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Context of 'March 24, 1993: Sympathizer Sneaks into Davidian 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

Louis Alaniz, a Houston resident, sneaks into the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, evading capture by FBI agents besieging the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). The FBI describes Alaniz as a “religious fanatic” who eludes hundreds of agents to dash to the front door of the compound. Before letting him inside, the Davidians accuse Alaniz of being a double agent for the FBI, perhaps sent to murder Koresh. After a lengthy telephone conversation between Davidians and FBI negotiators, the Davidians relent and allow Alaniz inside, where he receives a lengthy session of Bible teaching from Koresh. The New York Times notes that the FBI claims to be in “complete control” of the compound perimeter, and calls Alaniz’s ability to make it through the FBI cordon “baffling.” FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters the supervisors decided not to allow their agents to chase Alaniz because they did not want to expose those agents to possible gunfire from the Davidians. [New York Times, 3/26/1993; Moore, 1995] Alaniz will leave the compound two days before the final assault (see April 17-19, 1993).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Louis Alaniz, David Koresh, Bob Ricks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Jesse Amen sneaks past the FBI agents on the perimeter of the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see March 1, 1993) and joins the Davidians inside. He is the second person to do so (see March 24, 1993). [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Moore, 1995]

Entity Tags: Jesse Amen, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Concertina wire.Concertina wire. [Source: Sodahead (.com)]The day of the Branch Davidians’ promised departure from their compound (see April 1-4, 1993 and April 8, 1993) arrives. No one departs. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) members begin installing razor-sharp concertina wire around the compound. FBI agents intend to prevent Davidians from sneaking out of the compound, perhaps to assault the agents besieging it (see March 1, 1993); they also intend to keep others from sneaking in, as has already happened twice (see March 24, 1993 and March 26, 1993). The wire may allow the FBI to relieve some of the agents, many of whom have been on-site for five weeks. Officials also admit that the wire is a tacit admission that they expect the Davidians to remain immured in their compound for an indefinite period of time. The FBI is reluctant to mount an assault, spokespersons say, because of its concerns over the welfare of the children inside (see March 28, 1993 and April 9, 1993). Concerns include the effect of tear gas on the children; one agent explains that the amounts necessary to irritate adults enough to drive them out of the compound could prove harmful or even lethal to small children. Moreover, two of the women inside are pregnant, with one expected to deliver sometime in May. Two senior FBI officials have visited Waco in recent days to discuss a possible “end strategy,” including the idea of assaulting the compound with tear gas or other chemicals to drive the Davidians out (see April 7, 1993). FBI officials in Washington say all the options under discussion have flaws, and the only option that could be mutually agreed upon was the installation of the razor wire. Lloyd Bentsen, the secretary of the Treasury, who supervises the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), says he is intensely worried that any such assault will cost lives, and he has already spoken against escalating the pressure on the Davidians. “I spent most of one night trying to be sure there was not an additional use of force at that situation,” he says. [New York Times, 4/13/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Lloyd Bentsen

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Louis Alaniz, a Houston resident who sneaked into the besieged Branch Davidian compound less than a month after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)‘s failed raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and March 24, 1993), leaves the compound and talks to FBI agents. He wears a shirt that proclaims “David Koresh God.” Alaniz hopes to act as a mediator between the Davidians and the FBI. In 1999, he will recall: “I asked for a pad and paper. I drew a diagram of the building. I wanted to help resolve it. I gave them a complete layout. I told them, ‘These people don’t want to fight. But if you go in, do it in a way that you don’t hurt anyone.‘… I told them there was hay up against the wall and in the foyer trying to stop bullets. They thought they were going to be shot at again.” A Texas law enforcement official will confirm that the Davidians are using hay as a barricade. Alaniz is particularly worried about the children in the compound. He tells authorities that there is a nursery on the second floor where the babies sleep. Lanterns are often alight in the nursery to help mothers see to bathe the children. He will later recall being shocked when, on April 19 (see April 19, 1993), he watches a tear gas boom on an armored vehicle rip into the wall of the nursery. “Why did they have to hit that spot?” he will ask. “That told me they didn’t care. If they did, they wouldn’t have pumped gas inside there where the infants were. No, sir, they can’t lie to me no more about caring about those kids. They wanted them all dead.” [New York Times, 4/17/1993; Moore, 1995; Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, 9/12/1999]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Louis Alaniz, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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