Directed by John Erick Dowdle and Dennie Gordon, the series “Waco” is based on two novels: Gary Noesner’s “Stalling for Time: My Job as an FBI Hostage Negotiator” and David Thibodeau’s “A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story.” Both these authors were present on the scene when the ATF and then the FBI conducted a raid on David Koresh’s settlement, i.e., the Mount Carmel Center, in the year 1993. So let’s see what happened in Waco, Texas and if Koresh was actually a messenger of God or an imposter trying to fool people.
‘Waco’ Plot Summary: What Is The Series About?
In Mount Carmel, Waco, Texas, there lived a so-called messiah, called David Koresh, who had decided to enlighten the world and tell them what the seven seals in the Bible book of revelation actually meant. Koresh believed that he was a messenger of God who could actually communicate with him. He got signals, which he believed were from the divine power that had created this entire universe. He called his religious movement the Branch Davidians, and his followers were increasing with every passing day. Obviously, for the outside world, he was just a fanatic who was trying to manipulate people for his own selfish interests because his actions were quite dubious in nature. Once a person decided to be a part of his movement, they had to follow a celibate life, as he felt that carnal pleasures did nothing but distract a person’s focus and waste his energy. He had taken the mantle upon himself to keep multiple wives and have babies with them. He knew that the outside world would misconstrue his intentions, but surprisingly David was true to himself at all times. He made sure that he didn’t get any pleasure out of the activity, and it was done solely for the purpose of reproduction. Steve Schneider, one of the first people to join the movement, had started feeling a bit differently about their leader of late. David was having a baby with Steve’s wife, and it made Steve insecure. It was a very uncomfortable situation for him to see his wife pregnant with somebody else’s baby, but even after that, Steve had the utmost amount of faith in Koresh, and he never questioned the fact that he could communicate with God. It was as if Steve had bifurcated his professional and private life where though on a personal level, he had a lot of problems with Koresh; he never had any doubts about his powers to communicate with the almighty.
David always said that joy never came from possessing materialistic things in life but from becoming something more than you are today. It didn’t surprise us when Koresh and his movements came under the radar of the law enforcement authorities, as the kind of things he was doing there actually did feel a little absurd to a common man. He had taken Michele Jones to be his second wife when she was just 14 years old. He had spent about $200,000 on weapons, giving the ATF the impression that he was attempting to wage some kind of war. Though David’s intentions were never to hurt anybody, a man of his stature should have known better what the consequences of his actions could be.
Mitch Decker And Gary Noesner Take Over
ATF had placed their informant, named Jacob Vasquez, near Koresh’s settlement, and he gave them daily updates and tried collecting as much intel as he could. David realized that Jacob was not the rancher he was claiming to be and that he worked for some federal agency. David didn’t try to hide from him but instead welcomed him inside his house because he was very sure that he could win him over. Jacob started believing whatever David said because the man had the kind of aura that could persuade anybody to trust him. Jacob even tried stopping the ATF by telling them Koresh knew about the attack, but it didn’t help. The ATF killed and injured a lot of people without any plausible cause, and the media was told they were just acting in self-defense because Koresh and his men had killed a few of their soldiers. In reality, nothing of the sort had happened, and the Branch Davidians didn’t fire first. Ron Engelman, a renowned radio jockey, told the people of the United States of America on his show that Koresh and his men had not broken any law, and it was not the ATF’s jurisdiction to interfere in matters related to child abuse and polygamy. ATF’s duty was to look into the issues regarding tobacco, firearms, explosives, and alcohol.
