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Context of 'March 21, 1993: Seven Davidians Exit Besieged Compound'

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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

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

David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), tells FBI negotiators he is ready to surrender. Two other Davidians, Brad Branch and Kevin Whitecliff, exit the compound and are arrested. Both Branch and Whitecliff are held at the McLennan County jail, though they are not charged with any crimes. The FBI delivers legal documents and letters from Koresh’s attorneys to the compound, along with audiotapes and letters from religious expert Philip Arnold (see March 16, 1993). [New York Times, 3/20/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Brad Eugene Branch, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Philip Arnold, David Koresh, Branch Davidians

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Six women and one man depart the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and are taken into federal custody. Two women leave at 1:30 a.m. Davidian leader David Koresh again reneges on his previous promise to surrender (see March 19, 1993), telling FBI negotiators, “I told you my God says wait.” After Koresh’s statement, two more women leave around 10:30 a.m. During the afternoon, a woman and a man leave the compound. The seven Davidians to leave are Victoria Hollingsworth, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Gladys Ottman, Annetta Richards, Rita Riddle, and Ofelia Santoya. FBI agents say the departures raise hopes that a large-scale surrender may be in the offing, but caution that they have no way to know if any such surrender is actually being planned. In recent days, Koresh has been allowing small numbers of Davidians to leave in return for delivery of items such as milk, medical supplies, and national news magazines with articles about the Davidians. FBI agent Bob Ricks says Koresh can be fractious and uncooperative: “It’s very difficult for him to handle anyone who puts a demand on him,” Ricks says. Koresh has suggested that “certain astrological things” may mean a large-scale surrender is forthcoming. “My understanding is he is relaying to us that certain events have occurred which he takes to be at least a sign, or signs have taken place, and he believes that other things are in motion that would fulfill his desire to have a sign,” Ricks says. Ricks says Koresh has indicated he wants to ensure that he stays alive to spread his message. He quotes Koresh as saying: “I have a great desire to settle this issue. I realize if I’m dead, my message will not come out.” [New York Times, 3/22/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Annetta Richards, David Koresh, Victoria Hollingsworth, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, Gladys Ottman, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Ofelia Santoya

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Branch Davidian Livingstone Fagan leaves the besieged compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). He is the last Davidian to leave before the final conflagration (see April 19, 1993). The FBI apparently believes that its “stress escalation measures” (see March 21, 1993 and March 22, 1993) are driving the Davidians out of the compound. That evening, the FBI shines floodlights into the compound and, over the loudspeakers, begins playing tapes of previous negotiations and messages from Davidians who have left the compound (see March 22, 1993). In the hours after midnight, agents begin playing exceedingly loud music (see March 21, 1993) and taped sound effects (including the sounds of rabbits being slaughtered), angering some of the Davidians inside the compound. Assistant US Attorney William Johnston of Waco writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, complaining about the methods the FBI is employing to resolve the siege. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: William (“Bill”) Johnston, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, Livingstone Fagan

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI delivers an ultimatum to the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993): 10 to 20 people must leave by 4 p.m., or some unspecified action will be taken. At 4 p.m., when no one leaves, armored vehicles move into the compound and destroy motorcycles and go-carts. That night, the FBI again bombards the compound with floodlights, loud music, and helicopters buzzing the buildings (see March 22, 1993). The following morning, the FBI issues another ultimatum, and the armored vehicles begin clearing the front side of the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound and the extraordinarily loud music blasted into the main building (see March 21, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US House of Representatives, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Branch Davidian member Rita Riddle, who left the besieged Waco compound days before (see March 21, 1993), says that when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents raided the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), she saw shots fired from BATF helicopters. BATF and Justice Department officials have denied that any gunfire was delivered from the helicopters, which they say served as observation posts and instruments of intimidation during the raid. Riddle says bullets were coming straight down through the roof, and could only have come from helicopters. “They say these helicopters were not armed. Bull puck,” she tells reporters. “I heard them spraying the building when they went over.” BATF spokesman David Troy says flatly that “the helicopters did not overfly the compound.” The helicopters were made available to the BATF by the Texas National Guard, which had been informed by BATF agents that the compound may have housed a methamphetamine laboratory. Drug interdiction is one reason the National Guard can loan helicopters to another agency. BATF agents told the National Guard that their evidence was based on infrared scans, which located two “hot spots” that sometimes indicate a place where drugs are being manufactured. Riddle says those “hot spots” were places where the Davidians have heaters. “Once they go in there, they’ll be in for a big surprise,” she says. “To my knowledge, there’s nothing illegal in there.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/1993]

