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Context of 'May 1992: Texas Deputy Sheriff Alerts BATF to Possibly Illegal Weapons Cache at Branch Davidian Compound'

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The flag of the Branch Davidians.The flag of the Branch Davidians. [Source: Wikimedia]Vernon Wayne Howell, a Texas musician and a member of the Branch Davidian sect of Seventh-day Adventists, forcibly installs himself as the leader of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Howell is a self-described loner and dyslexic who dropped out of high school, but taught himself the Bible, memorizing most of it by age 12. He was expelled from the Church of Seventh-day Adventists in 1979 for being a bad influence on the church’s young people, and in 1981 joined the Waco group of Branch Davidians in its 77-acre compound, “Mount Carmel,” on the outskirts of the city. Howell had an affair with the leader of the group, self-described prophetess Lois Roden, some 30 years older than himself.
Power Struggle - After Roden died, Howell began a lengthy struggle for control of the group with Roden’s son George Roden. In late 1987, Roden digs up the body of a member, Anna Hughes, and issues a challenge to Howell: the one who could raise her from the dead is the one to lead the community. Instead, Howell asks the local authorities to charge Roden with abusing a corpse. On November 3, Howell returns to the Mt. Carmel compound with seven male followers, all dressed in camouflage and bearing assault rifles, hunting rifles, shotguns, and ammunition. The two groups engage in a gunfight; during the exchange, Roden is shot in the chest and hands. Howell and his followers will be tried for attempted murder, but the others will be acquitted and Howell’s trial will end in a mistrial. In 1989, Roden will try to murder a man with an axe, and will be committed to a mental instutition for the rest of his life. By 1990, Howell will have established himself as the leader of the Waco Branch Davidians, and will legally change his name to David Koresh, explaining that he believes he is now the head of the Biblical House of David. Koresh is a Hebrew translation of “Cyrus,” the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Adventists Join Koresh at Waco Compound - Seventh-day Adventists and others from around the world will journey to Waco to join the Davidians, who all told number somewhere around 75. According to a multi-part series by the Waco Tribune-Herald based on the recollections and observations of former members (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), the Davidians gather at the compound to “await the end of the world.” The members believe that Koresh alone can open the so-called “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy, which will trigger the Apocalypse, destroy the world as we know it, and propel Koresh and his followers into heaven. The compound is heavily armed. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] Most of the Davidians live communally in an L-shaped compound of beige buildings. A few of the more elderly members live in a trailer four miles from the main compound. The trailer has more amenities than the main building, which lacks central heating and indoor plumbing. The men live separately from the women and children. Members rise early, breakfasting together in a large cafeteria and then going to work. Some of the men have jobs in the Waco area, and many stay, working on what sect member Paul Fatta will describe as a three-year renovation of the compound but what law enforcement officials say is a network of tunnels and bunkers. The children are home-schooled by the women. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Former Member: Koresh Brought Apocalyptic Mindset, Violence to Group - According to Davidian David Bunds, who will later leave the group, Koresh, or Howells as he is known, was something of a destabilizing factor from the time of his arrival. Bunds will later say: “We were a very reserved, very conservative group. There were no emotional displays. Then along came Vernon Howell. I remember my father said one day, ‘Well, that guy sounds like he’s going to end up saying he’s a prophet the way he’s acting.’” Bunds will later say that while he was enthralled for a time by Koresh’s personality and his apocalyptic preaching, he became increasingly disturbed at his insistence on having multiple “wives,” his stockpiling of more and more weapons, and the increasingly violent methods of “discipline” being meted out to “disobedient” children and adults alike (adults, Bunds and other “defectors” will later say, are physically beaten by Koresh’s cadre of militantly loyal “Mighty Men”). Bunds will be forced out of the group after questioning Koresh’s Biblical interpretations, and for taking a sect member as his wife against Koresh’s wishes. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244-246]
Federal Raid, Siege - The Waco Branch Davidians will kill four federal agents attempting to arrest Koresh on gun and sexual abuse charges (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993); most of them, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff (see April 19, 1993). After the February 1993 raid, Waco Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart will say: “The sad part about this group is that it has evolved from the peaceful, pastoral group that it started as in the 1930s. Only since this most recent leader have they begun to acquire some of the weaponry and attitudes that they have.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Anna Hughes, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, George Roden, David Bunds, Seventh-day Adventists, Lois Roden, Jack Stewart, Paul Gordon Fatta

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Texas law enforcement officers conduct SWAT training near the Mt. Carmel compound of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. The Davidians are led by David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), whose teachings of imminent apocalypse and the need to wage armed resistance against the forces of evil seem to be borne out by the days of gunfire and paramilitary activities near the compound. According to a later report by the Treasury Department, Koresh reacts to the SWAT training by: bringing back members from California and England to swell the Davidian ranks; purchasing large amounts of weaponry, weapons parts, and ammunition; acquiring chemicals that can be used for making explosives; and purchasing night vision scopes and sensors. These actions bring the Davidians, and Koresh, to the attention of both local and federal authorities, including the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF—see June-July 1992). [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]

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

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Acting on allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at the Mt. Carmel compound outside of Waco, Texas, the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) opens an investigation into the allegations among the Branch Davidian sect living on the property (see November 3, 1987 and After). Caseworkers go to the compound three times and interview a number of children, but close the case when no evidence of abuse is unearthed, though the children talk freely about “all the men” training with weapons (leader David Koresh tells investigative officer Joyce Sparks that the Davidians have “only a few” weapons, and most of the adults have nothing to do with them). After a February 1993 newspaper series that alleges an array of such abuse (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), and especially after the April 1993 debacle that kills 21 children among the group (see April 19, 1993), the DPRS will come under fire for possibly mishandling the case. Many will say that the agency caseworkers made a mistake in not interviewing the children outside the compound, where, away from the adult Davidians, they may have spoken more freely. Bob Boyd, director of the Waco office, will say in 2003 that none of the children said anything that would lead to a belief that they were being abused. “People are under the assumption that if we had taken the children out of there for an interview, they would have opened up to us about abuse,” he says. “The reality was it was highly unlikely. They were such a closed group, and because of their strong beliefs and devotion to [leader David] Koresh, I don’t believe we would have gotten any of them to talk to us about abuse. They were not going to open up to outsiders. Even those kids we talked to who did come out during the standoff didn’t reveal anything to us. It was only after a long time were we able to piece together some pictures of what it was like inside.” David Jewell, whose daughter Kiri will testify to being abused by Koresh since she was 10 (see July 21, 1995), will say he believes caseworkers called ahead before coming to the compound, and the Davidians were able to hide some of the abused children from the caseworkers. Boyd says no such calls were made. Sparks will allege that McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell told her to “back off” from investigating abuse complaints; Harwell will deny making such statements. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Kiri Jewell, Bob Boyd, Branch Davidians, David Jewell, David Koresh, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Jack Harwell, Joyce Sparks

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Austin, Texas, office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated to ATF) receives a call from Chief Deputy Daniel Weyenberg of the McLennan County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department. Weyerberg tells BATF agents of information he has received from a local UPS employee, who told him that he’d delivered a package to Mt. Carmel, the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see November 3, 1987 and After). The UPS employee said that the package had broken open and he could see firearms, inert grenade casings, and black powder inside. Local law enforcement agencies have been investigating the possibility of the Davidians’ creating a large and possibly illegal cache of weapons for months (see March 5-9, 1992). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Daniel Weyenberg, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Branch Davidians

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF logo.BATF logo. [Source: Wikimedia]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) opens an investigation of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, after learning that a resident had mail-ordered a box of dummy grenades. Lieutenant Gene Barber of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Department meets with BATF agent Davy Aguilera; Barber, a recognized explosives expert, tells Aguilera that the United Parcel Service (UPS) package delivery service has delivered a number of packages containing firearms components and explosives (see May 1992) to the “Mag-Bag,” the UPS nickname for the Davidian tract, in the names of David Koresh and Mike Schroeder. Koresh is the leader of the religious community that lives on the tract (see November 3, 1987 and After), which is also known to area residents as Mt. Carmel. UPS employee Larry Gilbreath reported the suspicious deliveries to the local sheriff’s department. Gilbreath also informed Barber that the compound seems to be patrolled by armed guards. In May 1992, UPS delivered two cases of inert hand grenades and a quantity of black powder to the compound; in early June, UPS delivered 90 pounds of powdered aluminum, 30 to 40 heavy cardboard tubes, and 60 M-16/AR-15 ammunition magazines. Barber also gives Aguilera aerial photos of the compound, taken by the sheriff’s department, which depict a buried bus near the main structure and a three- to four-story tall observation tower. He tells Aguilera that neighbors have heard machine-gun fire coming from the property. Aguilera determines that in late 1992, the Davidians spent over $44,000 on parts for M-16/AR-15 machine guns, as well as a variety of other weaponry and weapons parts. Some of the parts come from an Illinois firm under investigation for selling illegal guns and gun parts. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Aguilera officially opens a BATF investigation on Koresh and the Davidians on June 9. Within a week, Philip Chojnacki, the special agent in charge of the Houston BATF office, classifies the case “sensitive,” thereby calling for a high degree of oversight from both Houston and BATF headquarters in Washington, DC. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Larry Gilbreath, David Koresh, Gene Barber, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Philip Chojnacki, Michael Schroeder, United Parcel Service, Davy Aguilera, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

