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Context of 'March 11, 1993: Experts Believe Koresh Attempting to Die Martyr’s Death'

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BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid.BATF agents surround the Branch Davidian compound in the first minutes of the raid. [Source: Associated Press]Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) prepare to serve arrest and search warrants against members of the Branch Davidian religious sect, housed in a compound they call Mt. Carmel, on a hill just outside Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993). The Branch Davidians are a Christian group currently led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), who is the prime focus of the arrest and search warrants. Koresh and the Davidians are known to have large stashes of firearms, many of which authorities suspect are illegal to own by US citizens—automatic rifles, machine guns, and the like. Koresh has preached that the End Times, or Apocalypse, will begin sometime around 1995, and the Davidians must arm themselves to prepare for the coming conflict. As a result, Koresh and a number of Davidians have been amassing weapons since 1991, along with gas masks, bulletproof vests, and military-issue MREs, or “meals ready to eat.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Large-Scale Raid Launched - After four days of preparation (see February 24-27, 1993), the BATF forces close on the compound: some 80 government vehicles, including two covered cattle trailers containing 70 BATF agents in full SWAT gear, reach the staging area near the compound by 7:30 a.m. Two or perhaps three Texas National Guard helicopters are deployed. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] The raid was originally planned for March 1, but was moved forward when the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing its “Sinful Messiah” series about Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). BATF spokesman John Killorin will later say the BATF feared the cult might become more alert to the possibility of a raid once the series started. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott will say that the newspaper alerted federal authorities the day before the first installment ran, giving the BATF a chance to review its raid plans. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Davidians Alerted - A local news reporter’s discussion with a US postal official inadvertently “tips off” the Davidians to the impending raid (see Before 9:45 a.m. February 28, 1993).
BATF Decides Element of Surprise Unnecessary - Koresh is visibly agitated at the news of the impending raid; he tells Robert Rodriguez, whom many Davidians correctly suspect to be a BATF undercover agent (see January 11, 1993 and After): “Neither the ATF nor the National Guard will ever get me. They got me once, and they’ll never get me again.” Looking out of a window, he adds: “They’re coming, Robert, they’re coming.… The time has come.” Fearing that he will be caught on the premises when the raid begins, Rodriguez makes an excuse and hurriedly leaves. Once off the grounds, he alerts the BATF raid commanders that Koresh knows the agents are on their way. Rodriguez reports via telephone to his immediate superior, BATF tactical coordinator Charles Sarabyn, who relays word to Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. The commanders ask if Rodriguez has seen any signs of alarm or guns being distributed. Rodriguez says he has not, though he tells them that Koresh is so agitated that he is having trouble speaking and holding on to his Bible. According to a Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993): “Sarabyn expressed his belief that the raid could still be executed successfully if they hurried. Chojnacki responded, ‘Let’s go.’ A number of agents informed the Treasury investigative panel that Sarabyn said things like, ‘Get ready to go; they know we are coming.’” Chojnacki and Sarabyn decide to rush the raid, hoping to deploy before the Davidians are mobilized. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Rodriguez will testify that he attempts to find Sarabyn and appraise him of his fears that the Davidians are preparing to resist with violence, but will say that by the time he arrives at the BATF command post, on the Texas State Technical College campus, Sarabyn and his companions have already departed. Rodriguez will testify: “At that time, I started yelling and I said: ‘Why, why, why? They know we’re coming, they know we’re coming.‘… [E]verything was very quiet, very quiet, and if I remember right, everybody was really concerned. I went outside and I sat down and I remember starting to cry.” Sarabyn and Chojnacki will later testify that while they understood Rodriguez’s fears, neither of them believe Koresh is aware of the impending raid; testimony from Rodriguez and another BATF agent, Roger Ballesteros, will contradict their claims. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] A Los Angeles Times report later makes a similar claim, apparently based on Rodriguez’s recollections; the BATF will deny that report entirely. A Waco Tribune-Herald article later reports that just before the raid, a voice comes over BATF radios saying: “There no guns in the windows. Tell them it’s a go.” Two weeks after the raid, Newsweek will incorrectly report that Rodriguez, whom the article does not identify, “apparently thought little of the call [alerting Koresh of the impending raid] at the time,” left the compound, and reported an “all clear” to his colleagues. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Other reports have Davidians telling one another, “The Assyrians are coming,” and making preparations to resist an assault. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that Chojnacki and Sarabyn’s decision to go ahead with the raid even though the element of surprise had been lost was a “reckless” error: “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians Resist - The Davidians successfully resist the raid (see 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), in the process killing four BATF agents (see 11:00 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993) and bringing about a standoff between themselves and the FBI (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).

