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Context of 'August 26 - September 15, 1994: Conservative Radio Host Tells Listeners to ‘Go For a Head Shot’ if Federal Agents Come to ‘Disarm’ Them'

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G. Gordon Liddy, one of the “Plumbers,” is convicted of an array of crimes related to the Ellsberg break-in (see September 9, 1971), and is sentenced from six to twenty years in prison. He faces concurrent charges of violating the civil rights of Ellsberg’s psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Fielding (see March 7, 1974). [O.T. Jacobson, 7/5/1974 pdf file]

Entity Tags: ’Plumbers’, Lewis Fielding, G. Gordon Liddy, Daniel Ellsberg

Timeline Tags: Nixon and Watergate

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

Television news footage of the Branch Davidian conflagration of April 19, 1993.Television news footage of the Branch Davidian conflagration of April 19, 1993. [Source: Anu News (.com)]Many white separatists and right-wing militia members are aghast, appalled, and infuriated by the violent end to the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). Two of those are future Oklahoma City bombers Terry Nichols and Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995); when McVeigh watches the flames devour the Davidian compound, he stands in Nichols’s living room and weeps. McVeigh has already visited the compound during the siege (see March 1993); in the following weeks, he revisits the scene, collecting pamphlets from the Davidians, taking photographs, and even taking samples of the charred wood left behind. McVeigh begins wearing, and selling at gun shows, caps that depict the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) logo with bullet holes in them (see August 26 - September 15, 1994). He sells flares that can be used as missiles. Moreover, he and Nichols soon begin practicing with explosives and agitating for violent assaults on government officials with local militia members (see October 12, 1993 - January 1994). McVeigh later tells interviewers: “I didn’t define the rules of engagement in this conflict. The rules, if not written down, are defined by the aggressor. It was brutal, no holds barred. Women and children were killed at Waco and Ruby Ridge (see August 31, 1992). You put back in [the government’s] faces exactly what they’re giving out.” McVeigh’s favorite magazine, Soldier of Fortune, later publishes articles calling the FBI and BATF “the Gestapo” and accusing the government of funneling illegal drugs into the country through the auspices of the DEA; McVeigh will read these articles, and other more overt anti-government publications that directly accuse the government of plotting to enact “new Wacos” throughout the country, with a new fervor. Another favorite is a videotape, “Waco: The Big Lie,” promoted by militia leader Linda Thompson (see April 3, 1993 and September 19, 1994), who accuses the government of deliberately plotting the deaths of everyone inside the Davidian compound and setting the compound afire by shooting flames at the building through a tank. McVeigh will later claim to have learned the “real truth” about the siege after meeting a former Davidian, Paul Fatta, on the gun show circuit (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994). Nichols’s neighbor Phil Morawski will later recall of McVeigh: “He said he witnessed part of the siege at Waco and was very upset about it; the government overstepped its bounds. Waco is kind of like the battle cry for Tim and many others.” McVeigh’s friend Michael Fortier (see March 24, 1988 - Late 1990) will later recall discussing the Davidian debacle with McVeigh, saying, “We both concluded that the federal government had intentionally attacked those people and may not have intentionally started the fire, but they were certainly the cause of the fire and potentially murdered those people in Waco.” Fortier’s wife Lori will recall McVeigh’s position differently: according to her recollection, McVeigh believes that “the government murdered those people.” After the bombing, Dennis Mahon, the head of the Oklahoma cell of the White Aryan Resistance, will tell federal officials about McVeigh, whom he claims to have known under an alias: “I met Tim Tuttle, but I didn’t know he was alias Tim McVeigh. I met him at gun shows (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994). He sold military stuff, knives, gun parts, camouflage uniforms.… And we talked about Waco. And I said: ‘What comes around goes around. If they keep doing this terrorism on our people, terrorism’s going to happen to them…’ He said: ‘Probably. Probably so.‘… Timothy McVeigh is my hero. Wish we had a thousand more like him. He took action.” Mahon will later be identified by one witness as the person driving the Ryder truck for McVeigh on the day of the Oklahoma City bombing (see April 15, 1995), though the identification is in doubt, and Mahon will not be charged for playing a part in the bombing. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 155, 159; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 76-78; Nicole Nichols, 2003; CNN, 12/17/2007] McVeigh will send videotapes about the Davidian tragedy, such as “Waco: The Big Lie,” to his friends, including his former coworker Carl Lebron (see November 1991 - Summer 1992), his former Army comrade Albert Warnement (see January - March 1991 and After), and his neighbors Richard and Lynn Drzyzga (see October 1990). Lebron considers the videotapes “nonsense,” and the Drzyzgas become concerned that McVeigh may actually believe the “nutty” “paranoia” of the information in them. McVeigh will also write a letter to his childhood friend Steve Hodge, breaking off their friendship because Hodge is not sufficiently enraged by the Davidian tragedy (see July 14, 1994). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 78] McVeigh is not the only one preaching active retribution for Waco. James Nichols, Terry’s older brother (see December 22 or 23, 1988), says they are planning to kill law enforcement officials. Paul Izydorek, a family friend, will later tell a CNN reporter: “Evidently, James had told [Izydorek’s son] one or two times about how they were going to kill cops and judges and, you know, really clean house on all the local government. I didn’t take it serious but I guess maybe that’s what the heck they was really talking about, maybe they was a lot more serious, you know, than I realized.” [Stickney, 1996, pp. 156]