2007 picture of Davy Aguilera, at that time as  assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles BATF bureau.2007 picture of Davy Aguilera, at that time as assistant special agent in charge of the Los Angeles BATF bureau. [Source: Riverside Press-Enterprise]Davy Aguilera of the Austin, Texas, office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF), as part of an ongoing BATF investigation into the weapons allegedly owned by the Branch Davidian religious sect living outside Waco, Texas (see June-July 1992), visits the shop of a local gun dealer, Henry McMahon. Aguilera is accompanied by BATF compliance officer Jimmy Ray Skinner. During the visit, Aguilera and Skinner find that weapons parts for AR-15 assault rifles are listed in McMahon’s inventory, but are not on the premises nor are they listed as sold. McMahon admits that the parts were sold to Davidian sect leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After). McMahon calls Koresh, who offers to let the BATF agents inspect the Davidian compound for possible weapons violations. The agents decline the invitation. Shortly afterwards, McMahon tells Koresh that he is suspicious that the BATF is investigating Koresh and the Davidians. The 1996 House investigation of the Davidian situation (see August 2, 1996) will express the investigators’ confusion as to why the agents do not accept Koresh’s invitation, and finds, “The agents’ decline of the Koresh offer was a serious mistake.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Henry S. McMahon, Branch Davidians, Jimmy Ray Skinner, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Davy Aguilera

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) resumes its investigation into the Branch Davidian sect living in a compound, known as Mt. Carmel, outside Waco, Texas (see June-July 1992 and July 30, 1992). The investigation is spearheaded by BATF Special Agent Davy Aguilera, who has reason to believe that the Branch Davidians, under the leadership of David Koresh, are stockpiling a large amount of guns, weapons, and other military materiel. Neighbors have spoken of hearing machine-gun fire at the Mt. Carmel site. Aguilera learns that one of the Davidians is Marshal Keith Butler, a machinist capable of creating illegal guns from the parts bought by the Davidians; Butler has an extensive criminal record, mostly for drug possession. Aguilera also talks to a McLennan County deputy sheriff, Terry Fuller, who heard a loud explosion and saw a large cloud of grey smoke over the northeastern part of the Davidian property. (Fuller investigated and learned that the Davidians had been using dynamite for construction, a fact Aguilera does not elicit.) He learns from BATF Special Agent Carlos Torres that the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) has investigated the Davidians, and their leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), on suspicion of physically and sexually abusing children (see April 1992), and learns from former Waco Davidian Robyn Bunds that she had a child by Koresh, and she left because of Koresh’s increasingly abusive behavior towards herself and other community members. Bunds also tells Aguilera that she found what she later learned was a machine gun conversion kit. Her mother Jeannine Bunds, another former resident of the Mt. Carmel community, tells Aguilera that she frequently saw the men practicing with AK-47 and AR-15 machine guns, and that Koresh has fathered children with women and girls as young as 12 years of age, indicating that he may be guilty of statutory rape, a felony in Texas. Aguilera confirms that some 40 of the Mt. Carmel residents are foreign nationals, and that many of them either entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa; he will write in an affidavit for a search warrant (see February 25, 1993) that “it is a violation of Title 18, U.S.C. Section 922, for an illegal alien to receive a firearm.” BATF agents speak to Poia Vaega, a former Davidian now living in New Zealand, who makes further allegations of physical and sexual abuse. Vaega confirms what both Bunds have already said, that Koresh enforces a strict rule that only he can have sexual relations with the females of the community, and that he routinely has sex with girls as young as 11. Several BATF agents confirm that the Davidians have the proper parts, chemical compounds, and equipment to create a wide array of illegal guns, bombs, and explosives, and that in the past BATF agents have seized a number of illegal weapons from the Davidians. David Block, a former Waco Davidian, tells Aguilera that he has seen copies of books in the main building that tell the reader how to manufacture illegal bombs and explosives. Another source tells the BATF that the Davidians have made live grenades and are attempting to make a radio-controlled aircraft for carrying explosives. Documents show that Koresh has spent $199,715 on weapons and ammunition in the past 17 months, including M-16 automatic rifles and parts necessary for turning semiautomatic rifles into machine guns. [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993; Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Koresh and the Davidians have also buried a bus in the ground and stocked it with food for a year; members practice daily military drills, and both children and adults are taught how to commit suicide with a gun. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Davy Aguilera, David Koresh, Carlos Torres, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Block, Terry Fuller, Jeannine Bunds, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, Marshal Keith Butler, Robyn Bunds, Poia Vaega

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

David Koresh holds up a Bible while standing in front of a church.David Koresh holds up a Bible while standing in front of a church. [Source: My Deactivated Guns (.com)]Davy Aguilera, a senior agent of the Texas branch of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) and the lead investigator in the bureau’s Branch Davidian/David Koresh probe (see June-July 1992 and November 1992 - January 1993), interviews BATF Special Agent Carlos Torres about his knowledge of the Davidians. Torres says that on December 4 he interviewed Joyce Sparks, an investigator for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS), who has twice visited the Mt. Carmel compound of the Davidians outside of Waco to check on allegations of child abuse (see April 1992). According to Torres, Sparks said that on her last visit to the compound on April 6, “Koresh told her that he was the ‘messenger’ from God, that the world was coming to an end, and that when he ‘reveals’ himself, the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco, Texas.” According to Sparks, Koresh’s self-revelation “would be a ‘military type operation’ and… all the ‘non-believers’ would have to suffer.” In 1993, columnist Daniel Wattenberg will dispute Sparks’s claim, noting that the Los Angeles riots began on April 29, 1992, more than three weeks after Sparks’s last visit to the compound. [American Spectator, 8/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Davy Aguilera, Branch Davidians, Carlos Torres, Joyce Sparks, Daniel Wattenberg, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents train for a raid.BATF agents train for a raid. [Source: Time]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes known as the ATF) begins preparing for a large-scale raid on the Waco, Texas, compound, Mt. Carmel, owned by the Branch Davidian sect. The BATF has evidence that the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, own a large amount of possibly illegal weapons, are committing statutory rape and child abuse against the female children of the group, and are possibly beating the children as a means of discipline (see November 1992 - January 1993). The raid is approved by BATF Director Stephen Higgins, after a recommendation from Philip Chojnacki, the senior BATF agent in the Houston office. Undercover BATF agents who have infiltrated the Davidian community recommend that the assault take place on a Sunday morning, because during Sunday morning prayer services the men are separated from the women and children, and do not have easy access to the Davidians’ cache of weapons. [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Significant Lack of Planning - Information compiled after the raid, in which the Davidians kill four BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), is somewhat contradictory; a Treasury Department report issued after the April conflagration at the compound (see Late September - October 1993) will claim there is no written plan for the “dynamic entry” to be executed by BATF agents, and that the raid is code-named “Trojan Horse.” Agents who participate in the assault will later say the raid is code-named “Showtime.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] According to the Treasury Department report, acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, assigned as support coordinator for the operation, arrived in Waco from his Kansas City office on February 23, asked to see the documents for the plan of attack, and was told none had been drawn up. Dyer and agent William Krone draw up a plan on their own, though they have little knowledge about the work performed by the tactical planners. The two manage to generate a rough plan, but the plan remains on Krone’s desk and is never distributed or referred to during the actual raid. [New York Times, 10/1/1993]
Element of Surprise Key - According to later testimony before a House investigative committee (see August 2, 1996), the element of surprise is so integral to the raid that if it is lost, the raid is to be aborted. Ronald Noble, assistant secretary-designate of the treasury for law enforcement, will testify that on-site BATF commanders knew of the provision. Noble will say in 1995, and will be quoted in the 1996 House investigative report, “What was absolutely clear in Washington at Treasury and in Washington and ATF was that no raid should proceed once the element of surprise was lost.” However, Dan Hartnett, deputy director of the BATF for enforcement, will contradict Noble’s assertion, saying that while “secrecy and safety” were “discussed over and over again,” the provision that the raid should be called off if the Davidians were alerted to it beforehand was not in place; Hartnett will accuse Noble of trying to deflect blame away from the Treasury Department and onto the BATF. The report will conclude that no such provision was in place. The BATF commanders will order the raid to go forward even after learning that the Davidians know it is coming. The House report will conclude that the lack of such a provision was a critical failure of the plan. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
No Alternatives Considered - BATF agents will also later claim that the raid was necessary because Koresh never left the compound. However, evidence will show that at least three times between January 17 and February 24, Koresh did exit the compound, where agents could have easily apprehended him; among other examples, Koresh is a regular patron of the Chelsea Bar and Grill in Waco, and leaves the compound regularly to jog. According to the Treasury Department report and a 1996 report by the House investigative committee, other options are considered but rejected. The first is to avoid violence and merely serve the warrants by visiting the compound. This is rejected because of Koresh’s history of antipathy towards law enforcement and his propensity towards violence (see November 3, 1987 and After). A second option, arresting Koresh while he is away from the compound, is rejected because, according to subsequent testimony by Chojnacki, Koresh supposedly never leaves the site. A third option, a plan to besiege Mt. Carmel, is rejected because of the possibility that the Davidians might destroy the illegal weapons, commit mass suicide, or both. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Warnings of Violent Response Ignored - The Congressional report will find, “The [B]ATF chose the dynamic entry raid, the most hazardous of the options, despite its recognition that a violent confrontation was predictable.” Before the raid, BATF agents discussed the idea of launching a raid with Joyce Sparks, a Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) caseworker who has spent a considerable amount of time with Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1992). Sparks is familiar with the Davidians’ apocalyptic religious beliefs, and warned the agents that to launch a raid on the compound would invite a violent response. “They will get their guns and kill you,” she told the agents. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Plans, Execution Botched - The Congressional investigation will find that the BATF plan for attacking the Davidian compound was “significantly flawed… poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used… drafted and commanded by [B]ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Reflecting on the planning 10 years later, Robert White, a senior BATF agent wounded in the raid, will recall: “The people actually calling the shots, whether to go or not, did not have the tactical training necessary to make those kind of decisions. They had the authority to make those decisions simply because of their rank.” White will say that because of the botched raid, the agency will revise its tactical procedures: “Now, before any decision is made, a leader of one of the tactical teams, someone who has been trained specifically for that purpose, will make the call.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Top Treasury Officials Not Informed - The report also expresses surprise at BATF Director Higgins’s failure to appraise either Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen or Deputy Secretary Roger Altman of the raid. The report will state, “Neither [Bentsen] nor his deputy knew anything about an imminent law enforcement raid—one of the largest ever conducted in US history—being managed by his department, which would endanger the lives of dozens of law enforcement agents, women, and children.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, William Krone, Chelsea Bar and Grill, Darrell Dyer, Dan Hartnett, US Department of the Treasury, Joyce Sparks, Stephen Higgins, Lloyd Bentsen, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Philip Chojnacki, David Koresh, Roger Altman, Robert White, Ronald Noble

