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Profile: James Cavanaugh

James Cavanaugh was a participant or observer in the following events:

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

Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period.Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]

Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Michael Edward Smith, a well-dressed young man wearing sunglasses and surgical gloves, sits in a parked car across from the Sherith Israel Congregation synagogue in Nashville, Tennessee. Smith has an AR-15 assault rifle, and plans on shooting someone either entering or exiting the building. A passing motorist sees Smith and his rifle and calls the police. When police confront Smith outside his apartment, he refuses to surrender, and manages to break away to his car, where he proceeds to flee down Interstate 65 while holding a gun to his own head. The chase ends in a parking lot outside a pharmacy, where the police find the AR-15, a handgun, ammunition, and surgical gloves in Smith’s car. After learning of the incident, Deborah Lauter of the Anti-Defamation League tells reporters: “The sight of a man pointing an assault rifle at a synagogue is chilling. We are thankful to the person who reported the incident and to law enforcement for their swift actions in apprehending the suspect.” Smith, a member of the violent, neo-Nazi National Alliance (see 1970-1974), has been influenced by two books, both published by Alliance founder William Pierce: The Turner Diaries, which tells of a genocidal race war in a near-future America (see 1978), and Hunter, a novel depicting a lone assassin gunning down Jews and African-Americans (see 1988). Three days later, he is charged with multiple felonies after divulging his ties to the National Alliance and the existence of a small arsenal in his apartment, in a storage facility, and buried on his parents’ land in the country. Authorities find, among other items: an anti-tank rocket; eight firearms, including a sniper rifle; 13 grenades; 13 pipe bombs; over 2,000 rounds of armor-piercing ammunition; smoke bombs; dynamite fuses; and two duffel bags filled with chemicals. They also find copies of both novels and other materials from the Alliance and the Ku Klux Klan, to which he also admits membership. The FBI classifies Smith as a “domestic terrorist.” James Cavanaugh of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) says: “Basically, we’ve got hand grenades, we’ve got assault rifles, and we’ve got a mind full of hate and a recipe for disaster.… Anybody who would stockpile that stuff is certainly on the precipice of using them.” Smith readily admits his admiration for the fictional main chacter of Hunter, Oscar Yeager, who in the first scene of the book assassinates an interracial couple from a vantage point inside his car. And, he says, the National Alliance and the KKK gave him training in “how to make and how to use explosives, [and gave him] sniper and combat training.” Smith tells questioners that he “dislike[s] Jews.” Local activists later tell the FBI that Smith took part in a November 2001 National Alliance rally outside the Israeli embassy in Washington, DC. Authorities later find an email from Smith stating Jews “perhaps” should be “stuffed head first into an oven.” [Center for New Community, 8/2002 pdf file; Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2005] Smith will later plead guilty to four weapons-related offenses. [Anti-Defamation League, 5/27/2003]

Entity Tags: National Alliance, James Cavanaugh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Deborah Lauter, Ku Klux Klan, Michael Edward Smith, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Sherith Israel Congregation, William Luther Pierce

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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