Entity Tags: Philip Morawski, Richard Drzyzga, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Timothy James McVeigh, Paul Gordon Fatta, Terry Lynn Nichols, Michael Joseph Fortier, Steve Hodge, Lori Fortier, Branch Davidians, Lynn Drzyzga, Albert Warnement, Carl Edward Lebron Jr, Paul Izydorek, Dennis Mahon, James Nichols, Linda Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism, 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Conservative radio show host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) advises his listeners to shoot agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) if those agents come “to disarm you.” Libby also advises his listeners to “go for a head shot.” Liddy’s remarks come in response to the February 1993 BATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Liddy says: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.… They’ve got a big target on there, ATF. Don’t shoot at that, because they’ve got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots.… Kill the sons of b_tches.” The day after, Liddy tells reporters, “So you shoot twice to the body, center of mass, and if that does not work, then shoot to the groin area.” Three weeks later, he expounds on the topic, saying: “If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight. Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.” Liddy talks on the topic so much that his callers will begin to use the phrase “head shots!” to express their agreement with him. [Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, 4/29/2005] In 2003, Liddy will tell interviewer John Hawkins that his statements were taken out of context. Asked if he regrets making his comments, Liddy will say: “Well, no. Because as usual, people remember part of what I said, but not all of what I said. What I did was restate the law. I was talking about a situation in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms comes smashing into a house, doesn’t say who they are, and their guns are out, they’re shooting, and they’re in the wrong place. This has happened time and time again. The ATF has gone in and gotten the wrong guy in the wrong place. The law is that if somebody is shooting at you, using deadly force, the mere fact that they are a law enforcement officer, if they are in the wrong, does not mean you are obliged to allow yourself to be killed so your kinfolk can have a wrongful death action. You are legally entitled to defend yourself and I was speaking of exactly those kind of situations. If you’re going to do that, you should know that they’re wearing body armor so you should use a head shot. Now all I’m doing is stating the law, but all the nuances in there got left out when the story got repeated.” [John Hawkins, 2003]

Entity Tags: G. Gordon Liddy, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, John Hawkins

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

July 2, 1995: Former BATF Head Defends Waco Raid

Stephen Higgins, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), publishes an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why his agency mounted a raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Higgins says he wrote the piece after watching and reading about the public reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which many claim was triggered by the Waco debacle (see April 19, 1993). Higgins says a raft of misinformation surrounds the BATF raid on the Davidian compound, and gives his rationale for the raid.
BATF Did Not Instigate Investigation into Davidians - “[D]espite what fundraisers at the National Rifle Association would have us believe, the [B]ATF is not part of some sinister federal plot to confiscate guns from innocent people,” he writes. The agency was alerted to the Davidians’ stockpiling of weapons by reports from a local deputy sheriff, who heard from a United Parcel Services driver that a package he delivered to the Davidians contained grenade parts (see November 1992 - January 1993), and earlier deliveries included black gunpower, firearms parts, and casings. “[C]onspiracy theorists had best include the local sheriff’s office and UPS as part of the collusion,” Higgins writes. In addition, the day before the raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald began the “Sinful Messiah” series of reports on the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), which detailed, Higgins writes, “the potential danger the group represented to the community as well as, somewhat ironically, the failure of local law enforcement agencies in addressing the threat. (The conspiracy now would have to include the local newspaper publisher!)”
Davidians Posed Clear Threat to Community - Higgins says that it would have been dangerous to assume that the Davidians were peaceful people who did not plan to actually use the weapons they were amassing, and repeats the claim that Koresh said in late 1992 that “the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco” (see December 7, 1992). Higgins goes on to say that during the 51-day siege, Koresh alluded to a previous plan to blow up the dam at Lake Waco, that Koresh wanted to provoke a confrontation with the BATF, and had at one point considered opening fire on a Waco restaurant to provoke just such a conflict.
BATF Feared Mass Suicide - Higgins notes that the BATF, like the FBI, feared the possibility of “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 gives several examples of cults who have carried out just such mass suicides.
Disputes Claims that BATF Fired First Shots - Higgins disputes the claims “that the Davidians were only defending themselves when they shot and killed four [B]ATF agents and wounded numerous others” during the February 1993 raid. He notes that investigations have shown that all four BATF agents were killed by Davidian gunfire (see February 2000) and not “friendly fire,” as some have alleged, and asks, “[W]hat possible excuse could there have been for the Davidians even taking up arms—let along using them—upon learning inadvertently from a TV cameraman that ATF agents were on their way to serve warrants?” Had the Davidians allowed the BATF agents to serve their warrants, “there would have been no subsequent loss of life on either side.” He goes on to say that it was the Davidians, not the BATF, who first opened fire, as a Treasury Department report has confirmed (see Late September - October 1993). He writes that for BATF agents to have merely “driven up to the compound and politely asked to conduct a search without displaying any firearms” would have been “dangerous and potentially suicidal.”
Using Waco as an Excuse for Violence - Higgins concludes that people like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, do not decide to do violence to innocent people because of tragedies such as the Davidian incident, but “use it as an excuse for their behavior.” He notes that after the Oklahoma City bombing, someone called it a “damned good start.” He says perhaps the upcoming hearings on the Waco tragedy (see Late July 1995) might influence some of these people: “By seeing the faces of the survivors and reading their stories, maybe those who so vehemently rail against government authority in general, and government workers in particular, will come to understand better that those people they’ve been so quick to criticize have real faces and real families. They car-pool to work. They coach Little League sports. They mow their lawns. They’re the family next door that waters your plants and takes in your mail while you’re away. No one deserves to have their life placed in jeopardy simply because they work in, or happen to be passing by, a government office. And no one, not even law enforcement officers who get paid for risking their lives, deserves to be targeted by violent extremists threatening to kill them simply for doing their jobs.” For others, like radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who has advised his listeners to shoot BATF agents in the head because they wear bulletproof vests (see August 26 - September 15, 1994), “I doubt there’s much hope,” Higgins writes. He says that Liddy’s excuse that he was talking strictly about self-defense doesn’t wash; some angry and unstable individuals might well take Liddy’s words literally. Higgins compares Koresh to mass murderers such as Charles Manson and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), and concludes: “We can’t change the outcome of what happened at Waco, but we have a responsibility not to ignore simple fairness and compassion in our search for the truth. If there is to be another hearing on Waco, let’s hope it’s for the purpose of examining the facts and learning from the tragedy, not merely to please one more special interest group with an anti-government agenda.” [Washington Post, 7/2/1995]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, G. Gordon Liddy, Branch Davidians, Stephen Higgins, Washington Post, Waco Tribune-Herald, Timothy James McVeigh, National Rifle Association

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Conservative radio host and convicted felon G. Gordon Liddy (see March 23, 1974) advises his listeners not to register their firearms. (Failure to register a firearm is a crime.) Liddy makes the suggestion because he believes the Obama administration intends to take away citizens’ guns, and if the guns are not registered, government and law enforcement officials have no way to locate them and their owners. While talking to a caller about assault weapons, Liddy says: “[P]eople are buying them. Some because they’ve always wanted one and think that the Obama administration will try to outlaw them again, the way the Clinton administration did (see September 13, 1994). Others figure: ‘OK, I’ll buy as many as I can get my hands on, and I’ll be grandfathered in. And then when they’re banned, I will be able to sell them at a very nice profit.’ So, that’s going on. But the main thing is, you know, get them into private hands as quickly as possible.… The first thing you do is, no matter what law they pass, do not—repeat, not—ever register any of your firearms. Because that’s where they get the list of where to go first to confiscate. So, you don’t ever register a firearm, anywhere.” [Media Matters, 4/9/2009] In 1994, Liddy advised radio listeners to shoot federal agents in the head if they came to their houses to confiscate their guns. “Head shots, head shots.… Kill the sons of b_tches,” he said (see August 26 - September 15, 1994).

Entity Tags: Obama administration, G. Gordon Liddy

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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