FBI agents on scene of Waco standoff reveal new details about the deadly 1993 siege

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Retired FBI special agent turned producer Anne Beagan served 23 years in the FBI and is a co-creator and executive producer of the new Paramount+ docuseries “FBI TRUE.”  New subscribers can get one month free on Paramount+ (see details below).

Until 1993, the word Waco brought to mind a Texas city located along the Brazos River — a popular setting for numerous fictional sagas about cattle ranchers and the Old West. Frequently, these tales included gun fights between those entrusted with upholding the law and outlaws of that era. 

But in 1993, a deadly 52-day conflict between the FBI and the Branch Davidians displaced this historical narrative. Waco became the location of the most intense gun battle in American law enforcement history.

Thirty years ago this month, federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve a lawfully obtained federal search and arrest warrant on David Koresh, leader of the Branch Davidian religious sect, at the group’s compound in the small community of Mount Carmel, outside Waco. 

The ATF agents were met with an extraordinary barrage of gunfire. Four agents and several Branch Davidians were killed. The remaining occupants in the compound refused to exit. Since an assault on a federal agent falls under the purview of the FBI, the Bureau assumed jurisdiction. The Waco standoff began.

FBI agents at the scene during the Waco standoff
Heavily armed FBI agents unload from a pickup truck along a country road near the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, on March 6, 1993.

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

For 52 days, Koresh, a self-proclaimed messiah, and his followers rebuffed offers for a peaceful resolution. As the days wore on, Koresh prolonged the siege, debating with authorities about his interpretations of the Bible, specifically the Book of Revelations. Koresh declared that his authority came from God’s word — that he was above man’s law and the authority of the U.S. government, and would only follow his own interpretations of the Bible. Koresh prophesied that the federal government’s actions would result in Armageddon. 

The situation was given the FBI major case name WACMUR, an acronym for Waco Murders. It tested the FBI’s abilities to respond to a large-scale crisis involving numerous heavily armed subjects inside a fortified compound and under the leadership of a religious zealot. Those barricaded inside had already demonstrated their willingness to kill federal agents. The FBI was tasked with bringing the crisis to an end, either by peaceful means or with force.  

In the end, peaceful means did not succeed. On April 19, 1993, as the FBI Hostage Rescue Team moved ahead with a plan to breach the compound, flames erupted in multiple locations. Investigators would later determine that people barricaded inside had spread gasoline and set it ablaze.

Fire at Branch Davidian Compound
Fire consumes the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, during the FBI assault to end the standoff with cult leader David Koresh and his followers on April 19, 1993.

Greg Smith/Corbis via Getty Images

The new Paramount+ docuseries “FBI TRUE” dives into the story of Waco with a two-part episode in which retired officials discuss their personal experiences in the Waco siege, sharing never-before-heard details and shedding light on the behind-the-scenes maneuverings that helped free some of the children at the compound. 

FBI agent Charlie Rasner, who has never been publicly interviewed about his role in Waco, speaks for the first time about his experience. 

Retired FBI special agent Charlie Rasner (left), retired special agent Jim McGee (center) and retired Austin Police Department crisis negotiator Rick Shirley (right) discuss the Waco siege in an interview for the Paramount+ series “FBI TRUE.”

See It Now Studios

You can watch “Waco, Part 1” on the video player above. Stream the entire docuseries, which gives an insider’s look at this and other dangerous missions carried out by the FBI, now on Paramount+. New subscribers can use the promo code FBITRUE for one month free on Paramount+.**

**New subscribers get a 1-month free Paramount+ subscription. Offer expires on 3/31/23. After the free month period, the subscription automatically renews on a monthly or annual basis and your credit card is automatically charged either (1) US $4.99 or $9.99/month (+tax) as applicable; or (II) $49.99 or $99.99/year (+tax) as applicable, at the start of each billing period unless you cancel. Cancel any time on the account page or at 888-274-5343, effective at the end of the billing cycle. No refunds for partial months. Other restrictions may apply.

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