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A From the film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement Fifth Estates Productions BOOKS & THE CULTURE From Beneath the Ashes A Survivor’s Account of the Mount Carmel Assault BY DICK J. REAVIS \( A PLACE CALLED WACO: A Survivor’s Story. By David Thibodeau and Leon Whiteson. PublicAffairs \(distributed by 384 pages. $25.00. p ublicAffairs Press is a Washington/New York house of the liberal elite: George Soros, Stanley Marcus, and William Greider are its prize authors, and diet tracts and mysteries aren’t in its catalog. But one of its offerings this fall doesn’t fit the mold, although Howard Zinn blurbs the book as “an extraordinary account of one of the most shameful episodes in recent American history.” The book doesn’t fit, because it is the memoir of a follower of David Koresh. The national consensus is that in 1993, a cult of gun-toting, child-molesting white Christians murdered four federal agents, and then followed a charismatic leader into suicide. Liberals yielded to that consensus in support of Janet Reno and Bill Clinton, virtuous lights who seem now dim. Those who read A Place Called Waco will learn that much of the public/official myth was a concoction, and liberals may be drawn to think about the book’s themes civil liberties, spirituality, sexual sanctions, and utopias all topics on which liberals, between Truman and Clinton, once took an anti-Establishment stand. David Thibodeau is one of nine people who survived the fire at Mount Carmel. Thibodeau is a white male, but to regard him as Christian stretches matters a bit: he’s more rock and roll drummer than theological fanatic. The unlikeliest follower ever to enter Koresh’s camp the others were mostly Seventh-Day Adventists he has recently settled in Austin, a town he likes, sinful place that it is. When Thibodeau left the club scene in Hollywood to pursue music under the direction of Koresh, he was a footloose young man, only months out of high school in Maine. The biggest influence in his life had been his mother, Balenda Ganem, a woman with a feminist and tree-hugger bent. Even when he was with Koresh, Thibodeau didn’t rebel against her, and truth be told, he hasn’t yet. But in David Koresh he found a straight-spined male he could emulate, if not comprehend. Thibodeau doesn’t claim to have mastered Koresh’s biblical acrobatics, and the honesty of his self-portrait, as one torn by irreconcilable outlooks and desires, is at least disarming. Sometimes, it’s even amusing: “Though I was strongly drawn to David and fascinated by his ideas,” he writes, “…my natural skepticism got in the way of my own credulity.” Much of the book is about sex, because Thibodeau sometimes cheated on Koresh. The work’s strongest scene shows the author in a sweat as he wrestles off wave after wave of advances by a petite co-religionist who would become one of those to die in Mount Carmel’s flames. Thibodeau now admits he endured a marriage to another Mount Carmel woman without the benefit of sex, merely to create a facade of innocence for Koresh. The book talks plainly about guns, attributing the arming of Mount Carmel ology or even its efforts to raise funds, but to Koresh’s penchant for redneck toys. Thidobeau’s discourse on the subject is nearly pacifist in its tone, and unfortunately, is one of several monologues that are less than friendly to Texas. Thibodeau says that his own response, when Mount Carmel was attacked, was to prostrate himself and “chew dirt,” and apparently the feds believed him: seven of the faithful are still in prison, but he was never indicted. APlace Called Waco is not a book for the ages, in part because to bring it about, Thibodeau engaged the ser vices of a certain ghost writer, one Leon Whiteson of Los Angeles, who chose a low-talk style for some its passages. Whiteson freely lifts facts from my own Waco book without once tipping his ski mask because, I suppose, he knows how to protect himself from suits for plagiarism. For SEPTEMBER 17, 1999 22 THE TEXAS OBSERVER