Engelman said on his show that whatever Koresh was being charged for was not a crime according to Texas law. He said that the fact that Koresh had married a girl who was merely 14 years old made him uncomfortable, but still, that didn’t give ATF the license to go out there and kill people, as Koresh was well within his rights because he had obtained the consent of the girl’s parents as prescribed by law. In the third episode of the series, “Waco,” we saw that after the mess that ATF created, the FBI was called to the scene and asked to take control of the proceedings. That’s when Gary Noesner and Mitch Decker came face-to-face once again. Noesner was a negotiator with the FBI, whereas Mitch was a part of the hostage rescue team, i.e., HRT. Both were experienced campaigners, but there was a stark difference in the way they liked dealing with things. Noesner had a great deal of faith in his negotiation skills, whereas Mitch believed in the power of fear, and he believed that a little show of force always helped the cause. Tony Prince was in charge of the entire mission, and both Noesner and Decker reported to him. Prince gave Noesner free rein to deal with the situation his way, but he didn’t have the patience to wait it out and try to win over the enemies by talking and convincing them. Noesner was persistent about the fact that he would make everybody surrender without firing a single bullet, though Mitch had his reservations.
‘Waco’ Ending Explained: Was Noesner Able To Save David Koresh?
Noesner was trying his best to not let Mitch Decker and Tony Prince resort to violent means and methods, but his negotiation skills did not help him get what he wanted every time. After trading six gallons of milk for a few kids, Prince allowed Mitch to cut off the electricity in the house. The FBI agents were scared that the Branch Davidians might commit mass suicide, but Steve told them that if they had any such plans, he wouldn’t have wasted endless hours trying to negotiate with Noesner. Noesner knew that Koresh didn’t respond well to bullying and that the only solution they had was to establish their goodwill. Noesner told Tony that by cutting their electricity, they were making them even more frustrated and angry. Noesner was of the opinion that Mitch’s plan to use force was a complete disaster, and he wanted the FBI to show positive reinforcement.
The press was being controlled by the FBI, and it was portrayed as if David Koresh and other members of the religious group were fanatics who didn’t take good care of their kids. It was very easy for everybody to presume that David Koresh did it all because of the way he was presented by the media. The people had seen in the past how a person claimed to be a messiah and started a commune, violated the laws and tried to establish its own dominion. Noesner was finding it really hard not to let Tony give the command to Mitch. Noesner knew that as soon as Mitch got control, he would do things that would ruin the progress that he had made in the past few days. Tony was being pressured by his superiors to give them results, and that is why he was restless. Koresh had made it very clear that unless and until he got a signal from God, he wouldn’t come out of his house, even if it meant putting his life at risk. Mitch had been able to convince Tony that they were going to use the FBI’s infamous psychological warfare, which they found quite helpful in breaking the spirit of a person. They projected blinding lights, installed huge speakers, and started playing loud noises outside Koresh’s house. The residents weren’t able to sleep all night and were put under a lot of discomfort and stress.
In the press conference, Tony denied that they had played any music at all, and said that he didn’t even know what was meant by psychological warfare. David Thibodeau’s mother, Balenda, couldn’t resist, and she stood up during the press conference and asked Tony why he was not letting the parents talk to their children. Obviously, Tony didn’t have an answer to it, and he asked security to escort Balenda out. Noesner tried talking to Mitch one last time, as Tony had stopped listening to him. He begged Mitch to be a little more empathetic in his approach and act with humanity towards the people stuck inside, but Mitch had already made up his mind as to what he wanted to do and how he wanted to deal with the situation. At the end of the fifth episode of the series, Waco, Wayne Martin was able to repair the generator and switch it on. They had enough fuel to bring the electricity back for about 10 minutes, and Koresh knew exactly what he wanted to do with it. He plugged in his musical instruments and sang a song at the top of his lungs from his window. He made sure his voice reached the ears of every FBI agent, and he made the statement loud and clear that he was not guilty of any crime.
Radio jockey Ron Engelman, from KGBS, deciphered in his program how Koresh actually made sense in whatever he was saying. He said that Koresh’s theory had coherent logic, and he was not the madman that people were stereotyping him to be because of the false image that the FBI had put out in front of the world. One of the cameramen present at the scene came on the show as a caller and informed Ron that Koresh and his people could actually use the antenna on their terrace to communicate with the world. Koresh and others were listening to the same program at that time, and as a signal, they turned the antenna on the terrace to let Engelman know that they could hear what he was saying. The radio program actually helped their cause, and lawyers arrived at the scene to talk to Koresh and Steve. The lawyers told Koresh that they could easily prove in court that the FBI and ATF had started the attack and that the Branch Davidians were only acting in self-defense. The hope that they got after meeting the lawyers was short-lived, and what the FBI did after that stained the pages of history with blood forever.
