Truth and Lies: Waco
Aired on: ABC
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Launched in January 2017, Truth and Lies is an ABC network documentary series. Before January 2018, there were four specials in the series, each centered on a different topic: the Menendez brothers, Charles Manson, Watergate and Laci Peterson. When ABC announced that the first documentary in this series for 2018 would be about the deadly raid at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, I was intrigued. And so, I found myself seated in front of the television on January 4, 2018 at 9pm to watch Truth and Lies: Waco.
I remember the incident at Waco – I was 25 years younger, but I still found myself marveling at how people could be so taken in by one man that he could lead them to death. Back then, in my mind, I felt that the Branch Davidian leader, David Koresh, was much like Jim Jones, a good looking, charismatic guy who was able to make believers out of tons of people. It was amazing to me that people would drink the poisoned Kool-Aid for Jim Jones and I found it equally amazing that others would follow Koresh into the fiery depths of hell if he asked them to.
I really wanted to learn more about what made this man tick and ABC did a very good job at showing us all sides of Koresh. Growing up with a teenage mother who had various men around the house, Koresh appeared to have a learning disability while in school, but was intelligent enough to learn both testaments of the Bible by heart. He would eventually become interested in music and I found him to be a very talented musician. Joining the Branch Davidian church, a splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventists, Koresh would eventually declare himself a prophet. His good looks and musical talent and his ability to captivate a room as a public speaker elevated him to a leader.
But it was what he preached that became worrisome: Koresh preached the apocalypse. Telling his members that the end of the world was eminent, he convinced them that the end would come in a great battle, most likely with the United States government. In preparation for this event, Koresh made certain that every member of his group, down to the youngest, was trained in the use of a firearm. He stockpiled weapons and ammunition. Nothing wrong with owning guns and rifles in Texas, but there is something wrong with owning grenades and it was those grenades Koresh had delivered to the compound that alerted the ATF to what was going on at the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
The documentary included old footage of Koresh, old photos and some portions of his sermons. Also included were interview snippets with former members of Branch Davidian, Branch Davidian survivors of the Waco raid, reporters who covered the incident, ATF officers who were present at the raid and the FBI and ATF agents who were at the scene during the entire 51-day standoff. Viewers saw the different sides of Koresh, from those who were devoted followers to those who found him to be a manipulative and abusive (both physically and sexually) con artist. They also saw the truth about the launch of the ATF raid, ill-fated from the moment that the surprise of the raid was blown. Viewers got the perspectives of neighbors, law enforcement and reporters as to how the situation was handled and the ultimate fire that killed dozens of Davidians inside the compound.
Interestingly enough, though Truth and Lies: Waco answered quite a few questions I had about David Koresh, the ill-fated raid and the tragic deaths that took place on April 19, 1993, it left many questions unanswered. If the ATF knew that their cover was blown, why execute the raid in the first place? You knew they had weapons – how could you not know they were intending to use them? Why wasn’t Koresh taken in quietly while he visited in town, instead of at a compound you really knew almost nothing about? Why use tanks, ramming their turrets inside the building to “shoot” tear gas inside when you were asking for a peaceful resolution? And why do that when you knew that this man had stockpiled explosives and you didn’t know where they were? If the Davidians who survived the attacks were part of the siege in which six ATF agents were murdered, why are those individuals not in jail? The interviews may have been conducted after they spent time in jail, but there is no indication of that. I actually had to do separate research to discover the truth – that most of the convicted Davidians would have been released 25 years after the incident.
That being said, though there are questions still to be answered, I found Truth and Lies: Waco to be an excellent documentary of the events before, during and after the Waco incident. I felt that the facts and opinions were presented in such a way as to not sway the viewers to any particular point of view, but to allow the viewer to come to their own conclusions as to who was right or wrong and whether things should have been handled differently or not. Truth and Lies: Waco had my undivided attention and I expect that I will watch more Truth and Lies documentaries in the future.