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Waco: The Rules of Engagement

Friday, August 17, 2007

Houston Chronicle Austin Bureau
Friday, March 20, 1998

Austin - The Academy Awards may give Texas' most famous cult something its members never achieved: mainstream credibility.

Among the nominees Monday night for best documentary is Waco: The Rules of Engagement, a 136 minute-long film that re-examines the events during the 51 day siege and tragedy at the Branch Davidian compound just outside Waco.

The awards ceremony comes about a month shy of the fifth anniversary of one of the most controversial domestic police operations in the nation's history. Whatever the outcome, it likely will refocus attention, at least briefly, on the April 19, 1993, inferno that claimed more than 80 lives including 25 children.

Conspiracy theories about the government's role in the Davidian debacle are not new. They began wafting across the Central Plains shortly after the February 28, 1993, raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms that led to the siege and eventual inferno.

And as the charred remains still lay in the smoldering ruins of their home, critics were alleging that the FBI had fired on the group, started the blaze and intentionally blocked avenues of escape.

At the time, however, most of these conspiracy theorists were perceived as fringe elements or individuals who had long aligned themselves with anti-government groups.

But Dan Gifford, Producer of Waco: The Rules of Engagement is a former journalist with ABC News, the MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and CNN. He recently told the Albuquerque Journal that the film "really does prove that mass murder by one's own government in this country is very possible, as long as the victims are properly vilified and dehumanized
ahead of time."

The work's nomination for the film industry's top documentary award may signal that distrust of the federal government is now firmly rooted in middle America.

To at least one former FBI agent who played a very public if not key role during the siege, the critical praise carries no weight.

"I see nothing there that stands out as a quality production other than an anti-government bias that perhaps could lead to another Oklahoma City (bombing)" said former FBI agent Bob Ricks, who helped conduct daily press briefings on what the government and Davidians allegedly were saying and doing during the raid.

"If that's their goal, then perhaps they were successful there by putting out a total piece of propaganda."

Now commissioner of public safety in Oklahoma, Ricks said the anti-government bias may be just the edge the film needs to win an Oscar. "That's just unfortunately the nature of the arts crowd," Ricks said. "They tend not to be very supportive of the FBI, and if they come up with something negative regarding the government then they certainly would be more leaning toward that."

He has seen the film and doesn't think very highly of it. "Totally biased, one-sided and without factual basis," he said in a phone interview. "Obviously they went in with preconceived ideas and found people who are willing to say anything for sums of money to try and reinforce those preconceived ideas."

He cited in particular the comments of Edward Allard, a specialist in infra red surveillance photography. Allard reviewed the FBI produced videos taken by helicopters from overhead during the FBI's tank-and-tear-gas attack on the cult's headquarters and interpreted the repeated flashes of white light as machine-gun fire directed at the building by government agents.

Allard's analysis, Ricks said, "is absolutely laughable, because it wasn't occurring." "That's absolutely bogus and a hoax and they know it" he added.

In the chorus of those praising the film is Houston Chronicle critic Louis B. Parks, who called it "convincing" and "highly disturbing." The film, he said, "is as powerfully explosive and as compulsively watchable as the event it covers."

"It is essential to emphasize that this is no rabid, cheaply done, right-wing cant or diatribe," Parks wrote in his review. "Director William Gazecki's film is professional, sober and reflective, using government investigation footage, experts from a variety of fields, eyewitness reports, on-the-spot news coverage and the video taken inside the headquarters by (cult leader David) Koresh's followers."

Another critic concluded the film convinces that "the Davidians did not kill themselves; they were murdered by the FBI."

Ricks, though, still toes the official FBI line: the situation inside the cult compound was very volatile and deteriorating and the government had to do something to disrupt Koresh's hold over his followers. Without government intervention, he maintained then and now, Koresh either would have massacred his followers or led them to mass suicide.

"After 51 day, everyone understood...that things were getting worse," he said. "All the psychologists that were working for us said (Koresh) was ready to explode and it was going to be on his terms and conditions unless we did something to disrupt that. And what we did was about the most minimal use of force we could, which is used every day somewhere in the United States, and that's using tear gas."

"In the final analysis, instead of letting people escape his control, he assassinated most of them in there."

WACO: The Rules of Engagement Pt. 1

WACO: The Rules of Engagement Pt. 2

WACO: The Rules of Engagement - Infrared Footage

WACO: The Rules of Engagement - 911 Calls

Buy Waco: Rules of Engagement on DVD

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