Koresh finally got a sign from God, and he knew exactly what message he wanted to give the people. He told Gary Noesner that he needed a week to finish his manuscript, in which he would write about the seven seals, after which he would surrender and go wherever the FBI wanted to take him. After waiting for 4-5 days, Tony lost his patience, and he went to the attorney general with Mitch to allow them to attack the compound with tear gas. Noesner couldn’t believe that after putting in so much effort for almost 2 months and finally making Koresh agree to surrender, Tony and Mitch had decided to throw it all away. Noesner told them that it was a war crime to throw CS gas even on terrorists, but the decision had already been made. Noesner asked Steve to send him some pages of the manuscript that Koresh was writing so that he could show his superiors that he was not wasting their time. But Koresh was very particular about the manuscript, and he wanted it to come into public view when it was completed. Tony asked Noesner to leave because he had decided that the time for negotiations was over. Noesner felt helpless, but he knew that he couldn’t do anything anymore. He told Tony that there was a reason why the local sheriff didn’t carry any arms: the Branch Davidians didn’t respond well to it. They worked only with the people whom they could trust, and that is what Noesner had been trying to do all this time.
In the sixth episode of the series, “Waco,” we saw that as soon as Noesner left the scene, the tanks were called in, and they broke down the walls of Koresh’s house and threw tear gas inside. Walter, who was Noesner’s deputy, kept announcing that it was not an assault, but it didn’t look like that to the people who were stuck inside. It was speculated that once the children started choking on the gas, the women would be forced to move out with them. But that did not happen, and to make matters worse, the highly flammable gas set the entire house on fire. Koresh asked Steve to shoot him, as he knew that his message would probably never reach the people. Mitch Decker and Tony realized that they had committed a blunder, and they tried taking out the women and kids trapped inside the vault, but it was too late. The FBI stuck to their narrative that the Davidians had started the fire and committed mass suicide and that they had used only incendiary flash-bang grenades in the assault. About 25 children lost their lives in that fire, but the perpetrators were never held accountable for their crimes.
Was Koresh A Messiah Or A Fraud?
Throughout the six episodes of the series “Waco,” one keeps wondering whether Koresh was a fraud, like many others who had come before him, or if he actually got signals from God and if his interpretation of the seven seals in the Book of Revelation had some logic behind it. Each and everyone is entitled to their opinions about Koresh and whether he was manipulating his followers, but the thing that cannot be denied is that he didn’t intend to physically harm anybody. People who believed in him might have felt obligated to do as he said, even if they had a different opinion, but that didn’t mean that Koresh used force to make them act in accordance with his wishes. Koresh might be called delusional or a madman, but he was not a fraud. There was no intention on his end to lead people astray, as he actually believed that he had a special connection with God and that he was destined to send out his message to the entire world.
Now the manner in which the character of Mitch has been written and presented, he might look like the staple villain who wanted to do bad things to people, but it was not so simple for him either. Mitch had been in the force for quite some time, and the things he might have seen and the kinds of criminals he would have crossed paths with must have transformed him into a person who, by default, presumed the worst in people. At the end of the sixth episode of the series, “Waco,” we saw that he hadn’t expected that his plan would turn out to be a disaster. He never wanted to kill any children or women, but he acted recklessly and didn’t listen to what Gary had to say, which caused his plan to backfire.
The biggest strength of the series “Waco” is that it never blatantly categorizes its characters as right or wrong but shows us that sometimes people are in such precarious situations that one wrong move makes them a villain, and some luck makes them the hero. The series keeps you engrossed at all times, and it would be interesting to see in the upcoming seasons what happened in the court trial and to what extent Gary Noesner went to bring the truth to light.