Wednesday marked the 25th anniversary of the start of the infamous 51-day standoff near Waco, Texas, between the FBI, ATF and a religious group called the Branch Davidians — the horrific conclusion of which left 76 people dead, including 25 children.
The Gateway Pundit interviewed two people who were each intimately involved with the 1993 siege. One of the men was with law enforcement on the outside and the other was a survivor who viewed it from the inside.
The deadly assault on David Koresh’s Branch Davidian compound took place from February 28 through April 19 over suspected weapons violations. The ATF had attempted to raid the compound and a gun battle ensued, leaving four government agents and six Branch Davidians dead. For the next 50 days, the government would use psychological warfare, such as playing the sound of animals being slaughtered, until ultimately the compound was burned to the ground with nearly everyone still inside.
It is believed by many that the raid was being staged as a success story to make up for the FBI and ATF’s failings at Ruby Ridge, an eleven day stand-off in Idaho in the summer of 1992, where the agencies had botched an arrest and killed a 14-year-old child and his mother while she was holding her 10-month-old baby.
Critics of the tactics used by the FBI and ATF in Waco often point to the fact that Koresh would frequently travel into town alone and would have been easy enough to arrest without incident, but it would have been less flashy for the cameras.
Instead of a success story, the nation watched in horror as weapons of war were used on American civilians and massive amounts of tear gas was lobbed into the compound before being set ablaze — though there is disagreement about who set the actual fire. Janet Reno claimed at the time that her reason for approving the final gas attack was that the FBI had told her Koresh was sexually abusing children and beating babies during the standoff. The FBI later denied that there was any evidence of this.
To mark the historic date, the Paramount Network concluded their breathtaking six-part mini series. The show angered critics for their sympathetic portrayal of the group as complex human beings instead of the crazed “religious cult” members that the government sought to portray them as at the time.
— Paramount Network (@paramountnet) February 28, 2018
While the entire series was jaw dropping, one quiet moment in the finale really captured my attention — the real David Thibodeau, who escaped from the fire on that fateful day, and FBI negotiator Gary Noesner, who had fought tirelessly to end the standoff without violence, appeared together. They had reunited for the first time to both work as advisers on Paramount’s retelling and made brief cameos during the final episode.
The Gateway Pundit spoke to both Thibodeau and Noesner, separately, to get their opinions on the show as well as their perspectives from opposite sides of this dark spot in American history. Though there is mutual respect between the two men, their views on what happened on that final day stand in stark opposition — especially when it comes to who started the fire and why none of the children made it out of the inferno.
— Paramount Network Press (@ParamountNetPR) January 24, 2018
Beginning the conversations on a light note, we first discussed their characters on the series. As far as how he appeared on the show, Thibodeau, the favorite character of many viewers, thought that Rory Culkin did a great job with his portrayal.
“I think Rory did an excellent job — for someone who isn’t a drummer,” Thibodeau joked, laughing warmly. “He’s very in tune with other people’s emotional needs, especially children. I found him to be a very thoughtful person. I liked him a lot. My first impression was that he wasn’t the right person to play me, but he grew on me.”
— Paramount Network (@paramountnet) February 7, 2018
While watching the series, Noesner, the FBI’s lead negotiator, comes across as the compassionate figure on the law enforcement side who likely could have saved many lives if he had been given the opportunity to do his job during the standoff. His desire to treat the Davidians with respect and dignity to come to a peaceful conclusion appeared to be a significant and tragic part of his early removal from his position, which occurred prior to the day of the final assault.
“I think Michael Shannon did an incredible job capturing me in many ways, though many who know me know that I am more of a light hearted and humorous guy. Obviously, given the subject matter, this wouldn’t have been appropriate time to show that side of my personality,” Noesner said of his character. “When I first met Mike, I said ‘you know, on television FBI agents are typically portrayed as very stiff and formal. That’s really not the case for many — especially not negotiators.’”
“The way that the character conveyed the core beliefs that I had though, that was very very accurate,” Noesner said.
Just as their characters appeared on the mini-series, both men are immediately likable, friendly and kind.
While Noesner was thankful to the writers for portraying him so heroically, he feels as though his character should represent the entire team that he worked with and not just himself. His humble attitude was entirely what one would expect after having watched Shannon’s representation.
“They sort of made me the hero — so that’s very nice. They probably gave me more credit than I deserve, but it was certainly nice to be depicted that way,” Noesner said after I pointed out that his character appeared to be one of the favorites of viewers who commented on the series on social media, along with Thibodeau. “I like to think that my character really represented a much larger negotiation team. There is a team of six to eight negotiators per shift and a dramatic series doesn’t really lend itself to that sort of depiction. Hopefully what my character was doing will be understood by many to be what the whole team accomplished.”
