In Waco, Texas, a scruffy and frustrated musician named David Koresh (Tim Daly) has announced that he is the messiah and is gathering followers to live with him in a compound. The Branch Davidians, as they are known, spend hours listening as the increasingly unhinged Koresh gives lengthy sermons. There are rumors that Koresh is abusing the many children who live in the compound and that he is stockpiling weapons for a confrontation with the government.
The ATF makes plans to raid the compound and take Koresh into custody. Under the supervision of Bob Blanchard (Dan Lauria), the agents run several practice raids. However, when the day of the actual raid comes, they discover that the David Koresh and the Branch Davidians aren’t going to give up so easily…
Ambush in Waco is a dramatization of the infamous raid that led to a 51-day stand-off between the government and the Branch Davidians, a stand-off that ended with the compound in flames and the deaths of several innocent children. Over the years, the siege in Waco has often been cited as an example of both government incompetence and law enforcement overreaction. Instead of arresting Koresh during one of his many trips into town, the ATF decided to do a dramatic raid for the benefit of the news cameras and they were unprepared for what was waiting for them inside of the compound. After 51 days of negotiations, the FBI tried to force Koresh out and, in the eyes of many, were responsible for the death of every man, woman, and child inside of the compound. For many, the events in Waco represent the government at its worse.
You wouldn’t know that just from watching Ambush In Waco. This made-for-TV movie was put into production while the siege was still ongoing. As a result, the film shows the events leading up to the initial raid but nothing that followed. Since it would be years before the full extent of the government’s incompetence at Waco would be uncovered, Ambush in Waco today feels like propaganda, a whitewash of a shameful moment of American law enforcement history. The ATF is portrayed as being thoroughly professional while Koresh is a dangerous madman who is on the verge of trying to lead a violent revolution. Today, we know that wasn’t the case. Koresh may have been a loser with delusions of grandeur but he probably would have been content to spend the rest of his life hidden away in his compound. Meanwhile, newly appointed Attorney General Janet Reno was so eager to prove her toughness that the situation was allowed to get out of control. That’s not something you’ll learn from watching Ambush in Waco.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that David Koresh wasn’t a bad dude. Tim Daly is this film’s saving grace, giving an outstanding performance as an unstable, wannabe dictator. Ambush in Waco shows how someone like Koresh could end up attracting so many followers and it also shows how even the most well-intentioned of people can be brainwashed. Though the film may not convince us that the ATF was justified in their actions, it does show us why we should be weary of anyone who claims to have all the answers.