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Profile: Branch Davidians
Branch Davidians was a participant or observer in the following events:
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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]
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]
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]
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]
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. [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]
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. [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]
Eight agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) take up surveillance on the Branch Davidian compound just outside of Waco, Texas, after compiling evidence of illegal gun caches and child abuse among the community (see November 1992 - January 1993). The agents assume undercover identities as students at Texas State Technical Institute and rent a ramshackle house directly across from the front driveway leading into the Davidian property. One of the agents pretends to be interested in the Davidians’ religious teachings in order to gain access to the compound itself. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Weapons Observed - The agents who manage to gain access to the compound find a large cache of semi-automatic weapons, including AK-47’s, AR-15’s, M-16’s, 9-millimeter handguns, Israeli assault rifles, and others. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
Undercover Identities Compromised - Many of the Davidians believe the men to be federal agents, correctly surmising that they are too old and too affluent to be college students. The 1995 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996) will determine that “a series of mistakes” by the agents alerts the Davidians to their true identities; a 1996 House committee report will find, “At least some of the breaches of security were so serious, and obvious, that they should have been recognized as such by [B]ATF, and become the basis for modifying the nature and timing of any subsequent action against [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” Koresh tells his next-door neighbor of his suspicions, and says he believes the “college students” to be federal agents. The agents are told by another neighbor that Koresh suspects them of being undercover agents. On one occasion, some Davidians visit the agents’ house with a six-pack of beer to welcome their new neighbors, but the agents refuse to let them in. One of the agents, Robert Rodriguez, will later testify that “all of [the undercover BATF agents], or myself, knew we were going to have problems. It was just too—too obvious.”
Agents Unprepared with Basic Intelligence - Moreover, the agents’ preparation was so poor that they do not even know what Koresh looks like; their single means of identifying him is an old driver’s license photograph. The House investigation will find that the “lack of such basic and critical intelligence clearly undermined the ability of the undercover operation to fulfill its mission.” [New York Times, 3/6/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Surveillance Fails to Find Evidence of Criminal Activity - The surveillance, including film from cameras peering into the Davidian compound, produces no evidence of criminal activity. What surveillance material that is created—some 900 photographs and other materials—is largely ignored. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Grossly Incompetent' - In 1996, the House committee investigation will find that the BATF investigation is “grossly incompetent” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) asks the Army for assistance in raiding the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see November 1992 - January 1993 and 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The request is not acknowledged by federal or military officials for over six years. Army officials will note that such involvement is illegal unless the president personally makes the request; they say that no such request was ever considered. In 1999, the General Accounting Office (GAO) will find that military personnel were called to the scene after the BATF “cited possible drug-related activity” at the Davidian compound. The BATF makes the request through Operation Alliance, an agency that coordinates law enforcement requests for military help in fighting drugs. The BATF requests training by special forces troops, instruction in driving Bradley Fighting Vehicles (BFVs), and the loan of seven BFVs. Operation Alliance will forward the request to Fort Bliss, the home of Joint Task Force 6 (JTF-6), the military’s headquarters for domestic anti-drug efforts. JTF-6 officials are told that the requested assistance is “in direct support of interdiction activities along the Southwest border.” However, Major Mark Petree, the commander of the Army’s special forces, questions the legality of the request. His legal adviser, Major Phillip Lindley, writes a memo stating that the BATF request would make the military an active, illegal partner in a domestic police action. JTF-6 officers accuse Lindley of trying to undermine the mission, and Lindley refers the matter to Lieutenant Colonel Douglas Andrews, the deputy staff judge advocate. Andrews says that the military could probably evaluate the BATF plan of attack (see February 24-27, 1993), but cannot intervene to cancel or revise it. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; Associated Press, 10/31/1999] In 1996, a Congressional investigation will find that the BATF deliberately misrepresented the Davidians as a drug cartel in order to receive military assistance and avoid reimbursing the military for that assistance (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: Operation Alliance, Douglas Andrews, Branch Davidians, General Accounting Office, Mark Petree, US Department of the Army, Joint Task Force-6, Phillip Lindley, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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]
The day before the BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco is slated to happen (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), BATF public information officer Sharon Wheeler calls editors at the ABC and NBC affiliates in Dallas to alert them to the impending raid. Gary Nichols, assignment editor for the Dallas ABC news affiliate, will later recall, “Sharon said, ‘We have something big going down.’” [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
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. [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. [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
BATF agents attempt to force entry through a second-floor window of the Branch Davidian compound. At least one of the agents depicited will be shot in the firefight. [Source: Asian Celebrities (.com)]The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) launches its long-planned raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). About 9:30, the BATF forces arrive at Mt. Carmel, the location of the Davidian compound. Two National Guard helicopters, which had been scheduled to create a diversion in the rear of the compound so as to allow the cattle trucks carrying the BATF agents to arrive unseen, are late in arriving, and fail to carry out their mission. The raid commanders are out of radio range and unable to abort the raid or modify the deployment of agents. Moreover, as some agents will later tell the New York Times (see March 27, 1993), only squad leaders can communicate with their team members, so communications are difficult, and when a squad leader is shot—and one will be shot in the first few minutes of the raid—that leader’s squad can no longer receive or send information. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
BATF Agents Advance, Shots Fired - At least 70 agents wearing bulletproof vests, helmets, and army gear emblazened with “ATF Agent” in yellow and white letters, emerge from the trailers and race towards the buildings in groups. Davidian leader David Koresh opens the front door and shouts: “What do you want? There’s women and children in here!” (Some reports say Koresh is unarmed; others say he is dressed in black and carrying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle.) The lead agent, Roger Ballesteros, brandishes a search warrant and shouts: “Police! Get down!” and Koresh closes the door. Moments later, BATF agents, including Ballesteros (see January-February 1994) and John Henry Williams, and Texas Ranger David Byrnes will report that the Davidians shoot first; Davidians will claim the opposite. One BATF agent will later report that a fellow agent actually shoots first, at a dog he feels is threatening him, but later that agent will retract the claim. A team of agents with a battering ram is slated to burst through the main doors. Two teams of BATF agents with ladders mount to the roof of the first floor and break into windows on the second floor, where they believe the weapons are stored. The ladder and battering ram teams all encounter heavy fire, and several agents are hit, including one on the roof who manages to hobble to a ladder and slide down. Davidians rain bullets from the upper windows onto the agents. One BATF team manages to force entry into the compound, but is unable to advance. Most of the agents are pinned down behind vehicles. The two sides exchange heavy gunfire. [New York Times, 3/27/1993; Newsweek, 5/3/1993; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; LMPD Arcade, 2009] A federal law from 1917 mandates that federal agents use what is called the “knock and announce” approach—in essence, a federal law enforcement agent must knock on a door and announce himself and his intentions before entering. Ballesteros and his fellow BATF agents do not follow this legal provision, though the law does have several exceptions that may apply in this instance. A later House investigation will find the BATF’s choice not to “knock and announce” reasonable under the circumstances. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Helicopter Activity - Two of the three helicopters land after taking fire. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge, rides in one of the helicopters; he is almost struck by a Davidian bullet in the first minutes of the raid. [New York Times, 3/27/1993] The House investigation will find that Chojnacki’s presence in the helicopter essentially takes him out of the communications loop with the raid commanders and team leaders before the beginning of the raid, and deprives him of any opportunity to learn that the Davidians are planning an ambush. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Catherine Mattison, a Davidian who will escape the April 1993 conflagration (see April 19, 1993), will say in 2003 that she saw gunfire from the helicopters. “They were shooting when they came in,” she will recall. “I went upstairs to my room and all of a sudden I could see three helicopters in V-formation firing. David’s rooms were in the back of the building and that’s where they were firing. I didn’t realize that for three months afterwards because of all the shock and commotion but they were trying to kill him right then.” [Guardian, 10/28/2003] Mattison’s allegations are unconfirmed; testimony from a number of agents will challenge her account, and videotape from the raid shows no gunfire from the helicopters. The helicopters are on loan from the National Guard, and are expressly forbidden to engage in any role save as observational. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Machine-Gun Fire - Reflecting on the raid 10 years later, BATF agent Bill Buford will say: “But before I even got out of the trailer, I could hear machine guns, and I knew we didn’t have any.… I’m an old Vietnam vet, and I can tell you—the firing was intense.” Buford is wounded in the gun battle. “The one thing we had not planned for was to be pinned down by fire right out in front of the building,” Buford will add. “We did not anticipate we would come under such heavy fire, nor did we anticipate we would have such heavy casualties.” Buford will say that after the botched raid, the BATF will all but abandon such “insertion”-type assaults, and rely instead on surrounding a building and negotiating with the inhabitants. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003]
Failure to Follow Manual - Ballesteros will later testify that no particular agent was assigned to announce their identity and the purpose of the raid. “We basically all announced,” he will say. He will admit that according to the BATF manual, “[o]fficers are required to wait a reasonable period of time to permit the occupants to respond before forcing entry,” and the agents do not follow that mandate. He will testify that the agents expected resistance, but not gunfire, and had not planned for that contingency. BATF agent Kenneth King, one of the two “ladder” team members who attempt to force entry through the second-floor windows, will also testify that the agents did not plan for gunfire, and were unprepared for such a heavy level of resistance. Later testimony also shows that some of the damage suffered by the agents may have been from “friendly fire”; one BATF agent is wounded by what later proves to be a 9mm hydroshock bullet, the ordnance being used by the BATF assault teams. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Catherine Mattison, Kenneth King, David Byrnes, John Henry Williams, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Roger Ballesteros, Bill Buford, Philip Chojnacki, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
BATF agents attempt to enter the Branch Davidian compound. [Source: Associated Press]During the raid on the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993), Wayne Martin, a Davidian and a Harvard-educated lawyer, calls 911. According to a recording of his call, Martin shouts: “There are 75 men around our building and they’re shooting at us! Tell ‘em there are children and women in here and to call it off!” Other similar phone calls are made to the 911 center and to the sheriff’s office. The sheriff attempts to reach the BATF commanders and put them in touch with Martin. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] Audiotapes of the phone calls between Martin and McLennan County Sheriff’s Department official Larry Lynch, released months later (see June 2003 and After), show Lynch’s efforts to persuade Martin to have the Davidians stop firing on wounded agents. Lynch asks Martin to let four wounded BATF agents reach another agent shot six times during the battle; Martin suddenly says the others in the compound fear an all-out assault. “We’re worried that the National Guard will fly in here with choppers,” he says. “We’re gonna assume that any chopper that comes in is National Guard.” While Lynch works to calm Martin, a BATF agent on another line tells Lynch: “All of our guys are in the open right now. If they open up, we’re gonna lose 20 guys.” Lynch asks Martin if the authorities can help any wounded Davidians, only to be told: “Here’s the message. We don’t want any help from your country.… I can tell you now. They’re not gonna leave this property.… Nobody wants to leave.… Each man’s making his own decision.… Some of them are dying.” [Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993]
A cease-fire ends a violent, bloody conflict between the Branch Davidians, a group of religious separatists in their Waco, Texas, compound, and agents from the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), who launched a raid on the compound to serve search and arrest warrants on Davidian leader David Koresh (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 9:30 A.M. and After, February 28, 1993). The cease-fire goes into effect after about 90 minutes of the two sides exchanging gunfire. Four BATF agents are dead and 16 are wounded, some severely. The agents retreat to a safe distance, where they mill around aimlessly; the commanders have not given the agents a plan for retreat or failure. The Davidians also withdraw inside their compound. Five Davidians, including a woman nursing her baby, are dead, and several, including Koresh, are wounded; Koresh suffers gunshot wounds in the hand and the side. (Two of the Davidians may have been killed by their fellows after being gravely wounded by BATF fire.) Three Davidians attempting to get to the main building from a warehouse on the property are apprehended by BATF agents; one is killed, one is arrested, and one escapes. In total, six Davidians are killed. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Media Contacts - During the raid, CNN receives calls from Davidian Steve Schneider. CNN producers verify that Schneider is indeed inside the compound, and set up an interview with Koresh for this evening (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). [New York Times, 3/1/1993]
Negotiations and Implementation - The cease-fire takes some time to implement. Senior BATF agent James Cavanaugh succeeds in convincing Koresh and Schneider to agree to a cease-fire. Schneider has to walk through the main building to tell his people to stop firing; Cavanaugh has no direct radio link to his agents, and has to go through team leaders to tell them to stop firing. The cease-fire has been agreed upon for several minutes before the shooting finally concludes. As part of a 1996 House investigation of the Davidian debacle (see August 2, 1996), Cavanaugh will say: “I called the compound directly on the phone from the undercover house. I reached… Schneider. I told him I was an ATF agent and I wanted to talk to him about this situation. As should be expected, the activity inside the compound was very frantic, people were screaming and yelling, and there was still shooting going on both sides. Steve was very excited and very hostile. I wanted to negotiate a cease-fire, and he [Schneider] was agreeable. I am not going to be good on the time of how long it took, but it took a little while to negotiate that. He had to go throughout the compound, which is very large, telling everyone not to shoot. While he was doing this, there was still shooting going on both sides. I had to get on the command net frequency and tell the commanders on the ground there not to shoot, and they had to relay that to all 100 agents, who were around there, so it took a little time to arrange it. Once I returned to the rear command post I called back in on the telephone to the residence about 2:00 p.m. and I spoke with Steve and David Koresh about what was going on. We had long conversations about the warrant, and we also had a lot of conversations about Biblical passages and Mr. Koresh’s belief that he was the Lamb of God, who would open the Seven Seals. As you might assume, he was very hostile, very angry, and very upset.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] In the following days, Koresh will tell local reporters by phone that he is shot in the “gut” and his two-year-old daughter is dead from BATF gunfire. He will also leave a message on his mother’s answering machine in Chandler, Texas, which says in part: “Hello, Mama. It’s your boy.… They shot me and I’m dying, all right? But I’ll be back real soon, OK? I’ll see y’all in the skies.” [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] The body of the Davidian slain while trying to return to the compound, Michael Schroeder, will lie untouched in a gully for four days before authorities retrieve it; those authorities will wait 11 days before informing Schroeder’s parents of his death (see March 11, 1993).
Death Toll - The four BATF agents slain in the raid are: Conway LeBleu, Todd McKeehan, Robert Williams, and Steve Willis. The six Davidians slain in the raid are Schroeder, Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones, and Jaydean Wendell. [Dallas Morning News, 2/27/2003] (Initial reports of the death toll inside the Davidian compound range from seven to 15; those reports are later determined to be wrong.) [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
FBI Takes Control - Within hours of the raid’s conclusion, the FBI will take control of the situation and besiege the compound (see 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993).
Criticism of BATF Tactics - Soon after, the FBI publicly criticizes the BATF’s decision to storm the compound in a frontal assault. “It’s against our doctrine to do a frontal assault when women and children are present,” one FBI agent says. BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler explains: “We were outgunned. They had bigger firearms than we did.” But former New York City Police Commissioner Benjamin Ward says of that explanation: “‘Outgunned’ is a euphemism for ‘outplanned,’ or ‘unplanned.’ They did it backwards. The accepted way is to talk first and shoot second.” Vic Feazell, a former district attorney for the area, says of Koresh and the Davidians, “They’re peaceful and nonaggressive unless they are attacked.” By going in, guns blazing, the BATF played right into the group’s apocalyptic vision, he says. “They would see this as a holy war provoked by an oppressive government.” [Newsweek, 3/15/1993]
Standoff Will End in Fiery Conflagration - Most of the Davidians, including Koresh, will die in a fiery conflagration after a 51-day standoff with FBI agents (see April 19, 1993). After the site is secured, Texas law enforcement officials will recover over 300 firearms from the compound, as well as numerous live grenades, grenade components, and hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. [US Department of Justice, 7/16/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Entity Tags: Peter Hipsman, Sharon Wheeler, Robert Williams, Steve Schneider, Vic Feazell, Todd McKeehan, Steve Willis, Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Perry Jones, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Jaydean Wendel, Benjamin Ward, CNN, Conway LeBleu, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Michael Schroeder, James Cavanaugh
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
FBI agent in charge Jeffrey Jamar. [Source: PBS]The FBI dispatches agents to the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas, the scene of a bloody standoff this morning between the Davidian sect members and a large force of agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), which resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents and six Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). By the afternoon, the FBI becomes the lead agency for resolving the standoff. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Jeffrey Jamar, head of the FBI’s San Antonio office, is named the on-site commander. The bureau quickly deploys its own agents, and local law enforcement officials, around the compound to ensure no one tries to escape. The deployment quickly becomes an all-out siege. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] President Clinton was reportedly angered at reports of the botched raid. His chief of staff, Mack McLarty, demanded of a senior Justice Department official, “What the hell happened here?” The order to replace the BATF with the FBI came from Clinton. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993] FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel are in place by the afternoon, and hostage negotiators spend much of the afternoon talking on the telephone with Koresh. Some bring Bibles, later telling reporters: “This guy’s a Bible-citing machine. We have to speak his language.” As part of the negotiations to persuade Koresh to allow some of the sect members to leave safely, Koresh will be allowed to broadcast his religious teachings on a local radio station (see March 2, 1993) and to give an interview to a CNN reporter (see 5:00 p.m. February 28, 1993 and After). Texas Rangers attempt to begin their own investigation, but are barred by the FBI from continuing. Clinton closely follows the events as they progress. [Newsweek, 3/15/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mack McLarty, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Vic Feazell, Jeffrey Jamar
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]
The evening after the failed raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh gives three interviews: two with Dallas radio station KRLD and a nationally broadcast telephone interview on CNN. [New York Times, 3/1/1993; Moore, 1995] The interviews follow a demand from Koresh that KRLD broadcast a statement saying that federal agents are holding their fire and will not attack further, a demand that was granted. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993] During one of the radio interviews, he says, “All that is happening here is the fulfillment of prophecy!” In the CNN interview, he tells viewers: “If the scholars of this world, if anybody, ministers that claim that God talks to them, will contact me, and I hope it’s soon. If they’ll call me and show the world what the Seven Seals are and where they’re at in the prophecies, then I’ll be satisfied. And then we’ll all come out to you.” Koresh promises to begin releasing children “two by two” if his religious message is broadcast over Dallas radio station KRLD (see March 1, 1993). The CNN interview lasts about 20 minutes, and is rebroadcast periodically throughout the night. The same evening, the syndicated television show A Current Affair conducts a telephone interview with Koresh, and broadcasts it the evening of March 1. The Current Affair program also reports a threat from Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, who says if federal agents attempt to conduct a second raid, the Davidians will again fire on them. In 1995, author Carol Moore will explain that Koresh and some Davidians believe that the raid on their compound comprises the opening of the Fifth Seal of the Book of Revelation, one of the so-called “Seven Seals” that must be breached for the Apocalypse to begin, and that they are living the events predicted in that seal. Koresh and his most devoted followers believe that the Davidians killed during the raid were slaughtered for “preaching God’s word” and the surviving Davidians only would have to “rest a little longer” until the “remainder” also were put to death. “Thus would begin the countdown to the Apocalypse and the Second Coming of Christ,” she will write. “Davidians believed that the siege was a God-given opportunity to spread Koresh’s message to the world and that humanity was being given its last opportunity to hear God’s word and repent.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993; US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; Moore, 1995] Koresh tells telephone interviewers that he has been shot in the stomach and is bleeding badly. But, the New York Times will report, during his Tuesday audio broadcast (see March 2, 1993), “his voice sounded strong and firm.” [New York Times, 3/1/1993] Former Davidian Marc Breault tells the Waco Tribune-Herald that Koresh might be indulging in what he calls a “bit of theatrics” with his claim of being wounded. “Vernon [Howell, Koresh’s given name] was always saying he was sick and near death,” Breault says. “He’s real big on stomach sickness. He always complained about his stomach, saying he was in pain because of the people’s sins.” [New York Times, 3/2/1993]
Future Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) goes to the site of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993), to see if the gun ownership rights of the Davidians are being curtailed (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994). Federal agents block his passage to the compound, but McVeigh stays for a few days sellling bumper stickers, pamphlets, and literature; among his offerings are titles such as “Make the Streets Safe for a Government Takeover,” “Politicians Love Gun Control” (featuring a Nazi swastika and a Communist hammer and scythe), “Fear the Government that Fears Your Gun,” and “A Man with a Gun is a Citizen, A Man without a Gun is a Subject.” McVeigh is particularly horrified by the FBI’s use of Bradley fighting vehicles, the tanks he manned during Desert Storm (see January - March 1991 and After), in the siege. He tells a student reporter: “The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people. The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” The normally self-effacing and reticent McVeigh even climbs up onto the hood of his car to be seen and heard better. “You give them an inch and they take a mile,” he says of the federal government. “I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government. The government is growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” McVeigh leaves Waco after a few days and goes to Kingman, Arizona, to visit an Army buddy, Michael Fortier (see May-September 1993); he later goes to Arkansas to meet with a gun-dealing friend, Roger Moore, who calls himself “Bob Miller” at the gun shows they frequent (see January 23, 1993 - Early 1994); though he wants to build ammunition with Moore, McVeigh does not stay long, and later recalls Moore as being a dictator and a “pr_ck.” During his time in Waco, McVeigh becomes known to federal agents, in part because of an interview with a reporter from Southern Methodist University’s school newspaper, the Daily Campus. The published interview, printed on March 30, includes a photograph of McVeigh. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 67-70; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Nicole Nichols, 2003; Douglas O. Linder, 2006] He is also captured on film by a crew from the Texas television station KTVT, a CBS affiliate, sitting on the hood of his car just outside the compound. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 155] Later he will tell friends at a Pennsylvania gun show that he crawled up to the perimeter fence erected by the FBI around the Davidian compound “without being seen by any of the agents,” and will warn one gun dealer, George (or Greg) Pfaff, that the Davidian standoff “could be the start of the government coming house-to-house to retrieve the weapons from the citizens.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 71] The college reporter, Michelle Rauch, will later testify in McVeigh’s criminal trial. She will recall meeting McVeigh on a hill outside the Davidian compound, where protesters and observers are gathered. She will recall that the hilltop was “a few miles” from the compound, making it difficult for the people gathered there to see any of the activities around the compound. McVeigh tells Rauch that the local sheriff should have just gone down with a warrant and arrested Davidian leader David Koresh. Rauch will recall McVeigh as being calm, and finds his statements quite helpful to her understanding of the protesters’ objections to the FBI standoff. Her article quotes McVeigh as saying, “It seems like the ATF [referring to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated BATF] just wants a chance to play with their toys, paid for by government money”; “The government is afraid of the guns people have because they have to have control of the people at all times. Once you take away the guns, you can do anything to the people”; “You give them an inch and they take a mile”; “I believe we are slowly turning into a socialist government”; and “The government is continually growing bigger and more powerful, and the people need to prepare to defend themselves against government control.” McVeigh, according to the article, considers the BATF mere “pawns” of the federal government, and blames the government for the standoff, saying it violated the Constitution in surrounding the Davidian compound. The standoff, he says, is just the first step in a comprehensive government assault on the citizenry and Americans should be watchful for further actions. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
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]
David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), promises the FBI that if an audiotape of his religious teachings is broadcast nationally, he will surrender. Davidian Scott Sonobe tells FBI negotiators, “Play Koresh’s tape on national TV and we will come out.” Shortly afterwards, another Davidian, Rita Riddle, tells negotiators, “Play [the] tape during prime time and the remaining women and children will exit.” The FBI agrees to have a one-hour audio recording of a Koresh sermon broadcast over local radio stations and, according to some sources, the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). The audiotape of the sermon is carried out of the compound by one of the children, in a pre-arranged exchange with negotiators. The recording begins with Koresh’s promise to peacefully lead the Davidians out of the compound upon its broadcast. Koresh says, “I, David Koresh, agree upon the broadcasting of this tape to come out peacefully with all the people immediately.” Koresh claims to be the “lamb” in the Book of Revelation, and says of people’s refusal to believe in his divinity, “Even a man like Christ has to meet with unbelief.” In his recording, he says he is “involved in a very serious thing right now,” but is more concerned “about the lives of my brethren here and also really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in the world.” The New York Times characterizes the sermon as “rambling.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] During the 58-minute broadcast, Koresh says that while he is concerned about the lives of his fellow Davidians, “I am really concerned even greater about the lives of all those in this world. Without Christ, without Jesus, we have no hope.… It would be so awesome if everyone could just sit down and have one honest Bible study in this great nation of America.… America does not have to be humiliated or destroyed.” In the Justice Department report on the siege issued months later (see October 8, 1993), the authors will admit that it is possible Koresh was not negotiating at all, but trying to convert the FBI agents to his beliefs before they were doomed to an eternity of divine punishment. [Moore, 1995] Shortly after the broadcast, Koresh reneges on the agreement, saying that God has told him to wait. Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson reiterates that authorities will “talk them out, no matter how long it” takes (see March 1, 1993). President Clinton takes Gerson’s advice, and has military vehicles deployed near the compound for what are called safety purposes. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Koresh’s refusal to surrender is based in part on his claim that his sermon is not broadcast nationally, but only locally; Koresh’s sermon is played over only two radio stations in Waco and Dallas. Additionally, subsequent examination of Koresh’s audiotape and the letters he is regularly sending out finds that the FBI may be ignoring or failing to recognize key clues in Koresh’s rhetoric (see October 8, 1993). Harvard religions expert Lawrence Sullivan, in an analysis of Koresh’s letters and broadcast, will later note that Koresh is implicitly equating the wounds in the hand and side he suffered during the initial assault with the wounds suffered by Jesus Christ during the Crucifixion; Sullivan will suggest that Koresh sees his wounds as evidence of his strength, and therefore is less likely to surrender due to pressure from federal agencies than the FBI believes. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Two experts on religious “millennial” “cults” have drastically different views on how to handle the Branch Davidians, currently besieged by federal authorities near Waco, Texas, after a shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Michael Barkun, a political scientist at Syracuse University who has studied white supremacist and anti-Semitic Christian groups, warns that becoming too aggressive with the Davidians may backfire and cause a violent, perhaps fatal confrontation. “The show of force employed in the belief that it will intimidate can have the opposite effect, convincing people that this is indeed the battle of Armageddon and they should respond accordingly,” he says. But Ronald Numbers, a University of Wisconsin historian who has written about Seventh-Day Adventism (the parent church of the “splinter” Branch Davidians), alludes to the 1978 mass suicide of the People’s Temple in Guyana in advocating some sort of proactive response, saying, “Since the Jim Jones episode, nobody wants to fail to take these groups seriously.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Retired Colonel Charles Beckwith, the founder of the US Army’s Special Forces (sometimes known as “Delta Force”), calls the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), “a disgrace.” Beckwith says: “It’s crazy to shoot people like this. I’m just embarrassed that we live in a society where our government allows something like this to happen.” Beckwith is critical of the raid planning, particularly the lack of medical-evacuation equipment, and says the government should investigate why the raid failed so badly. “If I had done an operation, as head of the Delta Force, and had no medical evacuation for an hour and 40 minutes, I would probably have been court-martialed,” Beckwith says. “In an hour and a half a man lays out there, he’s gonna bleed to death.” [New York Times, 3/3/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993]
In a conciliatory gesture, the FBI drops murder charges against two elderly women who left the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see March 2-3, 1993). Davidian leader David Koresh tells FBI negotiators that he reneged on his agreement to surrender (see March 2, 1993) because he is “dealing now with his Father,” meaning God, and no longer with “your bureaucratic system of government.” Much of Koresh’s interactions with negotiators is marked by lengthy harangues about the End Times and other apocalyptic sermonizing, combined with implied threats to bring a violent end to the situation. FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young write a memo noting that the present tactics of lengthy negotiations and an increasingly aggressive tactical presence could be counterproductive, and result in lives lost (see March 5, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Another child leaves the besieged Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Davidian leader David Koresh tells FBI negotiators that the remaining children in the compound are his. During the discussion of the children, FBI agents inform Koresh of the “rules of engagement” governing the siege; in return, Koresh makes a number of threats against the FBI in the event they assault the compound. He also reveals his desire for “one honest Bible study in this great nation of America.” [Moore, 1995]
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).
Paul Fatta. [Source: Carol Moore (.net)]The New York Times spends five hours interviewing Branch Davidian member Paul Fatta, who was selling guns at an Austin, Texas, flea market at the time the Davidian community outside Waco, Texas, was raided by federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Fatta says had he been at the Davidian compound that morning, he may well have joined his fellows in firing on federal agents: “If I were seeing my women and children being fired at, with bullets coming in, I would have either freaked out and hid under my bed or picked up my gun and fired on who was coming at us.”
Davidians 'Peaceful,' Sect Member Claims - Fatta was one of six Davidians who joined sect leader David Koresh in shooting their way into control of the small community (see November 3, 1987 and After). Nevertheless, Fatta insists that the Davidians are a peaceful community whose overriding interest is spreading their religious message to the world. He acknowledges that the community has accumulated enough weapons to fill a ten-by-ten foot basement vault with weapons; Fatta says the weapons are to protect the group from internecine warfare such as they used to install Koresh as the group’s leader. Fatta says much of the information about the group that has been reported in the media is wrong, particularly the depiction of the group as a violent, paramilitary organization that deliberately isolates itself from the outside world. He says that reports of military-style training by some group members are also incorrect, and that the weapons they own are all legal. However, the former assistant district attorney for McLennan County, El-Hadi J. Shabazz, says that Fatta’s protestations of innocence and peaceful intentions are specious. Shabazz prosecuted Koresh, Fatta, and five other Davidians over the 1987 gun battle that elevated Koresh into power (see November 3, 1987 and After). “Mr. Fatta is very dangerous,” Shabazz warns. Fatta says that the Davidians welcomed a group of men who moved into a house near to their compound even though they believed the group was made up of federal agents conducting surveillance on them. One of the undercover agents, Richard Gonzales, was treated to a tour and several hours of Bible study. “It didn’t matter who he was,” Fatta says. “We befriended him, treated him with respect, like a neighbor.”
Preparing for the Apocalypse - Fatta says the battle with the federal agents was part of a Biblically ordained struggle that highlights the onset of the Apocalyse. “This planet is just like a cemetery,” he says. “We’ll all just waiting to die.” Fatta states flatly that Koresh is the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. “I believe David is the Messiah,” he says. “He has shown me over and over that he knows the Book, and he presented Scriptures showing how the Last Day’s events would happen.” He does not attempt to explain Koresh’s polygamy (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), merely saying that the members view the sexual arrangement as a Biblical trial. He warns, “Do not judge a person by his actions, but by the message that he has.” Fatta says he has no plans for the future: “I’ll wait on God; that’s what David says. We’re all waiting to see what’s going to happen. I think we will find out whose side God is on.” [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
FBI agent Bob Ricks, surrounded by reporters during a press conference. [Source: Life]A nine-year-old girl, Heather Jones, leaves the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, currently under siege by the FBI and other law enforcement authorities (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). She has a note pinned to her jacket written by her mother; the note says that once the children have left the compound, the adults will die. FBI negotiators immediately contact Davidian leader David Koresh; both Koresh and his top aide, Steve Schneider, deny they are contemplating mass suicide. The FBI believes that the Davidian compound contains enough food to last the inhabitants a year. Profilers and experts, including some members of the Davidian sect not immured inside the compound, give conflicting opinions on whether Koresh will lead the group in a mass suicide (see March 5, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Federal agents tell reporters that in 1992 they received warnings that the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas, was contemplating mass suicide. The warnings came from Australians formerly connected to the Waco group of the Davidians. An agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the agency that raided the compound, says the Australians warned that Koresh was discussing mass suicide with his fellow members. Another BATF official says the tip, included in a State Department cable, was not a major factor in the bureau’s decision to raid the compound. FBI officials confirm that Koresh has assured them he is not contemplating mass suicide. “He indicates there is no intent on his part to order a suicide, nor does he contemplate suicide,” says FBI agent Bob Ricks. [New York Times, 3/6/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993]
Logo of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. [Source: The Branch (.org)]Anthony Hibbert, a member of the Davidian sect of the Seventh-day Adventists, tells a reporter that the Branch Davidian “splinter” sect currently besieged in a compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), is not representative of the Davidians as a whole. Hibbert cites a statement from the General Association of Davidian Seventh-day Adventists in stating that the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, “are not a representation of our message.… We do not advocate the use of guns, violence, free sex, or anything of that nature.” The Davidians believe that in the final days of existence—the Biblical “End Times,” or the time of the Apocalypse—God will purge the church of all but the truly faithful, a “slaughter” of unworthy Seventh-day Adventists. This purge, Hibbert says, will not be done “by guns and not by us or any human beings but by God himself and his angels—we want to make that very clear.” Hibbert is going to great lengths to distance Koresh’s Branch Davidians, so named because they are a “branch” of the more mainstream Davidians, from the mainline sect. He says many Davidians still consider themselves Seventh-day Adventists, whereas Koresh’s Branch Davidians consider themselves entirely separate. [New York Times, 3/6/1993]
Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s top aide inside the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), suggests that federal agents might burn the compound down to destroy evidence. Both Koresh and Schneider are “highly agitated and upset,” according to a later Justice Department report, for most of the day. FBI negotiators privately say that the negotiations are at an impasse, and acknowledge their frustration at dealing with Koresh. Koresh offers to send out one of his followers, Melissa Morrison, if in turn he is allowed to talk to FBI informant Robert Rodriguez. The FBI refuses, and Koresh does not allow Morrison to leave the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Federal authorities plead with Branch Davidian leader David Koresh to let his 100 or so followers depart their besieged compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). “If he’s listening, we want to give him assurances that he and everyone involved will be treated fairly and humanely,” says the FBI’s Bob Ricks. “We appeal to Mr. Koresh to let those people go who want to go.” Ricks says that while Koresh has virtually complete control over the Davidians inside the compound, the FBI does not consider them hostages because many of them fired on federal agents during the abortive raid on February 28. Two elderly women (see March 2-3, 1993) and 21 children have left the compound so far. Ricks says negotiations are continuing, though little progress is being made. Koresh has reportedly asked negotiators how his personal safety will be ensured if he surrenders. Koresh and his aide, Steve Schneider, have also discussed removing the body of a Davidian slain during the raid. Ricks is perplexed as to why Koresh is only discussing the removal of a single corpse, when authorities believe several Davidians died in the gun battle. “We have no idea why only one body is brought up and not the others,” Ricks says. “We have no information on how those bodies are being handled.” Because of the risk of further gunfire from the compound, federal authorities are using armored Bradley fighting vehicles to deliver medical supplies to the compound. [New York Times, 3/7/1993; New York Times, 3/7/1993] During the negotiations, Koresh twice offers to release some or all of the Davidians if the FBI can show him religious signs. First, Koresh says, “You show me the Third Seal and I’ll release the kids.” Koresh is referring to the third of the Seven Seals of Biblical prophecy. FBI negotiators try to show Koresh something that will satisfy him, but Koresh says the FBI has failed and refuses to release anyone. An hour later, Koresh says, “You show me the Seven Seals and everyone will come out.” This time, the FBI refuses to make an attempt. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993]
Pete Smerick. [Source: University of Louisville]The siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas continues (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have warned that the authorities’ strategy of negotiation and intimidation may backfire (see March 3-4, 1993), predict that the siege will end with an all-out assault on the compound by federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). Smerick and Young also predict that most of the Davidians may well commit mass suicide (see March 5, 1993), and warn that a strong show of force is merely playing into Davidian leader David Koresh’s hands. In Washington, acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson talks FBI Director William Webster out of going to Waco to negotiate directly with Koresh. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] One of Smerick’s memos warns that aggressive measures would “draw David Koresh and his followers closer together in the ‘bunker mentality’ and they would rather die than surrender.” [USA Today, 12/30/1999] Tactical pressure, Smerick writes, “should be the absolute last option we should consider, and that the FBI might unintentionally make Koresh’s vision of a fiery end come true.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] On March 9, FBI officials will pressure Smerick and Young into issuing a memorandum that supports the increased harassment of the Davidians (see March 9, 1993). [Moore, 1995]
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]
A Bradley fighting vehicle. [Source: Wired (.com)]Negotiations between the FBI and the besieged Branch Davidians in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), are deteriorating, an FBI spokesman says; federal authorities deploy Army-owned Bradley fighting vehicles and Abrams M-1 tanks outside the compound; FBI officials say the armored vehicles are strictly for defensive purposes. According to FBI spokesman Bob Ricks, Davidian leader David Koresh is talking about provoking a bloody confrontation that would fit with prophesies he has made about being a messiah. Negotiations veer between practical discussions and hour-long impromptu Bible study sessions. The New York Times observes, “It is not clear how much of the tough talk on both sides is real and how much is psychological gamesmanship.” Davidian Paul Fatta, who was outside the compound when federal agents raided it on February 28 (see March 5, 1993), says the Davidians have up to 100 guns and rifles, with perhaps 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Some officials say the Davidians’ arsenal may be even larger. Ricks says of Koresh: “He has indicated he would be most pleased if we would engage in a gun battle with him. He has made such statements as: ‘We are ready for war; let’s get it on. Your talk is becoming vain. I’m going to give you an opportunity to save yourself before you get blown away.’” Ricks says Koresh has boasted of having enough weapons and explosives to blow the Bradleys “40 to 50 feet” into the air. However, Fatta says that he believes FBI officials are misrepresenting Koresh’s words, tells a New York Times reporter that the Davidians have nothing remotely powerful enough to destroy a Bradley, and says: “I believe David is for a peaceful resolution. Maybe they’re trying to scare the people in there. I don’t know.” Ricks says that in his earlier statements (see March 5, 1993 and March 7, 1993) he tried to present as positive a face on the situation as possible. Now, he says, he feels it necessary to give what he calls a more complete view. “We have done everything we believe in our power to downplay the negative side of his personality,” Ricks tells reporters. “I think it’s important for you and the American public to maybe have a better understanding of what we are dealing with. It is our belief that he believes his prophecy will be fulfilled if the government engages in an all-out fire fight with him in which he is executed.” [New York Times, 3/8/1993]
The FBI cuts electrical power to the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), prompting Davidian leader David Koresh to say that he will no longer talk to FBI negotiators until the power is restored. The FBI quickly restores the power, though electricity will be cut off for limited periods during the following days of the siege. FBI agents notice more weapons seen in the windows of the compound, plywood going up over the windows, and firing ports being cut in the plywood. The Davidians send out a videotape, the second in two days, depicting individual sect members explaining why they intend to remain in the compound. They also unfold a banner that reads, “God Help Us We Want the Press.” FBI profilers Pete Smerick and Mark Young, who have predicted that the current strategies of negotiation and intimidation may backfire and have warned of a violent and bloody end to the siege (see March 7-8, 1993), outline a number of tactical measures they recommend be enacted. Their recommendations are largely ignored. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
FBI behavioral analyst Pete Smerick, a profiler who has consistently advised against using force against the besieged Branch Davidians in their Waco, Texas, compound (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993), is called by his supervisor in Washington and told that any future memos he might write must go to Washington for approval before FBI agents in charge of the Waco siege read them. Smerick will later state that he felt heavy pressure to change his analyses to match the more aggressive posture the on-site commander and his top aides prefer (see 1995). [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000] Smerick will leave the site shortly thereafter (see March 17-18, 1993).
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]
Several former members of the Branch Davidian community outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), appear on the Phil Donahue morning talk show. The show opens with a wrenching interview with Kiri Jewell, a young woman who left the Waco group with her father. Donahue says to her: “[Y]ou lived in this compound from age six till about a year and a half ago. You’re no longer in the cult because your father [David Jewell] successfully sued your mother for custody and you made your way to freedom, we might say, a year and a half ago.” Donahue calls the Branch Davidians a “destructive cult,” noting leader David Koresh’s marathon Bible study sessions (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), and says: “So the pressure was enormous, wasn’t it? He was a very controlling person.” (Two years later, Kiri Jewell will tell of her repeated rapes at the hands of Koresh—see July 21, 1995.) Former Davidian Marc Breault, who left the community after losing a power struggle with Koresh (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993), focuses on how “easy” it was for him to be “sucked in” by Koresh and his group. Cult expert Rick Ross draws a sharp line between the Davidians and Koresh, saying: “Many of the people in this compound are highly-educated, very intelligent people, many very idealistic, very loving, very kind. And the fact is that it’s sad to say, but we’re all vulnerable to the kind of mental manipulation that this man pulled on these people and he has exploited them, dominated them, and taken control of their lives.… The group’s got an absolute leader. Everything the leader says is right, is right. Whatever he says is wrong, is wrong. And if you think for yourself, you’re rebellious, you’re evil, and your family is, too.” [Tabor and Gallagher, 1995, pp. 120-121] Two days later, Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider will demand a transcript from the Donahue show; the FBI will deny the request. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/1993]
Texas Rangers notify the parents of Michael Schroeder, a Branch Davidian slain during the abortive raid on the Davidian’s Waco, Texas compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), of their son’s death. Sandy and Bill Connizzo, who live in Florida, had driven to Texas to try to rescue their son after hearing news reports of the raid and the subsequent siege, but were not allowed to approach the compound. They located Michael’s two-year-old son, Bryan Schroeder, and retrieved him from a group home where he had been placed after leaving the compound in the early hours of the siege. Finally, a Texas Ranger comes to their hotel room, 11 days after the raid, and informs them of their son’s death. The Ranger also informs them that Schroeder’s body had lain in a gully for four days before authorities retrieved it. His mother asks why they left him there for so long, and the Ranger replies that retrieving Schroeder’s body was not a high priority. The parents heed the advice and do not view the decomposed body of their son; his ashes are shipped to Florida for internment four months later. In 2000, Sandy Connizzo will say, “I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.” The Connizzos will continue to raise Bryan. [St. Petersburg Times, 2/28/2000] Later, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agent will claim to have retrieved a gun from Schroeder’s body on March 3, but say he left the body where it lay. [Moore, 1995]
For the first time, the FBI allows an outsider, Sheriff Jack Harwell of McClennan County, to help negotiate with the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), immured in their compound outside Waco, Texas. FBI officials say it is usually preferable to use a team of trained negotiators who rely on outside experts rather than bringing in outsiders to help negotiate directly. [New York Times, 3/11/1993]
Religious experts continue to weigh in on the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and its ultimate resolution. Speculation veers wildly from whether Davidian leader David Koresh, widely believed to have a martyr complex and to be willing to lead his followers in a mass suicide (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 3, 1993, March 5, 1993, and March 7-8, 1993), will surrender peacefully or insist on a violent confrontation with federal authorities. Derek Davis, a professor of church-state studies at nearby Baylor University, says: “I’m not sure he’s reachable, period. I’m not sure he’s that interested in surviving. If he genuinely perceives this to be the commencement of the end-times events, then he may see his role as being one of dying a martyr’s death.” Wayman Mullins, a psychologist and professor of criminal justice at Southwest Texas State University, says: “I think, in his mind, this is the prelude to Armageddon. He’s made it pretty clear that to be God’s spokesman on earth, to convert the world to Davidianism, he’s got to become a martyr, he’s got to die. Jesus died, and he sees himself in the same vein. He’s Jesus in the 20th century.” Mullins and others believe the situtation may not be resolved until Easter, April 11. “I think Easter is very critical,” Mullins says. “After all, when did Jesus die?” Davidian Paul Fatta (see March 5, 1993), who was not in the compound when federal agents raided it, says: “I think the talk of a fiery martyrdom is just something that’s being put out by the FBI. I believe his religious views and his views as a man are pretty much the same. He loves his kids. He wants, like any father, to see them grow up and be happy.” But Mullins does not believe that the safety of the approximately 17 children in the compound is Koresh’s top priority. “I think it’s going to be real tough to get them released,” he says. “He’s claiming publicly they’re his seed, but they’re his bargaining chip.” [New York Times, 3/11/1993]
The FBI, in the midst of besieging the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), turns two people away from a roadblock preventing private citizens from accessing the compound. The two are Bonnie Haldeman, the mother of Davidian leader David Koresh, and lawyer Richard DeGuerin, hired by Haldeman to represent her son. Judge Walter Smith refuses Haldeman’s request to allow Koresh to meet with DeGuerin. [New York Times, 3/12/1993; Moore, 1995] Davidian aide Steve Schneider tells authorities that Koresh will allow three Davidians to leave the compound, but this does not happen, possibly because of the FBI’s refusal to allow the Haldeman and DeGuerin meetings. [New York Times, 3/12/1993] DeGuerin will later begin representing Koresh (see March 29-31, 1993).
Branch Davidian members Kathryn Schroeder and Oliver Gyrfas exit the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, currently besieged by local and federal law enforcement officials (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Aisha Gyarfas Summers, Gyarfas’s sister, is still inside. Schroeder, whose husband was killed in the initial raid (see March 11, 1993), tells FBI officials that the Davidians have no intention of committing mass suicide (see March 5, 1993). [New York Times, 3/13/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Jeff Jamar, the onsite commander of FBI forces besieging the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), ignores the objections of some negotiators who feel that the release of two Davidians (see March 12, 1993) is a sign of progress, and orders the electricity to the compound to be cut off for good (see March 9, 1993), saying he wants the Davidians to “experience the same wet and cold night as the tactical personnel outside.” Jamar’s rationale is that a cold night inside the compound will increase the stress levels among the Davidians, and work to destabilize leader David Koresh’s control of the situation. Steve Schneider, Koresh’s top aide, changes his mind about leaving the compound due to the power outage. The next day, Schneider relays the complaints of cold and discomfort from those inside to the FBI. Koresh will later upbraid Schneider for doing what he calls a poor job of representing the Davidians to the FBI. [New York Times, 3/13/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Richard DeGuerin. [Source: University of Houston]Steve Schneider, the second in command to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see March 6, 1993 and March 1, 1993), charges for the second time that the government wants to kill all the Davidians and burn their compound (see March 6, 1993). Outside the compound, the FBI receives letters from two lawyers, Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, asking that they be allowed to represent Koresh and Schneider (see March 29-31, 1993 and April 1-4, 1993). The FBI refuses to let the lawyers speak to their clients. [Moore, 1995]
The FBI begins illuminating the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) with bright lights during the night. According to a Justice Department report on the siege (see October 8, 1993), the rationale is to use the lights “to disrupt sleep, to put additional pressure on those inside, and to increase the safety of the HRT,” or Hostage Rescue Team members. For their part, the Davidians hang a banner reading, “FBI broke negotiations, we want press,” and flash SOS signals. [New York Times, 3/14/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
The FBI modifies its negotiation strategy with the besieged Branch Davidian members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), saying it continues to insist on a peaceful resolution but will no longer listen to what some officials call “Bible babble.” FBI agent Richard Swenson tells reporters: “For an awful long period we listened literally for hours and hours. But after a cumulative period of time it became obvious that was not leading to a peaceful resolution. Frankly, we are not here to be converted.” Two Davidians, top aide Steve Schneider and Wayne Martin, meet with FBI senior agent Byron Sage and McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell (see March 11, 1993) outside the compound, in a conversation FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar later terms the “Dutch Uncle” discussion. Davidian leader David Koresh does not attend the negotiations, claiming to be “too sick to move.” Koresh has said he was wounded in the gunfight between Davidians and federal agents. [New York Times, 3/15/1993; New York Times, 3/16/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In a 1995 interview, Harwell will note that Schneider has a degree in theology and Martin is a lawyer. “I don’t know about all the people out there,” he will say, “but I know that there were some well-educated people there who, because of their religion, maybe were different, but otherwise, they were just normal, everyday good people.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In a 1995 interview, Sage will discuss the conversation between the four. He will recall that he and Harwell hoped to talk with Koresh, and had compiled a large set of documents—search warrants, arrest warrants, and so forth—to prove to Martin that their intentions were genuine. Sage will characterize Koresh as an “obstructionist.” Sage will say that he believes Koresh is trying to rein in Schneider, whom Sage believes has “been won over a little too much” by the FBI negotiations. Sage will say that by this time, he has no belief that Koresh is trying to negotiate a surrender in good faith. He also has strong doubts as to Koresh’s assumed psychosis or state of delusion. “He does not buy off on his own con,” Sage will recall. Sage will add that Koresh does not react well to being “held accountable” and has the pressure escalated on him to conclude the standoff. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Steve Schneider, the second in command of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), repeatedly requests that the FBI allow Dr. Philip Arnold, a religious expert from Houston (see March 7, 1993), to discuss the “Seven Seals” with Davidian leader David Koresh. The “Seven Seals” are referenced in the Bible as the items that must be broken to allow the end of the world—the Apocalypse—to commence. Koresh and other Davidians have heard Arnold on a local radio station, KRLD. The FBI refuses the request, though agents do contact Arnold about getting audiotapes of his radio program. The FBI will have no more contact with Arnold. [Moore, 1995]
John T. Risenhoover, one of the federal agents shot in the February 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), files a lawsuit against the Waco Tribune-Herald alleging that the newspaper bears some liability for his shooting. Risenhoover is an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); he was shot twice in the ankle and once in the hip during the firefight. He says that the newspaper alerted the Davidians to the BATF raid; the alert, Risenhoover says, led to the Davidians’ ability to shoot him. Risenhoover also alleges that the Tribune-Herald reneged on an agreement with the bureau not to publish a series of articles on the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), until after a federal investigation of the group was complete. Both the bureau and the newspaper have said that the Tribune-Herald honored an informal request to delay publication for several weeks but that it had never made a specific commitment not to publish the series. Risenhoover does not specify the amount of money he is seeking, nor does he offer proof of his allegations; his lawyer, James Dunnam, says he has no intention of trying the lawsuit “in the newspaper,” and will not make his evidence public until the hearing. Tribune-Herald editor Bob Lott denies Risenhoover’s allegations; a BATF spokesman says Risenhoover’s lawsuit is an independent action and has nothing to do with the bureau itself. BATF officials say they do not know who alerted the Davidians to the impending raid. [New York Times, 3/17/1993] It will later be determined that neither the Tribune-Herald nor any of its employees had anything to do with alerting the Davidians to the impending raid (see August 2, 1996).
David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), refuses to allow his top aide Steve Schneider to talk further with FBI senior agent Byron Sage (see March 15, 1993). Instead, Sage urges Koresh to surrender, questioning his sincerity and challenging him to take some positive action. Sage and FBI commander Jeff Jamar decide to increase the pressure on Koresh, hoping to force him into surrendering; the next day, agents broadcast a message into the compound over loudspeakers, advising those inside that they will be treated fairly if they come out. FBI profiler Pete Smerick, frustrated at the increasingly aggressive tactics being employed (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 9, 1993), leaves the site. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), tells FBI negotiators he is ready to surrender. Two other Davidians, Brad Branch and Kevin Whitecliff, exit the compound and are arrested. Both Branch and Whitecliff are held at the McLennan County jail, though they are not charged with any crimes. The FBI delivers legal documents and letters from Koresh’s attorneys to the compound, along with audiotapes and letters from religious expert Philip Arnold (see March 16, 1993). [New York Times, 3/20/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
A Houston psychiatrist who has interviewed the children released from the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), reports that some of the children have drawn pictures of the compound being consumed by flames. Other children have told him that “everyone is going to die” in the compound, that Davidian leader David Koresh intends “to blow you all up,” and when the children left the compound, their parents promised to “see them in heaven.” The children’s statements and drawings are another indication of a violent end to the siege, with the possibility of a mass suicide (see April 19, 1993). [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244]
After sundown, the FBI begins playing extremely loud music into the Branch Davidian compound, currently under siege (see March 1, 1993). Musical selections include chanting by Tibetan monks, Christmas carols, and an array of pop selections from the early 1960s. At dawn, a trumpet sounds reveille over and over again. The New York Times says the aural barrage is “apparently intended to somehow irritate the cult’s leader, David Koresh, into surrender,” and calls it “just one of many increasingly weird features of the nearly monthlong standoff.” Onlookers over two miles away, kept from coming closer by police barricades, can hear the music “when the winds are right—or wrong,” the Times observes; some federal agents choose to wear earplugs to protect themselves from the din. FBI agent Bob Ricks says the musical selections are made in a variety of ways: “Some of that is within the discretion of the people who are out there on the scene, some of it is intentional, and I won’t go into the intentional part.” Peter DiVasto, director of the Department of Energy’s hostage negotiations program and an Albuquerque, New Mexico, police psychologist, says the music is part of a psychological strategy to try to get the besieged Davidians to give up. “The purpose of playing the music is to be disruptive, to create mild discomfort without creating a precipitous event,” DiVasto says. He jokes that the FBI has not gotten serious about its musical assault yet. “If they go Barry Manilow,” he says, “it’s excessive force.” The Davidians are quite agitated by the music; Koresh informs the FBI that “[b]ecause of the loud music, nobody is coming out.” (That day, seven Davidians left the compound—see March 21, 1993.) The loudspeaker system malfunctions shortly after Koresh’s pronouncement, and the rest of the night passes quietly. Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider will complain about the music the next day; FBI negotiators blame the FBI tactical agents for the music. [New York Times, 3/25/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Robert Louden, a former hostage negotiator, says: “The idea is not so much to drive them from their lair as it is to reaffirm the communication process. Music and almost any other noise can have an effect, and what you’re looking for is a reaction to the noise. You’re not exactly sure what it’s going to do, and you want to be sure that it’s not going to set them off like a firecracker. There’s a calculated risk.” [New York Times, 3/28/1993] In 1995, author Carol Moore will speculate that the seven Davidians leaving may have been the beginning of what she calls a “mass exodus.” If that is true, then the FBI’s insistence on blasting loud music into the compound may have stymied that initiative. [Moore, 1995] A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the music and the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound (see March 25-26, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Six women and one man depart the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) and are taken into federal custody. Two women leave at 1:30 a.m. Davidian leader David Koresh again reneges on his previous promise to surrender (see March 19, 1993), telling FBI negotiators, “I told you my God says wait.” After Koresh’s statement, two more women leave around 10:30 a.m. During the afternoon, a woman and a man leave the compound. The seven Davidians to leave are Victoria Hollingsworth, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Gladys Ottman, Annetta Richards, Rita Riddle, and Ofelia Santoya. FBI agents say the departures raise hopes that a large-scale surrender may be in the offing, but caution that they have no way to know if any such surrender is actually being planned. In recent days, Koresh has been allowing small numbers of Davidians to leave in return for delivery of items such as milk, medical supplies, and national news magazines with articles about the Davidians. FBI agent Bob Ricks says Koresh can be fractious and uncooperative: “It’s very difficult for him to handle anyone who puts a demand on him,” Ricks says. Koresh has suggested that “certain astrological things” may mean a large-scale surrender is forthcoming. “My understanding is he is relaying to us that certain events have occurred which he takes to be at least a sign, or signs have taken place, and he believes that other things are in motion that would fulfill his desire to have a sign,” Ricks says. Ricks says Koresh has indicated he wants to ensure that he stays alive to spread his message. He quotes Koresh as saying: “I have a great desire to settle this issue. I realize if I’m dead, my message will not come out.” [New York Times, 3/22/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Ricks, Annetta Richards, David Koresh, Victoria Hollingsworth, Rita Riddle, Branch Davidians, Gladys Ottman, James Lawton, Sheila Martin, Ofelia Santoya
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
In a letter signed by Jeffrey Jamar, the leader of the FBI contingent at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), and McLennan Sheriff Jack Harwell, Jamar tells Branch Davidian leader David Koresh that the FBI will allow him to communicate with others from jail and to have a worldwide radio broadcast if he allows his followers to begin leaving by tomorrow morning. Jamar promises that the press will provide live coverage of the exit. “You will be afforded the opportunity to appear live on America Talks on the Christian Broadcasting Network, hosted by Craig Smith,” says the letter. “This is an extraordinary opportunity for you,” it says. Koresh rejects the offer. According to a recently released Davidian (see March 19, 1993), what Koresh really wants is a television appearance with famous religious leaders in a roundtable discussion of their beliefs about the end of the world. Brad Branch tells an NBC reporter, “David wants to challenge the churches to see who can reveal the book,” referring to the Bible. “He wants to put on a challenge to all the churches and all the heads—the Pope, Billy Graham, Pat Robertson. Get ‘em together. Let’s see who can reveal this book.” Koresh, angry at what he considers to be previous FBI lies, destroys the letter. [New York Times, 3/25/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Jeffrey Jamar, the leader of the FBI contingent at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), calls a meeting of the FBI’s crisis management team on-site. The team discusses what it calls “stress escalation measures,” methods designed to increase the stress on the Davidians and particularly on their leader David Koresh. Some of these measures are already being used (see March 14, 1993 and March 21, 1993). If these measures fail, FBI negotiators recommend using tear gas to drive members out of the compound (the negotiators will later say that they came up with their own assault plan for fear that other FBI officials would mount a more aggressive and dangerous plan of their own—see August 1993 and August 2, 1996). However, the negotiators predict that while Koresh will continue to stall, eventually he will cooperate in producing a peaceful outcome to the siege (see March 3-4, 1993). [New York Times, 3/25/1993; Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) leader Richard Rogers urges senior FBI and Justice Department officials to use tear gas to bring the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993) to a close. According to a memo written by Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactical matters, “A lot of pressure is coming from Rogers.” Coulson writes that Rogers urged similar tactics in the 1992 Ruby Ridge debacle (see August 31, 1992): “We had similar problems in Idaho with him [Rogers] and he argued and convinced the SACs [special agents in charge of local FBI offices involved in the incident] that [Randy] Weaver would not come out. That proved to be wrong. I believe he is a significant part of the problem here.” Rogers’s advice, that only extreme and violent action could force Weaver to emerge, sparked the death of Weaver’s wife and son. In 1992, Rogers relaxed FBI rules of engagement and tried to force an all-out assault on the Weaver cabin using tanks and tear gas. Weaver eventually surrendered. Coulson believes that Davidian leader David Koresh will also surrender, if given enough time. “All of their intelligence indicates that David [Koresh] does not intend suicide and that he will come out eventually,” Coulson’s memo concludes. [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000] The day after Coulson’s memo is circulated, the FBI begins bombarding the compound with sound and light (see March 23-24, 1993).
Branch Davidian Livingstone Fagan leaves the besieged compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). He is the last Davidian to leave before the final conflagration (see April 19, 1993). The FBI apparently believes that its “stress escalation measures” (see March 21, 1993 and March 22, 1993) are driving the Davidians out of the compound. That evening, the FBI shines floodlights into the compound and, over the loudspeakers, begins playing tapes of previous negotiations and messages from Davidians who have left the compound (see March 22, 1993). In the hours after midnight, agents begin playing exceedingly loud music (see March 21, 1993) and taped sound effects (including the sounds of rabbits being slaughtered), angering some of the Davidians inside the compound. Assistant US Attorney William Johnston of Waco writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, complaining about the methods the FBI is employing to resolve the siege. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Louis Alaniz, a Houston resident, sneaks into the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, evading capture by FBI agents besieging the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). The FBI describes Alaniz as a “religious fanatic” who eludes hundreds of agents to dash to the front door of the compound. Before letting him inside, the Davidians accuse Alaniz of being a double agent for the FBI, perhaps sent to murder Koresh. After a lengthy telephone conversation between Davidians and FBI negotiators, the Davidians relent and allow Alaniz inside, where he receives a lengthy session of Bible teaching from Koresh. The New York Times notes that the FBI claims to be in “complete control” of the compound perimeter, and calls Alaniz’s ability to make it through the FBI cordon “baffling.” FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters the supervisors decided not to allow their agents to chase Alaniz because they did not want to expose those agents to possible gunfire from the Davidians. [New York Times, 3/26/1993; Moore, 1995] Alaniz will leave the compound two days before the final assault (see April 17-19, 1993).
Oprah Winfrey in 1993. [Source: Fox News]Morning talk show host Oprah Winfrey has several former Branch Davidians on her show, to discuss their experiences during their time in the now-besieged community (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). The guests include Jeannine and Robyn Bunds, Peter and Lisa Gent, Michelle and James Thom, and Balenda Ganem, the mother of David Thibodeaux, who still lives as a part of the Davidian community. Winfrey also has Timothy Stoen, the former attorney for the Reverend Jim Jones, who oversaw the mass suicide of his 900-person community in Jonestown, Guyana. Winfrey says of Stoen, “if anyone understands the cult mentality, it’s” Stoen, whom she describes as “Jim Jones’s right hand man.” Ganem points out “that using images of [Davidian leader David] Koresh and Mount Carmel [the Davidian compound] side by side with Jones sets up a very negative expectation,” but Winfrey and the other guests agree with Stoen that there are “definite similarities” between the two groups. Winfrey labels the Davidians a “destructive cult,” and says one of the purposes behind today’s show is to see “if we in any way could influence anybody else from becoming involved in something like this; we would like to, you know, encourage people not to give over your power, especially your mind, to somebody else.” Another guest, Christian anti-cult writer Ronald Enroth, tells the audience that “the people who are in cults don’t realize that they’re being manipulated.” The Bunds do not entirely agree that Koresh is evil or that the Davidians comprise a cult. Jeannine Bunds denies that she or her daughter were “brainwashed” by Koresh; Robyn Bunds denies that Koresh is evil, and says, “I believe he’s lost his mind.… I don’t believe that he’s evil.” [Tabor and Gallagher, 1995, pp. 121-123]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Timothy Stoen, Branch Davidians, Balenda Ganem, Ronald Enroth, David Thibodeaux, Robyn Bunds, Oprah Winfrey, James Thom, James Warren (“Jim”) Jones, Jeannine Bunds, Michelle Thom, David Koresh, Lisa Gent, Peter Gent
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
According to the New York Times, areas outside the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), have been transformed into somehing approaching “a carnival atmosphere… complete with hawkers offering bad coffee and souvenirs in bad taste, including a T-shirt that proclaims: ‘My Parents Went to Mount Carmel and All I Got was this Lousy AK-47!’” Protesters, mostly calling themselves concerned Christians or “libertarians” advocating against the government, also make their presence known. [New York Times, 3/25/1993]
The FBI delivers an ultimatum to the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993): 10 to 20 people must leave by 4 p.m., or some unspecified action will be taken. At 4 p.m., when no one leaves, armored vehicles move into the compound and destroy motorcycles and go-carts. That night, the FBI again bombards the compound with floodlights, loud music, and helicopters buzzing the buildings (see March 22, 1993). The following morning, the FBI issues another ultimatum, and the armored vehicles begin clearing the front side of the compound. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1996 investigation by the House of Representatives cites expert opinions that the encroachment of armored vehicles into the compound and the extraordinarily loud music blasted into the main building (see March 21, 1993) are “exactly the wrong tactics.” The report will conclude, “More than simply bonding the Davidians together, experts concluded that these actions proved [Branch Davidian leader David] Koresh right in the minds of the Davidians.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
The New York Times publishes a “special report” that claims the February 28 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), was “laden with missteps, miscalculations, and unheeded warnings that could have averted bloodshed.” The report is based on interviews with several Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents involved in the raid as well as FBI agents and soldiers skilled in military raids. At least one of the BATF agents likens the raid to the infamously unsuccessful Charge of the Light Brigade. Four of the agents say that their supervisors knew the BATF agents had lost the element of surprise, but went ahead with the raid anyway. The Times says the raid was “the costliest and deadliest operation in the history of the” bureau. BATF leaders insist they did nothing wrong, and blame a last-minute warning about the raid to the Davidians for the agents’ failure to apprehend Davidian leader David Koresh. BATF chief Stephen Higgins said recently: “I’ve looked at it and rethought it. There was no problem with the plan.” But, the Times notes, the BATF “has provided only sketchy details of what happened, why the raid was even tried, and why it was carried out when it was.” The warrants that provided the basis for the raids are currently sealed (see February 25, 1993); no criminal charges have yet been filed; no government official has even clearly articulated what laws Koresh or his fellow Davidians are believed to have violated, though BATF officials say they believe Koresh has violated federal firearms and explosives laws, and Higgins told a reporter that it was the illegal conversion of weapons from semi-automatic to automatic that led to the raid.
Problems Underlying the Raid - Based on its interviews with its sources, the Times says the following problems caused the raid to fail:
The BATF did not conduct round-the-clock surveillance on Koresh, so its agents did not know for sure if they could have arrested him while he was out of the compound.
“Supervisors of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms knew they had lost the element of surprise even before the agents tried to surround the compound but ordered agents to move in anyway.” It was common knowledge in Waco and the surrounding area that something large was being prepared. Hotel workers were amazed to see men from Houston, Dallas, and New Orleans descend on their hotels, wearing army fatigues and talking on two-way radios, which area residents could monitor on police scanners. In addition, at least one BATF official alerted Dallas television news stations to the impending raid the day before it took place (see February 27, 1993). At least 11 reporters were at the scene before the raid began, though none have said how they knew to be there. The reporters now say the BATF did nothing to prevent them from watching and videotaping the raid, and add that agents only became hostile after it became clear that the raid was a failure.
“Helicopters carrying [BATF] agents came under fire over the compound before the assault began, yet the bureau pushed ahead with the mission, which relied on an element of surprise.” The helicopters, on loan from the Texas National Guard and used to observe the raid from the air, quickly came under fire; a bullet passed close to the head of Philip Chojnacki, the agent in charge of the raid. When the helicopters were fired upon, several agents tell the Times, the raid should have been aborted. “That was inexcusable,” one career agent says. “As soon as those shots were taken, the raid should have been aborted. Instead, we were ordered to walk right into it.” He and others say that the agents who were heading toward the compound on the ground were not warned that shots were being fired by the cult.
“The operation was hindered by a communications strategy that made it impossible for different squads surrounding the compound to talk to each other after their squad leaders had been wounded.”
Some agents had not been supplied with contingency plans for encountering heavy gunfire, even though supervisors knew that the cult had for years been stockpiling weapons and suspected that sect members had been converting semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons to make them more deadly.”
“Some agents’ requests to take more powerful weapons were denied and many had only handguns to face the cult’s arsenal, which included many rifles and at least one .50-caliber weapon.”
“Some agents had not been briefed about the operation until a day earlier and had never been told of the cache of assault-style weapons they would be facing.”
“The firearms bureau did not bring a doctor or set up a dispensary to treat wounded agents, a practice of the FBI. Wounded agents ended up being carried, some by other agents, others on the hoods of trucks and cars, down a muddy road hundreds of yards to await medical assistance.”
No Faith in Promised Federal Investigation - Secretary of the Treasury Lloyd Bentsen, whose department oversees the BATF, has promised a full and independent investigation of the raid. But the Times’s sources say they do not trust Bentsen to launch such an investigation; presumably this explains why they agreed to talk to the Times about the raid. The BATF and FBI agents have been ordered not to publicly discuss the raid, and say the orders on the subject implied they would be disciplined and prosecuted for describing the events of the raid. [New York Times, 3/27/1993]
After four straight days of no communication, David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), tells the FBI that he has no intention of dying, and is still waiting for a message from God to tell him what he needs to do to resolve the standoff. The Davidians send a videotape to the FBI, showing well over a dozen children in the compound. The children seem tired but healthy. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Jeff Jamar, the commander of FBI forces on the ground at the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), overrules objections from US attorneys and Texas Rangers, and allows Davidian leader David Koresh to meet with his attorney, well-known Houston defense lawyer Richard DeGuerin (see March 11, 1993). After an initial telephone conversation, the two men meet at the door of the compound and talk for almost two hours. The next day, Koresh and DeGuerin meet two more times. DeGuerin will tell Jamar that he is “frustrated” in his attempts to negotiate a surrender. [New York Times, 3/31/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] DeGuerin tells reporters that he is “very hopeful” of resolving the situation. Speaking of Koresh, he says: “My client wants everybody to be safe. And so do I.” FBI agent Bob Ricks says agents have an attitude of “guarded or cautious optimism” about the new development. “We are cautiously optimistic that this is one of the significant events necessary to bring this to final resolution,” he says of Koresh’s meetings with DeGuerin. “But we have been disappointed in the past.” Ricks emphasizes that DeGuerin is not negotiating on behalf of the FBI or anyone else. “At this point, he is not acting as a negotiator,” he says. “We have agreed to complete confidentiality and are treating the conversations that he is having with Mr. Koresh as privileged. We are not recording those conversations. We are removing ourselves to a sufficient distance, approximately 75 yards away from the compound, to insure that those conversations will not be overheard.” Ricks does not give details of the conversations between Koresh and DeGuerin. “They’ve been characterized in general terms as dealing with substantive matters and not religious matters,” he says. “That is, how does the system work and what his rights are under the criminal justice system.” [New York Times, 3/31/1993] Koresh also speaks with attorney Jack Zimmerman by phone. Zimmerman represents Koresh’s lieutenant, Steve Schneider. [New York Times, 3/31/1993; Moore, 1995]
A federal grand jury indicts three members of the Branch Davidian sect who were allowed to leave the Davidian compound during the FBI siege (see March 1, 1993). Kathryn Schroeder (see March 12, 1993), Brad Branch, and Kevin Whitecliff (see March 19, 1993) are charged with conspiracy to murder federal officers and possession of firearms during the commission of a crime of violence. The conspiracy charges could result in life prison sentences; the weapons violations carry a five-year prison term. The charges result from actions the three are charged with during the February 28 federal raid on the Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Federal agent Earl Dunagan provided the jury with an affidavit that quoted two witnesses as saying they saw Schroeder carrying an AR-15 assault rifle during the raid; the witnesses also said they saw Schroeder issuing instructions to other female residents. In addition, the witnesses saw gunfire come from Schroeder’s bedroom, and called Schroeder “a former US military person” who “regularly engaged in firearms training with the men at the compound,” and is “a dominant female among the group.” [New York Times, 3/31/1993]
Branch Davidian member Rita Riddle, who left the besieged Waco compound days before (see March 21, 1993), says that when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents raided the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), she saw shots fired from BATF helicopters. BATF and Justice Department officials have denied that any gunfire was delivered from the helicopters, which they say served as observation posts and instruments of intimidation during the raid. Riddle says bullets were coming straight down through the roof, and could only have come from helicopters. “They say these helicopters were not armed. Bull puck,” she tells reporters. “I heard them spraying the building when they went over.” BATF spokesman David Troy says flatly that “the helicopters did not overfly the compound.” The helicopters were made available to the BATF by the Texas National Guard, which had been informed by BATF agents that the compound may have housed a methamphetamine laboratory. Drug interdiction is one reason the National Guard can loan helicopters to another agency. BATF agents told the National Guard that their evidence was based on infrared scans, which located two “hot spots” that sometimes indicate a place where drugs are being manufactured. Riddle says those “hot spots” were places where the Davidians have heaters. “Once they go in there, they’ll be in for a big surprise,” she says. “To my knowledge, there’s nothing illegal in there.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/1993]
Stephen Higgins, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), defends the bureau’s raid on the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and disputes accounts by some agents that the raid was poorly planned and executed (see March 27, 1993). “We did it in what we thought was the safest way, and we had a tragedy,” Higgins says on NBC’s Today show. Higgins and the BATF are weathering a pointed lack of support from Clinton administration officials. “If people want to re-examine us as an agency, that’s fine; we’re not afraid of that,” he says. “We think we’re an agency that does good work, that the people who were there that day performed bravely.” Higgins refuses to directly address the accounts of agents who say that the raid went poorly in part because the BATF lost the element of surprise before the raid began, saying: “This was a plan that depended on the element of surprise. We would not have executed the plan if our supervisors felt like we had lost that element. So my position has been and continues to be that we did not believe that we had lost that element of surprise.” He does admit that some agents had asked to carry heavier firearms than handguns and were turned down by their supervisors. [New York Times, 3/30/1993; New York Times, 4/3/1993]
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Mark Richard, who represents Attorney General Janet Reno in the Branch Davidian situation (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), holds meetings in Waco and San Antonio to learn about the infighting between FBI and other law enforcement officials. The next day, Reno hears Richard’s report, and assigns Ray Jahn as the Justice Department’s lead prosecutor and coordinator. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] The infighting at Waco is largely between two camps: the FBI negotiators and the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, or HRT. The negotiators are willing to take whatever time is needed to win the release of everyone inside the compound, mostly by building trust and then using that trust to get people out. The HRT, more inclined to action than talk, has pressed since the beginning of the standoff to increase the pressure on Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers. Several times, the HRT has actively undermined negotiators’ efforts with the Davidians; at one point, the negotiators persuaded Koresh to let two people leave, but that very same night, HRT turned off the electricity to the compound, enraging Koresh (see March 12, 1993). Days later, the negotiators won the release of seven more people, but that same evening, HRT ordered the bulldozing of several Davidian cars outside the compound and bombarded the compound with loud music (see March 21, 1993). Negotiators have complained that whatever trust they have managed to secure has been undermined by the HRT. Two FBI agents who agree with the negotiators are the profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993). Smerick and Young also warned that the HRT’s tactics would drive the Davidians ever closer to Koresh, uniting them together by demonstrating that the government agents outside the compound are indeed their enemy, as Koresh preaches. Later investigation will show that the negotiators failed to make progress in part because of harassment from the HRT. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Stephen Higgins, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), sends an internal memo to BATF agents and personnel entitled “Rumor Control.” It denies that senior BATF officials are involved in any sort of cover-up in response to accusations of poor planning and execution in regards to the February 28 raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 30, 1993). In the memo, Higgins admits that BATF supervisors lost the element of surprise in the minutes leading up to the raid; many feel that the raid should have been aborted once it became clear that the Davidians knew it was about to commence. Higgins writes: “I’ve said in numerous interviews that the plan depended upon the element of surprise, and it seems clear we lost that crucial element. How we lost it, and should we have or did we realize we lost it before the raid commenced, are obviously two very important questions that still remain to be answered.” In recent interviews such as the one he gave to NBC’s Today Show, Higgins has denied that the BATF supervisors lost the element of surprise (see March 30, 1993). [New York Times, 4/3/1993] Two days later, Higgins will hedge his public denials in Senate testimony (see April 2, 1993).
Lawyer Richard DeGuerin (see March 29-31, 1993) says that talks with his client, Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, have been hampered by Koresh’s gunshot wounds. Koresh was shot by federal agents during a raid on the Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The compound has been besieged for a month by the FBI (see March 1, 1993), with little progress made in negotiating a peaceful conclusion. DeGuerin says that he and his associate Jack Zimmerman, a lawyer representing Koresh’s aide Steve Schneider, have no plans for further discussions with their clients. “We’ve done about all a lawyer can do now,” DeGuerin says. According to federal agents, doctors say Koresh’s wounds are not life-threatening. DeGuerin says Koresh is “suffering from his wounds, and he’s a little tired” and “needs a doctor.” But FBI agent Bob Ricks says officials will not allow a doctor inside the compound. “There’s plenty of medical attention just a few hundred yards away, and that will all be provided when people come out of the compound,” he says. FBI doctors have examined videotapes of Koresh’s wounds. [New York Times, 4/2/1993]
Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, the two attorneys representing Branch Davidian leader David Koresh (see March 29-31, 1993), spend the day of April 1 inside the Davidian compound with Koresh and other Davidians. After departing, the two attorneys inform FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar that the Davidians will leave the compound on either April 2 or April 10, depending on their Passover observance. The FBI says they will “step up” their pressure on the Davidians if they do not leave the compound by the promised date. On April 4, DeGuerin and Zimmerman meet again with Koresh, and reiterate that everyone will depart after Passover. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] FBI agent Bob Ricks says officials are hoping for a resolution of the standoff during Passover. The observance begins at sunset April 5, but Ricks cautions that the Davidians may not be dependent on the traditional Jewish calendar. Koresh is “very flexible with regard to certain biblical events and time schedules,” he says. “He could interpret Passover as beginning right now.” [New York Times, 4/2/1993]
Stephen Higgins, the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), now admits that some elements of the BATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) may have been flawed. Days before, Higgins told an interviewer that the raid went off as planned, and did not end well because someone alerted the Davidians to the impending raid (see March 30, 1993). Testifying before a Senate subcommittee, Higgins says, “We probably will find things we did right and things we did wrong, and we will respond accordingly.” Higgins refuses to answer specific questions about the events leading up to the assault on the compound, but he now admits that BATF supervisors may have decided to stage the raid even after losing the element of surprise, as a number of BATF and FBI agents have claimed (see March 27, 1993). That is “an open question” under review, he testifies. He also admits that the Davidians may have known there were federal agents mounting an undercover operation (see January 11, 1993 and After). “I can’t say to my knowledge it’s not true,” he says. Previously, Higgins denied that the undercover agents were discovered. [New York Times, 4/3/1993]
Several dozen libertarian, right-wing “patriot,” and gun rights activists protest outside the besieged Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and March 25, 1993). In addition, right-wing extremist Linda Thompson has a cadre of armed “unorganized militia” members involved in the protests. [Moore, 1995] The protests will lead some in the Justice Department to speculate that organizations such as Thompson’s may attempt to effectuate an armed “rescue” of the Davidians (see April 17-18, 1993).
Lawyers for the two Branch Davidian leaders besieged along with almost 100 of their followers in their compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 29-31, 1993), make assertions about the February 28 raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) that contradict the government’s version of events. Richard DeGuerin represents Davidian leader David Koresh and Jack Zimmerman represents Koresh’s lieutenant, Steve Schneider. DeGuerin and Zimmerman say that, according to their clients, four federal agents were captured in the raid, disarmed, and later released, and that helicopters flying over the main compound building fired shots. Federal authorities deny both claims. Both lawyers have met with their clients today, and one says details of a surrender have been worked out, with a surrender coming after the group celebrates Passover. DeGuerin and Zimmerman refuse to provide any personal observations about conditions inside the compound, saying they fear that such reports could jeopardize their status as lawyers and force them to be witnesses. They refuse to confirm or deny reports by a Davidian who recently left the compound, Rita Riddle (see March 21, 1993), who has said that six Davidians were killed in the raid, including one woman who was slain in her bed.
Government Denies Helicopters Fired into Compound, BATF Agents Captured - A spokesman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Jerry Singer, denies that BATF helicopters had flown over the cult’s compound or fired into it (see March 30, 1993). He also denies that any BATF agents were either captured or released. “No,” he says. “It did not happen.” Both DeGuerin and Zimmerman believe that the helicopters did fire into the upper floors of the compound from above; Zimmerman says: “An expert will be able to tell from the angle of the trajectory plus the pattern whether there are entry or exit holes. If it’s in the ceiling and it’s clearly an exit hole, it had to have come from above. How else could it have come in?”
Koresh Wounded, Not in 'Great Pain' - Both confirm that Koresh was wounded during the firefignt (see April 1, 1993). “I saw the wounds and he did not appear to be in great pain,” Zimmermann says. “But he certainly had his movement restricted and had to shift positions carefully. The wound is a through-and-through flesh wound. For a layman, it would be a wound in the side.”
Lawyers: FBI 'Destroying Evidence' - Both lawyers are concerned with the FBI’s decision to use bulldozers and armored personnel carriers to remove trees, buses, automobiles, boats, and scrub brush from the area surrounding the main buildings. FBI officials say the efforts are “defensive maneuvers,” intended to provide a clear field of fire into the compound. Zimmerman says the FBI is destroying evidence. “When you clear a field of fire it can go both ways,” he says. “There is no question that the FBI is destroying evidence. If nothing else they’ve moved the location of physical objects from a crime scene before they had been photographed.” DeGuerin agrees, saying: “They’re destroying evidence with the bulldozers. That’s what they’re doing.”
Surrender Plans - The Davidians show some desire to surrender, but are “still intimidated by the FBI,” according to Zimmerman, who adds that the Davidians will not surrender “until we know the media are going to be there.” The plans for surrender, Zimmerman says, feature Koresh and DeGuerin walking out in front of the group, with the other sect members in the middle, and ending with Schneider walking out with Zimmerman. “They want the two leaders on either end with Mr. Koresh in front, so that symbolically everyone inside understands it’s okay,” Zimmerman says. “Everyone else comes out single-file and gets processed humanely one at a time. Mr. Schneider stays to the end with me and once we’re out, everyone knows everything is safe and clear and they can come in with their search teams.” Neither DeGuerin nor Zimmerman will say when the standoff may end, only saying that the surrender will come after Passover, and that the group does not celebrate Passover by the traditional Jewish calendar (see April 1-4, 1993). “They’re ready for this to be over but they have a very important agenda with Passover and their holiday,” DeGuerin says. [New York Times, 4/5/1993]
Entity Tags: Jerry Singer, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jack Zimmerman, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Richard DeGuerin, Rita Riddle, Steve Schneider, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Jesse Amen, who surreptitiously entered the besieged Branch Davidian compound days before (see March 26, 1993), exits the compound and is taken into custody. Amen is held at the McLennan County Jail on charges of interfering with the duty of a police officer. [New York Times, 4/5/1993; Moore, 1995]
After bringing religious audiotapes into the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman, two attorneys who represent Davidian leaders David Koresh and Steve Schneider (see April 1-4, 1993), tell New York Times reporters that agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) fired gunshots from helicopters into the compound during the February 28 raid, proven by bullet holes in the roof. The Times carries the story, along with denials from the BATF. DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s claims echo those made earlier by Davidian Rita Riddle (see March 30, 1993). [Moore, 1995]
Steve Schneider, the aide to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, protests the FBI’s barrage of bright lights and extremely loud music into the Davidian compound. Schneider says the FBI had agreed to ease its pressure tactics during Passover (see April 1-4, 1993). The FBI continues shining the the lights and playing music into the compound. [Moore, 1995]
Lawyers for two of the Branch Davidians currently besieged inside their compound by FBI forces ask a federal magistrate to impound a videotape of the federal raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Officials from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, also abbreviated as ATF) say they have already turned the videotape over to Texas law enforcement authorities. The videotape, shot from a National Guard helicopter which served as a BATF “command post” for the raid, may help determine whether the Davidians or BATF agents fired the first shots of the firefight, which claimed 10 lives. The tape has not been made public. BATF spokeswoman Sharon Wheeler says, “All I can tell you is that the tape is in the custody of the Texas Rangers.” The Rangers have been investigating the shootout as a possible prelude to state charges against cult members. Jack Zimmerman, representing Davidian aide Steve Schneider (see March 29-31, 1993), says the BATF “is not a disinterested party,” and may be attempting to edit or alter the videotape. “Should the videotapes and audiotapes reveal shortcomings on the part of the ATF,” Zimmerman says, “it would not be in the interest of the ATF to retain unaltered damning videotapes and audiotapes.” BATF officials say such assertions are groundless. [New York Times, 4/7/1993] Zimmerman and fellow lawyer Richard DeGuerin claim that BATF agents fired first, and that agents fired on the compound from helicopters; the bureau denies both assertions (see April 4-5, 1993).
Despite his promises that his Davidian sect members will leave the compound on April 10 (see April 1-4, 1993), David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), now refuses to confirm an exit date. Larry Potts, the supervising FBI agent in Washington, and his colleague Floyd Clarke, have flown to Waco; they meet with Richard Rogers, the chief of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) to discuss strategy. Rogers proposes using tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound if they fail to leave as promised (see March 23, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
The Branch Davidians, currently besieged inside their Waco, Texas, compound by the FBI (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), issue another promise to depart the compound after Passover (see April 1-4, 1993). They also hang out more banners for the press to see, including one that reads, “Rodney King, We Understand.” They are referring to Los Angeles motorist Rodney King, who is pressing charges against Los Angeles police officers for beating him during a routine traffic stop. [Moore, 1995]
The day before the promised departure of the Branch Davidian sect members from their besieged compound (see April 1-4, 1993), Davidian leader David Koresh sends a four-page letter to the FBI, identifying himself as “Yahweh” (the Jewish name for God) and telling it that the “heavens are calling you to judgment.” The letter is written in first-person as if God penned it. “The letter is threatening and cites six Biblical passages,” says FBI spokesman Bob Ricks. “The gist of the letter, like the Biblical passages, conveys messages of a powerful, angry God empowering his chosen people to punish and harm those who oppose him.” Experts analyze the letter, along with others Koresh will send over the next few days (see April 10-11, 1993), and will conclude that Koresh is possibly psychotic and has no intention of leaving voluntarily. [New York Times, 4/10/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Davidian Attacked with Stun Grenades - Steve Schneider, David Koresh’s lieutenant, is allowed to briefly leave the compound to deliver Koresh’s letter and to ignite seven smoke flares to commemorate Passover. In the process, FBI agents bombard him with stun grenades, sometimes called “flash-bangs,” to drive him back inside. Ricks explains, “Mr. Schneider, either through his own confusion or whatever, came out one occasion too many yesterday and we had to flash-bang him twice.” [New York Times, 4/10/1993]
Letter Helps Precipitate Decision to Assault Compound - Impelled in part by the letter, the FBI finalizes plans to use tear gas to flush the Davidians from the compound (see April 7, 1993), and begins moving to secure Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval to carry out these plans. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Some within the FBI feel that the tear-gas assault is the very worst thing that can be done to resolve the situation (see March 31, 1993). FBI profilers Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993), who warned their superiors that increasing the pressure on Koresh and the Davidians would precipitate a bloody, violent end to the standoff (see March 7-8, 1993), say that the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel should withdraw from the compound, and that tactical pressure “should be the absolute last option we should consider.” The two experts who analyze the letter tend to agree with Smerick and Young. Clint Van Zandt, of the FBI’s National Center for the Analysis of Violent Crime—the so-called “Silence of the Lambs” team—and Dr. Joseph Krofcheck, a psychiatrist, conclude after reading the letter that an FBI confrontation with Koresh might “bring this matter to a ‘magnificent’ end, in his mind, a conclusion that could take the lives of all of his followers and as many of the authorities as possible.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Steve Schneider, Mark Young, Joseph Krofcheck, Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Concertina wire. [Source: Sodahead (.com)]The day of the Branch Davidians’ promised departure from their compound (see April 1-4, 1993 and April 8, 1993) arrives. No one departs. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) members begin installing razor-sharp concertina wire around the compound. FBI agents intend to prevent Davidians from sneaking out of the compound, perhaps to assault the agents besieging it (see March 1, 1993); they also intend to keep others from sneaking in, as has already happened twice (see March 24, 1993 and March 26, 1993). The wire may allow the FBI to relieve some of the agents, many of whom have been on-site for five weeks. Officials also admit that the wire is a tacit admission that they expect the Davidians to remain immured in their compound for an indefinite period of time. The FBI is reluctant to mount an assault, spokespersons say, because of its concerns over the welfare of the children inside (see March 28, 1993 and April 9, 1993). Concerns include the effect of tear gas on the children; one agent explains that the amounts necessary to irritate adults enough to drive them out of the compound could prove harmful or even lethal to small children. Moreover, two of the women inside are pregnant, with one expected to deliver sometime in May. Two senior FBI officials have visited Waco in recent days to discuss a possible “end strategy,” including the idea of assaulting the compound with tear gas or other chemicals to drive the Davidians out (see April 7, 1993). FBI officials in Washington say all the options under discussion have flaws, and the only option that could be mutually agreed upon was the installation of the razor wire. Lloyd Bentsen, the secretary of the Treasury, who supervises the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), says he is intensely worried that any such assault will cost lives, and he has already spoken against escalating the pressure on the Davidians. “I spent most of one night trying to be sure there was not an additional use of force at that situation,” he says. [New York Times, 4/13/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
David Koresh, the leader of the besieged Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), writes two documents, either letters or messages. The intended audiences are unclear, though he is most likely speaking to the FBI. In one, Koresh identifies himself as “Yahweh,” the Jewish name for God (see April 9, 1993). His first document reads in part: “I offer to you My wisdom, I offer to you My sealed secrets. How date [sic] you turn away. My invitations of mercy.… Who are you fighting against? The law is Mine, the Truth is Mine.… I AM you God and you will bow under my feet.… I AM you life & your death. I AM the Spirit of the prophets and the Author of their testimonies. Look and see, you fools, you will not proceed much further. Do you think you have power to stop My will?… My seven thunders are to be revealed.… Do you want me to laugh at your pending torments? Do you want Me to pull the heavens back and show you My anger?!… Fear Me, for I have you in My snare.… I forewarn you, the Lake Waco area of Old Mount Carmel will be terribly shaken. The waters of the lake will be emptied through the broken dam.” Koresh’s second document reads in part: “My hand made heaven and earth. My hand also shall bring it to the end.… Your sins are more than you can bear. Show mercy and kindness and you shall receive mercy and kindness.… You have a chance to learn My Salvation. Do not find yourselves to be fighting against Me.… Please listen and show mercy and learn of the marriage of the Lamb. Why will you be lost? [Signed] Yahweh Koresh.” [Time, 5/3/1993] According to an FBI agent, “The tone of the [second] letter is one of a vengeful God who will seek reprisal against those who defy the Lamb or his son, which is portrayed as David.” [New York Times, 4/13/1993] In response to the letters, the FBI informs the lawyers representing the Davidians, Richard DeGuerin and Jack Zimmerman (see April 1-4, 1993 and April 4-5, 1993), that they will no longer be allowed inside the compound unless the Davidians surrender immediately. [Moore, 1995] Some FBI officials believe that Koresh is becoming increasingly unstable and perhaps even psychotic. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Attorney General Janet Reno discusses tear-gassing the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993) with senior Justice Department and FBI officials. At first she is reluctant to approve any such plan, asking repeatedly, “Why now, why not wait?” but as the discussion progresses, she becomes more convinced that action must be taken (see April 9, 1993). The plan is presented not as an all-out assault, but as a staged assault whereby gas is used on parts of the compound, theoretically allowing sect members to exit through uncontaminated areas. Reno asks if it is feasible to cut the water supply to the compound. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Reno has little real knowledge of the level of infighting and dissension among the FBI officials involved in the standoff (see March 31, 1993). The FBI officials who come to her office give no hint that many are recommending that the negotiations continue and the pressure on the Davidians be lessened. Reporter Peter Boyer will later note that Reno, a Washington outsider only a month into the job (see March 12, 1993), has no “cadre of confidants” willing to give her an unvarnished, complete picture of events. Instead, the FBI officials, led by Director William Sessions, present her with what Boyer will call a “united front,” all agreeing that negotiations have completely broken down and action is now the only option. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] In 1995, FBI profiler Peter Smerick will claim that top FBI officials “misled” Reno by not providing her with work by himself and other FBI behavioral analysts and negotiators that warned of the risks of such an assault (see 1995). Unbeknownst to Reno, the Washington FBI officials have sent a high-priority request to the FBI commanders in Waco asking for “specific documentation to support our position” that tear gas is the only option. The request outlines how the information would be used to argue against waiting out the Davidians. The request also states the FBI’s plan for addressing questions about negotiations in the report to the attorney general: “The universal assessment of all involved—including FBI and outside consultants: that negotiation would not work,” it says. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum advises President Clinton that the Branch Davidian situation is best left to the Justice Department to handle. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
David Koresh, the increasingly psychotic leader (see April 9, 1993) of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), spends most of the afternoon haranguing FBI negotiators with what they have come to call “Bible babble” (see March 15, 1993). Today is the end of Passover, the day that Koresh has repeatedly promised he will have the Davidians leave the compound (see April 1-4, 1993, April 6, 1993, and April 8, 1993), but he does not do so. He says that he intends to lead the community out of the compound peacefully, but is waiting for God to tell him exactly what he should do. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Moore, 1995; New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Clinton administration, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, William S. Sessions, Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, Richard Rogers, Ruth Riddle, James Tabor, Janet Reno, Jack Zimmerman, Philip Arnold, Richard DeGuerin, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh tells the FBI he has completed work on the portion of his manuscript that explains the first of the Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno, after a private briefing by FBI Director William Sessions, requests that the FBI prepare documentation about the tear-gas assault plan currently under development (see April 12, 1993). [Moore, 1995]
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