On April 19, 1993, in a secluded compound in Waco, Texas, the Branch Davidians fell in an inferno that killed 82 people, including children and the Davidian leader, David Koresh.
On April 19, 1995, in a federal building in Okalahoma City, Okla., a massive truck bomb exploded that ripped through offices and a day care, murdering 168 people.
This April 19, the behind-the-scenes of these tragedies is brought to us in documentary form, courtesy of our local MGA Studios.
Jason VanVleet, a co-producer for MGA Studios and a resident of Fort Collins, sat in the director’s chair on both award winning documentaries, “Waco – A New Revelation,” and “Terror From Within.” This past Tuesday he was kind enough to let me conduct a phone interview in order to find out more about these projects and why they are coming to us.
“Terror From Within” is a documentary that centers around the domestic terrorist attacks on the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City. Not only was this the largest terrorist attack on American soil, until September 11, 2001, but there was also there an overwhelming appeal to document the role of law enforcement during the pursuit of those responsible.
“Other groups were suspect and even linked to (Timothy) McVeigh, so it was interesting to see who they actually pursued,” VanVleet said. “And that actually brings up the story of Carol Howe.”
VanVleet went on to tell me about Howe. She was an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) who informed investigators of an extremist group in Eastern Oklahoma talking about targeting federal buildings. At the time she was ignored, but after the attacks the authorities felt that they should pursue the lead.
Once the story broke, they prosecuted Howe for obstruction. “They attempted to stifle what happened,” VanVleet said, “but what they actually did was make all those documents public domain. That’s how we came across it.”
To read more on Howe, visit the Web site, www.totse.com/en/conspiracy/okc/howeatf.html.
One large draw to this project was to “explore McVeigh’s motivation,” VanVleet said. “He was a racist that wanted to fulfill a scenario from “The Turner Diaries” where a white supremacist arrives early in the morning and bombs a federal building to set off a second American revolution and unite the Aryan brothers to begin the war.”
The focus and purpose of this film was to document these behind-the-scenes events that were not publicized in the wake of the tragedy. This purpose resounds in the second film, “Waco – A New Revelation.”
“At the time I was just looking for material for a feature film when I met with Michael McNulty who produced and Academy Award-nominated documentary on Waco,” VanVleet said, when asked how he came across this idea.
This film was a two-year project from start to completion. It took six months for the production team to get access to the Waco evidence room. Because of the time they put into the project they developed connections so a deputy, Bill Johnson, with access allowed VanVleet and his team the first civilian access.
The Justice Department refused to allow anybody into the evidence room, but knowing something was foul, Johnson allowed the crew in, VanVleet said.
“The whole time the U.S. was denying having anything to do with pyrotechnics that could have started that fire and we found all of it just sitting in that room,” VanVleet said. Johnson was later prosecuted for obstruction of justice.
During the filming process and the interviewing, VanVleet said that there were people following him and people had tapped their phones.
“We started hearing unmistakable echoes on simple routine phone calls,” VanVleet said. “During one conversation an unknown third party actually sneezed … we weren’t making a movie, we were living a movie.”
After the discovery of the pyrotechnic devices and other evidence against the government in regard to the Waco incident a $30 million congressional investigation was launched.
“The documentary is organic. It can really take its own course and let people tell their own stories.” They were not out to show the shortcomings of the government, nor are they conspiracy theorists. “We just heard two very black and white sides to the story, and we were out to find that gray area to find the truth of what happened.”
“We are a very rare breed, making real documentaries instead of reenactments like on TLC or The Discovery Channel,” VanVleet said.
The MGA production studio is currently straying from documentaries and has four feature films with pre-production status. They are working closely now with Warner Brothers and Hollywood player Roger Gaskin who worked on the Academy Award-nominated “Gods and Monsters.”
The showing for both of Jason VanVleet’s films is this Saturday in the Lory Student Center.
“I hope they (the audience) can walk away with a better understanding of what happened behind the scenes,” VanVleet said.
The first film, “Waco – A New Revelation,” starts at 6 p.m. The second film starts at 8 p.m. It costs $3 for students and $4 for non-students for the double feature with a brief question and answer session after each.