“He’s let people out, that shows he’s willing to work with us. But we’ve got to meet that with positive reinforcement; not punishment.” – Gary Noesner, FBI chief negotiator (Michael Shannon) #WACOuntold pic.twitter.com/pPDsD15xmq
— Paramount Network (@paramountnet) February 22, 2018
Likewise, Thibodeau noticed that many things that happened to him in the series actually happened to other people. He was also endearingly humble, saying that the writers may have made him look better than he really is.
“My book is more accurate on what really happened to me and what I saw. Other people did things in the series that they attributed to my character, like burying the body out front, due to time constraints and the need to have fewer characters do more things,” Thibodeau said. “My story wasn’t really about me. It’s about all those people that don’t have any voices anymore because they were wiped out by the government… and so demonized that most people didn’t even really care that they were wiped out by the government.”
Thibodeau explained that at the time, people seemed to justify the horrors of what happened, dismissing the government wrongdoing by saying things like, “oh too bad, those poor religious fanatics… but what can you do?” He said that he sat on his story for 25 years knowing that he had written a book detailing what he went through, but that it would never be read by enough people.
“It’s hard to talk about with every single individual you run into, but I’m glad that more people are realizing who the people were on Mount Carmel [the Davidian compound]. That’s what I cared about. I wanted people to understand who Serenity was, and Michelle, and get to know them. There’s still not enough, there’s a lot of people who still got missed,” Thibodeau told the Gateway Pundit.
As far as the retelling of the events overall, Noesner said that the chronology was extremely accurate, though he had some issues with how favorably Koresh was portrayed.
“What they were really trying to do was show that there were good and bad decisions, and good and bad people, both on the outside looking in… and on the inside looking out,” Noesner explained. “In an effort to be balanced I think they, to some extent, under-demonized David Koresh. I think in real life he was a darker, more sinister and more self-serving character than was depicted.”
Noesner explained that the show was trying to show how charismatic Koresh was and how that would lead people to be drawn to him — but that there was more manipulation at play than we saw in the series.
One area where Noesner and Thibodeau absolutely do not agree is on who started the fires.
On the show, one of the final moments included a reenactment of a 1993 broadcast from KGBS DJ Ron Engleman, in which he recounted other fires that were started through use of pyrotechnic CS gas deployment. While not expressly stating that law enforcement started the fire, he faulted them for not having the fire department on hand.
It is important to note that if this gas had been used on terrorists it would have been considered a war crime. When used on innocent American men, women and children under Janet Reno’s lead, it was perfectly acceptable. No one was ever held accountable.
Noesner was displeased with this scene, as he firmly believes that Koresh had given the order for the fires to be set.
“I appreciate what they are trying to do, but the investigation pretty solidly established that the Branch Davidians actually started the fire. Even one of the nine survivors came out and said that other Davidians were starting the fire, I don’t know what else people need to put that one in the bank,” Noesner asserted.
Thibodeau adamantly disagrees.
“I have always said that nobody inside there started the fire,” Thibodeau said.
Another of the surviving members, 72-year-old Clive Doyle, recently told CNN, “let’s say the government created circumstances that led to the fire,” though he did not say which side actually lit the blaze.
“I think that is a far more defensible position. You can say that the fire would not have been initiated that day had the FBI not put in the gas — but the show left the question a bit murkier. There are recordings from inside that prove that David Koresh ordered the fires. I wish they had shown that as clear as it is,” Noesner said.
During the trial of 11 surviving Branch Davidians, who were charged with conspiracy and murder for the deaths of the four federal agents on the first day of the siege, it was revealed that listening devices has been placed inside the Branch Davidian compound. Matthew Gravelle of the FBI, the agent who monitored the devices, testified that that batteries lasted about 12 hours and that the last operating device was placed inside the compound at 7:28 P.M. on April 18, according to a 1994 report from the New York Times.
Thibodeau countered Noesner’s stance by arguing that “the audio was six hours earlier. Even if it wasn’t tampered with, which I’m sure it was… it was at 6 a.m. If David was telling people to start the fire at 6 a.m., how come it did not start until six hours later? It doesn’t make sense and I just don’t trust the government with the evidence.”
