Does life imitate art more than art imitates life?
Waco is Paramount studios’ six-part television miniseries about the true story of a harrowing 1993 51-day standoff between religious cult Branch Davidians and federal agents in Waco Texas.
The event captured the nations when the ATF stormed the complex on February 28th; an intense gun battle erupted resulting in the deaths of four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians. And when the ATF failed to penetrate the compound, the FBI took over the siege. Media wasn’t allowed within the perimeter of the ranch so there is much debate about how the actual events that unfolded. The ATF maintains the position that the Branch Davidians opened fire during the raid first, but the Branch Davidians were firmly against those claims. And when you juxtapose that with the Ruby Ridge catastrophe only six months earlier, where the FBI and ATF mishandled the 11-day siege and resulted in the acquittals and wrongful death financial compensation for the victims, it sparked a growing distrust against the Federal Government.
Given the current political climate, the relevance of telling this story now couldn’t be any more poignant. The culmination of President Trump’s indictments of the mainstream media spreading falsehoods against his administration and also their allegations that the FBI is part of an alleged Deep State conspiracy, has created a growing sense of paranoia that’s reminiscent of The Cold War. As Americans right now, we are being forced to disseminate information and pick sides.
In Paramount’s Waco, creator brothers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, specifically crafted sympathetic characters on both sides to illuminate a convolution of the siege. Just when you’re buying into victimization and empathy of particular characters, they throw in a wrench to make you question. Branch Davidians leader and self-proclaimed prophet, David Koresh (played by Taylor Kitsch) is portrayed as a caring thoughtful staunch protector of the compound, but then you learn about his history of statutory rape and that he’s grossly fathered children with many of his female followers – as if it was their duty to do so, you doubt his intentions.
On the other side, two especially sympathetic federal agents, FBI hostage negotiator, Gary Noesner (played by Michael Shannon) and Jacob Vazquez (played by John Leguizamo) who not only have an enormous amount of empathy for the Branch Davidians, but they also have trust issues within their respective agencies.
The Dowdle brothers force us to empathize with both sides – even though they show the ATF agents firing first on the compound during the raid, the Branch Davidians have extremist, potentially dangerous, ideologies – it’s clear that both sides are flawed.
The justification by the ATF for the Waco siege asserted that the Branch Davidians were operating a methamphetamine lab to establish a drug ring and committed a federal violation of stockpiling illegal firearms.
During the weekly six-part airing of this miniseries, the Parkland massacre became the latest in a series of mass shootings, resulting in 17 dead by another semiautomatic AR-15. The ATF was correct in their intelligence that the Branch Davidians had a slew of assault weapons, which was reason enough to have a search and seizure. But how it was handled is the debate. And there are two ways you can look at this, on the one hand, the Branch Davidians might not have ever been raided if they didn’t have an arsenal, but on the other, they wouldn’t have been able to defend themselves – playing into the post-Parkland massacre gun-control debate. Defenders of the 2nd Amendment would argue this was a tyrannical Federal Government that squashed their constitutional rights, but then again, they wouldn’t have been in this predicament if they didn’t have an arsenal. This speaks to the countless times that local law enforcement and social services visited Parkland mass shooter, Nikolas Cruz, and nothing was done to prevent the inevitable, according to his fellow classmates.
What Paramount’s Waco really examines is whether or not the Branch Davidians were capable of another Reverend Jim Jones “People’s Temple” mass suicide. The narrative, however, never tips heavily in favor of one side; it’s only proposing questions and never answering them.
Each side has an argument and it what we need to focus on in this climate is dissemination of pertinent information to the times at hand. Waco is a marvelous example that evokes two of the major issues happening right now in America.
~ Chad Allen