What really happened at Waco?

reviewed by James Bovard

Why did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assault the Waco, Texas home of an obscure religious sect in a military-style attack, and why did the FBI feel obliged to carry out a "final solution" to its siege on April 19, 1993?

At the time, many Americans were transfixed by images of FBI tanks smashing into a building that housed scores of women and children—pumping in toxic gas hour after hour as FBI officials proclaimed on loudspeakers, "This is not an assault!" After the FBI had rammed and gassed the shaky building for six hours, flames burst out, 76 people died, and Attorney General Janet Reno became a national hero.

Waco: The Rules of Engagement walks viewers through every step that led the government to its final attack.

This is an extraordinarily high-quality production, both for the actual film making and the analysis it presents. The producers did a superb job of weaving together the 1995 congressional Waco hearings, FBI press briefings, and other public events, as well as touching scenes from a Branch Davidian home video of children a few weeks before their deaths. Democratic congressmen Charles Schumer (NY) and Gene Taylor (Miss.) come across as weasels, happy to shill for and cover up any law enforcement abuse, regardless of how contemptibly the feds may have acted.

Perhaps the most controversial part of the film is its evidence that FBI agents machine-gunned Branch Davidians trying to escape their burning compound. The producers acquired Forward Looking Infra-red (FLIR) footage, filmed by military surveillance planes, that appear to show rapid muzzle flashes coming from positions where only FBI agents could have been. FBI officials testified that none of their agents fired a shot at Waco; however, FBI officials also insisted that sending their tanks smashing into the building was not an aggressive action. Viewers are also walked through the sequence that led to the fires breaking out inside the Davidian home, and FBI incendiary devices are linked with the outbreak of two of the three blazes.

I have followed the controversies around Waco since 1993, but I was surprised at how fresh this movie made both the events and the issues. The approach is understated. The movie does not pound tables or jam its conclusions down your throat. Instead, it lets federal officials hang themselves with their own words.

Americans must better understand Waco in order to realize how great a threat government power poses to them. This film will energize the national debate over one of the most dramatic government attacks on the citizenry in recent decades. The federal government is still withholding key information about what actually happened at Waco. But, with the groundswell of outrage that this film is helping produce, maybe that can be changed.

James Bovard has written about Waco for the Wall Street Journal, New Republic, & American Spectator.

Click here for a very different slant about this film.

produced by Dan Gifford
directed by William Gazecki
researched and co-written by Mike McNulty
(Somford Entertainment, 1997)

Images Copyrighted © Noel Mollon. Used with permission.

Wisdom And Freedom produced by WORLD NEWSSTAND
Copyright © 2000. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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