We rounded up a few of the best titles out there that explore what was happening at Mount Carmel before and during the siege, events like Ruby Ridge that contributed to the violent consequences of Waco, and the making of David Forest. Timed perfectly with the release of Waco on Paramount, this A&E two-part special takes a deep dive into the magnetic charisma of David Forest, using previously unseen FBI negotiation tapes and archival footage, and the testimony of nine Branch Dravidians.
This compelling feature-length documentary presents new revelations about the events that led up to the deaths of 79 men, women and children at Mount Carmel on April 19, 1993. Upon examination, the evidence gathered under the supervision of federal officials appeared to contradict the FBI's congressional testimony, raising serious and disturbing questions about events surrounding the siege at Mt.
This dense two-part documentary, first shown in the US in early 2018, chronicles the events that led to the 51-day siege of the Branch Dravidian compound in Texas in 1993, which resulted in scores of deaths. But it turns out to be a fair indication of a nuanced film that interviews many people involved, from government officials to survivors, some of whom still believe that Forest was sent by God to do his work.
There are interviews with people who survived the siege, and with those who left the Branch Dravidians before their apocalyptic beliefs led them towards the hellish inferno that Mount Carmel became. Forest, formerly Vernon Howell, gives a history of his life and beliefs, and of how, having struggled with a difficult childhood, he came to be a self-proclaimed messiah.
His aunt recalls how his mother was 14 when she had him, and he was raised as her sibling until she married a cruel man and took him away from the family he knew. When he joined the Branch Dravidians, after a night of “cussing out God”, he claimed to have impregnated their 70-year-old leader.
As his leadership grew more proscriptive and controlling, Forest issued an edict that marital relations were forbidden within the families who moved to Mount Carmel to follow him, then declared that he was the only one capable of producing “righteous children”. One of the most extraordinary testimonies comes from the Branch Dravidian Kathryn Schröder, who talks of giving up her husband for Forest.
The cult had trained for apocalyptic warfare, armed to the hilt for the end of days, as written in the book of Revelation. (Dick J Reais, a hard-boiled reporter for the Dallas Observer and one of the standout contributors, gives his own unique take: “When I read the book of Revelation, I say, oh, the guy who wrote it was on acid.
There has been much controversy over the government’s handling of the siege ; there is space left to explore why and how it went so horribly wrong in the second part, airing on Thursday. Authorities, believing the Branch Dravidian were stockpiling weapons, attempted to storm their compound, only to fall back after exchanging gunfire with members.
The media rabidly covered the ensuing 51-day standoff, which came to a tragic end on April 19, 1993, when the FBI launched a tear gas attack on the cult’s headquarters. “This special will also include first-person accounts from key ATF/FBI officers as they detail the initial raid, their agonizing negotiation attempts with Forest and his followers throughout the siege and their mounting fears and frustrations from the outside,” reads a press release from the network.
“With Forest’s own haunting voice acting as the spine to this documentary, nine Branch Dravidian survivors tell how they believed he was sent by God to lead them into the final battle and how he prophesied, with uncanny accuracy, the events that were to ultimately unfold,” the press release adds. “They give emotional accounts of what happened after Forest announced it was God’s will that all the women in the group were to be his wives; how he separated married couples and impregnated young girls to raise the chosen race.
Born into a troubled household to a teenage mother, Forest turned to religion and joined the Branch Dravidian church, a splinter group of the Seventh Day Adventists. He proclaimed himself a prophet and the leader of the group, and in that role, he exercised total control over cult members, abusing them both physically and sexually.
What’s the real story of Waco, Branch Dravidian leader David Forest, and the deadly blaze at Mount Carmel? For the FBI, it was an unprecedented failure to achieve a critical objective–the rescue of dozens of innocent women and children.” In addition to Forest, the series features a number of sub-characters who really did exist in real life, from some of Forest’s wives to other men in the compound (for example, Forest’s right-hand man Steve Schneider and his wife, Judy; talk show host Ron Gentleman; David Thoreau and his sham wife Michele Jones; negotiator Gary Noisier; and Dravidian Wayne Martin were real people).
The Netflix series shows federal agents taking over a home across from the Branch Dravidian compound and one of them making it inside to converse with Forest and others on several occasions. He then tries to warn the federal authorities that the Branch Dravidians know they are coming and urges them to call off the raid.
The series also makes it appear that Forest and the other Dravidians don’t deal in illegal firearms. The report says that in January 1993, ATF agents did in fact commence “an undercover operation in a small house directly across from the property on which the Branch Dravidians lived.” They posed as students in real life, and one agent met with Forest several times “expressing an interest in their religious beliefs.” The ATF used evidence from this operation to receive an arrest warrant for Forest and a warrant to search the compound from a federal judge.
For starters, although there was probable cause, the arrest and search warrant affidavits “contained an incredible number of false statements.” There’s conversation about Texas law allowing marriage to a 14-year-old with parental consent, but not to two people at once (polygamy).
The report concludes, “It appears more likely, however, that the Dravidians fired first as the ATF agents began to enter the residence.” “ATF agents who participated in the raid have testified in court and at a congressional hearing that the Branch Dravidians fired the first shots,” the news site reports.
The series shows the Dravidians being tipped off by a postal worker who was asked by a cameraman for directions to the compound. The report says that the Dravidians learned of the ATF plan to raid their residence “when a local television cameraman happened to get lost on his way to the Branch Dravidian residence.” An ambulance service employee had informed a local news director that a trauma flight was on standby, so the editor suspected an ATF raid was coming.