Entity Tags: Charles Sarabyn, Texas National Guard, John Killorin, Philip Chojnacki, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Waco Tribune-Herald, Texas State Technical College, Bob Lott, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Marc Breault, a Branch Davidian who lived for years at the Mt. Carmel compound before rebelling against the leadership of David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After) in 1990 and leaving for Australia, is contacted by an FBI agent several hours after the failed raid on the Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Breault has talked about what he considers the threat of Koresh and the Davidians to US law enforcement authorities and the Australian media, and was interviewed for a series of articles about Koresh in the Waco Tribune-Herald (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). As part of its planning for the raid, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) talked to Breault and other Mt. Carmel “defectors” to get a sense of the situation. Breault warned the agents not to get overly aggressive with the Davidians. “The ATF agents I spoke with were quite good,” he will later recall. “They said they wanted to get Vernon [Howell, Koresh’s birth name] on his own, to lure him away from Mt. Carmel and arrest him. Their other scenario was a raid on Mt. Carmel. I said if they were going to do a raid they had better have the element of surprise or they would end up with an armed confrontation.” Another “defector,” David Bunds, also speaks with BATF agents before the raid. Bunds will later recall: “I said, ‘Don’t go in there with your guns. It won’t work.’ And they said, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do that.’” Hours after the raid, an FBI agent calls Breault for his take on the siege. “It was pretty chaotic,” Breault will later recall. “I talked with an FBI negotiator for half an hour. He asked what I thought Koresh would do. I said I thought it would end in massive death, a mass suicide. I explained Vernon’s belief about the fifth seal of Revelations, which said there had to be a certain number of martyrs before the end could come.” [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 255] In 1999, Breault will tell a Daytona, Florida, newspaper a similar story. “They [the BATF agents he spoke with] were afraid, based on some of the things he had written, that if they tried to assault the compound, he would start a fire,” Breault will recall. “They were afraid if they sent people into the compound there would be explosions, there would be fires set. They had lots of Scriptures, all [of them] he had gone over with us many times.” Breault will claim to have told BATF agents that fire was very much a part of Davidian prophecy. “There’s a Scripture in Daniel 11 that talks about how the righteous will fall,” Breault will say. “Some are taken captive; some die by the sword; and some die by the flame. Two parts of that prophecy had already been fulfilled, according to their beliefs. That was the problem. The Davidians thought they were seeing prophecy fulfilled before their very eyes. Flames were the only thing left.” Breault will say of Koresh: “I think they decided Vernon didn’t believe any of this stuff. They thought he was a con man. They failed to take into account the level of his belief and that of his followers. They couldn’t believe there was anyone that dedicated to an apocalypse.” He will add that the primary responsibility for the events of the siege, and the final assault, lay with Koresh and the Davidians: “I think people should keep in mind that in his theology, the apocalypse was inseparable from fire. I’ve always believed Vernon started the fire at Mount Carmel or set up a situation where an assault would start a fire. It’s possible the FBI inadvertently—you might say negligently—set the fire. But I think Vernon set it up.” [Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, 9/12/1999]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, David Bunds, Marc Breault, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period.Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Two experts on religious “millennial” “cults” have drastically different views on how to handle the Branch Davidians, currently besieged by federal authorities near Waco, Texas, after a shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Michael Barkun, a political scientist at Syracuse University who has studied white supremacist and anti-Semitic Christian groups, warns that becoming too aggressive with the Davidians may backfire and cause a violent, perhaps fatal confrontation. “The show of force employed in the belief that it will intimidate can have the opposite effect, convincing people that this is indeed the battle of Armageddon and they should respond accordingly,” he says. But Ronald Numbers, a University of Wisconsin historian who has written about Seventh-Day Adventism (the parent church of the “splinter” Branch Davidians), alludes to the 1978 mass suicide of the People’s Temple in Guyana in advocating some sort of proactive response, saying, “Since the Jim Jones episode, nobody wants to fail to take these groups seriously.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993]

