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The Film vs. the Facts

'Waco: The Rules of Engagement' makes a lot of allegations — and many of them just don't stick.

"Waco: The Rules of Engagement" makes a series of allegations and suggestions about the conduct of federal officials in the 1993 raid and siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco.

But the record, researched by Dallas Morning News investigative reporter Lee Hancock and others, shows a pattern of omissions, mischaracterizations and one-sided portrayals by the producers of the documentary.

Here are some key points:


THE FILM The ATF targeted the Davidians to win publicity.

THE RECORD The local sheriff's department asked the ATF to investigate because it had evidence the Davidians were amassing illegal weapons. Sheriff Jack Harwell, who was interviewed in the film, said later that the film was "slanted to make the federal people look bad."


THE FILM The film suggests the affidavit supporting the initial ATF raid used questionable facts. Other views are aired, but only very briefly.

THE RECORD The investigation of the Davidians began only after a UPS delivery of empty grenade hulls was accidentally discovered. The lengthy search warrant affidavit contained detailed evidence of amassing of machine gun parts and explosives ingredients. Even lawyers for the Davidians never challenged the affidavit's legality.

After the compound burned, officials found that the Davidians had purchased more than $242,000 in weapons and ammunition. In the ashes of the compound, they found grenades, silencers, more than 1 million bullets and 48 illegal machine guns.


THE FILM Allegations made in the affidavit that Davidian leader David Koresh molested young girls were questionable and inflammatory. In an interview, producer Dan Gifford told one reporter that Texas officials had found the molestation charges to be baseless.

THE RECORD There was abundant evidence from witnesses that Koresh did sleep with girls as young as 12 after preparing them for years for their encounter with "the Lamb of God." These girls allegedly were given special "star of David" necklaces to wear that designated their status as future Koresh "wives."

And Gifford's statement notwithstanding, officials did not rule the molestation allegations were unfounded. Instead, they were unable to document them in the one visit paid by a social worker to the compound.


THE FILM The film suggests that ATF agents fired first and without provocation during their initial raid, although it briefly airs some agents' statements to the contrary.

THE RECORD Three independent journalists present during the raid testified that the first shots came from the compound — a fact not mentioned in the film.

Extensive evidence indicates that Koresh had long been preparing his followers for the Battle of Armageddon. In the months before the raid, Koresh told his followers, "If you can't kill for God, you can't die for God." He warned them that their 1992 Passover celebration would be their last because the end was coming.

He instructed them that they would need to do battle with "the Beast," clearly identified on several occasions as the ATF. And there was trial testimony that Koresh had encouraged a suicide pact.


THE FILM The Davidians reacted reasonably to a sudden and overarmed ATF raid.

THE RECORD The Davidians learned of the imminent raid through a telephone tip and began to prepare for it immediately.

Koresh turned to an ATF undercover agent. "Robert, neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, they'll never get me again," the agent testified Koresh said. Then, after looking out the window, Koresh added: "They're coming, Robert. The time has come."

Testimony showed that after the agent left, the women were sent to pray, then to their rooms. Many of the men changed their clothes to specially prepared black uniforms, donning ammunition vests the women had sewed earlier.

Koresh instructed followers to fetch their weapons, including AR-15s and a .50-caliber machine gun, and positioned them at a bank of windows.

The 5th Circuit found that the ATF was far from overarmed — in fact, given the number and caliber of the Davidian weapons, it was clearly outgunned.


THE FILM Officials in three Texas National Guard helicopters apparently shot at the compound, killing an unarmed man in its watchtower.

THE RECORD ATF agents testified in court that Peter Gent was armed and was shot by an agent on the ground, not from the sky.

Later FBI ballistics tests confirmed that version of events, and the angle of the wound showed the shot had to come from below. Helicopter pilots testified in court and before Congress that no shots were fired from the helicopters.


THE FILM The FBI apparently started the fire that burned the compound on April 19, 1993, about six hours after tanks began inserting tear gas into the main building, probably with an incendiary device. Flammable vapors from the tear gas fueled the blaze, which flew through the building in the form of two massive fireballs.

THE RECORD The FBI smuggled several tiny audio bugs into the compound by inserting them into the walls of milk cartons sent in for the Davidian children. On tape, several voices are heard discussing setting the fire and then adding fuel. "Let's keep that fire going," are the last words on the tape.

Two survivors also testified about hearing people inside yelling about starting fires in different areas, and infrared video shot from an FBI plane showed the fire starting in three places simultaneously.

Independent arson investigators later found the blaze had been fueled by five different flammable liquids, and open fuel containers were later discovered in the ashes of the compound. The University of Maryland professor who headed the arson investigation told Hancock that the fireball theory was scientifically impossible.

And chemical experts testified to Congress that the tear gas used by the FBI was a fire retardant, not an accelerant.


THE FILM People outside the compound, presumably federal agents, apparently fired machine guns to force the panicked Davidians back into the burning building.

THE RECORD Independent autopsy reports indicated many Davidians killed one another inside the burning compound.

The autopsies showed that many of the gunshots that killed 19 Davidians, including four children, were fired from pointblank range. A 3-year-old was stabbed to death, and Koresh was killed by a shot to the exact center of his forehead.


THE FILM A former Defense Department expert, Edward Allard, alleges in the film that flashes recorded on the infrared video were gunshots fired into the compound.

THE RECORD Allard had never before viewed gunfire on infrared film, as he told Hancock. Other experts have disputed his opinion. Officials have suggested that the flashes seen on the film may have been glints of reflected light.


THE FILM An assessment similar to Allard's was prepared at the request of the producers of CBS' "60 Minutes" program. But "fear" prevented CBS from airing the allegation of gunfire into the compound.

THE RECORD Rome Hartman, a producer of "60 Minutes," told Hancock that he didn't use the unsubstantiated assessment because he received opposite opinions from other experts. He said the filmmakers never approached "60 Minutes" for comment, and he accused them of shoddy journalism.