Two New Series Look Back at the Chilling Effects of the Waco Siege | Dallas Observer

Film and TV

Two New Movies Examine the Tragic Waco Siege on Its 30th Anniversary

A new documentary from Netflix called Waco: American Apocalypse looks at the tragic standoff from the viewpoint of police, FBI agents and survivors.
A new documentary from Netflix called Waco: American Apocalypse looks at the tragic standoff from the viewpoint of police, FBI agents and survivors. Netflix
Thirty years ago, a man named David Koresh and more than 70 followers of his Branch Davidian cult were living in a compound in Mount Carmel, just outside Waco, when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) attempted to serve a search warrant.

The group was heavily armed with everything from simple firearms to grenade launcher attachments for rifles, something the ATF knew since its agents were searching for illegal weapons and other destructive devices. The compound also housed several children as young as 10. A standoff that lasted 51 days ended in the deaths of 76 members, including Koresh. They died in the fire that swept the compound or from gunshot wounds from weapons fired by both agents and others inside, according to the ATF.

The events at Mount Carmel did not happen in a vacuum. They served as the launching point for a new wave of domestic terrorism fueled by religious fanaticism, conspiracy fears and a disregard for human life.

Now in the 30th anniversary year of the Branch Davidian standoff, two new films will examine the events leading up to and away from the tragic showdown that took so many lives on both sides. The Netflix documentary Waco: American Apocalypse examines the events of the standoff from the perspectives of federal agents, local residents and some of the surviving members of Koresh's cult. Showtime's limited series Waco: The Aftermath stars Michael Shannon as FBI Negotiator Gary Noesner and looks at the chilling effects of the Waco tragedy.

The Netflix documentary will premiere in three parts on the streaming service on Wednesday, March 22. The Showtime limited series is a sequel to the 2018 miniseries Waco and will premiere on the network and the Paramount+ streaming service on Friday, April 14, according to press websites.
Waco: American Apocalypse is directed by Tiller Russell, the filmmaker behind 2021's viral documentary hit Night Stalker: The Hunt for a Serial Killer that chronicled the agents who tracked down serial killer Richard Ramirez. The Waco documentary will premiere newly unearthed videotapes filmed by the FBI's Crisis Negotiation Unit of discussions between the authorities and some of Koresh's followers who survived the standoff. Netflix said in its announcement for the series that the documentary will have interviews with one of Koresh's wives and "the last child released from the compound alive."

The documentary doesn't just aim to tell the events that unfolded at the compound. Russell said in a statement that the effects of the deadly Waco standoff are still being felt today in domestic terrorism by radicalized zealots acting on conspiracy-driven narratives.

"The details of what happened during the 51-day standoff are complex and often ferociously debated, but rather than assigning blame or pointing fingers, we tried to treat it from a deeply human perspective — focusing on what it feels like for people on all sides to be caught in the maws of history," Russell said.
Showtime's scripted limited series Waco: The Aftermath will premiere on the Paramount+ app for subscribers on Friday, April 14, and air on the pay cable network on Sunday, April 16. Showtime's series is a sequel to the 2018 series that focused on the events of the Waco standoff. The new series will look at the chilling effects and events set in motion by Koresh and his siege on the compound and the authorities who failed to reach a peaceful ending. 

Shannon returns as Noesner, the negotiator who talked to members of Koresh's cult during the 1993 standoff. His character is based on a real person of the same name who wrote a book about his experiences in Waco called Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator, upon which Showtime's series is based, according to Noesner's website.

Waco set off a whole new series of events that inspired Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. According to the PBS series The American Experience, McVeigh was one of the people who went to see the standoff near Mount Carmel. He protested with signs and sold bumper stickers with anti-government slogans.

Fueled by anti-government conspiracies created in part by the Waco standoff and the Ruby Ridge siege in Idaho in 1992, McVeigh and Terry Nichols built a bomb. McVeigh parked a van filled with explosives outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995. The explosion killed 168 people including 19 children and caused hundreds of injuries and damage to 300 nearby buildings, according to FBI records.

"I feel this undercurrent of rage in America," Shannon's character says in the trailer. "It's trying to ignite civil war. Waco has done something to them. It's united them. We helped creator the monster we're trying to stop."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.

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