Hard to believe nearly 19 years have passed since the tragedy of Waco. I dunno about the rest of you, but for me this was a defining moment which solidified my views of our government. From February 28, thru April 19, 1993,in Waco,TX, an event took place that I am sure most of the readers will remember... the siege and final burning of the Branch Davidian Compound. 67 people died in the fire, including more than 20 children and two pregnant women.
Official Justification for the raid.
The confrontation began when the ATF attempted to serve a search warrant upon the premesis. The reasons given by the ATF was that the Davidians were believed to be in possession of automatic weapons in violation of Federal Law. After the failed raid, the siege was taken over by the FBI.
"The search warrant was justified not on the basis there was proof that the Davidians had purchased anything illegal, but on the basis that they could be modifying legal arms to illegal arms, and that automatic weapon fire had been reported on the compound. When the reports of automatic fire were first received, Steve Schneider and David Koresh showed the county sheriff department a "Hellfire" device, a quick-firing trigger sold with an ATF letter that it is not a machinegun."
This device IS legal. I have even seen, at a gun show, a device that is a clamping system for mounting multiple AR-15's or Mini-14's side by side, and a cam device that fits thru the trigger housings, and one fires multiple, semi-automatic weapons, by turning a crank. The system I described is perfectly legal as there are no modifications at all to the weapon itself.. however the hellfire trigger is not even as effective as the device I just described. With a Hellfire trigger, when the trigger is pressed, the Hellfire device disengages the trigger return spring, which moves the operator's trigger finger. As a result, the operator can move his finger to fire individual shots more quickly. It is still a completely legal device.
In May, 1992, A UPS driver described a package that had broken open on delivery to the Branch Davidian residence, revealing firearms, inert grenade casings, and black powder. This was not in possession of authorities, nor UPS, and there is no evidence of it's existence except the word of one man.. the UPS driver, who may have been telling the truth... or may have lied for any number of reasons including simply been looking for attention. No evidence of their existence has ever been found.
"The affidavit of ATF investigator David Aguilera for the search warrant claimed that there were over 150 weapons and 8,100 rounds of ammunition in the compound. The paperwork on the AR-15 components cited in the affidavit showed they were in fact legal semi-automatics; however, Aguilera told the judge: "I know based on my training and experience that an AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle practically identical to the M-16 rifle.... I have been involved in many cases where defendents, following a relatively simple process, convert AR-15 semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic rifles of the nature of the M-16. ... Often times templates, milling machines, lathes and instruction guides are used by the converter." Aguilera stated in the affidavit and later testified at trial that a neighbor had heard machine-gun fire. However Aguilera failed to tell the magistrate that the same neighbor had previously reported the noise to the local Waco sheriff, who investigated the neighbor's complaint. Paul Fatta, who was also involved in the failed takeover of the group in 1987, told the New York Times that Koresh and he had visited the sheriff after the surveillance had been spotted and claimed that the sheriff's office told them their guns were legal."
"ATF obtained training for the raid from Special Forces at Fort Hood, Texas, February 25 though 27, by making a false claim that David Koresh was operating a methamphetamine lab. This provided the drug nexus necessary to obtain military assets under the "War on Drugs"."
Once asked about these facts by a reporter during a press conference while the siege was taking place, the justification of the government moved from weapons violations to child abuse. The authorities went into damage control mode and stopped discussing weapons violations, instead focusing on the "strange beliefs" of the people and allegations of child abuse.
The Davidians were an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventist church that originated in 1955. There is little doubt that these people had some beliefs that were a little bizarre by the standards of most people....
"On August 5, 1989, Koresh (at that point still legally named Vernon Howell) released the "new light" audiotape in which Koresh stated he had been told by God to procreate with the women in the group to establish a "House of David" of his "Special People." This involved married couples in the group dissolving their marriages and agreeing that only David Koresh could have sexual relations with the wives."
The Davidians are also said to have believed David Koresh's claim to be the Messiah. Though I do not believe he was, I shall not pass judgement upon them for believing that as I remember that another man claimed to be the Messiah, and authorities crucified him too.
When the government went into damage control mode, during the siege, such things were broadcast as self-proclaimed expert "deprogrammer" Rick Ross (no friggin relation to me, thank you very much) stating...
"[Koresh is] your stock cult leader. ... They're all the same. Meet one and you've met them all. They're deeply disturbed, have a borderline personality disorder and lack any type of conscience. ... No one willingly enters into a relationship like this. ... So you're talking about deception and manipulation (by the leader), people being coached in ever so slight increments, pulled in deeper and deeper without knowing where it's going or seeing the total picture."
Really, Rick? The definition of a "Cult" is a subject that is highly debateable in itself. Generally, however, the word cult pejoratively refers to a group whose beliefs or practices are considered strange. Period. However what is considered "strange" is highly subjective... and nearly every religion can be said by someone to be a cult. Jesus Christ was also a cult leader during his time.
These beliefs were used by the government and media to paint the Davidians as a bunch of nutjobs. Were they a "cult"? Perhaps they were... but there is no law against having bizarre beliefs, or even belonging to a "cult". Thus, the religious views... or whether they were a "cult"... is completely irrelevant where justification of the governments actions are concerned.
The only relevance their beliefs had was to come into play later... when the FBI got involved.
Who fired first is disputed. Both sides claim the other did. However, the written raid plans included diversionary gunfire from the helicopters. Such gunfire would easily provoke a self-defensive response. The ATF report on the raid claimed that as agents approached the front of the building, gunfire erupted with such force from within that the double doors bulged outwards, and gunmen were firing from every window. Video of the initial raid, however, shows the doors with small holes such as made by bullets entering, not splintered holes such as cause by bullets coming out the wooden doors. Further, the doors not only were not bulging outwards, the doors, which swung inwards, were not even knocked fully closed.. and one was swung inwards about a foot. The video also shows nobody firing from ANY window. The video shows numerous agents crouched behind vehicles, firing madly.. and not one bullet striking a vehicle or the ground around them.
