Bingo Square: The Book Was Better?
I recently watched the TV series Waco, starring Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh and Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner, the FBI negotiator at the 1993 siege. It was an excellent series which made me realise how little I knew about the event, and how bad it was. The show was based on Noesner’s book, Stalling for Time, and also an account by a survivor, David Thibodeaux’s Waco: A Survivor’s Story. I’d been hoping to read and review both for this, to give both sides, but alas my library didn’t have Thibodeaux’s available.
Noesner’s book is not all about Waco. It’s a memoir of his time with the FBI, how he’d wanted to join since he was a kid, how he got there, and the main cases he worked on throughout his thirty year career. These include Ruby Ridge (an incident covered in the early part of the Waco series), various prison sieges, and his experiences dealing with US hostages taken overseas. It’s a very readable account of a man’s career and passion for the art of negotiation. He is very convincing when it comes to arguing for the necessity of negotiators within the FBI and during these crises. He gives examples of how certain events, including Waco, could have gone differently if the push for military or tactical interventions hadn’t happened.
The Waco chapter is more matter-of-fact than I imagine the survivor’s account is. Sticking to details rather than the more human side. That’s not to say there isn’t emotion in the retelling, it’s just a bit more by the numbers. It also shows where the series took liberties for, I assume, the sake of storytelling and dramatic effect. Noesner wasn’t the guy on the end of the phone to Koresh for the duration. He was a supervisor. I understand the reason for changing this – it’s easier to tell a story with fewer characters, easier on the audience, and packs more of a punch when Noesner ‘fails’. He wasn’t there the day of the final siege, but he did watch events unfold. He also states that she Davidians started the fire that ultimately killed those remaining in the compound, whereas the series makes the case that the tear gas was responsible, as it is known to ignite. It hits this point home pretty hard. Noesner gives evidence for his reasoning – recordings of members talking about starting the fires, fuel found on survivors’ clothing. Children were also killed – perhaps by their parents trying to spare them from the flames. The series doesn’t show this, and seems to skew its sympathies towards the Branch Davidians. And maybe that’s right, I don’t know. It does show the negotiators in good light, battling against those who wanted to use force and undermined their efforts, even when negotiations seemed to be working. It’s infuriating to watch and read about. It didn’t have to end the way it did.
I’d recommend the Waco series, but I don’t know that it tells the ‘definitive’ story. I don’t know that this does either, given it’s a brief part of Noesner’s story, but that’s not what the book is intending to be. It’s much more about the art of negotiating and its place within the FBI, and law enforcement as a whole. And in that regard it’s pretty persuasive.