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) agent Davy Aguilera obtains a warrant, or affidavit as it is sometimes called in law enforcement terminology, to search the Branch Davidian compound, known to many as Mt. Carmel, just outside of Waco, Texas. Aguilera, a BATF agent out of Austin, Texas, secures the warrant from US Magistrate Judge Dennis Green in Waco. Aguilera says the evidence for the warrant comes from his own investigation, “as well as information furnished to me by other law enforcement officers and concerned citizens” (see March 5-9, 1992, June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, December 7, 1992, January 11, 1993 and After, and January 22 - Early February, 1993). Aguilera’s warrant gives legal standing for the BATF’s upcoming raid on the Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Aguilera writes, “I believe that Vernon Howell, aka David Koresh and/or his followers who reside at the compound known locally as the Mt. Carmel Center are unlawfully manufacturing and possessing machine guns and explosive devices.” [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 2/25/1993] The legitimacy of the BATF affidavits and warrants will be disputed. After the events of the final assault (see April 19, 1993), a retired FBI agent will examine the original BATF affidavits and say that the agency lacked probable cause for them. In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the warrant is replete with “an incredible number of false statements” (see August 2, 1996); one example is its claim, based on witness statements, that the Davidians own a British Boys anti-tank .52 caliber rifle, when in fact they own a Barret light .50 firearm. Possession of the British Boys constitutes a felony, while ownership of the Barret is legal. The affidavit relies heavily on information provided by former Davidian Marc Breault (see February 27 - March 3, 1993); it does not note that Breault left the compound as an opponent of Koresh, a fact that might affect his motives in speaking against Koresh. Nor does the affidavit note that Breault is almost completely blind, but instead claims that he was a bodyguard who “participated in physical training and firearm shooting exercises conducted by Howell. He stood guard armed with a loaded weapon.” Aguilera repeatedly misrepresents and misstates the facts of weapons laws in the affidavit, and misstates the types of weapons parts that Koresh and the Davidians are known to have purchased. The investigation will find that while legitimate evidence exists that would constitute probable cause for a warrant, the BATF agents “responsible for preparing the affidavits knew or should have known that many of the statements were false.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Dennis Green, Marc Breault, Davy Aguilera

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Waco Tribune-Herald headline for its ‘Sinful Messiah’ series, with a photo of Davidian leader David Koresh.Waco Tribune-Herald headline for its ‘Sinful Messiah’ series, with a photo of Davidian leader David Koresh. [Source: Pyreaus (.com)]The Waco Tribune-Herald begins what it calls the “Sinful Messiah” series of articles on Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, formerly Vernon Howell (see November 3, 1987 and After). Based on interviews with former members of the sect, the series accuses Koresh of being a “cult leader” who physically abuses children and takes underage brides, even raping one of them. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010] Two weeks into the standoff, Newsweek will publish an article on Koresh and the Davidians that draws heavily on the Waco Tribune-Herald series. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] An August 1992 investigation by the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services (DPRS) found no evidence of such claims (see April 1992).
Sexual Abuse Claims - Koresh, the series claims, advocates polygamy for himself, declaring himself the husband of multiple females of the community. The articles say he claims to be entitled to 140 wives or more, can legitimately claim any of the women in the community, has fathered at least a dozen children, and that some of his brides are as young as 12 or 13. The sources claim that Koresh annulled all the marriages among the Davidians, and told the men that they would receive their “perfect mates” in heaven. For the time they are on Earth, he told them, only he would have wives. Koresh keeps the men and women rigidly separated except during Bible studies. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; XTimeline, 7/2010]
Physical Abuse Claims - The articles claim that Koresh beats children as young as eight months of age. Former Davidian Michelle Tom testified in a Michigan court custody case that Koresh beat her daughter Tarah Tom with a wooden spatula until the girl’s bottom was bruised and bloody. The girl had cried when placed on Koresh’s lap, Tom testified. A former Davidian who refuses to be identified confirms Tom’s story, saying that the little girl’s “bottom was completely black and blue.” During the same court case, Tom and other former Davidians claimed that Koresh was particularly harsh with his own son Cyrus. When Cyrus was three and living with Koresh (then Howell) in Pomona, California, Koresh once tied him to the garage for the night, after telling him that there were rats in the garage who liked to eat children. Tom and others recall hearing Cyrus scream as his father beat him.
Bringing the Apocalypse - Koresh, according to the articles, claims to be the Lamb of Heaven whose mystical task it is to open the Seven Seals of the Biblical Apocalypse, thus bringing about the end of the world. The Davidians, according to the articles, intend to slay all non-believers (whom Koresh calls “the Babylonians”) once the Apocalypse begins, and Koresh’s male children will rule at his side thereafter. Koresh says: “If the Bible is true, then I’m Christ. But so what? Look at 2,000 years ago. What’s so great about being Christ? A man nailed to the cross. A man of sorrow acquainted with grief. You know, being Christ ain’t nothing. Know what I mean?… If the Bible is true, I’m Christ. If the Bible is true. But all I want out of this is for people to be honest this time.” The sources say Koresh uses “mind control” techniques to indoctrinate his followers, including marathon sermons and Bible study sessions lasting up to 15 hours at a stretch. One former member who refuses to be named says of the sessions: “You don’t have time to think. He doesn’t give you time to think about what you’re doing. It’s just bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.” Other methods employed by Koresh include confusing, rapid-fire discourses about abstruse Biblical topics, and a propensity to force community members to listen to sermons at odd hours of the night. Another former member, also refusing to be named, says: “You felt like you were in the know. Others in the world might consider you average. Let them. They were unbelievers. But you knew something they didn’t—something that put you into the ultimate In Crowd, the ones who wouldn’t be taking a dip in the Lake of Fire.”
Sources - The sources for the article include Australians Marc Breault, described as a former “confidant” of Koresh’s who has spoken against Koresh since 1990; Breault’s wife Elizabeth Baranyi; and Jean Smith. Breault, an aspiring musician, admits to feeling resentment towards Koresh—he joined the group in hopes that he and Koresh, himself an accomplished musician, would form a successful rock band, an aspiration that would not be fulfilled. They are joined by former Indiana disk jockey David Jewell, who was never a member of the sect but who sued his ex-wife, Davidian Sherri Jewell, for custody of their daughter Kiri. Breault and other former members say Sherri Jewell was one of Koresh’s wives. Kiri lives in Michigan with her father, while Sherri remains with Koresh. (In 1995, Kiri Jewell will testify that she was raped by Koresh between the ages of 10 and 14—see July 21, 1995). Other sources include Robyn Bunds, one of Koresh’s first “wives” among the community (married to him at age 17, she says, when Koresh and his small group of followers lived in Pomona and La Verne, California). Bunds claims that Koresh told her he raped the 12-year-old sister of his wife Rachel Howell, who, Bunds says, crawled into bed with him to “get warm” and was forced to have sex with him. Koresh has denied the story, and claims to have had only two children, Cyrus and Star, both with his wife Rachel. However, birth certificates for many Davidian children are incomplete; the sources say that Koresh is the father of many of the children, and routinely has the mothers leave his name off the certificates. Bunds tells reporters: “When Vernon came along, he… said you had to give him all your money. You had to live on the property. You had to give up everything else. You had to give him your mind… your body.” She claims her parents gave well over $10,000 to Koresh’s sect and bought a house in Pomona for $100,000 in Koresh’s name (then Howell). She admits to having been jealous over having to share Koresh with his other wives, and says Koresh is the father of her son Shaun, whose birth name was Wisdom Bunds; she says Shaun is terrified of Koresh because he beat him. (Koresh says Bunds, not him, beat her son, an allegation which she admits, though she says Koresh also beat the child.) She says she left Koresh in Pomona after he began having sex with her mother Jeannine, and when he attempted to kidnap Shaun and raise him among the Waco Davidians. Jeannine Bunds is also a source, having left the Waco community shortly after her daughter left Koresh. (Don Bunds, Jeannine’s husband and Robyn’s father, remains in Waco with the Davidians.) Another source is Karl Henning or Hennig (the article uses both spellings), a Vancouver teacher who lived with the sect for two months. He says Koresh holds a “truly amazing accumulation of knowledge.” Also, the article relies on the recollections of Bruce Gent, a former Davidian who says he allowed Koresh to sleep with his teenaged daughter Nicole. Yet another source is Barbara Slawson, a member during the time of Koresh’s predecessors Lois and George Roden, who says she was never impressed with Koresh and left during the time he was solidfying his grasp on the leadership of the group. Slawson says she has two grandchildren in the group. “My primary reason for trying to help is the children,” Breault says. “They have no one else to help them. If people say we were stupid, well, that may be true. But the children aren’t.” Breault says he finally left the group after Koresh had sex with a 13-year-old Australian girl he had brought to Waco merely for sexual purposes. “I realized it wasn’t a matter of Biblical anything,” Breault later testifies during the Jewell custody case. “He just wanted to have sex with her.” Koresh says that Breault sees himself as a rival prophet attempting to convince his followers to join with him against Koresh, and says that Breault is the source of the stories of his alleged sexual relations with underage girls. Breault admits telling Australian Davidians that he, too, is a prophet, though he says he eventually confessed that he had lied to get the Davidians away from Koresh, and that for a time he attempted to create a breakaway, rival sect of the Davidians.
Emotional Control - Jeannine Bunds says Koresh does not physically restrain his members. “I’m over 21, intelligent,” she says. “I could have walked at any time. I chose to stay. He doesn’t keep you. You can leave. What you have to understand, though, is he keeps you by emotion. When you’re down there, it’s all so exciting. You don’t know what he’ll come up with next. I guess everyone is looking for Utopia, Shangri-La. You don’t want any problems. It wasn’t all bad times, you know. The people in this are great. They’ll give you the shirt off their back. They’re nice, like everyone else in the world. Except they believe this.”
Newspaper Asked to Hold Off Publishing Stories - Tribune-Herald managing editor Barbara Elmore says the newspaper put eight months of research into the stories, and held off printing them after federal authorities asked her “not to run anything.” The head of the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) task force investigating Koresh (see June-July 1992) says the stories did not influence the agency’s decision to raid the Davidian compound near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993] After the BATF raid, Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott defends his newspaper’s decision to publish the story, saying: “We’d been working on this story for eight months. It contained a lot of information the public ought to know. We decided it was time to let the public know about this menace in our backyard.… I’m under siege. There has been the suggestion that somehow we are responsible for this tragedy.” BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says the bureau has no complaints about Lott or the Tribune-Herald, but an unidentified BATF agent has allegedly said part of the responsibility for the deaths of four BATF agents during the raid rests on the local press. The bureau asked Lott to hold off publishing the series a month before the raid; the newspaper gave the bureau a day’s warning before running the first installment. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Newsweek, 3/15/1993]

