Every Atheist Needs: Waco

Every Atheist Needs: Waco March 7, 2018

Disclaimer: this is a series in which I make recommendations to you, the reader. These can include books, movies, television shows, YouTube channels, websites, apps and more. Keep in mind, the title of the series is not literal. So, before you post it in the comments, I am well aware that not every atheist needs these things. You might enjoy them, though! 

My memories of the standoff between law enforcement and the Branch Davidians in 1993 are vague. I mean, I vividly recall watching it on the news every night, I do. But if you’d asked me, before watching this miniseries from Paramount TV, what I remembered of the event, I’d have probably told you that David Koresh had been holding the members of his cult hostage and ended it all with a mass suicide. I would have told you that the Branch Davidians fired first, and that law enforcement did everything they could to end the siege peacefully.

If I am to believe Paramount TV’s version of events as told from those who were there, though, I would be woefully incorrect on each and every point I told you.

I think this is the most intriguing thing about the miniseries: none of us remembers the crisis in Waco this way. I certainly did not. It’s a surprise from beginning to end and if nothing else, makes you question what actually went down there. It makes you question what you thought you knew.

This miniseries is only six episodes long but it’ll give you just as many feels as a season of Game of Thrones. Michael Shannon is an overachiever here, which came as no surprise. In fact, I only decided to watch this miniseries because he was listed in the cast. I was not expecting the talent of the actor who portrayed the cult leader, though. Taylor Kitsch delivered David Koresh like Domino’s delivers pizza; flawless, delicious and nauseating.

The rest of the cast did a great job as well. Rory Culkin played Branch Davidian newcomer, Thibodeau, who you can’t help but root for until the very end. A much older looking but still suave John Leguizamo was in the first couple of episodes sprinkling his Hollywood veteran glitter on everything, too.

Waco does have its downsides. For one, it’s upsetting. You’re watching the recreation of something that actually happened in history and ended in the mass death of children. There’s really no way they could have told this story without it being upsetting. No matter which narrative you believe, if you have a heart, it will ache. My commentary throughout the entire series pretty much consisted of, “Why did they do that? This is so upsetting!” on repeat.

The other downside is that they barely touched on the dangers of Koresh’s ideas. In fact, they kind of make Koresh out to be a decent guy who was just unfortunate enough to have caught the attention of the ATF when it needed to shine up its image. His character is likeable, almost like a misunderstood artist who only had good intentions. It was a bit much for this atheist to take in.

In reality, of course, Koresh was an abuser who slept with minors and brainwashed his followers into believing he should be the only one having sex with the women in the compound. He could have encouraged his followers to leave during the siege. He could have insisted that the children, at the very least, be taken off the grounds. He didn’t do any of those things, though, because he needed them. Those people were his power, and without them, he was nothing.

He’s definitely not the innocent spiritual leader he’s made out to be in this miniseries, but that still doesn’t excuse how he and his people went down. They didn’t deserve to die for Koresh’s shortcomings. Most importantly, the children did not deserve to perish because they were members of a cult they had no understanding of.

I think the most upsetting part of the entire series is that if the story this miniseries tells is true, it all could have been avoided. None of it had to happen. If the ATF had just knocked on the door and spoken to the man, no one would have had to die.

In any case, it’s well worth the watch. The cast, the story, the emotional roller coaster are all fantastic, but best of all, it makes an exceptional drill for your skeptic muscles. I still couldn’t tell you what happened at Waco in 1993 with any accuracy, but at least I know it, now. At least now, if you asked me what happened, I’d be able to say, “I don’t know”.

Have you seen this miniseries? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

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  • Raging Bee

    The other downside is that they barely touched on the dangers of Koresh’s ideas. In fact, they kind of make Koresh out to be a decent guy who was just unfortunate enough to have caught the attention of the ATF when it needed to shine up its image.

    If that’s what this series is implying, then it’s bogus, and you should change channels ASAP. From your description, it sounds like some people are trying to use this series to recycle their unhinged anti-government hatred that came out in spades around Waco, Ruby Ridge, and other police incidents involving radical right-wing or religious nutcases trying to re-enact the Turner Diaries.

