The standoff at Mount Carmel has brought intense scrutiny of Waco, the likes of which the city has not experienced since the eyes of William Cowper Brann peered into the dark recesses and shadowy corners of the late-19th-century cotton town.
In his controversial periodical The Iconoclast, Brann waged a one-man war against what he saw as hypocrisy and idiocy. Here, for example, is a taste of his acerbic prose:
“Sam Jones once located Hell, if I mistake not, one mile from the city of Waco. Should Sam happen into the city some day, when we are holding a mayoralty election, he would correct his geography by placing the Bottomless Pit midway between the eastern and western confines of this great center of pseudo-sanctification.”
Now, 10 miles northeast of Waco a horde of journalists, domestic and international, is letting Waco have it left and right.
Most obvious in this regard but not the sole instance is an article in the London Times March 6 by a slash-and-burn correspondent named Ben MacIntrye. His assessment of Waco:
“It is a place of pick-up trucks, and drive-ins, Stetsons, poverty, religious devotion and lots of guns. Waco is almost bizarre in its all-American normality; a one-horse town where the horse died . . . Fresh vegetables appear to be illegal.”
Most members of a community can tolerate the criticism of a fellow citizen, but when an outsider takes aim at their beloved home the situation becomes a horse of an entirely different color.
MacIntyre obviously fuses fiction with fact on a regular basis. Not to compound his fantasies, but he should be advised that in 1898 William Brann was awarded with a bullet in the back and an early grave for his relentless philippics.
Journalists such as MacIntyre would do well to replace their rhetorical flourishes with a modicum of fairness.
Until that times comes — an event as unlikely as Vernon Howell’s dream of Armageddon — Waco will have to weather the storm. For some months after the standoff has ended, we will be known as “whacko” Waco, no longer the “Heart of Texas” but rather the butt of a big joke.
Will the stigma of these recent events linger like the mark of Cain? No. Waco will continue to go about its educational, commercial and recreational business.
The new zoo will open. The River Festival will celebrate the spring. Lake Waco and the cliffs of Lover’s Leap won’t know the difference, and a few years down the road any truly negative associations with the city of Waco will prove to have been as ephemeral as a March crane fly.