Things went well early on in the negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI; the FBI even gets Koresh to release 19 children as a sign of good faith. If this wasn't a sign that it could have been involved peacefully, then I don't know what is! But eventually the direction of the FBI changes, and they decide to use more drastic tactics to get them out. It was fascinating and tragic to see how the outlook might have very well been different if the agencies had tried to form a better understanding of the movement instead of going in like cowboys.
To this day ask any random person who knows about Waco if it was a mass suicide, and they will likely say yes. Vice President Joe Biden even makes a cameo in the Waco documentary where he supports the claim that it was mass suicide. After years of people studying the case, it’s now believed that it’s very well possible that it was not suicide at all.
The problem with Waco, the problem with a lot of things that involve religion, is it's handled by people with military background and not religious background.
There was a dispute between the FBI negotiator and some of the FBI leaders, because the negotiator believed he could get Koresh to come out by simply talking to him—and he probably could have. The ones who made the decisions, however, believe the best way to get them out was to use psychological warfare. It just didn't make sense; to deal with someone who is unstable, you have to get them to trust that you can help you—you can't do that by blaring loud music all through the night and having agents (yes agents) drop their pants and mooning the women and children (they had footage of this).
The documentary shows disturbing infrared footage of the FBI gassing them out of compound while FBI agents outside the compound fired rounds of ammunition into the building. So basically the people had to make a decision--be burned alive or get shot. There's even footage of what analysis believe is a man in the compound getting accidentally run over by a tank.
So did the FBI kill them or was it mass suicide? You can make the case either way, but the most important thing the documentary showed was excessive force was used, and people didn't have to die.
One of the reasons that Koresh remained inside was he said he was still working on decoding his seven seals vision. The day the FBI went in to gas them out, Koresh had finished (there is physical proof of this), and the negotiator believe that he was ready to come out because his mission was over. Not a single person who survived said that they had been give orders by Koresh to kill themselves. The reality is, they probably saw no way out and killed themselves so they wouldn't have to suffer, and they did so believing that they would be with God in heaven for doing it.
Koresh was not an innocent man; if he had been brought to jail and stood trial, he probably would have been put away on child molestation charges (on top of a number of others). Because of, however, the government’s complete disregard to attempt to understand the movement’s belief dozens of innocent people died—including children.
So what did the government learn? It seems like nothing, because for eight years with ex-President Bush we did not make enough of an attempt to understand Islam. Again and again, it's gun-ho tactics over peaceful ones.
It's unfortunate that often when we do not understand the beliefs of a person, we mark them as insane. David Koresh wasn't insane, Jim Jones wasn't insane, Joseph Smith wasn't insane—but all are perfect examples of people who were poked and pushed to the point that they went on the defensive.
You would think that things feel apart for the Davidians; that they simply were broken and defeated and reentered the world again--you would be wrong. The fact that the government basically attacked the Davidians unlawfully only assured them of the fact that the government was against them, and it was their God given mission to endure. Here's the Davidians (un)happy ending:
Several of the people who escape and went to prison for their participation in assaulting federal officers during the raid still believe and follow the Davidian movement—all of them how now been released from prison. The Davidians still alive believed that Koresh would return to Earth one day; the first prediction was that he would come back 1,335 days after his death on December 14, 1996; this didn't happen, so they changed it to August 6, 2000; that didn't happen either, so they now have two predictions: one, March 2012, and, two, there is no set date, but he will return. Koresh's own mother, Bonnie Clark Haldeman, was stabbed to death by (allegedly) her sister early this year on January 23. I wasn't able to find what happened to my former teacher’s daughter, but I imagine even years of counseling can't correct the pain that one new age movement inflicted on her life.
To those who say that stuff like this doesn't happen anymore--it happens even in the most mainstream situations. Not to long ago California had an initiative to ban gay marriage; watch some of the rallies--look at the hatred in people's eyes as they chant their views--on both sides of the fence. Instead of stopping, for just a second, to realize why others believe what they believe, there was utter hatred. If people believed one way, then they believed with passion that the other side was wrong, and they didn't even know why the other side believed what they did. Here's the reality: both sides of that debate are right, and that's why it's so hard for there to be resolution.
Conflicts continue to rise up everywhere in the world not because there are so many people who believe so many different things, but because there are so many people who believe they are right and everyone else is wrong—who use the gung-ho tactics instead of the peaceful ones—and who try to forcefully make others believe the same way.