Taylor Kitsch, of Rutland, plays David Koresh, the guitar-playing, gun-toting messiah of the mullet and leader of the Branch Davidian Christian sect. Kitsch probably should have got nominated for a bunch of best actor awards, but when Harvey Weinstein is the guy who green-lighted your project, that is not going to happen.
Watching Waco, the 2018 Paramount TV mini-series, it’s difficult not to experience a massive sense of sadness and loss. The Siege of Waco, a 1993 stand-off between members of a Texas Christian sect, which called itself “Branch Davidians,” and various branches of American law enforcement did not end well. 76 Branch Davidians died, most of them women and children, many as a result of the fire which engulfed and destroyed the compound on the 51st day, after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) launched an assault, using military tanks to insert tear gas throughout the building. Mt. Carmel, the biblical name the Davidians had given their compound, caught fire and burned to the ground: of the people still inside, only nine came out.
The ATF was raiding the Branch Davidians because the Branch Davidians, they had heard, owned automatic weapons which were illegal. This was true. The Branch Davidians supported themselves with money they made trading and selling at gun shows. They owned about the same number and quantity of guns as most everyone else around them in those parts of Texas. They were meticulous with their paperwork. They had, however, unusually, forgotten to buy individual permits, which cost $25 each, which would allow them to buy the part/s necessary to modify semi-automatic rifles for automatic fire. With the permit, all those guns would be fully legal in the United States. Branch Davidians did not allow drinking or smoking or drugs on the compound—the only other two areas under the ATF’s purview. So, the ATF started an illegal, domestic military siege that killed nearly 100 American citizens, to recoup the equivalent of the cost of a couple parking tickets someone forgot to pay.
A country which kills its own citizens and then covers it up, Timothy McVeigh reasoned, has declared war on its own people. McVeigh, a veteran of the Gulf War, argued that the rules of engagement in all military conflicts are set by the aggressor; if killing innocent and law-abiding women and children was how the United States was going to play it, McVeigh reasoned that the government itself had pre-determined the sort of response it would receive. In a letter McVeigh wrote to the Buffalo News in 2001, he wrote that, “If there would not have been a Waco, I would have put down roots somewhere and not been so unsettled with the fact that my government … was a threat to me. Everything that Waco implies was on the forefront of my thoughts.” That same year. he told Fox News, “With Oklahoma City being a counterattack, I was only fighting by the rules of engagement that were introduced by the aggressor. Waco started this war. Hopefully Oklahoma would end it.”
Not so much, as it turns out. As “CrazyMan” Gore Vidal points out, Oklahoma City became just another excuse for the extreme militarization of American police forces, and a sharp curtailing of personal and civic freedom. McVeigh didn’t appeal his death sentence. He thought death preferable than life imprisonment. Nutbar Gore kept McVeigh company in his final hours, at McVeigh’s request. McVeigh’s last meal was mint ice cream with chocolate sauce. The final film McVeigh watched was the Coen brothers’ Fargo, on a small black and white TV. Whackjob Vidal reports that Fargo was not the right viewing choice for a man with only hours to live. "It's a great film,” Vidal said, “but bloody, a body is shredded and suchlike, and not quite what he wanted to see, poor fellow."
The woodchipper scene. Not as famous as I thought. I was talking about it with a fan of Fargo, the TV show, the other day and they didn’t know nothing about it. I don’t think most people today even remember Waco or McVeigh any better, and why should they? Catastrophic, mass-casualty events are so common they’re hard to keep track of, and they show no signs whatsoever of abating any time soon. “I don’t like it, but I guess things happen that way. Ba-doop-badoo. Ba-doop-badoo,” as Johnny Cash once said.