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Long Shadow: The Rise of the American Far-Right
Arriving now: Episode 1, "Waco — The Spark."
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Today, I’m excited to share with you the first episode of the second season of my podcast, LONG SHADOW. As you may know, the first season of the podcast focused on the lingering questions of 9/11 (and won a silver Signal Award this winter for best history podcast!).
This season’s new seven-episodes traces the 40-year history of the rise of the modern far-right, telling the story of how a movement with its roots in the Ku Klux Klan evolved and changed to eventually capture the core of the modern Republican Party.
It is, if I may so, a fascinating story—one where I learned a tremendous amount along the way.
I’ve spent the last seven months working on this show with Long Lead and Campside Media — Long Lead, led by John Patrick Pullen, is a great startup that aims to produce journalism that matters at the highest quality caliber, and Campside, which won the best podcast of the year for WILD BOYS, made that highest-quality caliber possible with some *amazing* archival sound. (Seriously, I spent a lot of the season telling Ryan Sweikert, the amazing series producer, “Wait—you found actual audio of that event?”)
Along the way, I spoke to brilliant academics, former government officials who worked on these domestic terrorism cases — including a former FBI agent who went undercover in Neo-Nazi groups in the 1990s — and journalists who covered these events over the last 30 years, including novelist Jess Walter (yes, he of BEAUTIFUL RUINS fame!), who a generation ago was a young newspaper writer covering the showdown at Ruby Ridge. You’re going to meet some fascinating people along the way, I promise.
This season tells the backdrop of today’s politics, how the white power movement of the 1980s morphed into the march on Charlottesville in 2017 and the mass shootings in Charleston, Christchurch, and El Paso. And ultimately how it all exploded on the steps of the US Capitol on January 6th.
As it turns out, all of these events are much more closely historically and ideologically linked than you probably realize.
Here’s is the audio first episode on both Apple Podcasts and Spotify — feel free to listen right here, thanks to the tech magic of Substack or download for your podcast pleasure later.
Today, Waco is probably best known nationally as the domestic mecca of Skip and Joanna Gaines and their Magnolia empire — downtown, their reinvented grain silos and Magnolia empire has lines out the door for tourists buying baked goods and domestic bliss.
But thirty years ago this spring, Waco led the nightly news every evening as 700 federal agents surrounded the compound of the Branch Davidian sect led by David Koresh. What ultimately ended up in a 51-day siege began when ATF agents tried to raid the Davidian compound, known as Mount Carmel, about seven miles outside the downtown. The raid was a disaster; it was the largest law enforcement shootout in American history, the biggest gun battle on US soil since the Civil War. Four ATF agents died, as did six Davidians.
The siege went worse; it ended with the fiery destruction, broadcast live on TV, of the entire compound and the deaths of 76 Davidians who remained inside.
In the hours after the fire, Texas Rangers moved in to investigate the blaze and the federal government’s actions, and at the conclusion of their investigation, the entire site was bulldozed and cleared.
Today, out of town, Mount Carmel remains an attraction of a certain other, dark sliver of tourists.
Today, the property is still controlled by the modern-day Branch Davidians, now called “The Branch,” and it’s open to the public, a haunted, macabre pilgrimage for a certain type of anti-government tourist. Today, the site includes a couple outbuildings, a pink, shed-like visitor center, a trailer home, and memorials to those who died in the siege — both the Branch Davidians and a separate one for the four ATF agents.
You can walk right down to the site of the old Mount Carmel Center. Altogether the property is much smaller than I imagined from the three-decade-old TV images, and when I visited on a windy, wet November day it took me a few moments to orient myself — finally I spotted signs for the remnants of the water tower and the rusting wreckage of a buried school bus that had once been part of the compound’s bunker. On one side, there’s still the old swimming pool, now filled with stagnant water.
That overcast Friday I was there, there was a steady stream of visitors, cars coming through about once every five minutes, license plates from all over the country. The group asks visitors for a $10 donation for upkeep, but while visiting vehicles steadily rolled through, I never saw anyone get out.
Notably, the one car parked on the property when I was there was an old blue Crown Victoria with Illinois plates, had a Three-Percenters skull bumper sticker. The Three-Percenters are a Patriot militia group we’re going to talk more about in future episodes.
At the center of the property, though, is the largest building — a church, built almost exactly where Mount Carmel’s old gymnasium would have been. Single-story, beige, an already tattered red “Trump 2024” flag flying out front, weeks before Donald Trump announced he was in fact running for reelection in 2024.
It’s this building that our podcast is really about — this plain church on sacred ground is the church that Alex Jones built. And it’s where Waco — the siege — becomes Waco — the myth.
I hope you’ll come with me for this tour of recent American history, a story that helps us understand who we are and where we’re going.
PS: As a preview of episodes-to-come, one of the most interesting monuments at the Mount Carmel property today is a granite memorial to the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995—an event inspired by the Waco siege and carried out by Tim McVeigh on the very anniversary of the fiery disaster of April 19, 1993, two years later. For that story, tune in in two weeks for Episode 3 of LONG SHADOW: Rise of the American Far-Right.
The memorial, if you can’t decipher it, reads: In remembrance of all the men, women, and children who were victimized and brutally slaughtered in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building on April 19, 1995. We pray that they and their families find comfort and peace in our Lord.