[FBI Agent:] “Do you put your trust in the Lord?”
[David Koresh:] “I am the Lord.”
Did this short conversation capture your attention? It caught the attention of anyone in the United States with a television in 1993. Netflix’s newly released docuseries, “Waco: American Apocalypse,” documents the interactions between the U.S. government and the Branch Davidians cult on Feb. 28, 1993 and how the media, the members of the Branch Davidians and lay Americans were affected.
To clarify, David Koresh did not found the Branch Davidians; rather he joined in 1983. He had a special relationship with the cult leader at the time, and because of that, he felt entitled to inherit the leadership of the cult. In order to attain this role, he initiated a gunfight with the former leader’s son who also thought of himself as the rightful heir to the position.
Over the course of Koresh’s rule, many traditional revelations conveniently happened to evolve. For example, he had no limit to the number of wives he could have, nor did the age of these wives matter. Additionally, Koresh suddenly had the right to dissolve any marriage at his will if he desired to take the wife for himself.
However, as the series explains, the FBI nor the rest of the outside world knew about the happenings behind the walls of that building on Mount Carmel. The FBI originally came to the site to arrest Koresh for the illegal possession and distribution of tens of machine guns, tens of assault rifles and an unknown number of grenades.
Special agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives came to Mount Carmel on Feb. 28, 1994, to arrest Koresh in a peaceful manner. This plan quickly turned into a violent, bloody scene after Koresh’s followers began to shoot at the ATF agents with machine guns. The area became a warzone, and the rest of the nation saw it unfold. Footage and audio recordings of hundreds of bullets flying through the air and Branch Davidians and ATF agents falling to their death were broadcasted for all to see.
Following the incident, the FBI began researching the Branch Davidians as well as Koresh himself. Through this research is how the government came to know what horrible things were taking place within the cult.
The show depicts a series of negotiations between the FBI and Koresh, as law enforcement attempts to free members from his cult and to put those who made shots — that either injured or killed the ATF agents from Feb. 28 — into custody. Through these events, the audience also obtains an understanding of the media’s power over federal cases and their publicity. Interviews reveal that the media spoiled plans that would have made for a peaceful ending to this feud, as well as how the media tainted the reputation of the U.S. government by broadcasting unfavorable video clips where emotion got the best of officials.
The series plays two informative roles: One to tell the story of cult leader David Koresh, and one to explain the effects of mass media. The latter is a topic that very little media consumers consider, but should.