Ghost of American Babylon is still a success 30 years after Waco – 03/27/2023 – João Pereira Coutinho

Nobody believed that Jesus was the son of God when he first passed through the world. Why would they believe him if he came back a second time?

As a premise for a novel, it’s a beautiful idea. Dostoevsky gave us a taste of this: in “The Brothers Karamazov”, this is the parable that Ivan tells his brother to show how the established church, jealous of its power, would never accept the return of Jesus, even if it recognized him as such.

In the real world, the consequences of this delusion can be ruinous, especially when candidates for Jesus drag his disciples into the abyss. Just remember the case of David Koresh, leader of a religious sect, who presented himself as the new messiah.

Many believed. Hundreds, rather, who decided to go live with him on a ranch in Waco, Texas.

It didn’t go well, to put it mildly. One day, the police decided to show up because Koresh, in addition to the Bible, also liked to collect prohibited military weapons. It was the first confrontation of the “Davidians” with the police. Four agents died.

The second clash, which lasted almost two months of stalemate, ended in flames, with the collective suicide of 82 cult followers, Koresh included. Of those 82, 28 were children, many of them abused by Koresh.

The documentary about the tragedy can be seen on Netflix (“Waco: American Apocalypse”) and I confess that I liked it. Not for the story itself, but because it reveals a certain kind of mentality that, unfortunately, has transferred from religious fanaticism to politics.

In 1993, Koresh’s followers were the exception to the rule: devout, zombies, hallucinators, they saw themselves as part of God’s plan to redeem “American Babylon.”

As stated by one of the devotees, who actually escaped with her life and shares her experience in the documentary, no one thought of themselves as a “person”. They all saw themselves as instruments of a greater cause, which is why they were willing to die for it.

Today, Koresh’s followers are everywhere, which only confirms the thesis that the decline of traditional religions metastasizes in the most unlikely places. Koresh’s sect was just one of them. Overkill?

I do not believe. Years ago, writer Shadi Hamid told the “Atlantic” that, between 1937 and 1998, the United States was a rare case in the secular West: 70% of Americans still attended church, an unthinkable figure in Europe. Over the next two decades, the figure dropped to less than 50%.

At the same time, and during this same period, ideological intensity has increased dramatically, until we reach the current scenario, where radicals on both sides believe they are fighting the devil, not discussing the best policies for the country.

Wokism is that form of religiosity, with its academic and cultural inquisitions; right-wing nationalism, with its apology for nativism and blood, is another pagan form of spiritual worship.

And, in this filthy broth, it is fair to recognize that the radical right has an advantage in the conquest and exercise of power: it already had its president between 2016 and 2020 and the president, it seems, chose Waco, Texas, for the first rally of the his new election campaign. Coincidence?

There is no coincidence: choosing Waco would always be symbolic. To do so on the 30th anniversary of the tragedy takes on even greater significance.

And Donald didn’t waste the opportunity. According to the press, he made an apology for the invasion of the Capitol; he declared himself the victim of a corrupt system; promised death and destruction if he is arrested; declared 2024 as “the final battle” to reclaim America from its enemies.

Far be it from me to declare that Donald Trump is the incarnation of David Koresh. On the contrary: Koresh’s madness was genuine; in Trump nothing is genuine.

My point is another: like a talented parasite, it feeds and feeds on the kind of dark energies that, in that place, 30 years ago, took Dantesque proportions.

He knows, deep down, that the will to believe has not disappeared. And that the doomsday votes still explain, in part, his lead in all polls on the best Republican candidate for 2024.

Thirty years after Waco, the ghost of American Babylon is still a box office hit.

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