"During the first shots, Koresh was wounded. Within a minute of the raid starting, the Davidian Wayne Martin called emergency services, pleading for them to stop shooting. The resident asked for a ceasefire, and audiotapes record him saying "Here they come again!" and "That's them shooting, that's not us!""
"Agents then climbed onto the roof with the objective of securing the roof within thirty seconds to reach David Koresh's room and the arms storage. On the west slope of the roof three agents reached Koresh's window and were crouching beside it when they came under fire. One agent was killed and another one wounded. The third agent scampered over the peak of the roof and joined other agents attempting to enter the arms room. The window was smashed, a flashbang grenade thrown in and three agents entered the arms room. When another tried to follow them a hail of bullets penetrated the wall and wounded him but he was able to reach a ladder and slide to safety. An agent fired with his shotgun at Davidians who were shooting at him until he was hit in the head and killed. Inside the arms room the agents killed a Davidian gunman and discovered a cache of weapons but came under heavy fire and two were wounded. As they escaped the third agent laid down covering fire and killed a Davidian. As he made his escape, he hit his head on a wooden support beam and fell off the roof, but survived."
"The local sheriff attempted to contact the ATF force but initially could not get through because the ATF communications officer had turned his radio off. Eventually Lt. Lynch of the McLennan County Sheriff Dept. got through and negotiated a ceasefire. Sheriff Harwell states in William Gazecki's documentary, Waco - The Rules of Engagement, that the ATF agents withdrew only after they were out of ammunition."
At this point, the FBI was placed in control of the situation, and the Davidians were placed under siege. As stated eariler, this is where Davidian beliefs came into play... in the manner in which the government acted, and how it would be interpreted by the people inside the compound. The Davidians believed in an Apocalypse in which government forces, operating on behalf of Satan, would one day persecute believers... a belief held by many, and maybe even most, Christians. When one looks at how the government illegally persecuted them from the moment they sought the warrant, thru the way they managed the siege with blinding lights and speakers blaring noise and weird music, it would almost seem calculated to cause the Davidians to become even more convinced that their apocalyptic vision was true. If they did not believe the Government was seeking to kill them when the conflict started... within a few days the government did everything they could to convince them it was true.
Child Abuse allegations
During the siege, the government once again changed tack. They now added Child Abuse allegations to the smear campaign against the Davidians. These claims had been brought in the past by members who had left, or been kicked out of, the group.. as well as by a neighbor who had participated in an attempt to take over the group years earlier. These allegations were investigated by DFS, and no evidence of such activity was ever found. In spite of this, Bill Clinton and Janet Reno used these allegations as their justification for ordering the teargas attack which took place on the final day. It is also worth noting that Child Abuse is under the jurisdiction of the Child Protective Services... not the ATF nor the FBI.
"Over the next several months, Janet Reno's reason for approving the final tank-and-gas attack varied from her initial claim that the FBI had told her that Koresh was sexually abusing children and beating babies (the FBI later denied evidence of child abuse during the standoff) to her claim that Linda Thompson and her one-woman "Unorganized Militia of the United States" was on their (her) way to Waco to aid or attack Koresh."
We watched as tanks rolled upon the compound on a very windy day, and proceeded to knock holes into the compound with the gun barrel on the tank. Through that barrel was injected CS gas, supposedly in the hopes of driving the Davidians out of the compound. CS ferret rounds were also fired in large number inside of the compound.
The Posse Comitatus Act forbids the use of military assets against American Citizens, however as stated earlier, authorities lied about drug involvement to allow the use of such assets under the "war on drugs". The tanks and armored vehicles (CEB's) were clearly military assets. Assets used that day were 9-10 M3 Bradleys, 4-5 M728 Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEVs) armed with CS gas, 2 M1A1 Abrams tanks, 1 M88 tank retriever, 2 UH-1 Helicopters.
Six hours into the assault, fires broke out. The government claims the fires were set by the Davidians. Some conspiracy theorists claim the fire was set by the government.
CS is delivered in several ways... however it is not a gas as commonly called... it is a solid at room temperature. In the Waco Siege, CS was dissolved in the organic solvent dichloromethane (also known as methylene chloride). When the volatile dichlormethane evaporated, the CS crystallized with the dichloromethane molecules as an aerosol. It is licensed only for use against targets outdoors.. not for use inside structures. Dichloromethane is a flammable liquid if only mildly. But even mildly flammable liquids will burn readily when provided with enough oxygen, such as one would encounter in strongly blowing winds.
So, consider the following...
1. The compound had been isolated from electric power, and thus was lit with kerosene lamps and lanterns.
2. The compound was a wood frame structure.
3. The gas was flammable.
4. The aerosolized gas was pumped into the upwind side of the structure on a very windy day, which rapidly carried the gas, and later the fire, throughout the structure.
With those facts, which the authorities on the scene were well aware of... was it necessary for anyone to actually strike a match to light the fires? Is it really a suprise that the place went up in flames?
Was it really necessary for the government to act in the manner it did? Could the government not have simply waited them out? Or barring that... what would have been the problem with simply backing off... allowing things to cool down... then taking custody of Koresh at a later date and sorting the evidence out afterwards?
In any event... the compound WAS beyond doubt a crime scene. Who the criminals were is a debated point. One last thing to consider, however, is it is generally routine for a crime scene to be preserved as well as possible.... yet two weeks after the end of the siege, the government bulldozed the compound to bare earth. Why?