Waco: Why it Matters

by Sean Gangol
[email protected]

Special to L. Neil Smith’s The Libertarian Enterprise

Awhile back, I found myself watching a surprisingly good mini-series on the events that transpired in the town of Waco during the early nineties. I was twelve when the events happened and the image of the so-called “Davidian Compound” going up in flames is still engraved into my mind. I also remember the sensationalism created by the media over the Davidian leader David Koresh, who had multiple wives and an arsenal of weapons as a preparation for Armageddon. Then of course there were the accusations of child molestations that allegedly occurred in the Davidian home.

Though what I remember the most is the tv movie, In the Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco, which actually influenced the negative image that I had of David Koresh and the Branch Davidians for many years. The movie portrayed Koresh as an over-the-top religious fanatic that spends the duration of the movie ranting and yelling at his followers about the end of times. His followers were shown as a bunch of brainwashed fools who were willing to obey Koresh’s every command, even if it meant starting an ill-fated war with the US government. On top of that they showed the unproven allegations of sexual molestation as fact. Everything comes to a climax when the Davidians ambush the members of the BATF who are raiding their compound.

For years I could never understand why members of the freedom movement used Waco as a rallying cry against government abuse. Afterall, Koresh and his followers were child molesting religious fanatics who wanted to kill federal agents. How could anyone possibly take their side? It wasn’t until I rented the documentary, Waco: Rules of Engagement that I realized that there was a whole different dimension to the story than what the media had given us. To say that it was an eye opener would be an extreme understatement.

It turned out that much of what we were led to believe by the media were flat-out fabrications. In the case of Ambush at Waco, it was part of a series of tv movies that honored members of law enforcement that were killed in the line of duty, so you would probably expect some sort of bias in favor of the BATF. However, I think it is downright irresponsible to air a movie that peddles unproven allegations as fact. It didn’t come as any surprise to me when the movie’s writer later denounced it as being nothing more than propaganda to vilify the Davidians, while making the Feds look heroic.

It turned out that the arsenal that the media made such a big fuss about was mainly used as a means to make money at gun shows. It is true that Koresh had multiple common law wives, but the accusations of child molestation were unsubstantiated. Not that it was really relevant to the BATF raid (contrary to what they claimed). The reason why the raid took place was to gain good publicity for an agency that was in danger of losing funding for past transgressions. The documentary also made me question the official narrative about the Branch Davidians being the ones who fired the first shots during the ill-fated raid or whether they were the ones who brought the stand-off to a fiery climax.

Sadly, many people still believe the narratives told to them by the government and the media. That is why you hear people ask “who cares about a group of child-abusing religious fanatics?” As good as Waco: Rules of Engagement was at telling the other side of the story, few people actually watch documentaries. So, in order to leave a lasting impression on the American populace about the tragedy in Waco, we are going to need a stronger medium, which we may have found with the most recent mini-series shown on Netflix.

Originally the Waco mini-series was shown on the Paramount channel which I didn’t even know my cable provider had. Unfortunately, by the time I realized that I did have access to this channel, two episodes of the show had already aired. Luckily, Netflix decided to pick up the mini-series and I can honestly say that I was pleasantly surprised by the show’s quality. I was a little apprehensive about the show at first, since I was afraid that it would become another one-sided propaganda piece in the same vein as In Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco. Though my fears would be eased when I saw that the mini-series was based on the book A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story, written by David Thibodeau, one of the surviving Branch Davidians.

It was refreshing to see the followers of Koresh portrayed as human beings stuck in a bad situation, instead of brainwashed fanatics who have no minds of their own. They even humanized the character of David Koresh, instead of just making him a cult leader that comes off down right cartoonish as he did in the In the Line of Duty movie. It’s not to say that Koresh didn’t come off fanatical or crazy. He did claim to be a prophet that could unlock the Seven Seals, which in my book means that he wasn’t exactly playing with a full deck. However, Koresh didn’t come off as a lunatic that wanted to do nothing but molest children and start a war with the government as he did in that terrible tv movie filmed in the early nineties. Though what surprised me the most about the movie was the way it blamed the BATF for creating the stand-off when they killed the Davidians’ pet Huskies.

Despite the movie being more sympathetic to the side of the Davidians, it doesn’t totally demonize the feds. Granted it does make the BATF and the FBI look arrogant, reckless, excessive and even sadistic at certain times. Yet we do have federal agents that do come off sympathetic. We have Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon), a hostage negotiator who tries everything in his ability to bring the Davidians out of the compound through peaceful means. The movie successfully makes the viewers feel the same disgust that Noesner has for the excessive tactics of his fellow agents and his frustrations at having his efforts undermined by his superiors. Then we have Jacob Vazquez (John Leguizamo), an undercover agent who tries to prevent the raid from taking place, when he realizes that their element surprise has been compromised. You feel even more sympathetic to his character when he gets thrown under the bus by his superiors. At one point we even see an agent try to pull a woman out of the burning compound. I can honestly say that this movie showed much more courtesy to the feds than the In the Line of Duty movie did for Koresh’s followers.

Another way that this portrayal of the events in Waco was far superior than that propaganda piece that was produced in the early nineties, was the quality of the production. I love the gritty and foreboding atmosphere that this movie had from start to finish. The acting was also far superior, especially with Taylor Kitsch’s performance as David Koresh. The man not only looked like Koresh, but he sounded just like him. I was also impressed with the performance of Rory Culkin as David Thibodeau, one of Koresh’s conflicted followers. As for the notion of the movie leaving a lasting impression, it certainly exceeds expectations.

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