Eighty-seven years ago, today, Robert Smith drank his last drink, the date marked by AA for its anniversaries.
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is an international mutual aid fellowship dedicated to abstinence based recovery from alcoholism through its spiritually inclined Twelve Step program. Following its Twelve Traditions, AA and autonomous AA groups are self-supporting through the strictly voluntary contributions from members only. The Traditions also establish AA as non-professional, non-denominational and apolitical, with an avowed desire to stop drinking as its sole requirement for membership. Though AA has not endorsed the disease model of alcoholism, to which its program is nonetheless sympathetic, its wider acceptance is partly due to many members independently promulgating it. A recent scientific review shows that by many measures AA does as well or better than other clinical interventions or no treatment. In particular, AA produces better abstinence rates with lower medical costs. As of 2020, having spread to diverse cultures, including geopolitical areas normally resistant to grassroots movements, AA has estimated its worldwide membership to be over two million with 75% of those in the U.S. and Canada.
AA marks 1935 for its founding when Wall Street analyst and newly recovering alcoholic Bill Wilson, then reeling from a failed proxy fight, sought to stay sober by commiserating with detoxing surgeon Bob Smith. After leaving the Oxford Group to form a fellowship of alcoholics only, Wilson and Smith, along with other early members, wrote Alcoholics Anonymous: The Story of How More Than One Hundred Men Have Recovered From Alcoholism, from which AA acquired its name. Published in 1939 and commonly called “the Big Book”, it contains AA’s Twelve Step recovery program. Later editions included the Twelve Traditions, first adopted in 1946 to formalize and unify the fellowship as a “benign anarchy”.
Twenty-six years ago, today, at 9:45 am CST, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve a search warrant for illegal weapons, and possible methamphetamine manufacture (brings in military assistance due to the War on Drugs), to the Branch Davidians religious group at the Mount Carmel Center in Axtell, Texas. The raid did not go well. The ATF was unable to get into the compound after a two-hour battle that claimed the lives of four ATF agents and five Branch Davidians. Sixteen more agents were wounded. A ceasefire was called until another branch member attempted to re-enter the compound six hours later and was gunned down.
The ATF made contact with David Koresh (Vernon Wayne Howell) inside and, the FBI moved in and took over the operation. Early on, 25 FBI negotiators nearly had Koresh agreeing to the Davidians leaving peacefully in exchange for a recorded message of his being released via radio. After the recording was aired, Koresh changed his mind and, stated that ‘God’ had told him to stay and wait. Despite the reversal, nineteen children were released and, interviewed regarding alleged physical and sexual abuse. Koresh gave phone interviews to the local media until the FBI cut all communication.
The stand-off lasted 51 days, culminating in a deadly fire on April 19. Seventy-six Branch Davidian members died. Autopsies revealed some died due to collapsed concrete walls, others by gun shots (either self-inflicted or consensual execution) and, there was one stabbing. Autopsy photographs of some children seemed to indicate cyanide poisoning.
The raid was criticized extensively. A slew of controversies emerged. There was no meth lab and no evidence of child abuse. Despite the Danforth Report, the whitewash of bureaucratic misconduct fueled resentment. The Oklahoma City Bombing occurred on the second anniversary of the Waco fire.
Nothing remains of the buildings, today, other than concrete foundation components, as the entire site was bulldozed two weeks after the end of the siege. Only a small chapel, built years after the siege, stands on the site.