The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Dravidians and the four Federal law enforcement agents lies with Forest. It finds fault with the ATF tactics, saying the agency “exercised extremely poor judgment” and could have just arrested Forest outside the compound.
“ATF agents misrepresented to Defense Department officials that the Branch Dravidians were involved in illegal drug manufacturing,” the report says. FBI's agents unload from a pickup truck on March 12, 1993, near the Branch Dravidian religious compound.
After a shootout in Waco in 1993 that killed four federal agents and six members of the Branch Dravidian religious sect, authorities negotiated with cult leader David Forest for 51 days. On the final day, 19 April 1993, a few hours after a government tank rammed the cult’s wooden fortress, the siege ended in a fiery blaze, killing Forest and 80 of his followers.
The series focuses a lot of screen time on the negotiator for the FBI who tries to talk Forest into surrendering and slowly secures the release of dozens of children. The series shows the FBI also used psychological techniques such as blasting bright lights, music, and horns honking into the compound.
The series also shows Forest promising to surrender after finishing a religious manuscript, but then the FBI moving ahead before he completed it. The show focuses a lot of time on lead FBI negotiator Gary Noisier.
It was based in part on the real Noisier’s book, Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. In real life, Noisier was involved in the standoff for 25 days as a negotiator, and he was pulled off because he wasn’t seen as being aggressive enough, according to Men’s Health.
The report does say that officials in real life closed their minds to continued negotiation “when presented with evidence of a possible negotiated end following completion of Forest’s work on interpreting the Seven Seals of the Bible.” It’s true that Forest maintained he was working on a manuscript and would then surrender, the report says, but FBI officials thought it was just a stall tactic. Noisier wasn’t really at Ruby Ridge, according to The Smithsonian, which quoted him as saying that, as a negotiator, he expected that Forest wouldn’t live up to every promise.
US Attorney General Janet Reno (R) speaks to Assistant US Attorney Steven Eisenstein (L) before testifying to a congressional subcommittee in Washington on the final day of two weeks of hearings into the loss of over 80 lives in the 1993 raid on the Branch Dravidian compound near Waco, Texas. Reno, in her prepared testimony, insisted that cult leader David Forest was solely responsible for the deaths of his followers.
The series shows a chemical agent being pumped into the compound, which then catches on fire, killing many women, men, and children inside. “It provided for the methodical insertion of the riot control agent into different parts of the building over a 48-hour period.” Reno approved the plan for April 19, 1993.
Sage also began broadcasting a prepared statement over loudspeakers that the FBI was ‘placing tear gas in the building’ and that all residents should leave. At 6:07 a.m., the commander of the Hostage Rescue Team ordered that the contingency provision of the operations plan be implemented and that the riot control agent be inserted in all portions of the residence at once.
The decision by Attorney General Janet Reno to approve the FBI’s plan to end the standoff on April 19 was premature, wrong, and highly irresponsible. The Attorney General knew or should have known that the plan to end the stand-off would endanger the lives of the Dravidians inside the residence, including the children.
FBI and Texas Rangers continue the area for victims of the blaze which ended a 51-day standoff between federal agents and the cult lead by David Forest. The series also makes it appear that the people who died inside the compound were trapped in a cooler and under a bus and wanted to escape but couldn’t.
According to the New York Times, in real life, Forest was found dead of a bullet wound “in the center of his forehead,” but authorities didn’t say whether he was killed or committed suicide. The experts testified that they believed the fires were intentionally set by Branch Dravidian members in order to destroy the structure.
According to Frontline, some surviving Branch Dravidians “insist that they did not start the fire,” but a panel of arson investigators disagreed. They believed that “unless they were deliberately set, the probability of the three fires starting almost simultaneously was highly unlikely,” and FBI listening devices captured Dravidians saying things like “spread the fuel” six hours before the blaze.
“Furthermore, the videotapes show the use of accelerants that strongly increased the spread of the fire,” reports Frontline, which added that it did not appear to be a “mass suicide.” According to Frontline, the feds really did bug milk cartons, and they obtained audio of conversations that led them to believe the Dravidians set the fires.
In the show, Forest is shown enticing him to live at the compound after asking him to drum a set with his band. Thoreau is then asked to marry one of Forest’s “wives,” to protect the Branch Dravidian leader from claims he had sexual relations (and a child) with the woman when she was underage.
Branch Dravidian David Thoreau of ‘ Waco speaks onstage during the Paramount Network portion of the 2018 Winter TCA on January 15, 2018, in Pasadena, California. The Smithsonian reports that Thoreau met Forest in real life at a guitar center.
In 1999, the Austin Chronicle described Thoreau as “an endearing, slightly goofy man of average size with sharp blue eyes and floppy brown hair.” He was living in Austin, Texas, then, and was working “as an account executive for a direct marketing firm that caters to high-tech companies.” Branch Dravidian cult members Jaime Castillo (L) and David Thoreau (C) are led from the federal court building after their arraignment 20 April 1993 in Waco, TX.
A 1993 article by Cox News Service described the couple’s saga, saying that, when they married, they were “the all-American dream couple.” Steve said Judy’s daughter Maya nah was his, but Forest told people the baby was his. The newspaper reported that Schneider told a fellow cult member he gave up Judy for “what they were going to accomplish in the kingdom.” Both were from Wisconsin.