Thirty years after 86 people were left dead after a 51-day siege of a compound that belonged to the religious sect Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas, newly-released footage and exclusive interviews will attempt to capture the fallout from the takedown of cult leader David Koresh in Netflix’s three-part documentary series Waco: American Apocalypse, out March 22.
“The ultimate goal was to arrest David Koresh and to seize all of the illegal weapons,” a man explains in a voiceover in the first trailer for the series. Though certain crucial details about the events that came to complicate that goal have remained unclear for three decades, news footage and FBI recordings featured in the series – released to the public for the first time – aim to fill in some of the blanks.
“Okay, y’all been preparing eight months for this,” Koresh states in an old recording. “How long do you think we’ve been preparing?”
Waco: American Apocalypse captures a multi-perspective image using interviews with individuals who were present both inside and outside of the Mount Carmel compound from February to April 1993, including members of Koresh’s group of followers known as the Branch Davidians.
“A lot of people have told me that he was trying to groom me,” one woman says in the trailer, speaking as the last child released from the compound alive before the fire that brought the standoff to an end ravished dozens of bodies. In another preview segment, one of Koresh’s spiritual wives recalls the intimacies she shared with him. “The whole time we were having sex, it was a bible study,” she says.
A sniper from the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, as well as the FBI Crisis Negotiation Unit Chief and the ATF tactical team, round out the law enforcement perspective, building on the foundation of the FBI’s past recordings. Interviews with key journalists from the national coverage of the event are paired with footage captured on the ground in their reporting efforts.
“Since this story first erupted thirty years ago, it’s fascinated the world as an iconic and tragic moment in American history,” director Tiller Russell shared in a statement when the series was announced. “A prophetic leader with an apocalyptic vision, a fierce debate over the right to bear arms, and testing the constitutional limits of religious freedom – it has powerful and provocative elements that still reverberate today.”
He added: “The details of what happened during the 51-day stand-off are complex and often ferociously debated, but rather than assigning blame or pointing fingers, we tried to treat it from a deeply humanist perspective – focusing on what it feels like for people on all sides to be caught in the maws of history.”