>Waco: The Rules of Engagement was our film of choice this past week. I didn’t remember much from the 1993 conflagration, but I had a general sense that David Koresh taught that he was Jesus Christ and that the Branch Dividians were a weird cult that collected arms and blurred traditional boundaries of healthy sexuality. Though not a clearly formed opinion, I figured that whatever had gone wrong was the fault of the religious extremists.
I had no idea how far back the Branch Dividian movement went. The movement broke from the Seventh-day Adventist church in 1929 and began to grow in the early 1930s. A major split occurred in 1955, and Vernon Howell (David Koresh) joined the group in 1981. While the documentary gives some of this background, the emphasis is on the initial ATF raid on February 28, 1993 and the firey stand-off conclusion on April 19.
Through congressional hearings, expert interviews, forensic evidence, film footage made by the Branch Dividians, and survivor testimonies, the documentary paints a very different picture than I had previously understood.
One significant question is who fired first during the initial raid. Because videos of the event and the front doors themselves are missing, this question cannot be conclusively decided. Despite this ambiguity, several questions remain: Why didn’t the authorities arrest Koresh while he was in town or outside of the community? Why did they turn it into a stand-off? Why was it handled in this way? Why is evidence missing? It is also noteworthy that all of the survivors were acquitted of conspiring to murder federal agents, though other charges brought convictions.
The disparity between the original claims about the April 19 raid and subsequent evidence demonstrate that the federal agency was looking for a fight and was planning to kill as many Davidians as possible. This is demonstrated by agents firing on a burning building in back areas where members could have otherwise escaped the flames. This area was not readily visible to the media who were kept on the front side of the community. Heat sensitive footage taken from the sky ultimately revealed this atrocity.
I have not read the various books on the events at Mount Carmel in Waco, so my general knowledge of the event is very limited. However, at this point I conclude that inappropriate sexual behavior and odd religious beliefs were met with bad music, weapons, gas and fire. If the facts are even close to my present understanding, then both sides have serious explaining to do. If not in this world, then on the way to the next.
The group of us who watched this film had also seen The End of the World Cult together. One significant difference I noticed between these two films was the mannerisms of the various members. Even if you didn’t listen to the audio of The End of the World Cult, you would notice that their gestures, eye movements and other mannerisms were odd. Something was wrong. Something was off. By contrast, the interviews with Branch Dividians during the siege showed “normal” people with normal speech patterns, normal topics of discussion, normal mannerisms. I don’t know what conclusions can be drawn from the differences in appearance between the two groups, but the difference was clear.
Wild film; give it a go, but be warned of graphic footage.