Entity Tags: David Jewell, Bruce Gent, Star Howell, Sherri Jewell, Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Waco Tribune-Herald, Cyrus Howell, Barbara Elmore, Shaun Bunds, Barbara Slawson, Branch Davidians, Bob Lott, Sharon Wheeler, Tarah Tom, Rachel Howell, Elizabeth Baranyi, Don Bunds, George Roden, Robyn Bunds, Jean Smith, Jeannine Bunds, David Koresh, Kiri Jewell, Nicole Gent, Karl Henning, Michelle Tom, Newsweek, Lois Roden, Marc Breault

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

BATF agents wait to assault the Branch Davidian compound.BATF agents wait to assault the Branch Davidian compound. [Source: LMPD Arcade]The Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), are warned of an impending raid on their compound outside Waco, Texas, by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). For several days, BATF agents have come into Waco from all over Texas; the day before the raid, BATF official Sharon Wheeler alerted news outlets in Dallas that “something big” was in the offing (see February 27, 1993). The morning of the raid, medical personnel alert Waco-area press and television personnel that the “feds” are preparing a large-scale exercise of some sort; some reporters and producers see evidence of the preparations for themselves. A large number of news reporters begin scouting the area for more information. Jim Peeler, a cameraman for Waco’s KWTX-TV, knows the Davidians are to be involved in the raid; he finds himself on a rural road near Mt. Carmel, the Davidian compound, where he encounters US mailman David Jones. Peeler asks directions from Jones, who, unbeknownst to Peeler, is Koresh’s brother-in-law and a Davidian affiliate. Peeler will later say that Jones seems to be doing some sort of reconnaissance when they stop their cars for their chat. Peeler tells Jones he is looking for Mt. Carmel, and they briefly discuss the “Sinful Messiah” series on Koresh that has been running in the Waco Tribune-Herald (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). Both hear the National Guard helicopters beginning their patrol. Jones asks Peeler: “Are there helicopters out here? Something’s gonna happen out here today. There’s too much traffic on the road.” Jones tells Peeler he is going home to watch television and see what is going on. Instead, he races to the compound and alerts Koresh; Jones will join the Davidians in the compound, and perish in the blaze that kills Koresh and others 51 days later (see April 19, 1993). [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000] Seven years later, the media learns that Peeler had been alerted to the raid by local law enforcement official Cal Luedke (see June 23, 2000). Peeler will later admit to tipping off Jones, but will claim he knew nothing of Jones’s affiliation with Koresh or the Davidians. He will say that he is sent to drive down the road until he encounters a roadblock put up by the Texas Department of Public Safety, and film whatever may happen. He will say he gets lost trying to find the road leading to the compound. Lawyer Richard DeGuerin, who will represent Koresh in the following weeks, will give a different version of Peeler’s words to Jones. DeGuerin will say: “David Jones had been out to get a paper. On the way back he was driving his car and saw someone that looked lost. He saw a newsman. After being satisfied that David was a mailman, the newsman said, ‘Well, you better get out of here because there’s a National Guard helicopter over at [Texas State Technical Institute], and they’re going to have a big shootout with the religious nuts.’” Jones drives to Mt. Carmel and alerts Koresh and his father, Koresh’s top aide Perry Jones, to the impending raid. [Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993; Time, 10/11/1993] Later allegations that the Davidians were tipped off by Peeler’s colleague, KWTX-TV reporter John McLemore, will be disproven. [Dallas Morning News, 8/28/1993] Lieutenant Gene Barber of the Waco Sheriff’s Department will later testify that local police believe another possible source of information for KWTX-TV was an “informant” at the local ambulance company. Barber will say that on several earlier occasions, when police had put the ambulance company on standby, a KWTX-TV camera crew was sent to the site of the police activity even though the police had not disclosed it to the station. A 1996 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996) will conclude that not only were the Davidians aware of the impending raid, but many of them quickly prepared to “ambush” the raiders. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the raid, Virgil Teeter, the vice president of news for KWTX-TV, says he decided to send a camera crew to the Davidian compound only because of the “Sinful Messiah” articles on Saturday and Sunday morning. “We just thought it would be wise to be in the area,” he says. Teeter says no one from the station began videotaping until after the shooting started. “We didn’t go in before the agents,” he says. “We had no live coverage till long after the shooting started. There is no issue of criticizing us for our actions.” WFAA-TV in Dallas will broadcast some live footage from the raid and its aftermath, and that footage is broadcast nationally on CNN. [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: Sharon Wheeler, Texas Department of Public Safety, Texas National Guard, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Waco Tribune-Herald, Richard DeGuerin, Virgil Teeter, Perry Jones, Texas State Technical Institute, John McLemore, Cal Luedke, David Jones (Waco), Branch Davidians, KWTX-TV, David Koresh, Gene Barber, Jim Peeler

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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

A former member of the Branch Davidian community currently under siege in its Texas compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) says he is enraged over the turn of events that led to the federal raid and siege. David Slawson, an Idaho carpenter who lived in the Davidian community outside Waco during the 1960s, well before current Davidian leader David Koresh took over (see November 3, 1987 and After), tells a reporter: “What happened didn’t have to happen. We had enough information to put them away 10 years ago.” Slawson says he and his sister have repeatedly tried to interest authorities in the group, having expressed their concerns to police, children’s protective services (see April 1992), a county judge, and local school officials. Referring to Koresh by his given name, Slawson says: “Vernon Howell reminds me more and more of [suicidal cult leader] Jim Jones and [mass murderer Charles] Manson. It’s mind boggling. We are really angry. People are dying. There was no need for this.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993]

Entity Tags: David Slawson, Branch Davidians, David Koresh

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The FBI releases an internal memo or document profiling Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), according to information published by the Houston Post in October 1993. The profile reads in part: “For years he [Koresh] has been brainwashing his followers for this battle (between his church and his enemies), and on Feb. 28, 1993, his prophecy came true (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993).… As of March 5, 1993, Koresh is still able to convince his followers that the end is near and, as he predicted, their enemies will surround them and kill them.… In traditional hostage situations a strategy which has been successful has been negotiated coupled with ever increasing tactical presence. In this situation, however, it is believed this strategy, if carried to excess, could eventually be counterproductive and could result in loss of life.… Every time his followers sense movement of tactical personnel Koresh validates his prophetic warnings that an attack is forthcoming and they are going to have to defend themselves. According to his teachings, if they die defending their faith, they will be saved.” [Houston Post, 10/16/1993] It is unclear whether this document is the same profile as the one written by FBI behavioral analysts Pete Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993).

Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Mark Young, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

A Dallas Morning News investigation is unable to find definitive information about how the Branch Davidian sect, currently besieged by federal authorities after a shootout with BATF agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), supports itself financially. “How did an obscure religious sect manage to feed, clothe, house, and heavily arm dozens of devotees, with no obvious source of income?” the article asks, and does not provide a conclusive answer. Some members tithe their income and others donate their belongings. Federal authorities suspect the Davidians, or some individual members such as leader David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After), of selling drugs and/or laundering money. Except for a large and expensive cache of weapons (see June-July 1992), the Davidians live modestly, according to court documents. They own a few old cars, use recycled and scavenged building materials to work on their ramshackle Mt. Carmel home (or “compound” as some call it), aren’t up-to-date on their property taxes, and use cash, food stamps, and other public aid to purchase bulk food. The furnishings in the main building are comfortable but not plush; they have a swimming pool and a satellite dish, but no indoor plumbing. Steve Schneider, Koresh’s close aide, told reporters the day after the siege began that the members “all tithe… we work hard and save money.” Some members work outside the compound. Rick Ross, a Phoenix “deprogrammer” who believes Koresh runs a cult and has worked to help former Davidians reintegrate into society, has told reporters that “good salaries earned on the outside were plowed back into the sect.” Koresh is “very much into money,” he said. A federal agent says that Koresh requires members to give up their personal goods and homes, and takes all of the money; however, a former Davidian says that Koresh does not solicit contributions, and paid $40/month for room and board. “I never saw any interaction of money between disciples and Koresh,” he says. “I don’t know where he got his money from.… That’s the weird thing. You see he can afford all these things, and none of his people seemed like they had a lot of money. There’s something fishy here.” The 77-acre compound is valued at $122,000, and contains a main building (described by the reporters as “fortresslike”) and a number of small, ramshackle outbuildings and freestanding houses. [Dallas Morning News, 3/8/1993]

Entity Tags: Rick Ross, Branch Davidians, Dallas Morning News, David Koresh, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Some Waco-area authorities say the local law enforcement officials and judiciary erred in ignoring the Branch Davidians’ propensity for violence and stockpiling weapons when Davidian leader David Koresh and some of his followers were charged with violent felonies (see November 3, 1987 and After). Koresh and an unknown number of his Davidians are now besieged by FBI forces in their compound outside Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Because Koresh’s trial ended in a hung jury, and the charges against his followers dismissed, all of their weapons were returned to them as federal and state law mandates. El-Hadi J. Shabazz, who as an assistant district attorney prosecuted Koresh and the other Davidians in 1987, says, “A McLennan County sheriff’s deputy out there said at the time they had enough weapons and ammunition to hold off the entire McLennan County Sheriff’s Department, the police department, and the local National Guard.” Five semi-automatic assault rifles, five ordinary rifles, two shotguns, and a large amount of ammunition were confiscated from Koresh and his five followers, and subsequently returned. “That was 1987,” Shabazz says. “Imagine what they have in 1993.” [New York Times, 3/10/1993]

Entity Tags: El-Hadi J. Shabazz, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound.Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The May 3, 1993 cover of Time magazine featuring its special report on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians.The May 3, 1993 cover of Time magazine featuring its special report on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. [Source: Time]Time magazine publishes a lengthy series of articles on David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After) and the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidians (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) titled “Tragedy in Waco.” Among its articles is a profile of Koresh that characterizes him as a cult leader and a psychopath. Of his near-total control over his followers, Time writes: “In the manner of cult leaders before him, Koresh held sway largely through means that were both more subtle and more degrading. Food was rationed in unpredictable ways. Newcomers were gradually relieved of their bank accounts and personal possessions. And while the men were subjected to an uneasy celibacy, Koresh took their wives and daughters as his concubines” (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). The profile notes Koresh’s “mangled theological rationale” as the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ in a sinful, mortal form. It discusses what it calls his “creamy charm and a cold-blooded willingness to manipulate those drawn to him,” and says “students of cult practices” readily recognize his type: “He was the most spectacular example since Jim Jones, who committed suicide in 1978 with more than 900 of his followers at the People’s Temple in Guyana. Like Jones, Koresh fashioned a tight-knit community that saw itself at desperate odds with the world outside. He plucked sexual partners as he pleased from among his followers and formed an elite guard of lieutenants to enforce his will. And like Jones, he led his followers to their doom.” UCLA psychology professor Louis West calls Koresh a psychopath, and explains: “The psychopath is often charming, bright, very persuasive. He quickly wins people’s trust and is uncannily adept at manipulating and conning people.” Former Davidian David Bunds, who left the Waco compound in 1989, says Koresh was preparing his followers for the Apocalypse and mortal death for years. “Koresh would say we would have to suffer, that we were going to be persecuted, and some of us would be killed and tortured,” Bunds recalls. Psychologist Murray Miron, who advised the FBI during the standoff, says: “The adulation of this confined group work on this charismatic leader so that he in turn spirals into greater and greater paranoia. He’s playing a role that his followers have cast him in.” In a sense, the article concludes, both Koresh and the Davidians gave one another what they needed. The Davidians confirmed Koresh’s belief that he was the son of God and destined for a martyr’s death. He helped them bring their spiritual wanderings to a close. The article concludes with the following: “In the flames of last week, they all may have found what they were searching for.” [Time, 5/3/1993]

Entity Tags: Murray Miron, Branch Davidians, David Bunds, Time magazine, David Koresh, James Warren (“Jim”) Jones, Louis West, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Federal and state authorities find the remains of a huge arsenal of firearms, weapons, munitions, and ammunition at the burned-out site of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The remains include 40 submachine guns, 76 assault rifles, one Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle and another .50-caliber weapon, over a million rounds of ammunition, shotguns, pistols, grenades, gas masks, silencers, body armor, and various equipment and parts, including the parts needed for rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). This information comes from a federal document unsealed in a Waco court. BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) officials say the findings confirm their fears that Davidian leader David Koresh was amassing a cache of weapons to go along with his apocalyptic teachings (see June-July 1992). BATF spokesman Jack Killorin says: “We were right from the beginning. It was our belief going in there that there was a large stockpile of weapons and parts for making weapons and explosive devices. It seems clear that our suspicions were also correct that these were not being amassed for self-defense. One of the things that has concerned me was that we found silenced submachine guns, which are typically weapons of assassination or guerilla warfare. It raises the question of what this religious group was planning to do.” Authorities also find lathes, milling equipment, and other tooling machinery used to convert assault weapons into illegally modified automatic weapons. Some material left behind during the BATF’s abortive raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) is also found, including body armor, a battering ram, a BATF medical kit, and a federal-issue MP-5 machine gun. Materials tagged as “arson evidence” are also found, including Coleman lanterns, crushed or opened gasoline and Coleman fuel cans, and two items labeled “torches.” Personal effects, including Bibles, marriage and death certificates, children’s clothing, baseball cards, and a library card are also catalogued. And the authorities also find a stash of Koresh’s documents, including one labeled by the authorities as “Document: Apocalypse-‘Death’ and ‘Grave’ highlighted.” [Dallas Morning Herald, 5/26/1993]