Entity Tags: Ronald Numbers, Branch Davidians, Michael Barkun

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

FBI agent Bob Ricks, surrounded by reporters during a press conference.FBI agent Bob Ricks, surrounded by reporters during a press conference. [Source: Life]A nine-year-old girl, Heather Jones, leaves the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, currently under siege by the FBI and other law enforcement authorities (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). She has a note pinned to her jacket written by her mother; the note says that once the children have left the compound, the adults will die. FBI negotiators immediately contact Davidian leader David Koresh; both Koresh and his top aide, Steve Schneider, deny they are contemplating mass suicide. The FBI believes that the Davidian compound contains enough food to last the inhabitants a year. Profilers and experts, including some members of the Davidian sect not immured inside the compound, give conflicting opinions on whether Koresh will lead the group in a mass suicide (see March 5, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Federal agents tell reporters that in 1992 they received warnings that the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, was contemplating mass suicide. The warnings came from Australians formerly connected to the Waco group of the Davidians. An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the agency that raided the compound, says the Australians warned that Koresh was discussing mass suicide with his fellow members. Another BATF official says the tip, included in a State Department cable, was not a major factor in the bureau’s decision to raid the compound. FBI officials confirm that Koresh has assured them he is not contemplating mass suicide. “He indicates there is no intent on his part to order a suicide, nor does he contemplate suicide,” says FBI agent Bob Ricks. [New York Times, 3/6/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, Bob Ricks, David Koresh, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Heather Jones

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Pete Smerick.Pete Smerick. [Source: University of Louisville]The siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas continues (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have warned that the authorities’ strategy of negotiation and intimidation may backfire (see March 3-4, 1993), predict that the siege will end with an all-out assault on the compound by federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). Smerick and Young also predict that most of the Davidians may well commit mass suicide (see March 5, 1993), and warn that a strong show of force is merely playing into Davidian leader David Koresh’s hands. In Washington, acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson talks FBI Director William Webster out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with Koresh. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] One of Smerick’s memos warns that aggressive measures would “draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the ‘bunker mentality’ and they would rather die than surrender.” [USA Today, 12/30/1999] Tactical pressure, Smerick writes, “should be the absolute last option we should consider, and that the FBI might unintentionally make Koresh’s vision of a fiery end come true.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] On March 9, FBI officials will pressure Smerick and Young into issuing a memorandum that supports the increased harassment of the Davidians (see March 9, 1993). [Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Stuart Gerson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Mark Young, Branch Davidians, William H. Webster, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Religious experts continue to weigh in on the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and its ultimate resolution. Speculation veers wildly from whether Davidian leader David Koresh, widely believed to have a martyr complex and to be willing to lead his followers in a mass suicide (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 3, 1993, March 5, 1993, and March 7-8, 1993), will surrender peacefully or insist on a violent confrontation with federal authorities. Derek Davis, a professor of church-state studies at nearby Baylor University, says: “I’m not sure he’s reachable, period. I’m not sure he’s that interested in surviving. If he genuinely perceives this to be the commencement of the end-times events, then he may see his role as being one of dying a martyr’s death.” Wayman Mullins, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice at Southwest Texas State University, says: “I think, in his mind, this is the prelude to Armageddon. He’s made it pretty clear that to be God’s spokesman on earth, to convert the world to Davidianism, he’s got to become a martyr, he’s got to die. Jesus died, and he sees himself in the same vein. He’s Jesus in the 20th century.” Mullins and others believe the situtation may not be resolved until Easter, April 11. “I think Easter is very critical,” Mullins says. “After all, when did Jesus die?” Davidian Paul Fatta (see March 5, 1993), who was not in the compound when federal agents raided it, says: “I think the talk of a fiery martyrdom is just something that’s being put out by the FBI. I believe his religious views and his views as a man are pretty much the same. He loves his kids. He wants, like any father, to see them grow up and be happy.” But Mullins does not believe that the safety of the approximately 17 children in the compound is Koresh’s top priority. “I think it’s going to be real tough to get them released,” he says. “He’s claiming publicly they’re his seed, but they’re his bargaining chip.” [New York Times, 3/11/1993]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Paul Gordon Fatta, David Koresh, Wayman Mullins, Derek Davis

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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