‘Waco’ True Story, Explained: Did Steve Actually Kill David Koresh? Was Noesner Removed From His Position?


“Waco,” the 2018 miniseries, as harrowing as it might sound, is based on absolutely true events that took place somewhere between the years 1983 and 1993. Taylor Kitsch plays the protagonist, David Koresh, a cleric who was the leader of the Branch Davidian religious movement when the FBI and the ATF raided their compound, which came to be known as the Waco Siege. Michael Shannon plays Gary Noesner, the FBI negotiator, who, after the massacre, wrote a book called Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, which became the chief source for the miniseries together with David Thibodeau’s A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story. Obviously, the series might have taken certain creative liberties solely for dramatic purposes, but the essence is mostly kept intact. At the end of the series, it becomes difficult to form an opinion about who was the greater evil between the FBI and David Koresh, but one thing’s for sure: the massacre could have been avoided if things were dealt with a little differently as compared to how they had been in reality.

Did Steve Actually Kill David Koresh?

There have been imposters who call themselves godmen but know that they are neither capable of performing any kind of miracle nor do they believe in what they are saying. There have been people in our history who just tried to manipulate other human beings and mislead them, fully aware of what they were doing. This is the only profession through which they get all the privileges of the world, enjoy unrestrained power and control over people, and play in the gray area where it is difficult to prove that they had malicious intent in a court of law. But David Koresh, surprisingly, was not one of them. Throughout the series, “Waco,” you are not able to make up your mind whether he actually believed that he was a messenger of god or was he just fooling around with people’s beliefs. But there were moments in the series that gave evidence of his sincerity and told us that whatever he said, at least he believed it to be true, even if the Federal agencies and the general public might have been polarized.

People start doubting the intentions of any god or man when they find some hypocrisy in their approach and behavior, or when things start seeming too good to be true. Celibacy was practiced by every male who was a part of the Branch Davidian movement except Koresh. Koresh’s explanation was that he was at a spiritual level where he could separate the act from the pleasure and do it for platonic reasons. And even if he were actually able to do that, it wasn’t possible that everybody would take his word for it. Koresh had restricted the people from eating dairy products, and he had full control over every other aspect of their lives. Koresh wanted the members of the group to separate themselves from the world of desires. The series has taken a very balanced and mild approach in showing how Koresh tried to tell them what to do and what not to do, but we know that in reality, the behavior of such a person might turn very dictatorial in nature.

Steve Schneider was legally married to Judy Peterson, and as it is shown in the series, David Koresh had actually taken Judy as one of his wives. It is said that Koresh had about 20 wives at the time of the Waco massacre, many of whom were already married. Steve was an intelligent man who had a Ph.D. in comparative religion and had become the spokesperson for Koresh during the massacre. Now, Steve might have had issues when Koresh slept with his wife, but he never explicitly expressed his feelings as he felt obliged to agree with what his Messiah was telling him to do. Steve told people that Mayanah was his daughter, but Koresh had no doubts about the fact that she was his daughter. Though the series “Waco” shows us that Koresh had asked Steve to kill him in the end, it still remains just a speculation, as there is no corroborating evidence that could prove this theory to be true in its entirety. Steve’s body was also found in the same room as Koresh’s, and it is possible that after killing his Messiah, he shot himself as well.

Was Noesner Removed From His Position By The FBI?

It was shown in the television series “Waco” that Noesner was asked to leave just a day prior to the massacre, but in reality, he was removed from his position a lot earlier. It is a fact that the FBI wasn’t able to convince any other member of the Branch Davidian movement to surrender after Noesner left. Noesner was the chief of the Crisis Negotiation Unit, and he actually believed that the Waco massacre was the darkest day of his career. Though in the series, Noesner blamed the FBI for the outcome, in reality, he spoke about how Koresh equally contributed to bringing upon his own doom. Koresh had asked for a week’s time to finish his manuscript, in which he was jotting down his own interpretation of the seven seals from the book of revelation, but the FBI agents, Tony and Mitch, got agitated because he didn’t abide by the timeline he had been given. Koresh was just not ready to come out, and it cannot be denied that had he not been so stubborn about things, the lives of the people could have been saved. In the end, it couldn’t be ascertained who started the fire because there was insufficient proof, though the FBI stuck to their narrative that it had been started by the residents in order to commit mass suicide. David Thobideau says that he was inside the compound, and everybody had the intention of coming out alive, and he didn’t see anyone lighting fire. Gary Noesner has maintained to date that, had he been allowed to stay a little longer, he would have been able to make all the members of the Branch Davidian movement surrender.

“Waco” became a battle of narratives where the survivors’ stories conflicted with what the FBI claimed to have happened. It’s been three decades since that catastrophe, but it is still difficult to pin the blame entirely on one side, and there are things that would be embedded in the rubble of the Mount Carmel Center forever.

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Sushrut Gopesh
Sushrut Gopesh
I came to Mumbai to bring characters to life. I like to dwell in the cinematic world and ponder over philosophical thoughts. I believe in the kind of cinema that not necessarily makes you laugh or cry but moves something inside you.

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