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

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Among the numerous former Branch Davidians giving interviews to the press in the months following the tragedy at the Waco compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) are a young man and his family who departed the compound before the fiery debacle. In giving an interview to reporters for Modern Maturity magazine, a publication for elderly readers, the family does not allow their names to be used; the young man is only identified as “Robert.” Robert’s parents, like a good number of the Davidians under leader David Koresh’s thrall, are elderly. The reporters call their story “a cautionary tale for both the elderly and those who love them.” Robert’s parents, both Seventh-day Adventists (see November 3, 1987 and After), are retired civil servants with little to occupy their time. Koresh visited their church in Hawaii in 1986, when he was heading a small group of breakway Davidians in southern California. Robert’s wife “Leslie” recalls that Robert’s mother “told me Koresh had the answers to all their questions. I remember looking at their Bibles. Every single passage was underlined in red. There were notes everywhere, on every page. It looked to me like Koresh had rewritten the Bible—for his own purposes.” In 1988, Robert’s parents journeyed to Texas to be with Koresh and his new, larger community of Davidians near Waco. They sold their home and gave the proceeds—over a half million dollars—to Koresh, in keeping with his mandate that all worldly goods be turned over to his care. Robert refused to join them. He recalls: “We were alarmed, but at that point we knew nothing about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. One of my brothers said something about religious freedom. We knew we couldn’t stop them.” The parents became more and more isolated; they stopped returning their children’s phone calls, and when a family member did manage to speak to them, they had little to say. In 1989, the parents left the compound and visited Robert. The son was extremely concerned at their appearance. They were thin and undernourished. They refused to eat the dinner Robert and Leslie had prepared for them; they had unconventional diet restrictions, such as no apples (the thin skin allowed toxins to enter the fruit, they said) and their vegetables had to be diced into perfect cubes. Both were unwashed and unkempt, and Robert’s father suffered from constant colds and a skin rash. The more Robert learned about his parents’ day-to-day life in Texas, the more discomfited he became. His father lived in an unheated shack on the compound and was not allowed to keep his own food; the mother stayed with the other women as a “wife of God,” meaning Koresh. They had been trained to shoot M-16 rifles. After the parents returned to Waco, Robert and Leslie began researching the Branch Davidians. Eventually they stumbled across Rick Ross, a veteran “cult deprogrammer” who had extensive experience working with Davidians to reintegrate them into society. Ross told them of Koresh’s mind-control techniques. In 1991, Robert’s brother injured himself by falling off a roof. The parents eventually visited the injured brother in Hawaii, and then visited the other children in California. Robert and Leslie kept the parents at their home in San Francisco, making one excuse after another to delay their departure for Waco, and never left them alone. They kept in close telephone contact with Ross about how to “deprogram” them. Robert showed them “counter-cult” videotapes and explained their meaning. He hid their Bibles, which were full of notes dictated by Koresh. Finally, they introduced the parents to another couple who had once belonged to a cult. After days of intensive intervention, the parents finally agreed not to return to the Branch Davidians. However, they wanted to return to Waco for their belongings. Robert convinced his mother to stay in San Francisco; he and a family friend accompanied his father to the Waco compound. They successfully retrieved their belongings without incident, though Koresh spoke briefly to the father, and the father returned to the truck in tears. Now the parents live in Hawaii, still trying to cope with their years under Koresh’s influence. Their relationship with Robert is still strained. Robert says his biggest concern is his parents’ safety. He believes they will eventually come to grasp the danger he thinks they were in, and says: “I find that society in general knows little about cults. We forgot Jim Jones very quickly. I hope we don’t forget David Koresh.” [Modern Maturity, 6/1994]

Entity Tags: Modern Maturity, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rick Ross

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Amo Roden.Amo Roden. [Source: Amo Roden]Reporter Peter J. Boyer publishes an article in the New Yorker depicting the almost-mesmerizing attraction the scene of the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre (see April 19, 1993) has over radical right-wingers. The site of the Branch Davidian compound, on a hill outside Waco, Texas, has been razed and burned over, but enough debris remained for Amo Bishop Roden to come to the site, fashion a crude shack from fence posts, pallets, and sheet metal, and take up residence there. Roden, the wife of former Davidian leader George Roden (see November 3, 1987 and After), says God told her to come to the site to keep the “end-time church” of Davidian leader David Koresh alive. She makes money by selling Davidian memorabilia, including T-shirts and photos. “People come by every day,” she says. “And usually it’s running around a hundred a day.” Most of the people who come to the site are tourists, she says, “but some are constitutional activists.” Boyer writes that Roden’s “constitutional activists” are “members of that portion of the American extreme fringe which believes the FBI raid on the Davidian compound exemplified a government at war with its citizens.” Boyer writes that those radical fringe members regard the Davidian compound as “a shrine,” and view April 19, the date of the Davidians’ destruction, as “a near-mystical date, warranting sober commemoration.” Last April 19, two things occurred to commemorate the date of the conflagration: the unveiling of a stone monument listing the names of the dead, and the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has himself made the pilgrimage to Waco (see March 1993). Alan Stone, a professor of psychiatry and law at Harvard, says the mistakes made by the federal government at Waco will continue to fuel right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theories until the government acknowledges its mistakes: “The further I get away from Waco, the more I feel that the government stonewalled. It would be better if the government would just say, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, and we’ve done this, this, and that, so it won’t happen again.’ And, to my knowledge, they’ve never done it.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Amo Roden, 2010] Religious advocate Dean Kelley writes that Roden collects money from tourists and visitors, ostensibly for the Davidians who own the property, but according to Kelley, the Davidians never receive any of the donations. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] Four years after Boyer publishes his article, a similar article, again featuring an interview with Roden, is published in the Dallas Morning News. Paulette Pechacek, who lives near the property, will say of her and her husband, “We expected it [the visits] for months afterwards, but it surprises us that people still come.” [Dallas Morning News, 6/27/1999]

Entity Tags: David Koresh, Peter J. Boyer, Paulette Pechacek, Branch Davidians, Amo Bishop Roden, Alan Stone, George Roden, Timothy James McVeigh, New Yorker, Dean M. Kelley