Entity Tags: Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Troy, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Lawyers for the two Branch Davidian leaders besieged along with almost 100 of their followers in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 29-31, 1993), make assertions about the February 28 raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) that contradict the government’s version of events. Richard DeGuerin represents Davidian leader David Koresh and Jack Zimmerman represents Koresh’s lieutenant, Steve Schneider. DeGuerin and Zimmerman say that, according to their clients, four federal agents were captured in the raid, disarmed, and later released, and that helicopters flying over the main compound building fired shots. Federal authorities deny both claims. Both lawyers have met with their clients today, and one says details of a surrender have been worked out, with a surrender coming after the group celebrates Passover. DeGuerin and Zimmerman refuse to provide any personal observations about conditions inside the compound, saying they fear that such reports could jeopardize their status as lawyers and force them to be witnesses. They refuse to confirm or deny reports by a Davidian who recently left the compound, Rita Riddle (see March 21, 1993), who has said that six Davidians were killed in the raid, including one woman who was slain in her bed.
Government Denies Helicopters Fired into Compound, BATF Agents Captured - A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Jerry Singer, denies that BATF helicopters had flown over the cult’s compound or fired into it (see March 30, 1993). He also denies that any BATF agents were either captured or released. “No,” he says. “It did not happen.” Both DeGuerin and Zimmerman believe that the helicopters did fire into the upper floors of the compound from above; Zimmerman says: “An expert will be able to tell from the angle of the trajectory plus the pattern whether there are entry or exit holes. If it’s in the ceiling and it’s clearly an exit hole, it had to have come from above. How else could it have come in?”
Koresh Wounded, Not in 'Great Pain' - Both confirm that Koresh was wounded during the firefignt (see April 1, 1993). “I saw the wounds and he did not appear to be in great pain,” Zimmermann says. “But he certainly had his movement restricted and had to shift positions carefully. The wound is a through-and-through flesh wound. For a layman, it would be a wound in the side.”
Lawyers: FBI 'Destroying Evidence' - Both lawyers are concerned with the FBI’s decision to use bulldozers and armored personnel carriers to remove trees, buses, automobiles, boats, and scrub brush from the area surrounding the main buildings. FBI officials say the efforts are “defensive maneuvers,” intended to provide a clear field of fire into the compound. Zimmerman says the FBI is destroying evidence. “When you clear a field of fire it can go both ways,” he says. “There is no question that the FBI is destroying evidence. If nothing else they’ve moved the location of physical objects from a crime scene before they had been photographed.” DeGuerin agrees, saying: “They’re destroying evidence with the bulldozers. That’s what they’re doing.”
Surrender Plans - The Davidians show some desire to surrender, but are “still intimidated by the FBI,” according to Zimmerman, who adds that the Davidians will not surrender “until we know the media are going to be there.” The plans for surrender, Zimmerman says, feature Koresh and DeGuerin walking out in front of the group, with the other sect members in the middle, and ending with Schneider walking out with Zimmerman. “They want the two leaders on either end with Mr. Koresh in front, so that symbolically everyone inside understands it’s okay,” Zimmerman says. “Everyone else comes out single-file and gets processed humanely one at a time. Mr. Schneider stays to the end with me and once we’re out, everyone knows everything is safe and clear and they can come in with their search teams.” Neither DeGuerin nor Zimmerman will say when the standoff may end, only saying that the surrender will come after Passover, and that the group does not celebrate Passover by the traditional Jewish calendar (see April 1-4, 1993). “They’re ready for this to be over but they have a very important agenda with Passover and their holiday,” DeGuerin says. [New York Times, 4/5/1993]

Entity Tags: Jerry Singer, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jack Zimmerman, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Richard DeGuerin, Rita Riddle, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/30/1999; USA Today, 12/30/1999]

Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Gary Noesner, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Webster Hubbell

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis


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