In ‘Waco’ miniseries, creators humanized both sides of deadly Branch Davidian siege

Published: Feb. 22, 2023 at 3:21 PM CST
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - It’s been the subject of countless documentaries and TV specials, but the first star-studded drama on the Branch Davidian Siege is hitting the small screen this week.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was originally published on January 24, 2018.

The six-part miniseries ‘Waco’ starring Taylor Kitsch and Michael Shannon premieres on the Paramount Network Wednesday night.

“We think it’s a central turning point in American history that deserves to be examined,” said Writer, Director, and Executive Producer John Erick Dowdle.

Calling it a ‘labor of love,’ John and his brother Drew decided to create the series four years ago after learning the story of cult leader David Koresh and his followers was far more complicated than the what they saw on TV growing up.

“Seeing tanks ramming a building and it ending in fire with everyone dying was so shocking, it was one of those moments that, frankly, never really left me,” said John.

That image of tank v. building was seared into the minds of America at the end of a deadly, 51-day standoff, the longest in U.S. history, between federal law enforcement agents and the Branch Davidians at their Mount Carmel Compound outside of Waco on April 19, 1993.

“I think there’s a lot more nuance to those events than what’s portrayed at that time,” said Writer and Executive Producer Drew Dowdle, who remembers watching the fiery finale on television at school.

Nearing the 25th anniversary of the event that left 86 men, women, and children on both sides dead, the brother writing team says they’re trying to humanize the players by bringing their own researched account of events of the Waco Siege to life.

“Once you have faces and names for people on both sides of that conflict, it changes the meaning of those events,” said John.

According to the duo, there are two main schools of thought about the event; either the ATF was going to serve a routine search warrant to a group of religious ‘weirdos’ determined to kill federal agents and themselves, or the raid was a massive display of serious misconduct by the ATF and FBI.

The Dowdles believe the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Their opinion is the result hundreds of hours of research including interviews with survivors, federal agents, lawyers, and theologians, trips to the Waco area and the Baylor archives, police documents, and even Bible scriptures.

“It just seemed like everyone was kind of ‘okay’ with it after the fact and we just sort of moved on, I dunno, I always felt like that wasn’t the whole story,” said John.

The movie-making brothers known for their horror films were working on the backstory for a ‘bad guy’ character in an unrelated film, leading them to Koresh, (real name Vernon Howell), and the novel written by one of his surviving followers, David Thibodeau, and later the book of FBI negotiator Gary Noesner.

After speaking with parties involved, the Dowdle’s are convinced the events and ensuing tragedy, never would have happened under local control.

Current McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara, who was a Deputy U.S. Marshal during the raid and witnessed the events, agreed.

“Hindsight it always 20/20,” said McNamara. “Looking back, we, I say ‘we,’ police, ATF and all, would have done things a lot differently,” said McNamara.

While there’s a general consensus that mistakes were made by all parties, after years of knowledge and reflection, McNamara is unwavering in his belief that most of the fault falls on Koresh.

“I feel like (he) orchestrated it, prophesized this big shoot-out with the government, made it clear that’s what he wanted,” said McNamara.

However, the filmmakers aren’t so sure, and explore other ways the story may have come to an end had different decisions been made.

“When you really get into the belief system and Koresh’s prophecy and the idea that this was a test of their fate, I believe that they were going to come out,” said Drew.