Review: Did the Waco Siege Inspire More Violence? Showtime Series Explores the Question

The assault on Mount Carmel was meant to bolster the ATF's reputation. It failed.


What happened to the right front door of the Mount Carmel Center? That's a recurring question in Waco: The Aftermath, a five-episode Showtime drama built around the 1994 trial of Branch Davidians who had survived the lethal 51-day federal siege near Waco, Texas, the previous year.

The mysteriously missing steel door, which should have withstood the fire that consumed Mount Carmel, could have helped resolve the issue of who shot first when agents dispatched by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) descended upon religious leader David Koresh's followers at the beginning of the standoff. It is a powerful symbol of the government's attempts to evade responsibility for the horrifying outcome: The siege resulted in the deaths of 82 men, women, and children who lived at Mount Carmel, including 76 who died during the final assault.

Although it is hard to believe in retrospect, the ill-prepared, needlessly aggressive operation that the ATF called "Showtime" was meant to bolster the agency's reputation and save its budget following a similarly botched assault on white separatist Randy Weaver at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, in 1992. In both cases, the ATF thought suspected firearms violations were enough to justify reckless raids that led to senseless deaths.

This potent combination of arrogance and incompetence reinforced many Americans' skepticism of federal law enforcement, especially when it is directed at marginalized minorities. As Waco: The Aftermath shows by interspersing the trial story with the plotting of Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, the incident also planted the seeds of murderous violence in people outraged by the government's Waco crimes, who demonstrated a parallel disregard for innocent lives.