Suppression of Dissent
from Eg the Age, Dec. 11, 1998
Waco: The Rules of Engagement
By Staff Writer
When this film played to a near-full house at the Forum cinema during the Melbourne International Film Festival there were long spells when the audience sat frozen as the film revealed the truth about what happened to David Koresh and members of the Branch Davidian sect at Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Ghostly footage of the siege taken from a high-altitude surveillance aircraft showed in astonishing detail the nature of the US Government's operation against the sect. Armored vehicles methodically punched holes in the com pound to provide proper ventilation for a fire, Men fired machine guns to keep people from escaping.
What makes director William Gazecki's and producer Dan Gifford's exhaustively researched and resourced film so compelling is that we think-we know pretty much all there is to know about that fire, in which 76 people perished. Images were seared into our minds through repetition in the mass media: the flaming buildings; the government agent dodging for his life as bullets tear through a wall; the ungroomed face of Koresh, the dangerous, psychotic cult leader who caused it all, happy to see women and children die for his beliefs.
This impression, the film demonstrates; was fractured and selective, largely the result of a compliant media.
In The Rules of Engagement, however, Gazecki and Gifford deliberately go against the common media practice of brevity and easy answers. The retelling of what happened at Waco is presented without sensation or anger. It simply assembles the evidence, including much material never before shown, such as conversations between Koresh and a double-talking official.
Documentaries that seek to attack the establishment are often badly done. The Oscar- winning The Panama Deception (1992) by Barbara Trent about the US invasion of Panama was a good example of a bad documentary containing much argument, rhetoric and innuendo, but little real evidence. In sharp contrast, The Rules of: Engagement is full of facts, figures and footage to back its claim about an unconstitutional attack on a bunch of marginalised people who did not deserve the fate they were dealt.
Indeed, the film berates the workings of the media and government or at least the ATF (the Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) it seeks to remind Americans about that bit in their constitution about freedom of religion.
from the New York Times, June 13, 1997
In the official version of what happened, disseminated through the media, the Branch Davidians were a dangerous trigger-happy cult and their leader, David Koresh, was a Jim Jones-like madman who at the last minute incited his flock to commit mass suicide.
But the film tells a different story. Taped interviews with the survivors and a replaying of the government's tape of the negotiations between the FBI and Koresh make a strong case for seeing the killing of the federal agents as an act of self-defense against an armed government assault. Once federal blood had been shed, the movie says, the government decided to move in for the kill.
The most damning evidence against the FBI, which took over the case from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, is found on heat-sensitive infrared videos shot by the FBI from an aircraft flying over the compound. In the film, technological experts testify that strange flashes on the videos almost certainly came from automatic gunfire directed at the compound from government tanks. This contradicts the FBI's insistence that during the entire 51-day siege, federal forces never fired a shot.
The visual evidence also suggests that a tank ran over the body of one or more sect members and that gunfire from federal troops ignited (perhaps deliberately) the highly flammable tear gas that had been pumped into the building.
Please send comments to: Colby Glass, MLIS
Return to The Independent Thinker
Return to Philosophy Homepage