Walking Among Ghosts

Senior editor Michael Hall revisits Waco's Branch Davidians and describes the challenges and nuances of writing about the remaining followers and the controversies of their tragic history.

You can figure out a lot of things in ten years’ time. But lingering questions about the fiery siege of Mount Carmel, ten years ago this month, have still not been answered. In fact, the Branch Davidians as they were then, and as they exist now, are still raising fresh uncertainties. In this month’s feature story “The Ghosts of Mount Carmel,” senior editor Michael Hall indulges our curiosities about the followers—those who are gone, and those who survived. Here he tells us of his inquiries into the lives of Waco’s most infamous residents.

texasmonthly.com: How much time did you spend out in Waco? And how much time did you spend on the article?

Michael Hall: I went up there five times. I’d generally spend the afternoon talking to the Davidians in the chapels as well as chatting with various visitors. I started working on the story in early January and spent about eight weeks on it.

texasmonthly.com: How difficult was it to approach Davidian preacher Clive Doyle and the other remaining Davidians for this story? Was there anyone who did not want to be interviewed?

MH: I was a little nervous at first because I knew they were so cautious about the press. But once I returned for a second visit they opened up and were very cooperative. One of the FBI psychologists didn’t want to talk about the qualms he had ten years ago or about the agency’s tactics. He was the only agent who didn’t want to talk. I tried to interview the seven Davidians who are in prison but only heard from two of them.

texasmonthly.com: With so much information out there about the Branch Davidians and so much coverage about the siege, how did you narrow down your research and your focus?

MH: I realized early on that the story I wanted to tell wasn’t what happened then—which is what most people have written about—but what’s happening now. The biggest challenge was summarizing the past, which was essential to understanding the present. But it’s almost impossible to summarize some of the things that happened—whole books have been written about these things.

texasmonthly.com: Where did

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