- April 19, 1993 dawned as a beautiful Spring morning at Mount Carmel…
2. It ended in an unimaginable nightmare a few short hours later.
The birthing of COPS Productions and the creation of “Waco-The Rules of Engagement…
Through the course of the morning of April 19, 1993 Mike McNulty was one of millions of Americans captivated by the drama being played out at Mt. Carmel near Waco, Texas, live on national television.
A siege of the “compound,” conducted by agents of the FBI had entered its 51st day. The Federal agents were using heavy battle tanks called Construction Engineering Vehicles or CEVs to insert CS Gas into the rickety wooden structure, and still the occupants, some eighty plus, men, women and seventeen children, would not come out and surrender to the authorities.
As the morning progressed, the CEV’s had begun tearing the building down. They drove the huge armored vehicles directly into the interior, collapsing large portions of the walls and roof into rubble. One got the impression that the drivers of the vehicles and their bosses were really angry about something.
Fifty-one days earlier, the BATF had attempted to conduct a raid at the Davidian’s residence so as to serve arrest warrants on two of the one hundred and forty current residences. The BATF had almost one hundred, heavily armed agents dressed in black raid suits, carrying M-16 and MP-5 machine guns, and 12 gage shotguns. There were snipers with .308 rifles on the perimeters. Although heavily armed, the BATF wasn’t expecting the kind of reaction to their massive presence they received when they approached the Davidians home to serve their warrants. The fatal flaw in the BATF’s plan was that they had lost the element of surprise and the leaders of the raid decided to go for it anyway. After all, who would be foolish enough to resist such a sizable force?
That morning, February 28, 1993 when the BATF approached the front door screaming and yelling, the leader of the Davidians , David Koresh, came to the door, unarmed – holding his empty hands up for all to see and said, “Hey wait a minute, there’s women and children inside – Let’s talk!” At that moment the Davidian’s half dozen young Malamute dogs kept next to the front porch, saw their owner at the door and made a show of aggression against the interlopers. The agents were fending them off with CO2 fire extinguishers. The dogs were backing the agents away from their objective so an agent leading the team drew his side arm and began shooting the dogs. At the first shot, everyone, BATF agents, and defending Davidians heard the shots and the fight was on! Gun fire erupted everywhere. Koresh was wounded in the hand and side for his attempt to prevent the shoot-out that followed. It lasted more than two hours and became the longest shoot-out in Federal Law enforcement history. When a cease-fire was finally established there were six dead Davidians, four dead federal agents, several wounded Davidans and twenty-one wounded BATF personnel. It was one big mess and the Davidians watched as the BATF people eventually withdrew, carrying their dead and wounded with them. The FBI took over that afternoon and secured the perimeter with one hundred and forty Davidians, men, women and children, still inside Mt. Carmel. Later that day, a Davidian who heard about the shoot-out while he was away at work was shot and killed as he attempted to return to home and family, while penetrating the BATF perimeter on foot.
During the ensuing fifty-one days the Davidians sent out several children at the FBI negotiators request. However, there was a battle going on between the conciliatory negotiators and the more aggressive and vengeful, tactical people. The Hostage Rescue Team or HRT were keeping the remaining Davidians hold up in their “compound,” as they called it. Eventually, through devious means, the Tactical folks won the debate and convinced the Attorney General, Janet Reno, that the only way to save the remaining children was to endanger them in a tactical raid designed to force their parents and the others still inside to come out and submit to arrest.
Mt Carmel, the late morning of April 19, 1993 being demolished, only minutes before the fire starts.
Michael McNulty and millions of other Americans were witnessing that “raid” on the morning of April 19th. Finally, after much of the structure had been turned into kindling by the tanks, at a little before noon, a wisp of smoke and flame was seen coming from a second story window at the south-east corner of the remains of the building. A fire began that eventually consumed the entire building, killing all but nine of the 80 plus persons still inside. Who started the fires became the most important question for the Government forces. There were other issues working their way to the top of the list of open questions: Why the demolition? The FBI stated repeatedly that the Davidians fired on the tanks as they injected gas and demolished the place – Did the Davidians fire back in self-defense? How were the fires started? How many Davidians survived? And, where were the children? Why hadn’t the Agents tried to rescue the people inside? All of these questions were flying around the country like so much shrapnel from a hand grenade detonation.
