Steve Schneider Was David Koresh’s Spokesman During the Waco Tragedy


  • Waco, a 2018 Paramount Network series, is now streaming on Netflix.
  • One of the Branch Davidians featured in the show is Steve Schneider, played by Paul Sparks.
  • Schneider had a Ph.D. in religion from the University of Hawaii.

    In Waco, the miniseries now streaming on Netflix, viewers get an inside look at the 51-day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI/ATF and the eventual fire that quickly became one of the most talked-about tragedies of the 1990s. In the first few minutes of the miniseries, audiences are introduced to Steve Schneider, played by actor Paul Sparks. One of the members of the Branch Davidians, Schneider played a significant role for leader David Koresh and the other parishioners at the compound.

    Here’s what we know about him during his time at Waco.

    Schneider had a background in theology.

    In David Thibodeau’s memoir, he mentions that Schneider grew up a Seventh Day Adventist in Madison, Wisconsin. He went to Hawaii after getting kicked out of an Adventist college on the east coast. Later, he married wife Judy Peterson and received a Ph.D. in comparative religion from the University of Hawaii.

    Thibodeau also wrote in his book that Schneider learned about Koresh and his teachings while in Hawaii. Despite his initial doubts, Schneider looked up to Koresh and moved to Texas to join the Branch Davidians.

    Schneider was essentially Koresh’s spokesman.

    Once at the compound, Schneider served as Koresh’s spokesman and “chief lieutenant,” as one of the individuals involved in the negotiations between the Branch Davidians and the FBI amid the standoff. As former FBI negotiator Byron Sage told People in 2018, Schneider fully acted under Koresh’s guidance. “[Schneider] was educated. He was articulate, but he didn’t have the independence of thought or the ability to do anything without the blessing of David.”

    Schneider allowed Koresh to have sex with his wife.

    In the first episode of the miniseries, one storyline involves Schneider’s wife who learns of her pregnancy by Koresh. As it turns out, that part of the story is true. In a 1993 article from the Waco Tribune, Schneider’s wife is listed as “legally married to Steve Schneider but one of Howell’s ‘wives.’” (Koresh formerly went by the name, Vernon Howell, before changing it in 1990.)

    It’s unclear how Schneider died in the fire.

    Although Schneider and his family were among the confirmed deaths from the tragedy, the manner of his death remains unclear. The Waco Tribune reported that Koresh and Schneider’s bodies were found in the communications room of the compound, but Schneider’s body was too badly burned to tell if he had been shot. The New York Times, however, reported that Schneider “died of smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning, with possible traumatic head injury from either a blast or gunshot.”

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