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’ [Source: aLibris (.com)]In their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman write of their recent interviews with several law enforcement officials who dealt with various aspects of the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), the final tragic assault (see April 19, 1993), and the aftermath.
Former Deputy Attorney General Admits FBI Unprepared for Dealing with 'Cult' Behaviors - Former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann took his post on April 19, 1993, the day of the assault on the Davidian compound, and managed the Justice Department (DOJ) review of the siege and assault (see October 8, 1993). Heymann acknowledges that the FBI went into the siege unprepared to deal with a “cult,” as many label that particular group of the Branch Davidian sect, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists Church. “The FBI was trained to deal with terrorists,” Heymann tells the authors, “but it wasn’t trained to deal with a religious group with a messianic leader. There was no precedent of the FBI’s handling such a situation and there had been no planning for one.” Heymann says he conducted the DOJ review less to assign blame than to help improve federal authorities’ future responses to situations like the Davidian confrontation, and even less connected situations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). “I wanted to see that we were organized in such a way that, if this situation came up again in any form, including an extreme Islamic fundamentalist group, we could understand how to think about them, how to talk to them, when to put pressure on and when not to put pressure on, all the things that go into negotiations,” Heymann says. He acknowledges that many DOJ and FBI officials are uncomfortable with the idea of cults and with the tactical changes dealing with such groups requires. “I hesitated to use any of those terms,” he says. “We tried to avoid labeling the group as a ‘cult’ suggesting crazies. There was a purposeful attempt to not give the group one label or another. The general understanding was that we were dealing with a, you know, a group that had passionate beliefs, that was extremely suspicious of the government.… We wanted to avoid having to dispute the people who, on the one side, treat groups like this as just another fundamentalist religion and, on the other, regard them as a dangerous form of mind control. I did not want to come down on one side or the other of that debate.” Conway and Siegelman believe that the FBI’s reluctance to deal with the “cult” aspect of the Davidians helped bring about the deaths of the Davidians on the final day of the siege. Heymann admits that many in the FBI and DOJ ignored or downplayed warnings that as a cult, the Davidians were prone to take unreasonable actions, such as hopeless confrontations with authorities and even mass suicide (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and that some officials denied ever receiving those warnings after the final conflagration. “I think you have to assume that any organization after a result like this is going to try to play down their responsibility, but we ought to have picked that up in our report and I’m disappointed if we weren’t skeptical enough,” he says. He concludes: “I think we’re going to be prepared to confront any obvious illegality done in the name of religion. If someone commits a serious crime, like killing government agents, there’s no doubt that the government will be prepared to use force to make an arrest. But if they haven’t, if it’s a question of whether people have been brainwashed, I think you’ll continue to see the same history we’ve had for the last 20 or 30 years. We don’t really have any way of deciding whether brainwashing is holding someone against one’s will or not, or what to do about it.”
DOJ Assistant - Richard Scruggs, an assistant to the attorney general, worked with Heymann on the DOJ review, assembling the timeline of events of the siege. He recalls: “The AG [Attorney General Janet Reno] started here two weeks into the siege. I arrived two weeks later and, by that time, planning was already well underway to get the people out of the compound. After the fire, I was called in to try to figure out what the hell had happened. We did a thousand interviews. We got every piece of the story from everyone’s perspective.” He discusses the array of evidence and opinions the DOJ received concerning the reaction the Davidians were likely to have to the increasingly harsh and aggressive tactics mounted by the FBI during the siege. “The whole issue of suicide and the psychological makeup of Koresh and his followers was obviously something we looked into,” Scruggs says. “The bureau [FBI] sought dozens of expert opinions and many more were offered. There were literally hundreds of people calling in with advice, not just people off the street but people from recognized institutes and universities. The result was that FBI commanders, both in Waco and in Washington, had so many opinions, ranging from ‘they’ll commit suicide as soon as you make any move at all’ to ‘they’ll never commit suicide,’ that it really allowed them to pick whichever experts confirmed their own point of view. The experts FBI officials judged to be the most accurate were those who said suicide was unlikely, which turned out to be wrong.” Scruggs acknowledges that Reno was not given examples of all the opinions expressed, saying, “She only got the no-suicide opinion.” He insists that Reno was aware of the possibility of suicide, and offers two possible explanations as to why the FBI officials only gave her selected and slanted information (see April 17-18, 1993). “My first impression was that someone made a conscious decision to keep this information away from the AG,” he says. “It certainly looked that way. On the other hand, sometimes these things just happen, one decision leads to another, and nobody really thinks things through. I think the people who were putting together the material truly believed there was a low chance of suicide and then simply picked the materials that confirmed what they wanted to believe.” Scruggs acknowledges that DOJ and FBI officials ignored the warnings given by two FBI “profilers,” Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993). “Oh yes, absolutely,” he says. “Smerick and Young got wiped out by the on-site commander, who wanted a combination of negotiation and increasing pressure on the compound, the so-called ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach.” Scruggs, unlike Heymann and other government officials, says that the FBI “believes strongly in mind control, believe me.… There was a great debate going on in the bureau whether Koresh was a con man or whether he really thought he was some kind of messiah, but whichever he was there was no doubt that he was effectively controlling the rest of the people. Everybody assumed that.… Everybody believed he did it through some kind of brainwashing or mind control. We scrubbed the report of words like that, but the bureau used them. They fully understood that.” The mistake that was made during the siege was in believing that the increasingly aggressive “psywar” tactics used during the siege, even during the initial hours of the assault itself, was that “by making it very uncomfortable, they could overcome the control Koresh exercised over the rest and get out a large number of the women and children. They even used the phrase ‘the motherhood instinct.’”
Alternatives Considered and Rejected - But the options aside from assaulting the compound were in some ways worse. “The options were minimal. They could have killed Koresh—the Israelis couldn’t understand why he didn’t do that. The HRT had Koresh in their sights 50 times. They could have killed him and all his leaders and that would have been the end of it, but that was not an option. They looked into all kinds of other things. One official had heard rumors that the government had a secret weapon, like a laser weapon or sound weapon, that could vibrate people in some non-lethal way and get them out of there. We didn’t. We found out later there was a microwave weapon, but they couldn’t use it because it affected people differently based on their body size and weight. It didn’t do much to big people but it tended to cook little people.” Scruggs says that there was no “win” in any scenario they considered. “I’m not saying that mistakes weren’t made, because they were,” he says, “but I became firmly convinced in my own mind, after looking at this 16 hours a day for six months, that it was Koresh’s game. He was, in effect, controlling us no less than he was controlling his own people.” Scruggs echoes the words of senior FBI agent Byron Sage, who was present for the siege and the assault, who will say five years later that Koresh “had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy” (see January 2000). Carl Stern, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, was present at the decision-making sessions held in Reno’s office, and saw the FBI present its tear-gas assault plan for her approval. Stern, like Reno and others, was new to Washington and to the Davidian situation, and recalls the turmoil of meetings and decisions in the final weekend before the assault on Monday, April 19. “I arrived here on Tuesday and had my first meeting on Waco 15 minutes after I walked in the door,” Stern says. “Two people from the criminal division were advocating the tear gas plan. I took the other position and we argued it in front of the attorney general. The next day I attended a meeting where I really felt the idea had been turned off. I was confident that nothing was going forward (see April 12, 1993). Then on Saturday it got turned around 180 degrees” (see April 17-18, 1993). Stern is still unsure why the opposition to the assault plan disappeared so thoroughly. “The AG [Reno] was there with her deputies, the FBI director [William Sessions] was there with his deputies, and they were going through the whole thing all over again.” Stern summarizes the list of official priorities that weighed in favor of the action. “The FBI was concerned about deteriorating health conditions in the compound. There were dead bodies on the premises. The building had no indoor plumbing. People were defecating in buckets and dumping it in a pit out back and, after 50 days, there was real concern that there would be a massive disease outbreak and the first ones to get sick would be the kids. They were concerned that the perimeter of the compound was highly unstable. It was a large perimeter. There had been several breaches of it. There were rumors that armed pro-Koresh groups might come from Houston or California or elsewhere to put an end to the siege. Finally, the Hostage Rescue Team had been there for 49 days at that point—the longest they had ever gone before was four days. They were in sniper positions around the clock. They were losing their edge, not training, sitting out there in mudholes, and they were afraid if something went wrong in the rest of the country they would not be able to respond.” Stern confirms that one of Reno’s overriding concerns was the reports of child abuse she was receiving. “The AG asked a number of questions and this became the legend of what she was concerned about. She asked first about sanitary conditions. She asked next about sexual assault and child abuse. The FBI replied that if Koresh was still doing what he had been point prior to the raid (see November 3, 1987 and After) he was legally committing statutory rape. Third, the question of beatings came up. As recently as March 21, youngsters had been released who described having been beaten. The consensus was that, at a minimum, the government was not adequately protecting these children, but all that got distorted later.”
Mass Suicide Never Considered an Option for Davidians - Stern also confirms that FBI officials dismissed any idea that the Davidians might commit mass suicide, and that possibility was never figured into the plans for the assault. “What the attorney general heard was the assessment that he was not suicidal,” Stern says. What did figure into the planning was what the authors calls the “tough-cop culture of the FBI, which later evaluators cited as central factors in the proposal by bureau commanders to attack the compound with tear gas.” Stern says, “Remember, four officers had been killed, the FBI had never waited so long in the hostage situation, and from their perspective, it was really untenable that people who had killed federal officers were going on week after week thumbing their noses at law enforcement.”
Assault Did Not Follow Plan - The plans as approved by Reno never contained an option to attack the compound with armored vehicles. “Please keep in mind that there was no plan to demolish the compound. As we said at the time, it was not D-Day. The original plan was a two-day plan for gradual insertion of gas to progressively shrink the usable space and continually encourage people to come out.” The assault was carried out entirely differently; when the Davidians began firing automatic weapons at the armored vehicles and at personnel, ground commanders abandoned the plans and ordered an all-out assault with tear gas and armored vehicles. Even weather conditions played a part in the final conflagration. “No one anticipated the wind,” Stern recalls. “The tanks were not supposed to strike the building, but because of the wind, the gas wasn’t getting in and they had to get closer and finally insert the booms through the window millwork. In the course of doing so, they struck the walls and the roof.” Stern recalls the moments when the fires erupted throughout the compound. “I was in the SIOC [Strategic Intervention Operations Center] when the fire broke out. At first, Floyd Clarke, the FBI’s deputy director, thought an engine had blown on one of the vehicles they had rented from the Army. They didn’t realize what had happened. Then, when it became clear that it was a fire, they all sat there waiting for the people to come out. They were saying, ‘Come on baby, come on out, come on out.’ They were expecting people to come flooding out and there were no people coming out and they were absolutely incredulous. Even when it was over, they were still assuming they would find the kids in the bus they had buried underground.” Stern says FBI and DOJ officials were stunned at the realization that the Davidians had, in essence, committed mass suicide. “All I can tell you is that, given the atmosphere at the time, it was a surprise the suicide occurred. Remember, by then, most of the children in the compound were Koresh’s own. The thought that he would permit his own children to be harmed was inconceivable.” Conway and Siegelman point out that those experienced in “cult” “mind control” techniques had, indeed, anticipated just such an outcome. They theorize “that ranking FBI officers, tired of being manipulated by Koresh and, no doubt, genuinely concerned for the precedents they were setting for future confrontations, may have misguided the attorney general into giving ground commanders too much leeway in the execution of the final assault plan—leeway that, as the tank and tear gas assault progressed, unleashed the full destructive potential of Koresh and the people under his control. However, in our view, that gaping hole in the government’s strategy was not wrought by any battering ram or armored vehicle. Amid the push and pull of the government’s internal debate, the failure of FBI officials in Washington and Waco to heed warning that the cult’s destructive urges would ignite under pressure hastened the demise of the doom-bent Davidians.” The Davidians were never Koresh’s hostages as the FBI viewed them, the authors conclude, but willing participants willing to die for their leader and for their beliefs.
Reno Forced to Rely on FBI - Stern reminds the authors: “The attorney general had only been on the job five weeks. She didn’t even have her own staff yet. She was really flying solo. She had to rely on somebody, so she relied on the FBI and their vaunted Hostage Rescue Team. Those of us who have been around town a little longer know that, while there’s much to admire about the FBI, it does not have an unblemished record. There are times when they have been mistaken. They’re not perfect. In the world of cats and dogs, sometimes they’re closer to dogs than cats. If she had been attorney general for two years and had more experience dealing with the bureau, she might have solicited more information.” [Conway and Siegelman, 1995]

Entity Tags: Flo Conway, David Koresh, Carl Stern, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, US Department of Justice, Philip Heymann, Mark Young, Jim Siegelman, Richard Scruggs, Janet Reno, Floyd Clarke, Peter Smerick

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle.House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle. [Source: C-SPAN]The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
bullet the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
bullet Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
bullet federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
bullet senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
bullet the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
bullet Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
bullet the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
bullet the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
bullet the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
bullet the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
bullet the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
bullet the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
bullet FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
bullet federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
bullet the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
bullet the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: Gary Noesner, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of Defense, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, Dan Hartnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Schiff, Charles Sarabyn, Ronald Noble, Janet Reno, Stephen Higgins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, General Accounting Office, Lloyd Bentsen, Jeffrey Jamar, Operation Alliance, Peter Smerick, Roger Altman, Philip Chojnacki

