV all over again.

And if that’s not chilling enough, Cook brings readers up-to-date on survivors’ lives as he explains how the siege in Texas echoes in today’s news. “Waco Rising” will then make your jaw drop. You won’t want to read anything else.

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The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. She has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. Terri lives on a hill in Wisconsin with two dogs and 11,000 books. Read past columns at