The big news this morning, as I woke up thinking about April 19th–as I have done for the past 26 years–was that the gripping new scripted six-part mini series titled “Waco” starring Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh and Michael Shannon, as FBI negotiator Gary Noesner, produced by Paramount Pictures in 2018, has just been released today on Netflix. This is truly a major stride for our cultural understanding of the greatest domestic disaster in law enforcement history.
Today is April 19th. For me this date will always be a day that will live in Infamy. Twenty-seven years ago this day my heart was broken over the events outside Waco, Texas. Many of my readers know that I was directly involved–along with my colleague Dr. Philip Arnold and David Koresh’s Houston attorney, Dick DeGuerin. My life has never been the same. I have worked tirelessly over the decades in researching the truth about what really happened at Waco–who were the Branch Davidians, who was David Koresh, and why it all went wrong so unnecessarily so.
There has been a bit of light along the way. I think my book (co-authored with Gene Gallagher), Why Waco, lays things out as clearly as possible when it was published in 1995. The superb 2014 New Yorker piece by Malcom Gladwell, was a major breakthrough and very important in finally getting some of the story straight: “Sacred and Profane: How Not to Negotiate with Believers.” If you have not seen that it is essential reading. Gladwell was the first one I know of, outside those involved in the events, to get things right.
But the big news this morning, as I woke up thinking about April 19th–as I have done for the past 26 years–was that the gripping new scripted six-part mini series titled “Waco” starring Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh and Michael Shannon, as FBI negotiator Gary Noesner, produced by Paramount Pictures in 2018, has just been released today on Netflix. This is truly a major stride for our cultural understanding of the greatest domestic disaster in law enforcement history.
If you don’t have a subscription it would be worth signing up just for this–and Netflix offers a 30 day free trial. I can not recommend this series more highly. It is truly a chilling “must watch” television event. The directors, Drew and John Dowdle meticulously endeavored to present all sides, relying heavily on input from Branch Davidian survivor David Thibodeau and agent Gary Noesner–as well as many others such as myself, who had been directly involved. I even have a tiny composite “character” role (Arnold/Tabor) in the series. In my judgment, this scripted series leaves all the other television productions on Waco over the past twenty-five years in the dust. Don’t miss it. Taylor Kitsch outdoes himself–as the saying goes, he seems to quite literally “become” David Koresh. It is truly uncanny to watch. And the other characters in the drama are superbly played. Build Studio did an impressive interview here that is not to be missed with the main characters and actors–either before or after watching the Netflix series. A shorter interview by the Paley Center for Media is likewise very enlightening, see the link here.
You can hear an interview on our local NPR station on the award-winning show “Charlotte Talks,” hosted by Mike Collins here: The Real Story Behind the Waco Siege. Mike talks with me, survivor David Thibodeau, and FBI agent Gary Noesner about the Netflix series and our firsthand experience in those fateful events of 1993.
I cover “Waco” in some of my classes to this day but most of my students, born around the turn of the millennium, do not remember that fateful Monday morning in 1993 outside Waco, Texas. However, their parents and grandparents surely do–as will many of you who read this post–even if you were young. Bill Clinton was President, Janet Reno had just been appointed Attorney General, and Hilary Clinton, with the input of Vince Foster (who later took his life) was heavily involved. In fact, the single word “Waco,” much to the dismay of the city’s good citizens today, has come to mean one thing–the fiery death of 74 followers of the self-proclaimed Messiah David Koresh–including 21 children under the age of 14–played out live on television around the world around noon that day. Even the wildly popular HGTV show, “Fixer Upper,” highlighting the charm of the Waco area, has done little to blunt the memory of that sad day and the 51 day standoff between the FBI and Koresh’s “Branch Davidian” community, that ended so badly.
So much has been in the media over the past two decades on the 1993 Waco tragedy with a plethora of new TV specials marking the 25th anniversary in 2018. Sorting through the mass of information is a daunting task. In terms of the older productions I recommend in particular “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” (1997) and Waco: A New Revelation (1999), the former of which was nominated for “Best Documentary” at the Oscars. Of the more recent productions, including CBS, ABC, History Channel, and A&E I can only recommend A&E “Waco: Messiah or Madman,” the others are in my judgment utter failures as propaganda pieces for the standard narrative: Evil crazy cult leader David Koresh is to blame for the deaths of his fanatical brainwashed followers.
In order to get up to speed on what happened at Waco, I recommend the rundown of the basic “facts” in this previous blogpost: “Waco After 25 Years: Getting the Facts Straight.”
For a gripping narrative account of the main events leading up to the tragic fire you can access the first chapter of my 1995 book, Why Waco free on-line here–just chose the option “Read an Excerpt” in the right sidebar. I encourage you to buy the book itself–it is available on Amazon here.
In terms of the topic more generally there is the highly perceptive New Yorker piece by Malcom Gladwell, “. That was a major breakthrough and very important: “Sacred and Profane: How Not to Negotiate with Believers.”
C-Span also has my 1995 testimony before Congress with Dr. Philip Arnold. We are on throughout this link and at the end I am given an open mike to lay out the case as we see it. Those of you who know me will enjoy seeing my youthful looks and dark hair and beard–and the passion with which I speak so soon after those unnecessary deaths.