INDIGNITY VOL. 33, NO. 45: What does Waco mean to Donald Trump?


INDIGNITY VOL. 33, NO. 45: What does Waco mean to Donald Trump?
Abrams tank next to the burning Branch Davidian compound, April 19, 1993. Photo: Public Domain via Wikipedia.

The Thirty-Year Siege

FOR AIR MAIL, I reviewed two new books about the federal government's deadly siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, which was somewhere around its halfway point 30 years ago today. Donald Trump, meanwhile, celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Waco atrocities by staging his official presidential campaign kickoff rally (not to be confused with the various rallies he's already held since declaring his presidential campaign underway) there over the weekend:

The rally featured one new twist: the playing of “Justice for All,” a song featuring the J6 Prison Choir, which is made up of men who were imprisoned for their part in the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.

The song, which topped some iTunes download charts, is part of a broader attempt by Mr. Trump and his allies to reframe the riot and the effort to overturn the election as patriotic. The track features the men singing “The Star-Spangled Banner” while Mr. Trump recites the Pledge of Allegiance.

The obvious historical precedent for Trump campaigning in Waco was Ronald Reagan's 1980 speech about "states' rights" at the Neshoba County Fair in Mississippi, not far from the site where three Freedom Summer workers were murdered in 1964. But although Reagan's campaign stop was only 16 years removed from the killings, it was on the far side of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, giving it more the quality of a thinly veiled insult—or, to the voters he wanted, a thinly veiled compliment—than that of a threat.

Three decades after Waco, however, the old meanings of it are still right on the surface. It remains, like Trump himself, a free-floating symbol of grievance and vengeance for the American far right. Unlike Trump, Waco does represent an actual injustice; malignant though the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh was, the feds caused dozens of avoidable deaths, including those of 20 children, by recklessly and brutally escalating their conflict with him.

But the right wing's ownership of Waco was always more about the mythology than the particulars. Koresh's multinational, multiracial band of followers, in death, were taken up by the right as spiritual kin to the white nationalist Randy Weaver's wife and son, slain by federal officers in Idaho the year before. The racist Iraq War veteran Timothy McVeigh, who visited the Waco siege hawking anti-government bumper stickers, went on to kill 168 people in the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the deaths at Waco. In the 21st century, the QAnon conspiracy complex has absorbed the martyrdom of Koresh, undeterred by the fact that the sexual abuse of children was a central feature of Koresh's leadership.

As I wrote in Air Mail, this reactionary vision of Waco leaves out the many other aspects of unaccountable state violence that converged on the compound 30 years ago, and which have carried forward to our present day:

Although there is surely a straight line...from Waco to McVeigh’s Oklahoma City bombing, to the mobs of January 6, it’s hard not to see the story branching out in other directions: Uvalde, Nisour Square, Ferguson. If it pointed back to Ruby Ridge, it also pointed back to the MOVE bombing, in Philadelphia. Babylon is bigger, and worse, than the right-wing imagination can contain.

New York City, March 26, 2023

★★★★★ The morning pavement was still damp from the grim soaking of yesterday, but the sky was brilliantly clear. A crow perched on a pipe beside the hawk perching on the water tower and berated it, black beak wide open against the blue. A gently cool breeze moved under gently warm sun, tousling hair. People had slung their unneeded jackets over shoulders or tied the sleeves around their waist or just carried them awkwardly dangling from their hands. Turtles crowded shell-to-shell to bask on a rock in the Pool. Blossoms and leaves were mostly still sparse, but sparsely emergent in all directions. Abundance belonged to small sharp-petaled yellow flowers, thickly carpeting the ground and stretching away into the trees. All dampness had been chased away, and people were camped out in groups on the still-threadbare side lawns of the Great Hill, with the central grass fenced off to recover from the winter. Up on the benches it was so bright as to make the reading glasses unnecessary. It took more than an hour there for the breeze to get too chilly. A crescent moon showed in the deep blue almost at the zenith. Strollers were parked all over the slope above the water, with blankets spread alongside. On the way to the basketball court, a newly opened basketball carton lay in the crosswalk on Columbus Ave. The rims were crisp and precise in the sun, and the old ball sailed more and more truly through them as the minutes went by.

Indignity Morning Podcast No. 38: Molon labe.
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WE PRESENT INSTRUCTIONS for the assembly of select sandwiches from Tested Recipes, by the Ladies' Auxiliary of the Maple Avenue Hospital Of Dubois, PA., published in 1917, found in the public domain and available at for the delectation of all.

Italian Sandwich.

One-half pound of dried beef; one-fourth pound of cream cheese; 1 pint of tomatoes; put the beef and cheese thru food chopper; add tomatoes which have been sieved and cook until thick. Use when cold.
—Mrs. B.S. Munch

Eisleworth Paste.

1 pound of cheese; one-fourth pound of butter; juice of one onion; 1 bunch of parsley; 1 teaspoonful of mustard; pepper and salt.
—Mrs. Arnold

If you decide to prepare and attempt to enjoy a sandwich inspired by these offerings, kindly send a picture to us at

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