“I feel for Gary in a sense because I think he really tried to do the right thing, as far as what he could do. I think there are a lot of FBI agents who have no idea what really happened. Many that were on the ground did not even know that they had used pyrotechnic devices and things like that,” Thibodeau said. “I think it was probably only a few at the top who knew what was truly going on.”
Thibodeau explained that “when you’re using tanks to make big holes in the building like a fire flue, you should kind of expect that the building is going to burn. They did everything in their power to make that place go up quickly, that’s what the holes were about.”
When asked about why law enforcement had failed to have the fire department on standby in case of a fire, as mentioned by Engleman’s character on the series and during an actual broadcast in 1993, Noesner argued that “it seems like a good point, he cites a few cases where fires have started. What he doesn’t say is that there are thousands of cases where gas didn’t start a fire. It’s cherry picking to validate what you are talking about. In reality, the FBI fired pyrotechnic gas dispersal cartridges at the cement structure in the middle of the compound and they all bounced off the wall — that happened at 8 o’clock in the morning. The fire didn’t start until noon and there was no other pyrotechnic stuff involved.”
Thibodeau, for his part, believes that the government wanted people to die — even going so far as to shoot people who tried to escape from the back of the building.
“There was a plane that was flying above Mount Carmel on the day of the fire, it was going in a circle. It was an FBI plane that had infrared technology, which means that the video captured heat. It looks like it’s black and white, but wherever there is heat it is white and wherever it is cool it is dark or black. The hotter it is, the whiter it is. Just before the fire, there are a couple of places were you see two flashes go off that we believe are pyrotechnic flash bangs. It happens in the two different areas of the building where the fires began,” Thibodeau explained.
“The other thing you see is that while the fire is raging, there’s two tanks… and next to them you see these repeated bright flashes. All the experts who spoke to the Waco: Rules of Engagement documentary makers believe that to be fully automatic weapon fire. The video shows several places where you can see people shooting into the building, it’s at the back of the building where the media cameras were not allowed to be,” Thibodeau said. “The government claimed that it was sunlight reflections and not fully automatic weapon fire, but that’s crazy. A four-year-old could watch that video and tell you what it is.”
When asked if he saw or heard the gunfire when he was trying to escape, Thibodeau said that he did not.
“I didn’t. That’s what was so surprising when I first saw that video. Of course, you know, fire is incredibly loud and there were tanks and the speaker systems going on. There were times that people would suggest to me that some who tried to escape were shot and I would argue and say ‘no, that never happened, you know, I got out…’” Thibodeau recalled. “But it always bothered me why nobody in the back, not even one person, ever got out. Then I started reading the autopsy reports. There were thirteen different autopsy reports that I read which said that people died from bullet wounds to the center of their heads and/or the center of their chests. That’s not how you kill yourself. You don’t put a gun to your chest and pull the trigger, and most people don’t put the gun up to the center of their forehead.They put the gun in their mouths or under their chin and pull the trigger.”
Thibodeau added, “that always bothered me.”
An expert retained by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel had testified that many of the gunshot wounds “support self-destruction either by overt suicide, consensual execution (suicide by proxy), or less likely, forced execution.” Survivors have long maintained that there was no suicide plan.
Thibodeau’s confusion turned to outrage while doing his interview for the documentary Waco: Rules of Engagement. Thibodeau was invited to view the infrared footage that was being cut for the film.
“I saw it, they showed me the weapons fire and I was blown away. I was giving talks all over the country about Waco at this point, so I decided to include the footage in my speech before a large audience. The first time I did, I started yelling, ‘you see that?! They’re shooting them!! They’re shooting them,’” Thibodeau explained. “I was losing control of myself in front of all these people.”
After the speech, Thibodeau was signing books and an audience member approached him and noted that he seemed very angry. Realizing that the person was correct, he decided to stop giving public speeches.
“I was doing just fine talking about Waco and the people there, until I saw that infrared video,” Thibodeau said. “It triggered an anger in me that has never gone away. I can control it a lot better now, but I had to stop talking publicly because I realized I had some form of PTSD.”
I noted that most people would likely understand, as his anger is righteous and justified.
“I think so,” Thibodeau agreed.
When asked if he has kept in touch with any survivors other than working with Thibodeau on the Paramount show, Noesner said that he met two at a 20th anniversary event five years ago, Clive Doyle and Sheila Martin.
“I took the step to cross the room and say how sorry I was for the loss of their families, I thought it was the right thing to do. I had a brief conversation with them both, certainly nothing in depth,” Noesner said. “I’ve always said that a lot of the people inside made some really bad choices, but that doesn’t mean that the FBI didn’t also make bad decisions. It’s a complex issue. In the past, people would say that the people inside were nuts and deserved what they got, or that the FBI was bad wanted to kill all those people. I don’t think either of those polarized positions is a very fair assessment of the complexity of the whole thing.”
