On April 19, 1993, the world was stunned and horrified when a crisis that had lasted
almost two months suddenly turned into one of the grisliest and saddest episodes in recent
American history. Seventy-six men, women and children, members of an obscure, 50-year-old
religious group called the Branch Davidians, were gassed, suffocated, shot and burned to
death when the FBI, acting under direct orders from Attorney General Janet Reno, moved to
end a 51-day stalemate in Waco, Texas, with deadly force.
Waco: The Rules of Engagement is a documentary that examines in detail the events
leading up to the ill-fated raid, the actions of the participants during the raid, and the
subsequent efforts on behalf of Reno, the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and
Firearms to allay responsibility for the deaths of these people and their leader, David
Koresh (born Vernon Howell).
In fact, if we are to believe even a fraction of the evidence that director William
Gazecki has gathered for his documentary - the expert testimony, congressional inquiries,
video diaries and various statements made by participants on both sides of the tragedy -
it would seem that the FBI and the US federal government are not only responsible for the
terrible events, they are also guilty of what can be regarded as a massive cover-up and a
bald-faced series of lies that effectively turned conspiracy theory into conspiracy fact.
It really began at a point, some months earlier, when the BATF decided that the
Davidians were stockpiling weapons, legal and illegal, and then chose to mount an armed
raid that resulted in the deaths of six Branch Davidians and four federal agents. That
Koresh and his followers happened to be in the business of legally selling and trading
arms never seemed to play into the bureau's conclusions or actions.
Wounded and rebuffed, the bureau decided it was time to cut losses and bring in the big
guns, literally, by placing the situation in the hands of the FBI, which brought along a
few borrowed M-60 Army tanks. When the raid commenced on that Sunday morning, the tanks
were used to punch holes in the compound buildings, providing access points through which
the agents could pump thousands of gallons of potentially lethal and highly caustic gas.
In retrospect it seems fairly obvious that the path the FBI was taking would lead to
tragedy and its gruesome aftermath. What wasn't immediately clear was how far the FBI and
Reno would go to cover their tracks.
Waco: Rules of Engagement, is an engrossing, powerful film, one that deals with the
politics of these events, but with the manipulation and ultimate power of media. It's a
film that delves into these matters with thoughtful, yet unemotive precision and detail,
allowing the viewer to make up his/her mind as to the atrocious dealings of government and
media alike. With Waco, documentary cinema has well and truly come of age; it's a
remarkable, chilling and insightful film not to be missed.