Waco: The Rules of Engagement
Directed by William Gazecki (1997)
Waco is a long but well-made documentary about what was essentially an FBI coverup of an unlawful military assault on innocent civilians. What immediately struck me about the film are the obvious parallels between the military assault at Waco, the 1975 incident at Pine Ridge in which Leonard Peltier and other AIM activists were arrested for resisting an armed FBI assault and the FBI/Philadelphia police decision to bomb the MOVE compound in 1985 (see The Day Philadelphia Police Dropped a Bomb on 61 Families).
The documentary is anchored around a 1995 Congressional investigation which, unlike the whitewash of the JFK assassination, the Oklahoma City bombing and 9-11, successfully unearthed most of the sordid facts about the government’s illegal (and unconstitutional) military assault in Waco. Predictably the corporate media buried the investigation and its findings. Thus the systematic disinformation the Clinton administration disseminated about David, Koresh and the Branch Davidians is what remains uppermost in the public mind.
What surprised me most about the film was learning that the Branch Davidians weren’t a cult, that the Mount Carmel church where they lived wasn’t a bunker and that David Koresh himself wasn’t a deranged psychopath who buffaloed his followers into a virtual suicide pact.
The Branch Davidians were actually an old offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist Church which relocated from Los Angeles to the Mount Carmel center at Waco in the 1930s. Koresh (born Vernon Howell) was raised there and eventually selected as the group’s spiritual leader.
Testimony given during the Congressional hearings establishes quite clearly that the initial ATF assault (in which the Branch Davidians defended themselves and killed four ATF agents) was a public relations stunt aimed at influencing upcoming ATF appropriations hearings.
The supposed justification for the assault was the presence of illegal weapons on the premises. As good Texans, the Branch Davidians visited a lot of gun shows and bought and sold weapons as a source of revenue. The search warrant accused them of illegally modifying automatic weapons – which Koresh denied. He invited the ATF to come and inspect their guns in mid-1992. The ATF declined to do so.
Most of the media attention (and the search warrant itself) focused on the fact that Koresh had multiple wives, included several who were underage teenagers. While both polygamy and child rape are illegal under Texas law, they in no way justify a full scale military assault that kills innocent civilians, including the rape victims themselves.
The FBI would follow up the failed ATF operation with a full scale military siege (with tanks) that lasted 51 days.
The evidence presented during the hearings includes intriguing clips from a video camera FBI negotiators gave the Branch Davidians to talk about themselves and their beliefs and infrared footage showing the FBI, Janet Reno and Bill Clinton lied through their teeth about not firing on the Branch Davidians and David Koresh deliberately starting the fire that destroyed the compound.
It also comes out that the FBI deliberately destroyed the crime scene (as Bush would later do at Ground Zero), as well as systematically obstructing efforts by the local medical examiner and the Texas Rangers to conduct independent investigations.