Netflix’s ‘Waco’ shows unseen footage from FBI
All the tragedies now seem to warrant made-for-TV coverage of the anniversary. So does his three-part Netflix documentary series Waco: American Apocalypse, which details his 51-day standoff between federal law enforcement and cult leader David Koresh.
What sets this project apart is the preliminary presentation and exceptional access to unreleased video, including grainy footage shot inside the FBI Crisis Negotiations Unit.
Director Tiller Russell, speaking to the array of people involved in the siege on either side of the walls of Koresh’s Texas property, brilliantly describes what happened. Not just the immediate aftermath, but also the lingering impact of “Waco” as a rallying cry for militants such as Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
In one of the most horrifying moments, an FBI sniper briefly recalls pointing Koresh in the sights of his gun. He knew that taking Koresh out would put an end to the situation, but he knew that if he fired, he would go to jail. In hindsight, he sounds even more conflicted now than he claims to have felt at the time.
Authorities also said they were negotiating with Koresh, who lost a colleague in the first exchange of fire when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve arms warrants to the branch Davidian faction, as well as other members of law enforcement. speaks frankly about the dysfunction between The battle that claimed the lives of four agents.
Jim Kavanaugh, who was a special agent for the ATF at the time, was one of several who tearfully told what had happened.
Inside footage of Koresh is eerie and compelling, a savior figure who took multiple wives and was allegedly sexually abused. “Waco” takes the time to detail the atmosphere within the cult and his unlikely path to becoming its leader. (Incidentally, Showtime will air a sequel to the miniseries detailing the siege and the trial of those involved, again featuring Michael Shannon and John Leguizamo in April.)
The media was also a major part of Waco’s development, and the impact on those who covered it was just as severe. Dallas Morning News reporter Lee Hancock recalled pulling over and vomiting when he heard about Oklahoma City on Waco’s anniversary in 1995, calling a “direct line” between those events. “I hate that day for many reasons,” she says.
Perhaps best of all, Russell’s grim storytelling allows the video and participants to speak for themselves. This contrasts with much of the true crime of the glamorous brand that has found a home on Netflix. We will focus on what happened and how it could have been avoided.
The answer isn’t always obvious, but as such documentaries progress, the effect becomes a frequently fascinating view of the ‘Apocalypse in America’ then and now.
“Waco: American Apocalypse” premieres on Netflix on March 22nd.