The Real-Life Story Of The FBI's Gary Noesner

Paramount's miniseries Waco premiered recently on Netflix, an attempt to dramatize the events of early 1993 at the Branch Davidian compound where ultimately 75 people died, including children. While it can be an advantage to create dramatic depictions of real events within living memory, one disadvantage is that the pain of living people connected with tragedy is still very real. They might also call "foul" on the proceedings.

One of the characters in the series is FBI negotiator Gary Noesner. Like Koresh, Noesner is a real person who had a real role in trying to avoid the deaths and destruction that ended the story of David Koresh and his followers. Noesner calls some aspects of the series "pretty accurate," particularly as it describes the conflict between the negotiating team, led by Noesner, and the tactical team, which wanted to take a more aggressive approach to the standoff. As for Koresh himself, Noesner says the series' characterization isn't quite as accurate as it could have been. He told Oxygen, "In real life David Koresh was a far more dark sinister manipulative narcissistic guy." He lays the story's ultimate tragedy squarely at the feet of Koresh: "Every single day in the negotiations we gave him an opportunity to lead his people out and do the right thing and he consistently chose not to do so."

Gary Noesner believes David Koresh had "a sinister agenda"

Noesner had a three-decade career with the FBI, 23 of those years as a hostage negotiator. As opposed to the story the series tells, he was rotated off the Waco incident about half-way through — 25 days in, as reported by Time. Nor was he at the Ruby Ridge standoff the year before Waco — that was his partner. He did successfully negotiate the end to an 81-day armed standoff in Montana in 1996, according to Smithsonian. "No shots were fired, everyone surrendered and nobody knows about it because it ended so well it didn't get much news coverage," he told Oxygen. "It was a tremendous validation of the learning points of Waco."

Men's Health tells us that Noesner retired from the FBI in 2003 and became vice president of a firm that specializes in managing international kidnapping cases. He published his memoirs in 2010 — it's one of the books that provides factual basis for the miniseries — and does occasional speaking gigs and works as a consultant.

He remains critical of the tactics used at Waco, but also firmly believes there was no evil intent on the part of his FBI colleagues. "In their own minds they were trying to bring everybody out alive," Noesner said. "It's not like they had this sinister agenda whereas I think you could say David Koresh did have a sinister agenda."