Scientologist Giovanni Ribisi to Play David Koresh: Why There’s a Precedent for a Scientology-Branch Davidian Connection


So I’m late to this story, but I only found out recently that Giovanni Ribisi is portraying David Koresh in a movie about the 1993 Waco raid that is scheduled to come out later this year. (The movie will also reportedly star Adrien Brody, Kurt Russell, John Leguizamo, and Sharon Stone, according to

I’m having deja vu on all kinds of levels over this nugget of news, and the reason is I believe I may have been the first, way back in 1995, to prove a connection between Scientology and Koresh’s Branch Davidians in a story I wrote for the Phoenix New Times.

And now, Ribisi, a third-generation Scientologist, will be portraying Koresh on the big screen.

The hairs on the back of my neck keep going up.

In 1995, I wrote the first lengthy story about Rick Ross, a controversial “deprogrammer” who helped people leave Bible-based organizations they had soured on.

Even though Ross focused on Bible-based groups, Scientology considered him an enemy and kept him under almost constant surveillance through the use of private investigators. In 1992, Scientology lawyers learned that Ross was counseling a man named David Block, who had recently left Koresh’s Branch Davidians group and its compound, Mount Carmel.

I talked to Block about his experiences at Mount Carmel, and he was adamant that Koresh was a sick fucker who was using Bible verses to convince underage girls to sleep with him. “If this is God, I don’t want to have anything to do with him,” Block remembered thinking about Koresh.

Once he fled the Branch Davidians and started his counseling with Ross, however, Block found himself under the same surveillance by Scientology-hired private investigators who kept an eye on Ross.

One of the private eyes, a woman, told Block that she’d been hired by Scientology’s lawyers, and also told him that she was in contact with Koresh, to tell him that Rick Ross was deprogramming one of his former followers.

I was able to confirm this story with the woman’s boss, Jon Gaw, who told me that yes, he was talking to the Branch Davidians about what Rick Ross was doing.

Ross told me he wasn’t surprised that Scientology was trading information with Koresh, perhaps trying to rile up the violent cult leader against a man Scientology considered a mortal enemy.

Ross was later one of many experts on Branch Davidians who was consulted by the BATF about Koresh. He said he told the ATF to “work through the Bible and don’t upset Koresh.” He was shocked, he said, to see how badly the agency handled things with its raid on the compound.

Anyway, I really don’t know what to think that a prominent Scientologist celebrity has been hired to play Koresh in the upcoming movie. Does that point to a particularly positive portrayal?

I haven’t found a release date for the movie, but it sounds like we won’t have very long to wait to see how Koresh comes off.


Tony Ortega is the editor-in-chief of The Village Voice. Since 1995, he’s been writing about Scientology at several publications. Among his other stories about L. Ron Hubbard’s organization:

The Larry Wollersheim Saga — Scientology Finally Pays For Its Fraud
The Tory Bezazian (Christman) Story — How the Internet Saved A Scientologist From Herself
The Jason Beghe Defection — A Scientology Celebrity Goes Rogue
The Paul Haggis Ultimatum — The ‘Crash’ Director Tells Scientology to Shove It
The Marc Headley Escape — ‘Tom Cruise Told Me to Talk to a Bottle’
The Jefferson Hawkins Stipulation — Scientology’s former PR genius comes clean
The Daniel Montalvo Double-Cross — Scientology lures a young defector into a trap
A Church Myth Debunked — Scientology and Proposition 8
Daniel Montalvo Strikes Back — Scientology Hit with Stunning Child-Labor Lawsuits
When Scientologists Attack — The Marty Rathbun Intimidation
A Scientologist Excommunicated — The Michael Fairman SP Declaration
The Richard Leiby Operation — Investigating a reporter’s divorce to shut him up