‘Waco’ Characters: David Koresh And Gary Noesner, Explained

“Waco” depicts the Waco siege of 1993 that was carried out by the ATF and the FBI at Mount Carmel Center in Waco, Texas. David Koresh, the leader of the Branch Davidians, was supposed to be propagating his knowledge of the Bible to his followers there. He also practiced polygamy, had multiple children with multiple wives, and was found to be in possession of firearms. Gary Noesner was brought in to negotiate the terms of surrender, but he could not do it on his terms because he had to listen to the FBI. In this article, we are going to talk about David Koresh and Gary Noesner. 

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Spoilers Ahead


David Koresh

David Koresh, formerly Vernon Howell, has memorized every word in the Bible and believes that he is the Lamb, the son of God. His teachings from the Book of Revelations and the Seven Seals of God mentioned in the Book of Revelations brought him lots of followers who believed that they were God’s disciples. Among his followers are his multiple wives, one of them a 14-year-old, all of whom have borne his children. David also has illegal firearms hidden in a vault (we do not know if he did). Does all this make him a criminal? Probably yes. But what if the women agreed to marry him and all the children inside the Mount Carmel Center were happy in every way? What if the weapons were there to be sold? We do not know if these were wrong or right, but were they given a chance to answer? No. The FBI was more concerned about its image than the innocent people inside. But more about them later.

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Coming back to David, he is someone who impressed a lot of people with his teachings from the Bible. But more than that, what makes him apt as a cult leader is the way he is with his people. He is loving, caring, and soft-spoken and has the ability to bring out the good in people. Perhaps this, along with his religious beliefs, is what allowed him to practice polygamy (on the part of the women). The accusations of child abuse never had proof unless we consider sleeping with a 14-year-old which was legal in Texas if the parents of the girl had consent, and they still don’t. His case is a top-tier example of just how deeply faith and religion can affect us. We do not know if he has any alternate intentions behind his “Lamb” self or if he really thinks he is a God-send, but he clearly seems to believe the latter.

The people around him, including Rachel, Steve, Wayne, and Judy, believe that he can perform miracles. So, no matter in what way they are approached by the authorities to convince them to come out, David has a biblical reason to prevent them from doing so. He is loving towards his followers, but he is adamant to the point where even when he sees people dying around him, he addresses it as a war they need to fight in order to get closer to God or “be saved.”

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In Episode 6, as David goes from room to room, the noise outside makes it seem as if there is a war going on, whereas it is just the different kinds of sounds played on large speakers by the FBI as their tactic of psychological warfare. They are trying to force the people to come out by making them agitated and frustrated. But thanks to David’s words and his own psychological effects, the people stay put. Mothers cover the ears of their babies as they keep crying due to the loud noise. One can only imagine the pain and the state they are in due to just one man who has manipulated them so that they don’t want to go out even if they feel they should. It’s surreal.

There is only one point in Episode 6 where we see David break his character when Walter Graves tells him to his face that he is the one doing wrong. David screams at him, saying “no” repeatedly. It is as if he is trying to say no to himself, denying what he has done and bearing responsibility for compromising the lives of so many people, rather than Walter. But we cannot discard the possibility that David might just have lost his patience trying to explain to the FBI that he doesn’t mean any kind of harm and never did. After all that occurs, David asking Steve to shoot him, with the whole building in flames around them, does appear to be an escape route that David is seeking. He doesn’t surrender; he doesn’t allow his followers to leave the building, and ultimately, he dies what does feel like an untimely death. It is a matter of debate whether he deserved what he got, but more than him, it’s the people, the innocent men, women, and children, who died just because they listened to David. This brings us to the next character.

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Gary Noesner

Gary is a very interesting character. He is an effective negotiator who understands what to say, when to say it, and whom to tell. He understands what the people he is negotiating with might be feeling at a particular time and maneuvers the negotiation accordingly. He knows that a person is more likely to listen to those who he or she cares for and who he or she knows to care for him or her. This is how he brought an end to the Ruby Ridge siege and made Randy Weaver surrender.

It’s interesting how Gary’s intellect is tested when it comes face-to-face with David’s faith. This is a debate that has been going on for a very long time, i.e., God vs. Science. Here, it is Gary’s training and assessment of the human mind versus David’s faith and a 2000-year-old religion. Throughout the show, Gary tries all he can to get as many people out of Mount Carmel Center as possible. He makes use of different ways to know what’s going on inside so that he can plan accordingly. He pursues David’s close friend Matthew and tries to convince him to come out. He knows that if one person begins to leave on his or her own, others will follow soon. And if that person is Matthew, David’s closest friend, it will be a huge blow to David’s faith, and he might just start to lose his ability to make those around him stay. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen.

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Matthew believes in David and his words, so much so that when he requests David if he can let Judy and her daughter go out and he forbids it, Matthew listens to him. In Episode 4, when Steve speaks to Gary on the phone, he makes it clear that he believes that David is the Lamb of God and that he prophesied everything that is going on. He says that it is Gary who has lost his way. And for a brief moment, it does seem that Gary is almost starting to consider what Steve just accused him of; be it prophesied or not, what Gary and his agency are doing just because David has illegal firearms isn’t justified at all. The authorities only cared to negotiate after having pulled the trigger and realizing their mistake, if at all. Gary doesn’t give up, and his final chance to save all the people surprisingly comes in the form of God’s vision to David, after which he agrees to surrender. It is as if God, against whose faith Gary was acting, had provided him with a solution.

All that David wants is a week to get his lessons on paper. Gary agrees although Tony Prince and Mitch Decker aren’t happy about it; their patience is about to run out. Seven days pass, and there is no reply from David. Gary contacts Matthew to ask him for at least some proof of David’s ongoing work, but David has denied sharing until the work is complete. Tony ultimately sends Gary home after he apparently fails to bring David Koresh out of the building. Gary leaves the camp believing that the people could have been saved by just talking, not by forcing them out using tear gas. Gary’s nature is surprisingly striking and worth acclaim.

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We can tell that under all that professional behavior, a certain psychological perspective, and sharp way with words, Gary is someone who cannot accept even the slightest possibility of being responsible for the death of anybody under his watch. He has already done it once, as he tells his wife (Episode 2) about the Sperryville incident, where he tricked a person into coming out of his home only to kill him. But he cannot afford to do it again and prove Mitch’s opinion about him being the same as the rest of the agents to be true. So he tries as hard as he can to do the right thing, but he fails. What happens after that will forever be remembered as one of the darkest days in modern American history and, by extension, world history, and, if we look at it from David’s perspective, as an immortal proof that man is indeed a fallen being. This discussion of what’s right and what’s wrong can go on for ages, as can this article. But it is up to us to decide what we want to believe in.


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Shubhabrata Dutta
Shubhabrata Dutta
Shubhabrata’s greatest regret is the fact that he won’t be able to watch every movie and show ever made. And when he isn’t watching a movie or a show, he is busy thinking about them and how they are made; all while taking care of his hobbies. These include the usual suspects i.e. songs, long walks, books and PC games.

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