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The visitors’ center at the new Branch Davidian church outside Waco, Texas.The visitors’ center at the new Branch Davidian church outside Waco, Texas. [Source: Waco Cult (.com)]Workers break ground on the Mt. Carmel property near Waco, Texas, for a new Branch Davidian church. The Davidian compound that stood there before was burned to the ground six years ago during a standoff with FBI agents (see April 19, 1993); only about 12 Davidians remain in the area. The project is led by radio talk show host Alex Jones, who says the Davidians were victims of “a government cover-up of its violation of the First Amendment.” Jones, whose radio show features radical conspiracy theories and a variety of right-wing and gun advocates as guests, says of the church raising: “This is a statement. This is about saying the witch hunt of 1993 is over.” The party of workers includes the parents of Davidian leader David Koresh, who died during the standoff. Koresh’s stepfather Roy Haldeman says of the project, “I feel good about it.” He lived at the compound during 1992 and the early months of 1993. Jones says he and others have been talking about building a structure on the site for three years. “All of it, it’s all about public opinion,” he says. “We know that now is the perfect time, that’s why we’re doing it.… This is a monument to the First Amendment. You think about speech and the press, but it is also religion and the expression thereof.” During an interview with an Associated Press reporter, he wears a pin reading, “You burn it, we build it.” Jones has contributed $1,000 to the project, and says it will be complete in two or three months. The ownership of the Mt. Carmel property is in dispute. At least four parties claim it: Clive Doyle and a group of Davidians who lived at the compound; Douglas Mitchell, who claims to be the divinely appointed leader of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association; Amo Bishop Roden (see May 15, 1995), who has said that she was married “by contract” to the late George Roden, the former Branch Davidian leader (see November 3, 1987 and After); and Thomas Drake, Roden’s old bodyguard. Doyle says his group has maintained the grounds, erected a memorial to the Davidians slain in the standoff, and paid the taxes on it. He says he has been leading a small number of congregants in Bible studies in the Waco area and intends to lead services at the new church. One volunteer working on the church is Mike Robbins of Austin, a customer relations manager at a car dealership. He says he is not associated with the Davidians, but has constitutional concerns about what happened at the compound: “I came out here to support the First Amendment rights and the rights of every citizen,” he says. “There is a lack of tolerance in this country and I’m here to fight that.” [Associated Press, 9/19/1999; Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000; Waco Tribune Herald, 5/3/2000] In November 1999, Jones is fired from his job as a host on Dallas’s KJFK-FM after refusing to stop broadcasting interviews with surviving Davidians, and for refusing to stop discussing his theories about government conspiracies surrounding the April 1993 debacle. Jones moves to a public-access cable TV channel and over the Internet. [Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000] The target date for the completion of the project is pushed back to April 19, 2000, the seven-year anniversary of the conflagration at the former compound. About $40,000 has been raised for the project, volunteers say, but $50,000 more is needed. Doyle and his mother, Edna, live on the property in a mobile home. A good number of the volunteers helping build the church are anti-government activists who share theories about the government’s secret plan to destroy the Davidians, many of which are aired and discussed on the air by Jones, who regularly features survivors of the 1993 debacle on his cable show. The Michigan Militia has donated $500, and vendors sell T-shirts emblazoned with machine guns and slogans such as “Death to the New World Order.” Construction work is only done on Sundays, in deference to the Davidians’ Saturday Sabbath. [Howard News Service, 12/22/1999; Dallas Morning News, 1/20/2000] The church will be dedicated for services on April 19, 2000. The construction costs will come to at least $92,000. Some of the surviving Davidians do not want to worship at the new church, but prefer to meet in private homes. [Howard News Service, 12/22/1999; Associated Press, 4/19/2000] At the dedication service, former Attorney General Ramsey Clark says: “This is an occasion for joy, because from the ashes has risen the church. The world must never forget what the United States government did here.” Clark is one of several lawyers representing the surviving Davidians in a wrongful-death lawsuit against the US government (see April 1995). Five Michigan Militia members, dressed in combat fatigues and berets, will present sect members with a commemorative plaque from their group for the new building. [Dallas Morning News, 4/20/2000] Doyle will eventually win a court verdict awarding him ownership of the land. [The Mercury, 8/11/2002]

Entity Tags: Alex Jones, David Koresh, Amo Bishop Roden, Branch Davidians, Clive J. Doyle, Thomas Drake, Ramsey Clark, Roy Haldeman, George Roden, Douglas Mitchell, Mike Robbins, Michigan Militia

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch profiles two gun dealers, Henry S. McMahon and Karen Kilpatrick, who say they have endured threats of reprisal from federal officials after selling 223 guns to David Koresh, the Branch Davidian leader whose compound was destroyed by flames in a government assault (see April 19, 1993). McMahon, 37, and Kilpatrick, 42, were never charged with any crime, but they say government agents have threatened and intimidated them for seven years. They say they cannot hold down jobs, and live together in a federally subsidized apartment in a small Idaho town, surviving on government disability benefits. In 1997, the Justice Department rejected complaints they filed after finding no evidence of harassment or mistreatment. They tried to file a civil rights suit against the government, but could not pay for legal representation. They hope that the Danforth investigation (see July 21, 2000) will net them some government money. Both Kilpatrick and McMahon spent time at the Waco compound, and McMahon still has a Bible filled with handwritten notes he took during some of Koresh’s religious talks. McMahon says he never believed Koresh’s teachings: “I was there to sell David a gun,” he says.
BATF: No Evidence of Harassment - After the April 1993 debacle, the two claim that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) has persecuted them, ruining their reputations among their fellow gun dealers. BATF spokesman Jeff Roehm says their allegations have been investigated and discounted. “There was no finding that anyone behaved inappropriately and no agent was disciplined,” Roehm says. He adds that he is prohibited by law from responding to specific allegations. McMahon says they sleep on air mattresses and keep their belongings boxed up, ready to flee from “the feds” at a moment’s notice.
Sold Guns to Koresh - McMahon and Kilpatrick moved to Waco in 1990, because Texas gun laws make it easy for people like them to sell guns without regulatory interference. Koresh was one of their best customers. McMahon calls Koresh a gun collector, who stockpiled an armory of various weapons (see May 26, 1993) merely to resell them for profit, and not to mount an assault on government officials. It was a July 1992 visit to McMahon’s business by BATF agents (see June-July 1992) that helped spark the BATF assault on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). McMahon says he told the agents, Jimmy Ray Skinner and Davy Aguilera (see June-July 1992 and November 1992 - January 1993), that Koresh was an investor. He also says that he called Koresh during that visit, and Koresh invited the agents to the Waco compound, but the agents declined the invitation.
Left Texas before Raid - Later in 1992, McMahon and Kilpatrick quit the gun-selling business in Texas and moved back to their home state of Florida; they deny that the BATF visit had anything to do with their decision. After the February 1993 BATF raid, they called the BATF office in Pensacola, informed the agents there of their business dealings with Koresh, and, though the agents told them to stay quiet, were besieged by reporters who somehow found out about their connections with Koresh.
Protective Custody - The BATF placed them in protective custody and flew them to Oregon, where they stayed with McMahon’s parents for 22 days. McMahon now says the agents told him their lives were in danger from Davidians loyal to Koresh, and adds that he and Kilpatrick now wish they had “gone public from the very get go” and not gone to Oregon. On March 23, federal agents brought them to Waco and questioned them—McMahon says they were threatened, shouted at, and physically assaulted—and told them they would be charged with manufacturing illegal weapons. They refused to implicate Koresh in illegal gun deals. Instead, the agents released the two and they returned to Florida. The owner of the gun shop that employed them, Duke McCaa, refused to take them back, citing his fear of the BATF and his lawyer’s advice. McCaa now says he does not believe McMahon’s and Kilpatrick’s tales of threats and harassment by federal agents. Kilpatrick testified for the prosecution in the 1994 trial of 11 Davidians (see January-February 1994).
Speaking for Gun-Rights Organizations - For a time, the two became high-profile spokespersons for the National Rifle Association (NRA) and other gun-rights groups; Soldier of Fortune magazine paid for them to go to Las Vegas, where they talked about Waco.
'They Owe Us' - The two moved to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, in 1993, where they worked a variety of odd jobs, including night security at a wilderness school for troubled youth. In 1995, McMahon testified before a House committee about Waco. After the testimony, McMahon says employees at the school harassed him and Kilpatrick, forcing them to quit. He and Kilpatrick filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Currently, the two live on disability payments; in 1997, a judge determined that Kilpatrick suffered from an “anxiety-related disorder” related to her involvement with the BATF assault on the Waco compound; McMahon was found to be unable to relate to fellow coworkers or cope with the pressures of employment. McMahon blames his jobless status on Waco, saying: “I have no problem getting a job or working. After I’ve been there awhile people find out more of what I am. Once they find out about Waco, I’m branded. I shouldn’t have to carry around this baggage to explain myself to people.” As for their insistence on government compensation: “We are due some compensation from the government. That’s the bottom line,” McMahon says. “They owe us.” [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/29/2000]

Entity Tags: Henry S. McMahon, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Duke McCaa, Davy Aguilera, US Department of Justice, Jimmy Ray Skinner, Karen Kilpatrick, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jeff Roehm, National Rifle Association

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

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