The lack of answers to these and other questions was the motivating force that brought McNulty to begin an extensive independent investigation of the Waco incident. People wanted to know what had really happened because we all saw our ‘National police’ force act in a way that was certainly counter to what we expected from the professional police man on the street corner. What kind of ‘country’ did we have here? Those men represented us, and that wasn’t the way we wanted them to behave!
At this moment, COPS Productions was born out of the necessity of the “need to know” and the failure of the Main Line Media to do its job – inform the Public of the truth, became the organizational ‘mid-wife.’
McNulty then attempted to interest the major TV networks and national print media in the story he had developed. They’re reaction was underwhelming to say the least. As one National TV host put it, “The story ended when the building burned down and the Davidians died…” (Ted Koppel, ABC Night Line) McNulty and COPS Productions didn’t think so, actually, they thought the story had just begun! (A few weeks after Mr. Koppel made his –‘it’s over’ – comment, McNulty won a National Emmy award for ‘Best Investigative Journalism,’ for his film “Waco-The Rules of Engagement,” while competing with Ted for the Emmy honor.)
At this point it seems no one was interested in the story, so McNulty started a yearlong search for someone to back an independent film effort. Things looked pretty bleak until one day a friend who had been helping McNulty look for an investment ‘Angel’ decided to just go ahead and put the money up himself. Although this was a financial risk there was a good deal of personal risk involved as well for all involved. The merry band of citizen journalists suffered a number of intimidating contacts with the FBI. There never was anything ‘official’, of course, always on a ‘casual’ basis. Well, except maybe the time they kicked in McNulty’s front door in the middle of the night, but never a court order to cease and desist, or anything like that. It seems they really didn’t know what to do with us or about us. Like the time our director, William Gazecki and I were filming near Waco and this “plain vanilla rental car” came hauling down the road in front of where we were shooting some ‘B’ roll and did a high-speed reversal of direction just like in the movies, very skillfully done. Then two well dressed men jumped out and started questioning us, no introductions, no ID’s just started this rapid fire line of questions . And when we told them we were making a film about the Waco incident, one of them started yelling at us getting real red in the face – we couldn’t possibly make a film about “that!” We didn’t know what we were talking about…blah, blah, blah. I gave William the high sign and we dashed for the car with our gear and William, smart ass that he is, yelled back over his shoulder as he got into the car to spell our names right in their reports. We left and proceeded to Dallas international air port for a flight to Boston the next day, and low and behold there were the same two morons trying to blend into the wood work. We went to board our flight and I peeked out of the jet way to see these two clowns rushing over to the boarding desk, flashing their FBI credentials! That was the last time we saw those two.
Two and a half years from the start of filming on the project it was taken to the Sundance film festival and became the “talk” of the event. At this point there was a serious dispute going on between the backer and McNulty. Fortunately, it didn’t prevent the film from going forward and was eventually settled. The new film, “Waco- The Rules of Engagement,” went on to win the International Documentary Film Makers Association ‘Doc Week’ festival’s Best Film of the Fest award that September. Later that Fall, McNulty got word that the film had received an Oscar nomination for Best Documentary feature Film. Truly exciting times! And it got even better. As a result of all the notoriety COPS Productions first film effort was picked up by HBO for a television screening on its “Signature Series” and from their it garnered a National Emmy for Best Investigative Journalism, all because one person didn’t give up when told it wasn’t a “story” and with the help of a number of brave people, Citizen Journalism had made an indelible mark on the pages of History.
(Photo above) Mike McNulty and in-laws, Donna and Duane Grubb, sharing some Emmy “Joy.”
During the time just before the Oscar awards, after completing and screening the first Waco film, another ‘Angel’ approached McNulty and asked the magic question: “Is there anything more to this story?” And, it just so happened, there was!
Many new revelations are about to emerg…
And “Waco-A New Revelation” was Born…