    If what this story tells is true, it all could have been avoided if the ATF had just knocked on the door and spoken to the man.

    They did that, and the BDs fired shots in response. Those were the first shots in that battle.

  • “From your description, it sounds like some people are trying to use this series to recycle their unhinged anti-government hatred that came out in spades around Waco, Ruby Ridge, and other police incidents involving radical right-wing or religious nutcases trying to re-enact the Turner Diaries.”

    That’s an interesting point I hadn’t considered!

  • Raging Bee

    That much I remember rather clearly: the BDs were breaking the law, and firing the first shots at police officers — but a shocking number of people and right-wing “pundits” were screaming about the evils of Big Gummint and portraying Koresh as a poor little martyred victim of the Jack-Booted Thugs of the New World Order. This was also the time when Rush Lamebrain and G. Gordon “Head shots! Head Shots! Kill the sons of bitches!” Liddy first became famous.

  • Jim Jones

    > If what this story tells is true, it all could have been avoided if the ATF had just knocked on the door and spoken to the man.

    They could have arrested him in town where he went shopping regularly. But they wanted a splashy arrest to cover up sexual harassment in the ATF.

    https://www.cnn.com/2018/01/22/politics/atf-agent-sexual-harassment-lawsuit/index.html

    ATF agent alleges retaliation for exposing sexual harassment at Justice Department

  • I agree that this series was well-done, but also agree that they made Koresh and his crew out to be much more innocent than they were. Keep in mind though, this series was based on a book written by two survivors of the cult. I haven’t read the book, but it could very well be that the seemingly Koresh-bent slant was a carry-over from people who looked on him mostly favorably.

  • It was also based on a book by the FBI negotiator played by Michael Shannon. I dunno. I still don’t know what to believe.

  • Jim Jones

    At Ruby Ridge, the feds shot a young boy in the back. They shot an unarmed woman who was carrying her baby in her arms. Both died.

  • Jim Jones

    Murder isn’t the appropriate response to unpopular people with wrong ideas.

  • CrustyCurmudgeon

    Pretty much anything with John Leguizamo in it (in any capacity) is virtually guaranteed to be a worthless piece of sh#t, both in quality and integrity of content. That said, you’ve just given a cookie to every “government-against-patriots-conspiracy-nut” out there. Good job (note heavy sarcasm). Let’s consider this: What is the common thread that exists in every Waco and Ruby Ridge event in modern history? People who believe that the laws of the country no longer apply to them. In every case, these yahoos 1) break the law, 2) resist the reasonable enforcement of the law, 3) force a showdown with the law that ends in tragedy, then 4) blame the law.. Rather than entertaining their hysterical imaginations, we need to reinforce to them that the outcome was completely in their hands and the result is 100% on them. There was always an easier way. All you had to do was be responsible, own up to the fact that you broke the law, and deal with the consequences. In every case, these fanatics put themselves and their families in harm’s way. This blood is on them and them alone.

  • CrustyCurmudgeon

    No, but it is an appropriate response to armed unpopular people with wrong ideas.

  • Outwest

    I vividly recall the standoff. I think you’re absolutely correct when you said in your next to last paragraph that if the ATF had just walked up, knocked on the door, maybe it wouldn’t have ended the way it did.
    I haven’t watched the entire series yet, but it’s true that Koresh was not the innocent that seems to be portrayed in the first 2 episodes. I remember seeing interviews on television with former members that didn’t speak very highly of him.
    Were there mistakes made? Yes, the government created a standoff that shouldn’t have happened. Koresh threw gas on that fire. A lot of people died that shouldn’t have.

  • Agreed. Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Priya Lynn

    I haven’t seen it, but if like you say the mini-series left out the part about Koresh having sex with little girls and manipulated all the adult women into having sex with him it wasn’t an accurate portrayal of who he was.

  • I am not confident. In fact, I think I said multiple times that I have no idea what went down there.

  • SeeingClearly

    It also all could have been avoided if Koresh, at any point, had admitted to his followers that everything he said about a god was complete nonsense–especially the part about him being the god’s special emissary–and that he, Koresh, was actually a malignant and shameful pervert who deserved ridicule and not worship.