Martin left four of her children inside with their father when she exited the compound during the siege — prior to the day of the fire. Still a believer of Koresh’s teachings, she thinks that the dead are simply waiting to be transported to a great new kingdom, and that she will one day see her children again.
“On the day of the fire nine people came out, not a single one of them brought a child. One of them brought a puppy out — but nobody brought a kid out,” Noesner said. “I’m terribly sorry for what happened to everyone in there — but I can only tell you if I had been in there with my child… I would have either have brought them out or stayed in there and died with them. There is no way I would not have got my child out.”
This specific line about the survivors is the one that Thibodeau is bothered by the most, having heard it many times over the years. He contends that the children were all in the back of the building — and that law enforcement had been shooting at those who attempted to escape from that side.
“It makes me crazy when they say that — and here’s why: if you’re in the back of the building where all the kids are, and you didn’t survive because people are shooting you, how are you supposed to bring children out?!” Thibodeau said, clearly upset. “It’s the worst. They were shooting people where they knew the children are — and then they ask publicly why people weren’t bringing children out?! It’s asinine! The adults didn’t bring children out because you were shooting them down. They’re still blaming survivors for not doing the right thing when they were shooting at them! It’s outrageous to say that about people.”
Thibodeau noted that the same line was used in the recent A&E documentary and that he was frustrated because there isn’t a way to respond once something like that is out there.
“They’re all about the propaganda and what the government wants them to say,” Thibodeau said. “What the government did is so bad that nobody wants to admit that they did it. It just isn’t something you want to think of the American government having done.”
Speaking on the recent uptick in anti-government sentiments, the Gateway Pundit asked Thibodeau if he had any concerns during the showdown at Bundy Ranch or when an armed militia seized the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon of a potential for there being another incident like Waco.
“I always do, I always worry about it,” Thibodeau said. “I think the FBI has learned alot from Waco and that they don’t want to repeat it — but they shouldn’t have had to learn those lessons. It should have been common sense.”
Noesner, when asked the same question, asserted that he didn’t because there is a significant difference between the anti-federal government crowd and religious groups.
“I didn’t view them [the Bundy’s and their supporters] as religiously motivated or having any end times revelations or suicidal nature. I certainly thought there could be some significant bloodshed, I mean there was some, but it was minimal. I’ve dealt with a lot of these anti-government types before and they’re very different than the religious fanatics,” Noesner said.
During a recent interview with Megyn Kelly, Noesner stated that he does not believe people should distrust their government over incidents like what happened at Waco. He added that the resurgence in negative feelings about the government are unfounded as there was good and bad on both sides of the incident.
Thibodeau interjected during the interview that he does not believe that the police should be militarized and showing up to people’s homes with tanks.
The Gateway Pundit asked Noesner for his response to Thibodeau’s stance.
“Well, I think I would agree with Thibodeau to an extent. Yes, I would agree that the police have become somewhat militarized, but that is because we allow people to purchase some pretty powerful weapons here in America. In the series, it showed those tanks with their gun barrels on. The gun barrels had been removed at Waco. Nobody was pointing tank barrels at the Davidians, they were merely places for the FBI tactical people to be inside and protect themselves from shots. They did get used to crush cars and do all sorts of inappropriate things, but the intent was not to use them as a weapon per say,” Noesner said. “But, I would agree with the philosophy that that there has to be a clear distinction between what the military does and what law enforcement does — that so some extent has become a little murky.”
When asked if he agreed with Noesner’s position that he stated in the Kelly interview — Thibodeau passionately stated that he does not.
“Do you think that people are wrong to distrust the government?” I asked.
“Of course not!” Thibodeau quickly responded. “They’ve been lying to you forever! Ever since Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers they have lied to you. They have hidden things from you, they have made sure that you are looking in the wrong place to get facts about what they have done — they want you to believe what they say and they love to lie. They need to cover their butts because they screw up all the time! It’s this arrogance — nobody in the government can just admit that they are wrong, even at the cost of other people’s lives.”
Thibodeau added that “if you don’t distrust your government you’re an idiot.”
“They don’t care about you, they only care about getting voted back into office. It’s outrageous. I had an advanced education with Waco, I wish I could say it’s getting better — but it’s the opposite really, it’s getting worse,” he said.
For more information about the incident and each man’s own story, you can check out Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau and Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner.