Profile: David Koresh
a.k.a. Vernon Howell
David Koresh was a participant or observer in the following events:
Page 1 of 2 (109 events)previous
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]
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]
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]
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
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]
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]
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]
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).
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 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]
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
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]
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]
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]
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
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]
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 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
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]
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]
Louis Alaniz, a Houston resident who sneaked into the besieged Branch Davidian compound less than a month after the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF)‘s failed raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and March 24, 1993), leaves the compound and talks to FBI agents. He wears a shirt that proclaims “David Koresh God.” Alaniz hopes to act as a mediator between the Davidians and the FBI. In 1999, he will recall: “I asked for a pad and paper. I drew a diagram of the building. I wanted to help resolve it. I gave them a complete layout. I told them, ‘These people don’t want to fight. But if you go in, do it in a way that you don’t hurt anyone.‘… I told them there was hay up against the wall and in the foyer trying to stop bullets. They thought they were going to be shot at again.” A Texas law enforcement official will confirm that the Davidians are using hay as a barricade. Alaniz is particularly worried about the children in the compound. He tells authorities that there is a nursery on the second floor where the babies sleep. Lanterns are often alight in the nursery to help mothers see to bathe the children. He will later recall being shocked when, on April 19 (see April 19, 1993), he watches a tear gas boom on an armored vehicle rip into the wall of the nursery. “Why did they have to hit that spot?” he will ask. “That told me they didn’t care. If they did, they wouldn’t have pumped gas inside there where the infants were. No, sir, they can’t lie to me no more about caring about those kids. They wanted them all dead.” [New York Times, 4/17/1993; Moore, 1995; Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, 9/12/1999]
A variety of military-grade CS gas canisters. A ruler lies between them as a size reference. It is unclear if the FBI plans to use canisters similar to these in the Davidian assault. [Source: British Ordnance Collectors]Attorney General Janet Reno approves a modified version of the FBI’s original plan to flush the Branch Davidian compound, Mt. Carmel, with tear gas and force the departure of the 80-odd members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993). Reno rejected an earlier plan, instead asking for further review (see April 14-15, 1993). According to a later Justice Department report, she gives the prepared material “only a cursory review, leaving tactical decisions to those at Waco,” and begins discussing rules of engagement with FBI Director William Sessions and his top aides. She briefs President Clinton, who concurs with the plan after asking questions about measures designed to ensure the safety of the children in the compound (see March 28, 1993). According to Reno, who will later discuss her conversation with Clinton: “He said: ‘Have you carefully considered it? Have you looked at everything? Do you feel like this is the best way to go?’ And I said: ‘Yes, sir. It’s my responsibility, and I think it’s the best way to go.’” Ultimately, Clinton says, “it is your decision.” The plan has been under discussion since March 22 (see March 22, 1993); Reno will acknowledge that she has been appraised of such a plan since “around March 27th or sometime near the very end of March.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Parameters of Plan - The stated mission of the plan is to “secure the surrender/arrest of all adult occupants of the residence while providing the maximum possible security for the children within the compound.” The plan spans some 48 hours, or until all the Davidians have left the building and surrendered. The raid will start with the first “insertion” of CS gas into the front left portion of the residence, the main building of the compound. After a period of time dependent on the Davidians’ response to the CS gas and any negotiations that might take place, more CS will be inserted into the back right portion of the residence. A third insertion will be made at an unspecified point in the residence. After that, all subsequent insertions will be made through the upper and lower windows of the building. The first three insertions will be made by two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs), military vehicles similar to Bradley fighting vehicles but lacking armaments. The CEVs to be used have been outfitted with boom-like arms capable of punching through the walls of the residence. On the booms are mechanical sprayers for the CS. After the third insertion, agents will fire “ferret” round projectiles through the windows; these are small, non-explosive grenade-like projectiles containing CS gas which break apart upon impact and deliver the gas. In addition, more CS will be inserted by the CEVs. HRT (hostage rescue team) and SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units have specific assignments. Maneuvers for the two CEVs, nine Bradleys, and one M-88 tank retrieval vehicle are also specified. FBI snipers are carefully positioned. A “medical annex” is placed to treat what the plan calls “the potentially large number of casualties which could exceed the current medical capabilities of any single agency present,” and there are procedures to be followed to arrest persons exposed to CS. The annex is prepared to evacuate seriously injured agents or Davidians to local and secondary hospitals, as well as the mass surrender of the Davidians if that occurs. The plan also provides for the possibility that the Davidians might not surrender. In that case, the plan states that “if all subjects failed to surrender after 48 hours of tear gas, then a CEV with a modified blade will commence a systematic opening up/disassembly of the structure until all subjects are located.” If Davidians are observed in the compound’s guard tower, agents will fire ferret rounds into the tower. Also: “If during any tear gas delivery operations, subjects open fire with a weapon, then the FBI rules of engagement will apply and appropriate deadly force will be used. Additionally, tear gas will immediately be inserted into all windows of the compound utilizing the four Bradley vehicles as well as the CEVs.”
No Frontal Assault - The plan has no provision for any sort of frontal assault by armed FBI agents; the planners feel that any such assault would almost certainly result in “significant casualties” among the agents, and might well trigger a mass suicide among the Davidians. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Deliberately Misinformed - Later investigations will show that Reno is being actively misinformed by the FBI in order to secure her approval for the tear gas plan. The FBI procured documentation from the on-site commanders in Waco that supports only the Washington officials’ desire for an aggressive assault using a heavy bombardment of tear gas, and omits material from FBI profiler Pete Smerick and FBI negotiators that warns against such a plan (see April 12, 1993 and 1995). The FBI information presented to Reno does not contain Smerick’s behavioral memos, omits complaints from Smerick and an array of negotiators that negotiations had been progressing until derailed by more aggressive FBI tactics, and omits warnings that using tanks or other force against the Davidians would cause violence and death. The report concludes, “Since negotiations began on Feb. 28, 1993, despite 51 days of efforts, the negotiators have concluded that they have not been able to successfully negotiate a single item with [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995; Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
Allegations of Child Abuse - A later Justice Department study will show that Reno changes her mind about the plan primarily because she fears the children in the compound are being abused. The FBI’s briefing book notes allegations of child abuse by Davidian leader David Koresh, both sexual and physical. Although the FBI has no evidence of current abuse taking place, someone in the FBI tells Reno that children in the compound are being raped and beaten. According to the Justice Department report, “someone had made a comment in one of the meetings that Koresh was beating babies.” Reno, who came to Washington with the reputation of being a child advocate, later says she “double-checked” the allegation and got “the clear impression that, at some point since the FBI had assumed command and control for the situation, they had learned that the Branch Davidians were beating babies.” However, it is highly unlikely that Koresh is abusing children, largely because the wounds he suffered in the February 28 shootout sharply limit his mobility. Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, has closely examined the children already released from the compound, and concluded that none of them had been subjected to sexual or physical abuse. Perry will later say of the child-abuse allegations, “The FBI maximized things they knew would ring a bell with her.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995] FBI Director William Sessions says on April 19 that no direct evidence exists of current sexual or physical abuse going on among the Davidians. Reno will later state that she possessed “no contemporary evidence” of such abuse. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Additionally, some FBI officials worry that Koresh and the other adults may try to break out of the compound using the children as human shields, though no evidence supports this fear. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Not Told CS Gas Can Be Flammable - The CS gas to be used is also flammable under certain conditions, a fact of which Reno may not be aware. [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
Exaggerated Warnings of Militia Members En Route - Reno will later state that she receives warnings during the briefings about the possibility that armed militia members may be preparing to converge on Waco to join Koresh in resisting the law enforcement forces gathered around the Mt. Carmel compound (see April 3, 1993). Later investigation shows that the “threat” of “armed militias” consists of one Indianapolis lawyer, Linda Thompson, who has promised to load people into a van, drive to Waco, and protest for the right to bear arms. Thompson says she is part of an organization called the Unorganized Militia of the United States, an organization of which few Justice Department officials are aware. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
'Highly Irresponsible' - A House committee investigation in 1996 will find Reno’s decision to approve the assault “highly irresponsible,” and will find, “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
A 1968 black Camaro virtually identical to the one destroyed by the FBI. In later years, the model will be sold as ‘David Koresh’s Camaro.’ [Source: The Car Connection]In preparation for tear-gassing the Branch Davidian compound (see April 17-18, 1993), the FBI uses armored vehicles to clear Davidian leader David Koresh’s Chevrolet Camaro and other vehicles away from the front of the compound. The FBI warns the Davidians to stay out of the compound’s tower, but they ignore the warning. Instead, they display children in the windows, and in one window, put up a sign reading “Flames Await.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six hours before the final assault (see April 19, 1993), Davidians are heard telling each other to “spread the fuel,” indicating that they are pouring accelerants, probably lighter fluid, in parts of the compound in preparation for torching the buildings. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] The on-site commander, FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Jamar, will later say that while he and his team feared the effects that fire would have on the buildings, they did not take the threat of fire literally. “But we should have known there was going to be a fire? I don’t agree with that,” he will say. “The apocalyptic view, fire was always thrown out—the scriptures, those references were there.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Koresh is working to complete a treatise on the Seven Seals (see April 18, 1993).
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh, defying what will be final orders from the FBI to lead his people out of the besieged compound (see April 17-18, 1993), continues working on his treatise on the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). The FBI has provided Koresh with a typist, Ruth Riddle, who spends most of the evening typing from Koresh’s dictation. During the night, Koresh and Riddle complete a five-page introduction to the Seven Seals, a poem of 13 quatrains, and a seven-page exposition on the First Seal. In a Congressional statement given in 1995, author and activist Dick J. Reavis will claim that Koresh is planning on surrendering as soon as he finishes the treatise. Reavis’s claim is based on his reading of transcripts of telephone conversations between Koresh and FBI negotiators. Given the rate of production by Koresh and Riddle, religious experts Phil Arnold and James Tabor will estimate that Koresh would have completed the entire manuscript in two or three weeks. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995] He will not get the chance to do so (see April 19, 1993).
Attorney General Janet Reno, described by the New York Times as “shaken,” explains the decision to allow the FBI to assault the besieged Branch Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993), a decision that resulted in an inferno of flames and almost 80 dead Davidians (see April 19, 1993). She says that in hindsight the order to assault the compound was a mistake. Reno takes responsibility for the assault and says that she regrets the loss of life. “Today was not meant to be D-Day,” she says. “This was just a step forward in trying to bring about a peaceful resolution by constantly exerting further pressure to shrink the perimeter.… Obviously, if I had thought that the chances were great of a mass suicide, I would never have approved the plan.” She says FBI officials in charge of the operation did not believe that Koresh’s reaction to the assault, which deployed tanks, armored vehicles, and a huge amount of tear gas, would be to order a mass suicide. In an interview on CNN, Reno says the decision “was based on what we knew then,” apparently referring to what she and FBI officials knew before the raid (see April 17-18, 1993). “Based on what we know now, it was obviously wrong.” FBI senior agent Bob Ricks, who was at the siege for almost all of its 51 days, concurs with Reno’s statements. “Our desire was to get them out, use nonlethal means in a systematic manner, so that they could come before the bar and face justice,” he says, not to precipitate their deaths. Reno says that one of the factors that led her to approve the assault was reports that the Davidians were physically abusing the children inside. “We had information that babies were being beaten” by Davidian leader David Koresh, she says. “I specifically asked, ‘You really mean babies?’ ‘Yes, that he’s slapping babies around.’ These are concerns that we had.” She also says that had the siege lasted much longer, most if not all of the FBI agents deployed around the compound would have needed to be withdrawn for rest and retraining, and replaced with a new team. “The experts advised us, advised me, that in those situations where you had to be constantly on the alert that it was in the best interests of everybody concerned, including the safety of the agents and others involved, to provide for really time off, and what I was told is that there were no backups,” she says. [New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993; New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS]The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both (see April 18, 1993). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning - At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire - At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.” Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000] Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI's Actions an Assault - A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee (see August 2, 1996) will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington - At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached - At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well - At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes - Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript (see April 18, 1993), escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound - At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] A 1993 Treasury Department report (see Late September - October 1993) will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs” (see October 8, 1999). Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Plea for Release - At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Systematic Gunfire' - At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors - At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll - In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker - FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing. That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh's Fate - Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas - Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan - The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility - One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack (see April 17-18, 1993), and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here” (see April 19, 1993). She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Entity Tags: Bob Ricks, Bob Sheehy, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Barry Higginbotham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno, Jeffrey Jamar, Byron Sage, US Department of Justice, Nizam Peerwani, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Richard Rogers, Rodney Rawlings, Rodney Crow, Ruth Riddle, Texas Rangers, Steve Schneider
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The government’s explanation that the besieged Branch Davidians chose to commit mass suicide in response to an FBI assault (see April 19, 1993) is disputed by friends and family members of the Davidians who died in the conflagration. FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide, and they all followed his order.” Koresh was the leader of the Branch Davidians. But Koresh’s grandmother, Jean Holub (see (March 18, 1993)), tells a reporter: “No, no way. He wouldn’t do that to those children.” Seventeen children died in the fire that consumed the Davidian compound; most, if not all, of them were believed to be Koresh’s own children. Koresh’s mother, Bonnie Haldeman, blames federal authorities for the fire. “I am scared to death,” she says. “Where’s our civil rights? It’s just terrible. The way they handled this whole thing has been wrong.” Davidian Karen Doyle, who lost her father and sister in the fire, says her faith in Koresh is not shaken by the tragedy. “I know that God will take care of them,” she says of those who died. “Even in ordinary death, you know, we all put off the body.” Robyn Bunds, a former Davidian who left the sect (see February 27 - March 3, 1993 and March 25, 1993), says that she never heard Koresh speak of mass suicide, but often heard him talk about his own death: “He used to prophesize that he would be murdered, and I believe he would want to make his prophesy come true.” [New York Times, 4/19/1993]
A New York Times op-ed excoriates the federal government for allowing the FBI to assault the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas, a decision that resulted in the fiery deaths of 78 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “[T]here was nothing divinely ordained by yesterday’s catastrophe,” the op-ed states, and says that Attorney General Janet Reno’s later explanation of events (see April 19, 1993) clearly shows “time was on the authorities’ side, and they threw it away.” The op-ed finds Reno’s characterization of the assault as an incremental increase in pressure on the Davidians to be specious: “[A]ssault by an armored vehicle equipped to poke holes in buildings seems like a large escalation of force more likely to make cultists think that D-Day had indeed arrived.” The op-ed credits the FBI agents on site with restraint in not returning fire when the Davidians fired on them, but says both the bureau and Reno “sadly… miss the point” of the debacle. “The miscalculation was near-total,” it says. The op-ed concludes: “The Koresh affair has been mishandled from beginning to end (see March 27, 1993). It started with a bungled attack by Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in which four agents and unknown number of cultists were killed (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and ended in yesterday’s FBI misjudgment. The hard lesson is that patience and determination do not cost lives, but impatience does. Does anyone now doubt that it would have been better to let the standoff in Waco continue?” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
The May 3, 1993 cover of Time magazine featuring its special report on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. [Source: Time]Time magazine publishes a lengthy series of articles on David Koresh (see November 3, 1987 and After) and the Waco, Texas, Branch Davidians (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) titled “Tragedy in Waco.” Among its articles is a profile of Koresh that characterizes him as a cult leader and a psychopath. Of his near-total control over his followers, Time writes: “In the manner of cult leaders before him, Koresh held sway largely through means that were both more subtle and more degrading. Food was rationed in unpredictable ways. Newcomers were gradually relieved of their bank accounts and personal possessions. And while the men were subjected to an uneasy celibacy, Koresh took their wives and daughters as his concubines” (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). The profile notes Koresh’s “mangled theological rationale” as the “Second Coming” of Jesus Christ in a sinful, mortal form. It discusses what it calls his “creamy charm and a cold-blooded willingness to manipulate those drawn to him,” and says “students of cult practices” readily recognize his type: “He was the most spectacular example since Jim Jones, who committed suicide in 1978 with more than 900 of his followers at the People’s Temple in Guyana. Like Jones, Koresh fashioned a tight-knit community that saw itself at desperate odds with the world outside. He plucked sexual partners as he pleased from among his followers and formed an elite guard of lieutenants to enforce his will. And like Jones, he led his followers to their doom.” UCLA psychology professor Louis West calls Koresh a psychopath, and explains: “The psychopath is often charming, bright, very persuasive. He quickly wins people’s trust and is uncannily adept at manipulating and conning people.” Former Davidian David Bunds, who left the Waco compound in 1989, says Koresh was preparing his followers for the Apocalypse and mortal death for years. “Koresh would say we would have to suffer, that we were going to be persecuted, and some of us would be killed and tortured,” Bunds recalls. Psychologist Murray Miron, who advised the FBI during the standoff, says: “The adulation of this confined group work on this charismatic leader so that he in turn spirals into greater and greater paranoia. He’s playing a role that his followers have cast him in.” In a sense, the article concludes, both Koresh and the Davidians gave one another what they needed. The Davidians confirmed Koresh’s belief that he was the son of God and destined for a martyr’s death. He helped them bring their spiritual wanderings to a close. The article concludes with the following: “In the flames of last week, they all may have found what they were searching for.” [Time, 5/3/1993]
Federal and state authorities find the remains of a huge arsenal of firearms, weapons, munitions, and ammunition at the burned-out site of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The remains include 40 submachine guns, 76 assault rifles, one Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle and another .50-caliber weapon, over a million rounds of ammunition, shotguns, pistols, grenades, gas masks, silencers, body armor, and various equipment and parts, including the parts needed for rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). This information comes from a federal document unsealed in a Waco court. BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) officials say the findings confirm their fears that Davidian leader David Koresh was amassing a cache of weapons to go along with his apocalyptic teachings (see June-July 1992). BATF spokesman Jack Killorin says: “We were right from the beginning. It was our belief going in there that there was a large stockpile of weapons and parts for making weapons and explosive devices. It seems clear that our suspicions were also correct that these were not being amassed for self-defense. One of the things that has concerned me was that we found silenced submachine guns, which are typically weapons of assassination or guerilla warfare. It raises the question of what this religious group was planning to do.” Authorities also find lathes, milling equipment, and other tooling machinery used to convert assault weapons into illegally modified automatic weapons. Some material left behind during the BATF’s abortive raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) is also found, including body armor, a battering ram, a BATF medical kit, and a federal-issue MP-5 machine gun. Materials tagged as “arson evidence” are also found, including Coleman lanterns, crushed or opened gasoline and Coleman fuel cans, and two items labeled “torches.” Personal effects, including Bibles, marriage and death certificates, children’s clothing, baseball cards, and a library card are also catalogued. And the authorities also find a stash of Koresh’s documents, including one labeled by the authorities as “Document: Apocalypse-‘Death’ and ‘Grave’ highlighted.” [Dallas Morning Herald, 5/26/1993]
In interviews conducted for the Justice Department’s probe of the FBI’s 51-day siege of the Branch Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993), several FBI agents present during the siege and/or final assault say the bureau abandoned negotiations much too early and instead implemented aggressive measures that were counterproductive (see March 23, 1993). The interviews will not be included in the Justice Department’s report, and will not be released until December 1999, when they are made available to the special counsel investigating the FBI’s conduct during the final assault (see September 7-8, 1999).
Negotiators 'Had the Rug Pulled Out from under Them' - Some negotiators say during their interviews that because the FBI used punitive paramilitary actions (see March 12, 1993, March 14, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, March 21, 1993, March 22, 1993, March 23-24, 1993, March 25-26, 1993, April 7, 1993, April 10, 1993, and April 17-18, 1993), many Davidians chose to remain inside the compound rather than leave. Gary Noesner, the FBI’s negotiation coordinator for the first weeks of the siege, says, “The negotiators’ approach was working until they had the rug pulled out from under them” by aggressive tactical actions. Noesner’s replacement, Clint Van Zandt, agrees, saying the negotiators’ position was “akin to sitting on the bow of the Titanic and watching the iceberg approach.” Former FBI profiler Pete Smerick, who warned early in the siege that the aggressive tactics being used by the FBI might backfire (see March 3-4, 1993 and March 7-8, 1993), says that the FBI “should not send in the tanks, because if they did so, children would die and the FBI would be blamed even if they were not responsible.… The outcome would have been different if the negotiation approach had been used. More people would have come out, even if Koresh and his core never did.”
Negotiators Submitted Own Plan for Tear-Gas Assault - Noesner says that on March 22, he and other negotiators submitted their own plan for gassing the compound, in hopes that their more moderated plan would be chosen over a more aggressive plan from the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT). “This showed a clear realization… that the negotiations were basically over. They knew they were at an impasse,” Noesner says of FBI negotiators. “They recommended that tear gas be used because they realized this was going to happen anyway and they wanted to control it, to use it with leverage in the negotiations. The tactical interests just wanted to throw the gas in.” The negotiators’ plan became the blueprint for the plan accepted by Attorney General Janet Reno. “It would be allowed to work by letting them sit in it. The idea was to increase pressure but not in a way to provoke a violent response,” Noesner says.
Negotiators' Positions Disputed - FBI agent Byron Sage, one of the senior agents present during the siege, disagrees with some of his colleagues’ comments. In an interview repeatedly cited in the Justice Department report, Sage says: “Could we have gotten a few more people out [had the FBI used different tactics]? Maybe so, and God knows, any life that we could’ve saved would’ve been important. But it’s a total what-if. The fact remains that we did everything we could.” According to former White House counsel Webster Hubbell, also interviewed for the Justice Department report, Sage told him in a phone call that further negotiations were useless, and that some kind of assault on the compound was the only way to resolve the situation. Sage disputes Hubbell’s recollections, saying, “I never said negotiations were abandoned or at a total impasse.” Van Zandt, speaking to reporters in 1999, will say that he is not surprised to learn that Sage, and not Van Zandt, received Hubbell’s phone call. “I probably would’ve told him a lot different,” Van Zandt will recall. “When anyone from Washington asked who should we talk to, [on-site commander Jeffrey] Jamar strongly suggested Sage because he would speak the company line.… I don’t say [Sage] was Jeff Jamar’s man in a negative sense. But Jamar trusted him and knew he’d be working for Jamar when this was all over.” Van Zandt will recall warning “whoever would listen” that the plan was too risky and wouldn’t work. “That fell on deaf ears. I said we’re playing into Koresh’s prophecies. We’re doing what he wants.” Van Zandt will say that shortly before the assault he told the other negotiators what was coming. “It was a very deep, sobering time,” he will recall. Sage will dispute Van Zandt’s recollections also. “I don’t remember anyone jumping up and disagreeing,” he will say. “Hindsight is 20/20. We all agreed that we had reached a point where we would try to force the issue. If that meant the exercise of some force, then tear gas was the lowest level of force available.” [Dallas Morning News, 12/30/1999; USA Today, 12/30/1999]
Entity Tags: Peter Smerick, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Clinton R. Van Zandt, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jeffrey Jamar, Gary Noesner, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Webster Hubbell
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A federal grand jury returns a 10-count indictment, charging 12 Branch Davidians with murder, firearms violations, and conspiracy to kill federal agents. The indictments come as a result of the April 1993 assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that resulted in nearly 80 Davidians dying of fire, smoke inhalation, and gunshot wounds (see April 19, 1993), and the February 1993 raid on the compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that left four BATF agents and six Davidians dead (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Most of the Davidians charged left the compound at some time during the 51-day standoff between the Davidians and federal authorities; two of them, Rita Riddle and Renos Avraam, survived the assault itself. The defendants echo claims by their slain leader, David Koresh, that BATF agents fired the first shots and the Davidians were only protecting their home; journalists and federal agents say that the Davidians ambushed the agents as they attempted to surround and enter the compound to arrest Koresh. The defendants also insist that the FBI caused the fires that gutted the compound during the April assault, while FBI officials say the Davidians themselves set the fires. The indictment says that Koresh “gave instructions to spread flammable fuel within the Mount Carmel compound” after the FBI began its assault, with a CS gas barrage. “It was part of the conspiracy that an unidentified co-conspirator would and did give instructions at about noon on April 19, 1993, to start the fires.” Other Davidians facing charges aside from Riddle and Avraam include: Brad Eugene Branch, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gordon Fatta, Livingstone Fagan, Norman Washington Allison, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Clive J. Doyle, Woodrow Kendrick, Jaime Castillo, and Kathryn Schroeder. [US District Court for the Western District of Texas, 8/1993; Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993] The trial takes place six months later (see January-February 1994).
Entity Tags: Jaime Castillo, David Koresh, Clive J. Doyle, Branch Davidians, Brad Eugene Branch, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Woodrow Kendrick, Renos Avraam, Rita Riddle, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Kathryn Schroeder, Norman Washington Allison, Paul Gordon Fatta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The Treasury Department issues a 220-page report on the raid mounted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) against the Mt. Carmel compound of the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). The raid resulted in the deaths of four BATF agents, six Davidians, and a 51-day siege culminating in a fiery conflagration that killed most of the Davidians in their burning compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993). The report finds that the BATF raid was poorly planned and needlessly aggressive. It criticizes the BATF agents for inadequate information on the Davidians and a plan for an assault dependant on surprise—“shock and awe”—that was carried out even after the Davidians learned of the imminent assault. “The decision to proceed was tragically wrong, not just in retrospect, but because of what the decision makers knew at the time,” the report concludes. The BATF, the report says, handled the situation badly, and then attempted to cover up its poor management with falsehoods and obfustations. “There may be occasions when pressing operational considerations—or legal constraints—prevent law-enforcement officials from being… completely candid in their public utterances,” the report states. “This was not one of them.” After the report is issued, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen announces the replacement of the BATF’s entire top management; BATF chief Stephen Higgins retires three days before the report is released. Bentsen says, “It is now clear that those in charge in Texas realized they had lost the element of surprise before the raid began.” The field commanders made “inaccurate and disingenuous statements” to cover up their missteps, attempting to blame the agents who actually carried out the raid for their poor planning. [Time, 10/11/1993] However, the report finds that while the BATF made errors during the February raid, the agency was correct in its effort to apprehend violators of federal firearms laws, and the decision to effect a “dynamic entry” was the correct one. The report finds the raid was justified because “[t]he extraordinary discipline that [Davidian leader David] Koresh imposed on his followers… made him far more threatening than a lone individual who had a liking for illegal weapons. The compound became a rural fortress, often patrolled by armed guards, in which Koresh’s word—or the word that [he] purported to extrapolate from the Scripture—was the only law.… Were [he] to decide to turn his weapons on society, he would have devotees to follow him, and they would be equipped with weapons that could inflict serious damage.” The report concurs with BATF claims that Koresh and the Davidians had illegal weapons (see May 26, 1993), though it includes analyses from two firearms experts that show the Davidians may not have had such illegal weapons. The Treasury report repeatedly asserts that Koresh and his followers “ambushed” the BATF agents, finding, “On February 28, [they] knew that [B]ATF agents were coming and decided to kill them.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] According to a 1996 House investigation, the Treasury report “criticized [B]ATF personnel, but it exonerated all [Justice] Department officials.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
In Memorium - The Treasury report begins with a black-bordered page reading “In Memory Of” and listing the names of the four BATF officers killed in the raid. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Lost the Element of Surprise - Acting Special Agent in Charge Darrell Dyer, the report finds, arrived days before the raid to find no plans had been drawn up; he and another agent drew up a plan that was never distributed. And the agents in charge of the raid, Charles Sarabyn and Philip Chojnacki, decided to stage the raid despite information that the Davidians knew of it and were making preparations to defend themselves. [Time, 10/11/1993]
Falsifications and Questionable Statements - Even before the Waco compound burned, BATF officials were already misrepresenting the situtation. On March 3, 1993, Daniel Hartnett, associate director of law enforcement, told the press that though their agent, informant Robert Rodriguez, knew Koresh had received a phone call, the agent “did not realize this was a tip at the time.” Twenty-six days later, Higgins said, “We would not have executed the plans if our supervisors had lost the element [of surprise].” Both statements are questionable at best. After the compound burned, Texas Rangers asked BATF officials Dyer, Sarabyn, and Chojnacki to show them the plans for the raid; Dyer realized that the rough written plan was not in a satisfactory form, and the three revised the plan “to make it more thorough and complete.” The document they provided to the Rangers did not indicate that it was an after-action revision. The report states: “The readiness of Chojnacki, Sarabyn, and Dyer to revise an official document that would likely be of great significance in any official inquiry into the raid without making clear what they had done is extremely troubling and itself reflects a lack of judgment. This conduct, however, does not necessarily reveal an intent to deceive. And, in the case of Dyer, there does not appear to have been any such intent. The behavior of Chojnacki and Sarabyn when the alteration was investigated does not lead to the same conclusion.” [New York Times, 10/1/1993; Time, 10/11/1993]
Repercussions - Vice President Al Gore recommends that the BATF be dissolved, with its firearms division merged into the FBI and the other two sections merged with the IRS. Bentsen is resistant to the idea. However, such large-scale reorgzanizations are unlikely. After the report is issued, Bentsen removes Chojnacki, Sarabyn, Deputy Director Edward Daniel Conroy, and intelligence chief David Troy from active service. A year later, Chojnacki and Sarabyn will be rehired with full back pay and benefits (see December 23, 1994). [Time, 10/11/1993] The Treasury report, according to author and church advocate Dean Kelley, “helped to diminish criticism of the federal role.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: US Department of the Treasury, Darrell Dyer, Branch Davidians, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., Charles Sarabyn, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Robert Rodriguez, Stephen Higgins, David Troy, Philip Chojnacki, Dean M. Kelley, Edward Daniel Conroy, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lloyd Bentsen, David Koresh
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Ten men and one woman, survivors of the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), are tried for an array of crimes allegedly committed during the initial federal assault on the Mt. Carmel compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the ensuing siege (see August 7, 1993). (Fourteen other survivors face no charges.) All 11 are charged with conspiring to kill federal agents “with malice aforethought,” and for aiding and abetting such killing. A twelfth defendant, Kathryn Schroeder, pleads guilty to a lesser charge and testifies for the government. Some of the defendants also face charges such as using or carrying firearms in the commission of a violent crime. Ten lawyers represent the defendants. The trial takes place in San Antonio and lasts for seven weeks. Trial testimony casts doubt on the government’s tale of a vicious, unprovoked attack on the agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) who raided the compiund, and the cool, entirely professional response of the BATF and FBI. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] The defendants accuse the FBI of persecuting them for their unorthodox religious beliefs and for not respecting their constitutional right to bear arms. [Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244]
Bullet Holes in Door - Attorney Jack Zimmerman, who represented Davidian Steve Schneider and who met with Schneider during the siege, testifies that he saw the double front door of the compound riddled with bullet holes on the outside, presumably from shots fired by the BATF during its February raid. The door was not recovered from the compound after fire destroyed much of it, even though it was made of steel and presumably would not have vaporized in the flames. Texas Ranger Fred Cummings, who testifies about the details of the Rangers’ search for evidence after the fire, cannot explain what happened to the door, though he does acknowledge that FBI and BATF agents had access to the area between the time that the fire subsided and the time the Rangers took over. Presumably, the defense is trying to give the idea that either FBI or BATF agents absconded with the door in order to conceal evidence. Zimmerman also testifies that he saw eight or nine bullet holes in the roof that “caused the building material to be pooched in or down” showing that “the rounds came from above the ceiling down into the room.” Evidence that would confirm or disprove this claim was destroyed in the fire. BATF agent Roger Ballesteros, the agent assigned to lead the assault on the compound through the front door, testifies that he emerged from the cattle trailer carrying the assembled agents and charged for the front door, in full SWAT gear and carrying a shotgun across his chest. Balesteros testifies that Davidian leader David Koresh opened the door and asked, “What’s going on?” (Koresh and the Davidians were aware that an assault by federal agents was underway.) Balesteros testifies that he shouted: “Police! Lay down! Search warrant!” though he admits not mentioning these statements when he discussed the raid with Texas Rangers afterwards. He says bullets, fired from inside the compound by the Davidians, began spraying through the door moments later, and one struck him in the thumb. Asked how he knows that, he says that he saw holes in the door and splinters of wood pointing outward. The door, as established earlier, was steel and not wood.
Davidians Had Guns for Business Purposes, Gun Dealers Say - Testimony from gun dealers shows that the Davidians were acting as gun dealers themselves, buying and selling weapons for profit at gun shows. The prosecution introduces into evidence dozens of guns found in the ashes of Mt. Carmel that had been illegally converted into fully automatic weapons (see May 26, 1993); some of these weapons are proven by their serial numbers to have been sold to the Davidians by the testifying gun dealers. Photographs of engine lathes, a hydraulic press, and a milling machine show that the Davidians had the equipment to modify legal firearms to make them into illegal versions of those weapons. However, the prosecution fails to unequivocally prove that the illegally modified weapons were modified by the Davidians. Two heavy .50-caliber guns are introduced into evidence, along with the appropriate ammunition, but the defense argues that it is not illegal for citizens to own such guns, nor could it be proven that those weapons had been fired.
Unable to Escape - The FBI has always maintained that it took steps to ensure that any Davidian who wanted to leave the compound during the last assault could do so. Tarrant County medical examiner Dr. Nizam Peerwani, testifying about the condition of the bodies found, notes that some Davidians, such as Schneider and Koresh, died from close-range bullet wounds in the head, indicating that they had no intention of trying to escape. However, several women’s bodies were found in the hallway leading to the trapdoor access to the underground school bus at the north end of the building that had been constructed as a tornado shelter. Apparently the women were trying to leave, but they could not because the trapdoor had been buried by debris from the collapsing of the wall pushed in by a tank prior to the fire. All of the children who died in the conflagration, and many of the women, were found in a cinderblock room used for cold storage of food. The room, located under the four-story guard tower, was the strongest and safest area of the compound, furthest from the gas and the FBI armored vehicles. Around 30 bodies were recovered from that room; many, especially the smaller children, were covered with blankets, sleeping bags, and extra clothing, apparently due to attempts by the women to protect the children from the gas and fire. When the room collapsed in on itself, the tower fell on it. Those inside the room died from suffocation, blunt trauma from debris impact, close-range gunshot wounds, and/or smoke and fire.
Gas, Armored Vehicles - FBI agents testify that hundreds of canisters and “ferret rounds” containing CS gas were “inserted,” or fired into, the compound. Some of the ferret rounds bounced off the frame walls, but many entered through windows and other openings. FBI testimony shows that the Davidians began to fire at the agents, or their armored vehicles, after the gas was introduced. When the Davidians began shooting, agents testify, they abandoned the plan to slowly and measuredly introduce gas into the compound over a matter of hours, and began firing gas into the compound as quickly as possible. The order to use CEVs (combat engineering vehicles) to push in walls of the compound were given in order to allow observers to see inside. The CEVs also pressed forward through the compound towards the guard tower (where, unbeknownst to the agents, the women and children were gathering to escape the assault). By that point, the original plans for a gradual and careful assault had been all but abandoned.
Fire - The government prosecutors introduce a plethora of evidence that shows the Davidians themselves set the fires that eventually burned the compound to the ground. High winds aided the spread of the flames. The defense claims that Davidians did not start the fires, but instead the tanks and CEVs knocked over Coleman lanterns, being used for light because the FBI had cut the electricity to the compound. Prosecutors play audiotapes and enter transcripts of the Davidians allegedly making preparations to set the compound afire, obtained through electronic surveillance. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started,” “Got to put enough fuel in there,” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” The defense argues that if the Davidians indeed poured lantern fuel or other accelerants through the compound, they were doing so in an attempt to stave off the incoming armored vehicles. Defendant Graeme Craddock told a Texas Ranger that he was ordered by one Davidian, Wayne Martin, to pour lantern fuel on any tank that came in through the wall and to light it—a last-ditch tactic that might result in the defenders’ death as well as the attackers’. Testimony shows that the FBI had alerted the Burn Unit at Parkland Memorial Hospital early that morning to be prepared to receive burn victims, and asked for directions as to how to land helicopters bearing burn victims at the hospital. FBI agents wore fireproof suits for the assault. And a helicopter carrying a Forward-Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) camera circled over the complex, ready to photograph any outbreak of fire. The FBI maintains that it was prepared for fire, but had no intention of actually causing a fire. The defense notes that the FBI did not initially bring up fire-fighting equipment to the compound. A government witness, arson investigator William Cass, says that films taken at the time of the fire show fire starting almost simultaneously at 12:11 p.m. The strong winds, aided by the holes punched in the walls by the CEVs, helped the fire engulf most of the compound within five minutes. The defense shows an earlier portion of the FLIR video showing a flash or flare of heat in the gymnasium area taking place at 12:08 p.m. Cass testifies that he has never seen that video. Observer logs show that two reports of fire in the gym were made at 12:11; Cass testifies he has never seen those logs. The logs were handled by Paul Gray, chief of the arson investigating team. The defense shows that Gray often testifies on arson incidents on behalf of the BATF, and his wife works in the BATF’s Houston office. Gray’s final report claims that CN tear gas is not flammable and would have actually impeded the spread of fire; testimony shows that the assault did not use CN tear gas, but a very different substance, CS gas delivered by a rather flammable propellant. In 1995, a surviving Davidian will confirm that the sect members, and not the FBI, actually set the fires (see August 4, 1995). In 1999, the FBI will admit to firing pyrotechnic gas canisters into the compound, but will deny that the devices started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After). In 2000, a prosecutor will be charged with hiding evidence about the canisters from the defense and from a subsequent government investigation (see November 9, 2000).
Verdicts - The jury finds the defendants not guilty of the two most serious crimes, conspiracy to murder federal agents, and aiding and abetting such a conspiracy. The jury convicts five defendants of voluntary manslaughter, defined by Judge Walter Smith as acting “in the sudden heat of passion caused by adequate provocation.” Two defendants are convicted of firearms charges. Seven defendants are convicted of using and carrying firearms “during and in relation to a crime of violence,” convictions set aside by the judge because of the jury’s failure to convict the defendants of guilt in committing those crimes of violence. (The judge later reinstates those convictions.) In all, four are acquitted of all charges and seven are convicted of various crimes. Davidians Renos Avraam, Brad Eugene Branch, Jaime Castillo, Livingstone Fagan, and Kevin A. Whitecliff receive 10-year sentences for voluntary manslaughter, and additional 30-year sentences for using a firearm in a violent crime. Craddock receives 20 years for possessing a grenade and using a firearm in a violent crime. Paul Gordon Fatta receives a 15-year sentence for possessing and conspiring to possess machine guns, though he was not present during the siege. Ruth Riddle is convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime. And Schroeder, who cooperated with the prosecution, is convicted of forcibly resisting arrest. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997; Associated Press, 4/19/2006]
Entity Tags: Fred Cummings, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, Wayne Martin, William Cass, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Schneider, Brad Eugene Branch, Branch Davidians, Ruth Riddle, Walter Smith, Renos Avraam, Graeme Leonard Craddock, Jack Zimmerman, Jaime Castillo, Roger Ballesteros, Kathryn Schroeder, Livingstone Fagan, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Paul Gray, Nizam Peerwani, Paul Gordon Fatta
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Among the numerous former Branch Davidians giving interviews to the press in the months following the tragedy at the Waco compound (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) are a young man and his family who departed the compound before the fiery debacle. In giving an interview to reporters for Modern Maturity magazine, a publication for elderly readers, the family does not allow their names to be used; the young man is only identified as “Robert.” Robert’s parents, like a good number of the Davidians under leader David Koresh’s thrall, are elderly. The reporters call their story “a cautionary tale for both the elderly and those who love them.” Robert’s parents, both Seventh-day Adventists (see November 3, 1987 and After), are retired civil servants with little to occupy their time. Koresh visited their church in Hawaii in 1986, when he was heading a small group of breakway Davidians in southern California. Robert’s wife “Leslie” recalls that Robert’s mother “told me Koresh had the answers to all their questions. I remember looking at their Bibles. Every single passage was underlined in red. There were notes everywhere, on every page. It looked to me like Koresh had rewritten the Bible—for his own purposes.” In 1988, Robert’s parents journeyed to Texas to be with Koresh and his new, larger community of Davidians near Waco. They sold their home and gave the proceeds—over a half million dollars—to Koresh, in keeping with his mandate that all worldly goods be turned over to his care. Robert refused to join them. He recalls: “We were alarmed, but at that point we knew nothing about David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. One of my brothers said something about religious freedom. We knew we couldn’t stop them.” The parents became more and more isolated; they stopped returning their children’s phone calls, and when a family member did manage to speak to them, they had little to say. In 1989, the parents left the compound and visited Robert. The son was extremely concerned at their appearance. They were thin and undernourished. They refused to eat the dinner Robert and Leslie had prepared for them; they had unconventional diet restrictions, such as no apples (the thin skin allowed toxins to enter the fruit, they said) and their vegetables had to be diced into perfect cubes. Both were unwashed and unkempt, and Robert’s father suffered from constant colds and a skin rash. The more Robert learned about his parents’ day-to-day life in Texas, the more discomfited he became. His father lived in an unheated shack on the compound and was not allowed to keep his own food; the mother stayed with the other women as a “wife of God,” meaning Koresh. They had been trained to shoot M-16 rifles. After the parents returned to Waco, Robert and Leslie began researching the Branch Davidians. Eventually they stumbled across Rick Ross, a veteran “cult deprogrammer” who had extensive experience working with Davidians to reintegrate them into society. Ross told them of Koresh’s mind-control techniques. In 1991, Robert’s brother injured himself by falling off a roof. The parents eventually visited the injured brother in Hawaii, and then visited the other children in California. Robert and Leslie kept the parents at their home in San Francisco, making one excuse after another to delay their departure for Waco, and never left them alone. They kept in close telephone contact with Ross about how to “deprogram” them. Robert showed them “counter-cult” videotapes and explained their meaning. He hid their Bibles, which were full of notes dictated by Koresh. Finally, they introduced the parents to another couple who had once belonged to a cult. After days of intensive intervention, the parents finally agreed not to return to the Branch Davidians. However, they wanted to return to Waco for their belongings. Robert convinced his mother to stay in San Francisco; he and a family friend accompanied his father to the Waco compound. They successfully retrieved their belongings without incident, though Koresh spoke briefly to the father, and the father returned to the truck in tears. Now the parents live in Hawaii, still trying to cope with their years under Koresh’s influence. Their relationship with Robert is still strained. Robert says his biggest concern is his parents’ safety. He believes they will eventually come to grasp the danger he thinks they were in, and says: “I find that society in general knows little about cults. We forgot Jim Jones very quickly. I hope we don’t forget David Koresh.” [Modern Maturity, 6/1994]
Judge Walter Smith convenes a sentencing hearing for the Branch Davidians convicted of crimes in regards to the Waco siege that resulted in the death of scores of their companions (see January-February 1994). Defendant Ruth Riddle, facing deportation to Canada for overstaying her visa, is brought back to Texas for sentencing on her immigration violation; Riddle and six other defendants face sentencing for similar charges. In all, nine defendants receive jail sentences. During “allocution,” some argue that the court has no jurisdiction, and that Attorney General Janet Reno and President Clinton should have been witnesses. Others deny any guilt. One defendant, Livingston Fagan (see March 23-24, 1993), tells the court that he and his fellow defendants are all innocent. Fagan, “probably the only Branch Davidian with any formal theological training,” says he still considers himself a devotee of Davidian leader David Koresh, and says everything the Davidians did during the siege was justified by the harsh and aggressive actions taken by federal agents. “Right from the beginning, the spiritual aspect of this was totally and absolutely rejected,” he says. “But it was the very core of why we were at Mt. Carmel, and essentially, why we acted the way that we acted.” Defense lawyers argue that their clients are being forced to answer for crimes committed by Koresh and other Davidian leaders who are dead and cannot face justice themselves. Prosecutors argue that the theology as avowed by the Davidians shows a propensity towards violence, and ask the judge to give each defendant the maximum sentence. Smith, though the jury had not convicted the defendants of conspiracy to kill federal agents, holds the defendants responsible for the deaths of four agents nonetheless (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). He says the Davidians had assembled an “armory” of weapons “to rival that of a National Guard unit’s,” as well as a huge stockpile of ammunition and paramilitary gear, and that the Davidians had fortified the compound. He accuses Koresh of inciting his followers through his sermons and teachings to resist the authorities up to the point of death. Five Davidians, including Fagan, receive sentences of 40 years for carrying firearms while committing violent crimes. Another defendant, Paul Fatta, receives 15 years for firearms offenses. Defendant Graeme Craddock, who cooperated to an extent with authorities, receives 10 years for voluntary manslaughter and 10 years for carrying firearms during the commission of a violent crime. Riddle is given a five-year sentence; Katherine Schroeder, who testified for the prosecution, receives three years in jail. Later in the month, jury foreperson Sara Bain will say that Smith went much farther in his sentencing than the jury had intended. “They [the sentences] certainly didn’t reflect the jury’s intention at all,” she will say. “We had thought that the weapons charges would be a slap on the wrist.… I wish everyone had just been acquitted on all charges.… The federal government was absolutely out of control there. We spoke in the jury room about the fact that the wrong people were on trial, that it should have been the ones that planned the raid and orchestrated it and insisted on carrying out this plan who should have been on trial.” [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] In 2000, the Supreme Court will rule that many of the more lengthy sentences are improper (see June 5, 2000).
Entity Tags: Ruth Riddle, Graeme Leonard Craddock, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, Kathryn Schroeder, Walter Smith, Livingstone Fagan, Paul Gordon Fatta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Sara Bain, US Supreme Court
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Former FBI profiler Peter Smerick tells FBI agents investigating the 1993 siege and assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993), that he believes FBI officials “misled” Attorney General Janet Reno in order to gain her approval to launch a tear-gas assault on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). Smerick’s interview is contained in a confidential document that is obtained by the press in March 2000. Smerick retired from the bureau in late 1993, and began a career as a behavioral consultant in a firm staffed by ex-FBI agents. His psychological profiles are considered in hindsight to have been the best predictors of the tragedy by experts and negotiators involved in the siege.
'Slanted View of the Operation' Given to Reno by FBI Officials - Smerick tells interviewers that in his opinion, “the FBI misled the attorney general by giving her ‘a slanted view of the operation’ in Waco.” Smerick blames top FBI officials in Washington for convincing Reno that the only way to bring the siege to a peaceful end was with tear gas. Smerick says he and an unnamed negotiator had by then “concluded that the best strategy would have been to convert the Branch Davidian compound into a prison and simply announce to [sect leader David] Koresh that he was in the custody of the United States. This idea was not endorsed, however.” The report of Smerick’s interview says, “Smerick speculated that FBI headquarters viewed this option as one which would have caused them to ‘lose face’ and therefore was unacceptable.” Smerick notes that his five Waco profiling memos (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993) were not in the “briefing book” FBI officials gave to Reno when they began lobbying her to approve using tear gas (see April 12, 1993). Had Reno seen those memos, she would have read of warnings that using force against the Davidians would intensify a “bunker mentality” in which “they would rather die than surrender.” Smerick warned that the sect considered its home “sacred ground” and would “fight back to the death” if the authorities tried to go in. “The bottom line is that we can always resort to tactical pressure, but it should be the absolute last option we should consider,” one memo read. Smerick examines the briefing book given to Reno and, according to the interview report: “Smerick speculated that the preparers selectively incorporated memoranda and evidence from the case which selectively supported the tactical step of tear gas insertion. He feels compelled to present the foregoing information for the bureau’s consideration and deliberation in an attempt to prevent similar outcomes in future hostage situations.”
Mocking, Belittlement - Smerick notes that his memos were so strongly against the use of force that FBI leaders in Waco and Washington mocked and belittled them. An administrative notebook kept by the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) in Waco documents Smerick’s claim. An unsigned note in the notebook outlines Smerick’s recommendations for ensuring “safety of children who are victims,” and “facilitat[ing] peaceful surrender,” and concludes that Smerick and his colleagues have provided a “psychological profile of a… [expletive] by jerks.” Smerick notes that on March 9, 1993, he was informed that future memos would have to be approved in Washington before being distributed to the on-site supervisors, and that he was pressured to have his analyses conform to a more aggressive stance (see March 9, 1993). “[T]he traditionally independent process of FBI criminal analysis… was compromised at Waco,” he states. Smerick describes his final memo as “acquiescent,” omitting his earlier cautions against pushing the Davidians too far and incorporating suggestions from his Washington superiors. He left Waco shortly thereafter “in frustration” (see March 17-18, 1993), though he says he kept in contact with some negotiators.
Loyalty First - Smerick concludes by reiterating his loyalty to the FBI, and his intention not to make any of his criticisms public. The report reads: “Smerick explained that if he is called to testify at any official public hearings regarding this matter, he will present the facts in a fashion as favorable to the FBI as possible.… Smerick concluded the interview by noting that he has always been loyal to the FBI and will continue to be loyal. He advised that he is providing the foregoing information for in-house edification, not to publicly criticize the FBI.” Two months after the interview, Smerick will testify before Congress about the siege and the final assault; he will briefly mention his memos, but will not offer the detailed criticisms of the FBI that he states in this interview. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
Amo Roden. [Source: Amo Roden]Reporter Peter J. Boyer publishes an article in the New Yorker depicting the almost-mesmerizing attraction the scene of the 1993 Branch Davidian massacre (see April 19, 1993) has over radical right-wingers. The site of the Branch Davidian compound, on a hill outside Waco, Texas, has been razed and burned over, but enough debris remained for Amo Bishop Roden to come to the site, fashion a crude shack from fence posts, pallets, and sheet metal, and take up residence there. Roden, the wife of former Davidian leader George Roden (see November 3, 1987 and After), says God told her to come to the site to keep the “end-time church” of Davidian leader David Koresh alive. She makes money by selling Davidian memorabilia, including T-shirts and photos. “People come by every day,” she says. “And usually it’s running around a hundred a day.” Most of the people who come to the site are tourists, she says, “but some are constitutional activists.” Boyer writes that Roden’s “constitutional activists” are “members of that portion of the American extreme fringe which believes the FBI raid on the Davidian compound exemplified a government at war with its citizens.” Boyer writes that those radical fringe members regard the Davidian compound as “a shrine,” and view April 19, the date of the Davidians’ destruction, as “a near-mystical date, warranting sober commemoration.” Last April 19, two things occurred to commemorate the date of the conflagration: the unveiling of a stone monument listing the names of the dead, and the bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). The man responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing, Timothy McVeigh, has himself made the pilgrimage to Waco (see March 1993). Alan Stone, a professor of psychiatry and law at Harvard, says the mistakes made by the federal government at Waco will continue to fuel right-wing paranoia and conspiracy theories until the government acknowledges its mistakes: “The further I get away from Waco, the more I feel that the government stonewalled. It would be better if the government would just say, ‘Yes, we made mistakes, and we’ve done this, this, and that, so it won’t happen again.’ And, to my knowledge, they’ve never done it.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Amo Roden, 2010] Religious advocate Dean Kelley writes that Roden collects money from tourists and visitors, ostensibly for the Davidians who own the property, but according to Kelley, the Davidians never receive any of the donations. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995] Four years after Boyer publishes his article, a similar article, again featuring an interview with Roden, is published in the Dallas Morning News. Paulette Pechacek, who lives near the property, will say of her and her husband, “We expected it [the visits] for months afterwards, but it surprises us that people still come.” [Dallas Morning News, 6/27/1999]
Stephen Higgins, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), publishes an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why his agency mounted a raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Higgins says he wrote the piece after watching and reading about the public reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which many claim was triggered by the Waco debacle (see April 19, 1993). Higgins says a raft of misinformation surrounds the BATF raid on the Davidian compound, and gives his rationale for the raid.
BATF Did Not Instigate Investigation into Davidians - “[D]espite what fundraisers at the National Rifle Association would have us believe, the [B]ATF is not part of some sinister federal plot to confiscate guns from innocent people,” he writes. The agency was alerted to the Davidians’ stockpiling of weapons by reports from a local deputy sheriff, who heard from a United Parcel Services driver that a package he delivered to the Davidians contained grenade parts (see November 1992 - January 1993), and earlier deliveries included black gunpower, firearms parts, and casings. “[C]onspiracy theorists had best include the local sheriff’s office and UPS as part of the collusion,” Higgins writes. In addition, the day before the raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald began the “Sinful Messiah” series of reports on the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), which detailed, Higgins writes, “the potential danger the group represented to the community as well as, somewhat ironically, the failure of local law enforcement agencies in addressing the threat. (The conspiracy now would have to include the local newspaper publisher!)”
Davidians Posed Clear Threat to Community - Higgins says that it would have been dangerous to assume that the Davidians were peaceful people who did not plan to actually use the weapons they were amassing, and repeats the claim that Koresh said in late 1992 that “the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco” (see December 7, 1992). Higgins goes on to say that during the 51-day siege, Koresh alluded to a previous plan to blow up the dam at Lake Waco, that Koresh wanted to provoke a confrontation with the BATF, and had at one point considered opening fire on a Waco restaurant to provoke just such a conflict.
BATF Feared Mass Suicide - Higgins notes that the BATF, like the FBI, feared the possibility of “mass suicide” (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and gives several examples of cults who have carried out just such mass suicides.
Disputes Claims that BATF Fired First Shots - Higgins disputes the claims “that the Davidians were only defending themselves when they shot and killed four [B]ATF agents and wounded numerous others” during the February 1993 raid. He notes that investigations have shown that all four BATF agents were killed by Davidian gunfire (see February 2000) and not “friendly fire,” as some have alleged, and asks, “[W]hat possible excuse could there have been for the Davidians even taking up arms—let along using them—upon learning inadvertently from a TV cameraman that ATF agents were on their way to serve warrants?” Had the Davidians allowed the BATF agents to serve their warrants, “there would have been no subsequent loss of life on either side.” He goes on to say that it was the Davidians, not the BATF, who first opened fire, as a Treasury Department report has confirmed (see Late September - October 1993). He writes that for BATF agents to have merely “driven up to the compound and politely asked to conduct a search without displaying any firearms” would have been “dangerous and potentially suicidal.”
Using Waco as an Excuse for Violence - Higgins concludes that people like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, do not decide to do violence to innocent people because of tragedies such as the Davidian incident, but “use it as an excuse for their behavior.” He notes that after the Oklahoma City bombing, someone called it a “damned good start.” He says perhaps the upcoming hearings on the Waco tragedy (see Late July 1995) might influence some of these people: “By seeing the faces of the survivors and reading their stories, maybe those who so vehemently rail against government authority in general, and government workers in particular, will come to understand better that those people they’ve been so quick to criticize have real faces and real families. They car-pool to work. They coach Little League sports. They mow their lawns. They’re the family next door that waters your plants and takes in your mail while you’re away. No one deserves to have their life placed in jeopardy simply because they work in, or happen to be passing by, a government office. And no one, not even law enforcement officers who get paid for risking their lives, deserves to be targeted by violent extremists threatening to kill them simply for doing their jobs.” For others, like radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who has advised his listeners to shoot BATF agents in the head because they wear bulletproof vests (see August 26 - September 15, 1994), “I doubt there’s much hope,” Higgins writes. He says that Liddy’s excuse that he was talking strictly about self-defense doesn’t wash; some angry and unstable individuals might well take Liddy’s words literally. Higgins compares Koresh to mass murderers such as Charles Manson and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), and concludes: “We can’t change the outcome of what happened at Waco, but we have a responsibility not to ignore simple fairness and compassion in our search for the truth. If there is to be another hearing on Waco, let’s hope it’s for the purpose of examining the facts and learning from the tragedy, not merely to please one more special interest group with an anti-government agenda.” [Washington Post, 7/2/1995]
Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, David Koresh, G. Gordon Liddy, Branch Davidians, Stephen Higgins, Washington Post, Waco Tribune-Herald, Timothy James McVeigh, National Rifle Association
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Kiri Jewell and her father David Jewell, in an undated photo. [Source: Life]A 14-year-old girl, Kiri Jewell, testifies to Congress about her experiences as a youthful member of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas. Jewell, who left the compound months before the conflagration that destroyed it and burned scores of her former fellow Davidians to death (see April 19, 1993), testifies that since age 10, leader David Koresh forced her to have sex with him. One of the reasons for the Congressional hearings, according to the Waco Herald, is to diminish the aura of martyrdom and celebrity Koresh enjoys among some Americans, particularly those on the radical right (see May 15, 1995). Jewell’s testimony is intended to demonstate that, as the Herald writes, Koresh “used the sect as a cover for rape.” Jewell is accompanied by her father; her mother Sherri died in the flames. She says she was five when her mother took her to Waco to join the Davidians. Koresh was obsessed with two things, she testifies: the Biblical Apocalypse and sex. “David was planning to lead the group to Israel to re-take Jerusalem,” she says. “He taught that there would be a big battle between the forces of the world and his people.” She recounts stories of Koresh using a wooden stick to “discipline” children. “It was called Kelper,” she recalls. She and her mother slept with Koresh in the same bed, she testifies, and says she has a childhood friend who at age 14 “ha[d] a baby for David.” She began being sexually abused by Koresh at age 10, she recounts, and recalls her first encounter. “He kissed me. I just sat there, but he then laid me down” on a bed, she testifies. After their encounter ended, he had her take a shower and then read from the Bible. She recalls, “He sat on the bed and read the Song of Solomon.” He later told her: “King David from the Bible would sleep with young virgins to keep him warm.… I had known this would happen sometime, so I just laid there and stared at the ceiling. I was 10 when this happened.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/3/1993; Waco Leader, 7/21/1995] Jewell’s father David won a custody case in Michigan in 1992, and local authorities forced Koresh to relinquish the girl to her father’s custody (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). In 2003, Kiri Jewell will recall learning how to use a pistol to commit suicide from Koresh. “You didn’t want to stick the gun to your temple because you might live,” she will recall. “You wanted to stick it in your mouth and point up. He never was very specific but at some point, we were gonna have to die for him. I didn’t expect to live past 12.” [Western Mail, 4/18/2003]
The House of Representatives concludes a 10-day series of hearings on the series of events that concluded with the fiery deaths of scores of Branch Davidian members near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993 and Late July 1995). The hearings do not find evidence of a White House-driven conspiracy to either destroy the Davidians or cover up the truth of the matter, as some Republican House members had predicted. An Orlando Sentinel article says that many of the questions from those House Republicans “seemed fueled more by politics than any true desire to ensure that the government avoid future fiascos a la Waco.” The hearings determined that President Clinton did not micro-manage the events of the siege and ultimate assault, nor did they find evidence that Clinton ordered the assault to prove, as some House members alleged, that his administration is “tough on crime.” Committee co-chair Bill McCollum (R-FL) acknowledged at the end of the hearings that the raid, siege, and final conflagration were caused by a string of blunders by federal law enforcement agencies. Attorney General Janet Reno testified as to why the FBI’s final assault seemed at the time to be the best approach; her overriding concern was to remove Davidian leader David Koresh without harming the children inside the compound. A Davidian who survived the fire testified that the fires that devastated the compound were started under orders from Koresh. [Orlando Sentinel, 8/4/1995] In emotional testimony before the House, former Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agent Robert Rodriguez, who served as an informant for the BATF inside the Davidian compound, said he was angered and dismayed by his superiors’ decision to raid the compound even though the Davidians knew they were coming (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Rodriguez testified that two of his then-superiors, Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn, lied to the committee when they said they did not know that the Davidians had been alerted to the February raid. Chojnacki and Sarabyn were fired for their mismanagement of the BATF raid and for covering up evidence of their malfeasance (see Late September - October 1993), but were subsequently rehired (see December 23, 1994). Rodriguez said: “Two years I’ve waited for this.… It let me get everything out.” The events of that raid and the subsequent actions, he said, were “tearing me up inside.” [Chicago Tribune, 7/25/1995] In 1999, the FBI will admit to lobbing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound during the April assault, though the bureau will deny that the grenades started the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Entity Tags: Philip Chojnacki, Charles Sarabyn, Branch Davidians, Bill McCollum, David Koresh, Janet Reno, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, US House of Representatives, Robert Rodriguez, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
The cover of Conway and Siegelman’s book ‘Snapping.’ [Source: aLibris (.com)]In their book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, authors Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman write of their recent interviews with several law enforcement officials who dealt with various aspects of the Branch Davidian siege (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), the final tragic assault (see April 19, 1993), and the aftermath.
Former Deputy Attorney General Admits FBI Unprepared for Dealing with 'Cult' Behaviors - Former Deputy Attorney General Philip Heymann took his post on April 19, 1993, the day of the assault on the Davidian compound, and managed the Justice Department (DOJ) review of the siege and assault (see October 8, 1993). Heymann acknowledges that the FBI went into the siege unprepared to deal with a “cult,” as many label that particular group of the Branch Davidian sect, an offshoot of the Seventh-day Adventists Church. “The FBI was trained to deal with terrorists,” Heymann tells the authors, “but it wasn’t trained to deal with a religious group with a messianic leader. There was no precedent of the FBI’s handling such a situation and there had been no planning for one.” Heymann says he conducted the DOJ review less to assign blame than to help improve federal authorities’ future responses to situations like the Davidian confrontation, and even less connected situations such as the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). “I wanted to see that we were organized in such a way that, if this situation came up again in any form, including an extreme Islamic fundamentalist group, we could understand how to think about them, how to talk to them, when to put pressure on and when not to put pressure on, all the things that go into negotiations,” Heymann says. He acknowledges that many DOJ and FBI officials are uncomfortable with the idea of cults and with the tactical changes dealing with such groups requires. “I hesitated to use any of those terms,” he says. “We tried to avoid labeling the group as a ‘cult’ suggesting crazies. There was a purposeful attempt to not give the group one label or another. The general understanding was that we were dealing with a, you know, a group that had passionate beliefs, that was extremely suspicious of the government.… We wanted to avoid having to dispute the people who, on the one side, treat groups like this as just another fundamentalist religion and, on the other, regard them as a dangerous form of mind control. I did not want to come down on one side or the other of that debate.” Conway and Siegelman believe that the FBI’s reluctance to deal with the “cult” aspect of the Davidians helped bring about the deaths of the Davidians on the final day of the siege. Heymann admits that many in the FBI and DOJ ignored or downplayed warnings that as a cult, the Davidians were prone to take unreasonable actions, such as hopeless confrontations with authorities and even mass suicide (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and that some officials denied ever receiving those warnings after the final conflagration. “I think you have to assume that any organization after a result like this is going to try to play down their responsibility, but we ought to have picked that up in our report and I’m disappointed if we weren’t skeptical enough,” he says. He concludes: “I think we’re going to be prepared to confront any obvious illegality done in the name of religion. If someone commits a serious crime, like killing government agents, there’s no doubt that the government will be prepared to use force to make an arrest. But if they haven’t, if it’s a question of whether people have been brainwashed, I think you’ll continue to see the same history we’ve had for the last 20 or 30 years. We don’t really have any way of deciding whether brainwashing is holding someone against one’s will or not, or what to do about it.”
DOJ Assistant - Richard Scruggs, an assistant to the attorney general, worked with Heymann on the DOJ review, assembling the timeline of events of the siege. He recalls: “The AG [Attorney General Janet Reno] started here two weeks into the siege. I arrived two weeks later and, by that time, planning was already well underway to get the people out of the compound. After the fire, I was called in to try to figure out what the hell had happened. We did a thousand interviews. We got every piece of the story from everyone’s perspective.” He discusses the array of evidence and opinions the DOJ received concerning the reaction the Davidians were likely to have to the increasingly harsh and aggressive tactics mounted by the FBI during the siege. “The whole issue of suicide and the psychological makeup of Koresh and his followers was obviously something we looked into,” Scruggs says. “The bureau [FBI] sought dozens of expert opinions and many more were offered. There were literally hundreds of people calling in with advice, not just people off the street but people from recognized institutes and universities. The result was that FBI commanders, both in Waco and in Washington, had so many opinions, ranging from ‘they’ll commit suicide as soon as you make any move at all’ to ‘they’ll never commit suicide,’ that it really allowed them to pick whichever experts confirmed their own point of view. The experts FBI officials judged to be the most accurate were those who said suicide was unlikely, which turned out to be wrong.” Scruggs acknowledges that Reno was not given examples of all the opinions expressed, saying, “She only got the no-suicide opinion.” He insists that Reno was aware of the possibility of suicide, and offers two possible explanations as to why the FBI officials only gave her selected and slanted information (see April 17-18, 1993). “My first impression was that someone made a conscious decision to keep this information away from the AG,” he says. “It certainly looked that way. On the other hand, sometimes these things just happen, one decision leads to another, and nobody really thinks things through. I think the people who were putting together the material truly believed there was a low chance of suicide and then simply picked the materials that confirmed what they wanted to believe.” Scruggs acknowledges that DOJ and FBI officials ignored the warnings given by two FBI “profilers,” Peter Smerick and Mark Young (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, and March 9, 1993). “Oh yes, absolutely,” he says. “Smerick and Young got wiped out by the on-site commander, who wanted a combination of negotiation and increasing pressure on the compound, the so-called ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach.” Scruggs, unlike Heymann and other government officials, says that the FBI “believes strongly in mind control, believe me.… There was a great debate going on in the bureau whether Koresh was a con man or whether he really thought he was some kind of messiah, but whichever he was there was no doubt that he was effectively controlling the rest of the people. Everybody assumed that.… Everybody believed he did it through some kind of brainwashing or mind control. We scrubbed the report of words like that, but the bureau used them. They fully understood that.” The mistake that was made during the siege was in believing that the increasingly aggressive “psywar” tactics used during the siege, even during the initial hours of the assault itself, was that “by making it very uncomfortable, they could overcome the control Koresh exercised over the rest and get out a large number of the women and children. They even used the phrase ‘the motherhood instinct.’”
Alternatives Considered and Rejected - But the options aside from assaulting the compound were in some ways worse. “The options were minimal. They could have killed Koresh—the Israelis couldn’t understand why he didn’t do that. The HRT had Koresh in their sights 50 times. They could have killed him and all his leaders and that would have been the end of it, but that was not an option. They looked into all kinds of other things. One official had heard rumors that the government had a secret weapon, like a laser weapon or sound weapon, that could vibrate people in some non-lethal way and get them out of there. We didn’t. We found out later there was a microwave weapon, but they couldn’t use it because it affected people differently based on their body size and weight. It didn’t do much to big people but it tended to cook little people.” Scruggs says that there was no “win” in any scenario they considered. “I’m not saying that mistakes weren’t made, because they were,” he says, “but I became firmly convinced in my own mind, after looking at this 16 hours a day for six months, that it was Koresh’s game. He was, in effect, controlling us no less than he was controlling his own people.” Scruggs echoes the words of senior FBI agent Byron Sage, who was present for the siege and the assault, who will say five years later that Koresh “had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy” (see January 2000). Carl Stern, director of public affairs for the Department of Justice, was present at the decision-making sessions held in Reno’s office, and saw the FBI present its tear-gas assault plan for her approval. Stern, like Reno and others, was new to Washington and to the Davidian situation, and recalls the turmoil of meetings and decisions in the final weekend before the assault on Monday, April 19. “I arrived here on Tuesday and had my first meeting on Waco 15 minutes after I walked in the door,” Stern says. “Two people from the criminal division were advocating the tear gas plan. I took the other position and we argued it in front of the attorney general. The next day I attended a meeting where I really felt the idea had been turned off. I was confident that nothing was going forward (see April 12, 1993). Then on Saturday it got turned around 180 degrees” (see April 17-18, 1993). Stern is still unsure why the opposition to the assault plan disappeared so thoroughly. “The AG [Reno] was there with her deputies, the FBI director [William Sessions] was there with his deputies, and they were going through the whole thing all over again.” Stern summarizes the list of official priorities that weighed in favor of the action. “The FBI was concerned about deteriorating health conditions in the compound. There were dead bodies on the premises. The building had no indoor plumbing. People were defecating in buckets and dumping it in a pit out back and, after 50 days, there was real concern that there would be a massive disease outbreak and the first ones to get sick would be the kids. They were concerned that the perimeter of the compound was highly unstable. It was a large perimeter. There had been several breaches of it. There were rumors that armed pro-Koresh groups might come from Houston or California or elsewhere to put an end to the siege. Finally, the Hostage Rescue Team had been there for 49 days at that point—the longest they had ever gone before was four days. They were in sniper positions around the clock. They were losing their edge, not training, sitting out there in mudholes, and they were afraid if something went wrong in the rest of the country they would not be able to respond.” Stern confirms that one of Reno’s overriding concerns was the reports of child abuse she was receiving. “The AG asked a number of questions and this became the legend of what she was concerned about. She asked first about sanitary conditions. She asked next about sexual assault and child abuse. The FBI replied that if Koresh was still doing what he had been point prior to the raid (see November 3, 1987 and After) he was legally committing statutory rape. Third, the question of beatings came up. As recently as March 21, youngsters had been released who described having been beaten. The consensus was that, at a minimum, the government was not adequately protecting these children, but all that got distorted later.”
Mass Suicide Never Considered an Option for Davidians - Stern also confirms that FBI officials dismissed any idea that the Davidians might commit mass suicide, and that possibility was never figured into the plans for the assault. “What the attorney general heard was the assessment that he was not suicidal,” Stern says. What did figure into the planning was what the authors calls the “tough-cop culture of the FBI, which later evaluators cited as central factors in the proposal by bureau commanders to attack the compound with tear gas.” Stern says, “Remember, four officers had been killed, the FBI had never waited so long in the hostage situation, and from their perspective, it was really untenable that people who had killed federal officers were going on week after week thumbing their noses at law enforcement.”
Assault Did Not Follow Plan - The plans as approved by Reno never contained an option to attack the compound with armored vehicles. “Please keep in mind that there was no plan to demolish the compound. As we said at the time, it was not D-Day. The original plan was a two-day plan for gradual insertion of gas to progressively shrink the usable space and continually encourage people to come out.” The assault was carried out entirely differently; when the Davidians began firing automatic weapons at the armored vehicles and at personnel, ground commanders abandoned the plans and ordered an all-out assault with tear gas and armored vehicles. Even weather conditions played a part in the final conflagration. “No one anticipated the wind,” Stern recalls. “The tanks were not supposed to strike the building, but because of the wind, the gas wasn’t getting in and they had to get closer and finally insert the booms through the window millwork. In the course of doing so, they struck the walls and the roof.” Stern recalls the moments when the fires erupted throughout the compound. “I was in the SIOC [Strategic Intervention Operations Center] when the fire broke out. At first, Floyd Clarke, the FBI’s deputy director, thought an engine had blown on one of the vehicles they had rented from the Army. They didn’t realize what had happened. Then, when it became clear that it was a fire, they all sat there waiting for the people to come out. They were saying, ‘Come on baby, come on out, come on out.’ They were expecting people to come flooding out and there were no people coming out and they were absolutely incredulous. Even when it was over, they were still assuming they would find the kids in the bus they had buried underground.” Stern says FBI and DOJ officials were stunned at the realization that the Davidians had, in essence, committed mass suicide. “All I can tell you is that, given the atmosphere at the time, it was a surprise the suicide occurred. Remember, by then, most of the children in the compound were Koresh’s own. The thought that he would permit his own children to be harmed was inconceivable.” Conway and Siegelman point out that those experienced in “cult” “mind control” techniques had, indeed, anticipated just such an outcome. They theorize “that ranking FBI officers, tired of being manipulated by Koresh and, no doubt, genuinely concerned for the precedents they were setting for future confrontations, may have misguided the attorney general into giving ground commanders too much leeway in the execution of the final assault plan—leeway that, as the tank and tear gas assault progressed, unleashed the full destructive potential of Koresh and the people under his control. However, in our view, that gaping hole in the government’s strategy was not wrought by any battering ram or armored vehicle. Amid the push and pull of the government’s internal debate, the failure of FBI officials in Washington and Waco to heed warning that the cult’s destructive urges would ignite under pressure hastened the demise of the doom-bent Davidians.” The Davidians were never Koresh’s hostages as the FBI viewed them, the authors conclude, but willing participants willing to die for their leader and for their beliefs.
Reno Forced to Rely on FBI - Stern reminds the authors: “The attorney general had only been on the job five weeks. She didn’t even have her own staff yet. She was really flying solo. She had to rely on somebody, so she relied on the FBI and their vaunted Hostage Rescue Team. Those of us who have been around town a little longer know that, while there’s much to admire about the FBI, it does not have an unblemished record. There are times when they have been mistaken. They’re not perfect. In the world of cats and dogs, sometimes they’re closer to dogs than cats. If she had been attorney general for two years and had more experience dealing with the bureau, she might have solicited more information.” [Conway and Siegelman, 1995]
Entity Tags: Flo Conway, David Koresh, Carl Stern, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, US Department of Justice, Philip Heymann, Mark Young, Jim Siegelman, Richard Scruggs, Janet Reno, Floyd Clarke, Peter Smerick
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
House Oversight Committee holds public hearings on the Waco debacle. [Source: C-SPAN]The House Oversight Committee releases its report on the FBI’s siege and final assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 19, 1993). The report was prepared in conjunction with the House Judiciary Committee. The report spans investigative activities undertaken on behalf of the committees by Congressional investigators from April 1995 through May 1996; the committees took almost three months to write the final report. As part of that investigation, the Oversight Committee held 10 days of public hearings (see August 4, 1995). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Findings - The report makes the following conclusions:
Branch Davidians Responsible for Situation, Deaths - “But for the criminal conduct and aberrational behavior of David Koresh and other Branch Davidians, the tragedies that occurred in Waco would not have occurred,” the report finds. “The ultimate responsibility for the deaths of the Davidians and the four federal law enforcement agents [referring to the federal agents slain in the February 1993 raid] lies with Koresh.” The Davidians set the fires themselves, the report finds. Moreover, the Davidians had time to leave the premises after their cohorts set the fires, and most either chose to stay or were prevented from leaving by their fellows. The 19 Davidians killed by gunfire either shot themselves, the report finds, were shot by their fellows, or were killed by “the remote possibility of accidental discharge from rounds exploding in the fire.”
Treasury Department 'Derelict' in Duties - Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen and Deputy Secretary Roger Altman were “irresponsible” and “derelict in their duties” refusing to meet with the director of the BATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sometimes abbreviated ATF] in the month before the February raid, and failing to ask for briefings. Senior Treasury officials “routinely failed” to monitor BATF officials, knew little to nothing of the plans for the raid, and therefore failed to uncover the significant flaws in the plan. When the raid failed, Assistant Treasury Secretary Ronald Noble tried to blame the BATF for the failure, even though Noble and his fellow Treasury officials failed to supervise the BATF’s plans and activities.
BATF 'Grossly Incompetent' - Some of the worst criticism of the report are leveled at the BATF. The report calls the agency’s investigation of the Davidians (see June-July 1992, November 1992 - January 1993, and January 11, 1993 and After) “grossly incompetent” and lacking in “the minimum professionalism expected of a major federal law enforcement agency.” The agents in charge of planning decided to use a “military-style raid” two months before beginning surveillance, undercover, and infiltration efforts. The agency did have probable cause for a search warrant against Koresh and the Davidians (see February 25, 1993), but the affidavit applying for the warrant “contained an incredible number of false statements.” The BATF agents responsible for the affidavit either knew, or should have known, the affidavit was so inaccurate and false. Koresh could easily have been arrested outside the compound, the report finds; the BATF planners “were determined to use a dynamic entry approach,” and thusly “exercised extremely poor judgment, made erroneous assumptions, and ignored the foreseeable perils of their course of action.” BATF agents lied to Defense Department officials about the Davidians’ supposed involvement in drug manufacturing, and by those lies secured Defense Department training without having to reimburse the department, as they should have. The raid plan itself “was poorly conceived, utilized a high risk tactical approach when other tactics could have been successfully used, was drafted and commanded by ATF agents who were less qualified than other available agents, and used agents who were not sufficiently trained for the operation.” Plan security was lax, making it easy for the Davidians to learn about the plan and take precautions. The report singles out BATF raid commanders Philip Chojnacki and Chuck Sarabyn for criticism, noting that they endangered BATF agents’ lives by choosing to go ahead with the raid even though they knew, or should have known, the Davidians had found out about it and were taking defensive action. “This, more than any other factor, led to the deaths of the four ATF agents killed on February 28.” The report is highly critical of Chojnacki’s and Sarabyn’s rehiring after they were fired (see December 23, 1994). The report also cites former BATF Director Stephen Higgins (see July 2, 1995) and former Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett for failing to become involved in the planning.
Justice Department Decision to Approve Final Assault 'Highly Irresponsible' - The report charactizes Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval of the FBI’s plan to end the standoff “premature, wrong… highly irresponsible… [and] seriously negligent” (see April 17-18, 1993). Reno should have known that the plan would put the Davidians’s lives at extreme risk, especially the children inside, and should have been doubly reluctant because of the lack of a serious threat posed by the Davidians to the FBI or to the surrounding community. Reno should have been skeptical of the FBI’s reasons for ending the standoff: negotiations were continuing, the Davidians were not threatening to break out in force, the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) could have gone longer without mandatory rest and retraining, the Davidians’ living conditions had not significantly deteriorated, and there was no reason to believe that children were being abused or mistreated any more than they may have been before the February raid. “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk.” The report calls the plan to use CS riot control gas “fatally flawed.” CS gas is a dangerous substance, and particularly threatening to children, pregnant women, elderly people, and those with respiratory conditions, all of which were represented in the compound. Some of those who died in the fires may have died from exposure to CS gas before the fires consumed them, the report speculates. The Davidians were likely to react violently and not submissively, as the FBI insisted, and the likelihood of armed resistance and mass suicide in response to the CS gas insertion was high. Moreover, the plan had no contingency provisions in case the initial insertion did not provide the desired result. Reno offered her resignation after the April 19 assault; the report says that President Clinton “should have accepted it.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI Pushed for Violent Confrontation Instead of Allowing Negotiations to Continue - The FBI was riven by the conflict between two teams with “incompatible methodologies,” the report finds: the HRT, which ultimately controlled the situation, and the negotiators. Senior FBI agent Jeffrey Jamar almost always sided with the HRT’s aggressive approach, but often “allowed the proposals of each team to be implemented simultaneously, working against each other.” The FBI’s chief negotiator on-site, Gary Noesner, told the committee that the dichotomy between the “action-oriented” HRT and the “nonviolent” negotiators is a problem that the FBI routinely experiences; it was not unique to the Davidian standoff. The two teams battled with increasing hostility and anger towards one another as the siege progressed, with the negotiators becoming less and less influential. The negotiators later testified that the pressure tactics used by the HRT against the Davidians undermined their efforts at winning the Davidians’ trust and rendered their efforts ineffective. FBI profiler Peter Smerick (see March 3-4, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 9, 1993, March 17-18, 1993, August 1993, and 1995) was particularly harsh in his assessment of the tactics of the HRT during the siege; during his interviews with investigators, Smerick said “the FBI commanders were moving too rapidly toward a tactical solution and were not allowing adequate time for negotiations to work.” Smerick told investigators that while the “negotiators were building bonds… the tactical group was undermining everything.… Every time the negotiators were making progress the tactical people would undo it.” The report concludes, “FBI leadership engaged these two strategies in a way that bonded the Davidians together and perpetuated the standoff.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] After March 2, when Koresh and the Davidians broke what some considered to be a promise to come out (see March 2, 1993), Jamar believed nothing Koresh or the others said, and essentially gave up on the idea of a negotiated surrender. Chief negotiator Byron Sage did not share that view, but Jamar and the HRT officials began thinking, and planning, exclusively on a forced end to the standoff, even ignoring evidence that Koresh intended to lead his people out after completing his work on an interpretation of the Biblical Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). Many FBI officials, particularly Jamar, Noesner, and the HRT leadership, became frustrated and impatient with what the report calls “endless dissertations of Branch Davidian beliefs” (see March 15, 1993), to the point where they ignored the assertions from religious experts that the Davidians could be productively negotiated with on a religiously theoretical level (see March 16, 1993). The FBI, the report says, “should have sought and accepted more expert advice on the Branch Davidians and their religious views and been more open-minded to the advice of the FBI’s own experts.” Jamar and the senior FBI officials advising Reno should have known that the reasons they gave to end negotiations and force an ending were groundless; their advice to Reno was, the report says, “wrong and highly irresponsible.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] However, some charges against the FBI are baseless, the report finds. CS gas would not have built up in any areas of the residence to anything approaching lethal levels. No FBI agents shot at the Davidians or the compound. No agent set any fires, either deliberately or inadvertently. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Defense Department Bears No Responsibility - The report finds no reason to fault the Defense Department or National Guard, as no DoD nor Guard personnel took an active part in the assault; the Posse Comitatus Act was therefore not violated. No foreign military personnel or foreign nationals took any part in the assault, though “[s]ome foreign military personnel were present near the Davidian residence as observers at the invitation of the FBI.”
Recommendations - The report recommends that:
the Justice Department consider assuming control of the BATF from the Treasury Department;
Waco residents who made the false statements to law enforcement officials included in the original search warrants should be charged with crimes;
federal agents should use caution in using such statements to obtain warrants; the BATF should review and revise its planning to ensure that “its best qualified agents are placed in command and control positions in all operations”;
senior BATF officials “should assert greater command and control over significant operations”;
the BATF should no longer have sole jurisdiction over any drug-related crimes;
Congress should consider enhancing the Posse Comitatus Act to restrain the National Guard from being involved with federal law enforcement actions;
the Defense Department should clarify the grounds upon which law enforcement agencies can apply for its assistance;
the General Accounting Office (GAO) should ensure that the BATF reimburses the Defense Department for the training and assistance it improperly received;
the GAO should investigate Operation Alliance, the organization that acts as a liaison between the military and other federal agencies;
the FBI should revamp its negotiation policies and training to minimize the effects of physical and emotional fatigue on negotiators;
the FBI should take steps to ensure greater understanding of the targets under investigation (the report notes that had the FBI and BATF agents understood more about the Davidians’ religious philosophies, they “could have made better choices in planning to deal with the Branch Davidians” (see March 15, 1993);
the FBI should ensure better training for its lead negotiators;
FBI agents should rely more on outside experts (the reports notes that several religious experts offered their services in helping the agents understand the Davidians, but were either rebuffed or ignored—see March 3, 1993, March 7, 1993, and March 16, 1993);
federal law enforcement agencies should welcome the assistance of other law enforcement agencies, particularly state and local agencies;
the FBI should expand the size of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) “so that there are sufficient numbers of team members to participate in an operation and to relieve those involved when necessary”;
the FBI should conduct further examinations on the use of CS gas against children, those with respiratory problems, pregnant women, and the elderly. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
'Perhaps the Greatest Law Enforcement Tragedy in American History' - In a statement appended to the final report, Representative Steven Schiff (R-NM) calls the Davidian raid, standoff, and final assault “perhaps the greatest law enforcement tragedy in American history.” He writes: “It would not be a significant overstatement to describe the Waco operation from the government’s standpoint, as one in which if something could go wrong, it did. The true tragedy is, virtually all of those mistakes could have been avoided.” His statement decries what he calls the increasing “militarization of law enforcement,” recommends that the HRT be scaled back instead of expanded, expresses little confidence in the FLIR (forward-looking infrared radar) videotapes used to determine when and how the fires were started, calls for stringent limitations on the use of CS gas, and blames the FBI for not allowing many of the residents to escape. He accuses the Justice Department of a “breach of ethics” in what he says were its attempts to conceal and withhold evidence from the committee, and to shape its findings. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Dissenting Views - The investigating committees’ 17 Democrats issue a “dissenting views” addendum that is highly critical of what it calls the Republican majority’s use of “false assumptions and unfounded allegations” to besmirch the reputations of Reno and Bentsen, and the use of those “assumptions and allegations” to press for Reno’s resignation. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: Gary Noesner, US Department of the Treasury, US Department of Defense, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, Dan Hartnett, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Steven Schiff, Charles Sarabyn, Ronald Noble, Janet Reno, Stephen Higgins, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, General Accounting Office, Lloyd Bentsen, Jeffrey Jamar, Operation Alliance, Peter Smerick, Roger Altman, Philip Chojnacki
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Denver police, working in concert with FBI agents, raid a home and arrest three men on charges of possession and manufacture of illegal weapons. FBI supervisory agent John Kundts says the men were arrested after the raid uncovered explosives. A federal source says the focus of the arrests was the unlawful possession of automatic weapons. Two of the men, Ronald David Cole and Wallace Stanley Kennett, have ties to the Branch Davidian sect that was decimated in Waco two years ago (see April 19, 1993). Kennett left the Waco compound shortly before the FBI siege began (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and joined up with Cole shortly thereafter. Cole wrote a book called Sinister Twilight that accused the FBI of murdering the Davidians. The third man is identified as Kevin Terry. FBI officials say the arrests have no connection to the ongoing trial of Timothy McVeigh, who two years to the day after the Waco tragedy bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), even though Cole has distributed material in support of McVeigh outside the Denver courthouse where McVeigh is being tried (see August 10, 1995 and April 24, 1997). Cole, Kennett, and Terry were found in possession of six AK-47s, three land mines, 75 pounds of rocket fuel, and a pipe bomb. A neighbor of the arrested men, Leo Fritz, says: “One of the cops that evacuated me said there were some semi-automatic weapons, chemicals, and stuff to make bombs with. We were concerned but not nervous. The mention of explosives got us a little.” Neighbors say the three men only moved in last month and kept to themselves. Before the raid, agents’ fear of explosives was strong enough to order the evacuation of six adjacent houses. Kirk Lyons, who represents some of the surviving Davidians in a lawsuit against the federal government, says Cole and Kennett have nothing to do with his clients. Cole and Kennett “are not considered members of the Mount Carmel Survivors Association,” Lyons says. “They are kind of considered outsiders—‘we’re glad you like us, we are glad you support us,’ but the Davidians have always kept an arms’ length, although I think they like Wally and like Ron.” Lyons says Cole and Kennett “are a lot more militant in their pronouncements” than the normal Branch Davidians, whom he says are peaceful and non-violent. According to Lyons, both Cole and Kennett claim to be followers of the message of Branch Davidian founder David Koresh. Cole and Kennett describe themselves as the leaders of a militia called the Colorado First Light Infantry. Cole hosts a newsgroup on the Internet, “misc.activism.militia,” where the prime topic of discussion is the Branch Davidian debacle. [Denver Post, 5/2/1997; New York Times, 5/2/1997; Associated Press, 5/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 294] According to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (NCSTRT), the “Colorado First Light Infantry” is made up of only three people: Cole, Kennett, and Terry. The NCSTRT calls the group “an amateurish Patriot militia outfit” formed “in an apparent response to the” Branch Davidian siege. Cole had spent some time with the Davidian survivors of the FBI raid, and had at one time considered himself the successor to Koresh. Kennett is a former Branch Davidian. Though their group has carried out no actions to speak of, the three members are apparently convinced that they are under government surveillance, and maintain what the NCSTRT calls “a heavily armed and fortified compound in rural Colorado.” Cole had moved to Denver to be closer to the McVeigh trial, and, the organization later reports, “was a constant fixture outside the courthouse, protesting in support of McVeigh.” His protests sparked an investigation by the FBI. The three will be sentenced to short prison terms, and the Colorado First Light Infantry effectively disbands after the arrests. The NCSTRT will later report, “While these men have subsequently been released from jail, the group has not resurfaced and its former members have stayed out of trouble.” [National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, 2011]
Entity Tags: Timothy James McVeigh, Mount Carmel Survivors Association, Wallace Stanley Kennett, Ronald David Cole, Leo Fritz, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism, Kevin I. Terry, John Kundts, Colorado First Light Infantry, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh, Kirk Lyons
Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism, 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
A researcher for a 1997 documentary about the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), questions the government’s claim that the FBI did not use incendiary devices when it launched its assault on the Davidian compound. The assault triggered a fire that swept through the compound and killed nearly 80 Davidians, including their leader, David Koresh. Officials have since denied any use of incendiary or pyrotechnic devices during the assault, and investigations have concluded that the Davidians themselves set the fires that consumed them (see August 4, 1995). Researcher Michael McNulty, who is preparing a new documentary on the final assault, says state and federal officials are refusing to allow public access to over 12 tons of evidence from the Davidian site stored in Waco. McNulty says that according to evidence logs compiled by the Texas Rangers, at least six items listed as silencers or suppressors are actually “flash-bang” devices used by law enforcement officials to stun suspects. McNulty says the devices can start fires in small, enclosed spaces. The evidence logs show that the devices were found in areas of the compound in which the fires began, McNulty says. “It’s our belief that these pieces of ordnance could and probably did have an impact on the fire on April 19th,” he says. Justice Department spokesman Myron Marlin calls the allegations “nonsense” and says they ignore evidence that the fire was set in several places at the same time. “We know of no evidence that any incendiary device or flash-bang device was fired into the compound on April 19,” Marlin says. The chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety, James Francis, says he has asked a federal judge to take control of the evidence and allow experts to examine it. [Associated Press, 7/29/1999] Francis will succeed in having the evidence opened and reexamined (see August 10, 1999 and After). Shortly thereafter, the Justice Department will admit that such devices were indeed used during the assault, but will claim that they had nothing to do with starting the fires (see August 25, 1999 and After). Examination will show that at least one of the spent shells was from an illumination flare fired into the compound during the early days of the assault (see September 9, 1999).
One of the few survivors of the April 1993 conflagration that killed over 70 members of the Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), writes of the events of that day and their aftermath. David Thibodeau was in the Mt. Carmel compound when the FBI tanks and armored vehicles began crashing through the walls. He recalls walls collapsing, CS gas billowing in, and a cacophony of noise assaulting his ears, from exploding rockets (ferret rounds containing CS gas) and tank-tread squeals to the shrieks of terrified children. The idea of trying to leave the building, he writes, “seemed insane; with tanks smashing through your walls and rockets smashing through the windows, our very human reaction was not to walk out but to find a safe corner and pray.” He and his fellow Davidians found the FBI’s reassurances, delivered over loudspeakers, of “This is not an assault!” confusing, conjoined as they were with tanks smashing down walls and gas being sprayed all over the building.
No Compulsion to Stay - Thibobeau insists that Davidian leader David Koresh had no intentions of ending the siege with a mass suicide; Koresh allowed those who wanted to leave the compound, even during the siege itself. “But many of us stayed, too, not because we had to, but because we wanted to,” Thibodeau explains. “The FBI and [B]ATF (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) had been confrontational from the start, they had lied to us and they continued lying up through the siege.”
FBI, Not Davidians, Set Fires? - He accuses the BATF of “fabricating” the charges that led that agency to raid the compound in February, writing that false allegations of drug use prompted the raid (the raid was actually prompted by charges of illegal firearms possession and child abuse—see November 1992 - January 1993 and May 26, 1993). He notes that a CIA agent has alleged that Delta Force commandos took part in the siege (see August 28, 1999), and says that FBI audiotapes prove federal agents, not the Davidians, caused the fire that destroyed the compound, largely through the use of incendiary devices (see Late September - October 1993, August 4, 1995, and August 25, 1999 and After). Thibodeau says that other videotapes show FBI agents firing into the compound during the final assault, and BATF agents firing into the compound from helicopters during the February raid. He writes: “The FBI has not come close to revealing the full government complicity in the Waco massacre. In the years since the fire, I’ve tried desperately to find out what really happened. What I’ve discovered is disturbing.” Thibodeau finds the allegations of child abuse particularly disturbing. He says while children were spanked for disciplinary purposes, “the strict rule was they could never be paddled in anger,” and “wild allegations” that children were scheduled to be sacrificed on Yom Kippur came from a single disgruntled former resident, Marc Breault, and were not true.
Intentions to Peacefully End Siege - Thibodeau writes that Koresh intended to settle the siege peacefully, by allowing himself to be taken into custody. He intended to stay long enough to finish his treatise on the “Seven Seals” of Biblical prophecy (see April 14-15, 1993). “The FBI thought the Seven Seals issue was just a ploy, and dismissed it,” Thibodeau writes. “But it was legitimate, and in the ashes of Mount Carmel they found that Koresh had completed the first two commentaries and was hard at work on the third when the tanks rolled in.”
'No Affinity with the Right' - Thibodeau writes of the heavy irony in the fact that many right-wing separatists and supremacists such as Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) have embraced the Davidians as part of their movement. “[W]e had no affinity with the right,” he notes, and says, “One irony of the Waco disaster is that right-wing extremists and racists look to Mount Carmel as a beacon; if they realized that so many of us were black, Asian, and Latino, and that we despised their hateful politics and anger, they would probably feel bitterly betrayed.” While not all of the Davidians “leaned to the left,” he writes, “we also had a ‘live and let live’ attitude that had allowed the community to co-exist with its Texas neighbors for all those decades. We certainly weren’t as isolated as people seem to think.” [Salon, 9/9/1999]
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