Premieres Wednesday, January 24 at 10 PM ET/PT
on Paramount Network
In February 1993, the eyes of the world converged on Mount Carmel, a small religious community located just outside of Waco, TX. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) conducted a raid on leader David Koresh and his devoted followers, known as the Branch Davidians. After what became the longest gun battle in U.S. law enforcement history, four ATF agents and six civilians were dead, and dozens more were wounded.
A 51-day standoff ensued, and the conflict ended after an FBI siege led to a fire that engulfed the entire Mount Carmel compound, killing 76 men, women, and children. Per the creators of WACO, this is a story of fear versus compassion. Throughout these events, the fear on both sides repeatedly led to the escalation of force and worsened the conflict. When compassion and understanding were used, these events moved toward resolution. WACO is an exploration of the “us versus them” mentality, which has continued to play out in the news in the years since.
Synopsis of episodes
Episode 1: “Visions and Omens” (Wednesday, January 24 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) receives a tip of suspicious activity involving weapons at Mount Carmel, a small religious community led by David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch), located just outside Waco, TX. Public relations pressure sets the wheels in motion for the ATF to begin surveillance of Koresh and his followers, The Branch Davidians.
Episode 2: “The Strangers Across the Street” (Wednesday, January 31 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
ATF Agent Jacob Vasquez (John Leguizamo) goes undercover to infiltrate Mount Carmel and befriends David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) in hopes of finding illegal weapons or other activity. While the ATF plans a raid on the compound, a local newspaper leaks a damaging story about Koresh, forcing the ATF to accelerate its plans, and the stage is set for a showdown.
Episode 3: “Operation Showtime” (Wednesday, February 7 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
ATF assault vehicles storm the Mount Carmel compound and a two-hour gunfight breaks out, leaving four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians dead and scores more wounded. The standoff begins, and the FBI arrive in Waco to take over from the ATF. FBI chief negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) arrives and agrees to broadcast David Koresh's (Taylor Kitsch) message on national television in exchange for Koresh’s promise to come out. Noesner delivers on his promise, but Koresh refuses to come out.
Episode 4: “Of Milk and Men” (Wednesday, February 14 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
Negotiations intensify as the Branch Davidians refuse to surrender. As David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) waits for a sign from God, the lack of food and medical treatment tests both the Davidians’ faith and law enforcement’s patience.
Episode 5: “Stalling for Time” (Wednesday, February 21 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
For a moment, it seems like the end of the stalemate is nearing when the FBI’s tactical division turns up the heat with psy-ops on David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) and the Branch Davidians.
Episode 6: “Day 51” (Wednesday, February 28 at 10 PM, ET/PT):
The standoff at the Mount Carmel compound comes to a violent and tragic end.
Key characters and cast
David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch)
Koresh is the leader of the Branch Davidians, a religious community located just outside Waco, TX. He is equally as charming as he is moody and self-indulgent. Koresh is a self-proclaimed second messiah whose authoritarian leadership has him in complete control of his followers, who hang on his every word.
Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon)
Noesner is one of the FBI’s top negotiators and the head of the Crisis Negotiation Unit. At Waco, Noesner quickly finds himself fighting a two-front war. He must contend with both the FBI tactical division’s growing impatience and the Branch Davidians’ distrust of law enforcement.
Jacob Vazquez* (John Leguizamo)
Vasquez is sent by the ATF into Koresh’s Mount Carmel community to gather evidence and build a federal case against the Branch Davidians, but surprisingly forges a bond with David Koresh and the people of Mount Carmel.
Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks)
Schneider is the glue that holds Mount Carmel together. It is Steve’s recruiting skills as much as David’s theology that has expanded the Branch Davidians. Schneider is one of Koresh’s closest confidants and supporters but becomes deeply conflicted once his wife announces that she is pregnant with Koresh’s child.
Rachel Koresh (Melissa Benoist)
The first wife of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and considered the matriarch of the Mount Carmel religious community.
Michelle Jones (Julia Garner)
Michelle is the younger sister of David Koresh’s first wife, Rachel. She is also married to Koresh and has a child with him.
Mitch Decker* (Shea Whigham)
Decker is the tactical commander of the FBI. Known within the bureau for his bravado, he clashes with FBI negotiator Gary Noesner over their opposing philosophies of how to get the Branch Davidians to come out.
Judy Schneider (Andrea Riseborough)
Though married to Steve Schneider, she reluctantly sacrifices her marriage to show devotion to Koresh by marrying him and bearing him a child.
David Thibodeau (Rory Culkin)
Thibodeau is a young musician who joins David Koresh’s band. Though initially reluctant to join the followers at Mount Carmel, he eventually undergoes a dramatic evolution from agnostic to a true believer.
Balenda Thibodeau (Camryn Manheim)
Mother of David Thibodeau, one of Koresh’s close followers within the compound. During the standoff, she strikes an unlikely relationship with hostage negotiator Gary Noesner and David Koresh’s mother, as they watch their sons’ respective fates unfold on television.
Ron Engleman (Eric Lange)
Engleman is a local radio talk host who refuses to trust law enforcement’s version of events and becomes a strange bedfellow for the Branch Davidians, offering them a platform to tell their side of the conflict.
Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes)
Martin is a Harvard Law School graduate and father of seven who serves as Mount Carmel’s resident lawyer.
Edward Wiggins* (Christopher Stanley)
Wiggins is an ATF commander who ordered the initial botched raid on the Davidians compound.
*This character was created based on the events that took place Waco.