Those of us with even a passing interest in crime—whether fact or fiction—are probably thinking about death a lot. And as media has taught us, there are a lot of pretty terrible ways to die. Now, I want you to imagine for a second that you are a child. Imagine what it’s like to be trapped in a room, not knowing what’s happening outside. All you know is the adults are scared, people are shooting at each other, and you might die in a haze of confusion and abject fear. Imagining yourself in this position is a terrifying prospect in and of itself, but there are kids out there who lived this, and there are kids out there who died under these circumstances.
Though the scenario might sound familiar, this not 2018. This is not a school. It’s 1993 in Waco, Texas. Can you, a child, tell the difference between a bad guy and a good guy when they are both pointing guns? It’s a hot-button topic as protests rage in the here and now, but the debate over the right to bear arms has been an ongoing issue for many years. The siege at Waco is an important moment in the history of how we, the American people, view law enforcement.
Waco is steeped in controversy—even now, 25 years after the fact. There is no single narrative that gives a complete picture of what happened there, and there never will be. This show, even though it’s a dramatization of true events, might be the closest we get, as it draws on the very real narratives of survivors and law enforcement personnel involved, news coverage, and the Senate hearings that took place afterward. And this episode, in particular, highlights the conflict that persists to this day between civilians and law enforcement.
In “Stalling for Time,” Gary Noesner, the leader of the hostage negotiation team, confronts Mitch Decker from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). It’s a true showdown between negotiation and tactical force, and Decker makes it plain that his team thinks Noesner’s team is coddling Koresh and his followers. It’s this disconnect and difference in ideology that is what ultimately caused the ATF and FBI to fail so horribly in the siege.
Noesner asks, “What’s it going to take to see them as people?” Decker’s response sums up the tactical team’s thoughts about how law enforcement should be viewed by the American people. This situation is now a symbol, he says, for how potential criminals need to view the FBI as a whole. According to him (and presumably the writers of the show), there are 5000 people for every member of law enforcement. The odds are against them, and shows of force are how the FBI maintains respect and enforces laws across the board.
Who is right and who is wrong? Perhaps the situation would have ended more peacefully if the negotiators were given the lead during the siege. But there is truth in Decker’s assertions. It is up to our elected officials to make laws. But without enforcement, those laws are meaningless.
This episode is a doozy. While Decker and Noesner battle it out over how to end the siege, the people inside the compound are realizing that they are the ones who will lose in the end. We know how this story ends. We know that four ATF agents and 82 Branch Davidians were killed, all told.
What we saw last night was emotionally harrowing. As the FBI began their psychological torment, I couldn’t help but feel the despair of the parents and the fear of the children. The FBI could no longer back down. In their eyes, if they had, no criminal would ever take them seriously again. But the children still left in the compound experienced hunger and fear as that psychological warfare waged on outside the only home they’d ever known.
It’s incredibly tragic to watch, especially knowing the inevitable deadly outcome. And it’s stomach-churning to realize that the deaths of these children came at the hands of two groups of people that they should have been able to trust for protection—their caregivers and the government. Waco will break your heart, but it will also teach us about an event that’s had a lasting impact on our culture.
See also: Waco: “Of Milk and Men” Episode Review
Ardi Alspach was born in Florida, raised in South Carolina, and now resides in New York City with her cat and an apartment full of books. By day, she's a publicist, and by night, she's a freelance writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @ardyceelaine or check out her website at ardyceelaine.wordpress.com.