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The 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis

Project: US Domestic Terrorism
Open-Content project managed by mtuck

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An examination of the events and issues surrounding the February 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian community near Waco, Texas, the subsequent FBI siege of the Davidian compound, and the final assault on April 19, 1993 that resulted in the deaths of almost 80 Davidians.

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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.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]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Janet Reno, Linda Thompson, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Bruce Perry, Peter Smerick, William S. Sessions

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]

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

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.’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).

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Jamar, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Koresh

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).

Entity Tags: James Tabor, Branch Davidians, Philip Arnold, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ruth Riddle, Dick J. Reavis, David Koresh

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

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

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]

Entity Tags: Karen Doyle, Bob Ricks, Bonnie Haldeman, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Jean Holub, Robyn Bunds

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]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Bob Ricks, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

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

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

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

An expert says that the tear gas used by the FBI in yesterday’s assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco (see April 19, 1993) is not flammable, and in the form it was reportedly used, could not have ignited the flames that consumed the compound and killed 78 Davidians. Jay Young, a chemical consultant in Maryland, says that a mixture of the chemical, known as CS, and air could be ignited only if the ratio of the gas and the air was within a very narrow range, and that flames could not spread beyond the small area where such a ratio might exist. “I cannot conceive of any foreseeable fire hazard posed by use of the gas,” Young says. CS gas is the Defense Department’s designation for the chemical o-chlorobenzylidenemalononitrile. It can be dispensed either in projectiles like hand grenades or shells, or from gas generators of the type used yesterday. The FBI rammed holes through the exterior walls of the wooden compound and then used gas generators to spray a fine mist composed of a crystalline, powdery substance—the “gas” itself—and a reactive agent which turns the crystalline powder into a heavy mist. Tear gas grenades, which the FBI denies using, might pose a danger of fire, since they use pyrotechnic chemicals to heat the powder and turn it into mist. CS is mildly toxic, and can kill those suffering from asthma, pneumonia, or other pulmonary diseases, but it is considered safe for crowd control by law enforcement agencies. American soldiers are exposed to CS in gas chambers as part of their chemical warfare training. CS is more potent than another common tear gas, w-chloroacetophenone, commonly known as CN or “chemical mace.” It is preferred over CN by many police departments because its effects wear off more quickly than those caused by CN. The FBI confirms that the Davidians had access to a large number of gas masks. [New York Times, 4/20/1993] Years later, the FBI will admit to firing two pyrotechnic gas grenades during the assault, though it will claim not to have fired them into the compound itself (see August 25, 1999 and After).

Entity Tags: Jay Young, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians

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]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Times, Janet Reno, David Koresh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Two federal agents fired for botching a 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that cost four agents and six Davidians their lives (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and attempting to cover up their actions (see Late September - October 1993) are rehired. Under a settlement reached with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), Philip Chojnacki and Charles Sarabyn will receive full back pay and benefits. [Orlando Sentinel, 12/23/1994]

Entity Tags: Charles Sarabyn, Philip Chojnacki, Branch Davidians, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

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]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Janet Reno, Peter Smerick, Branch Davidians

Several civil lawsuits filed by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), are consolidated and transferred to US District Judge Walter Smith. Smith presided over the criminal trial of 11 Davidians charged with an array of crimes related to the siege and final assault by the FBI (see January-February 1994). The suit alleges the government caused the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians and asks for $675 million in damages. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Walter Smith, Branch Davidians

Senate majority leader Bob Dole (R-KS) says the Senate should hold hearings on the FBI raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The hearings, he says, should be “just looking for information, not looking for scapegoats.” [New York Times, 5/1/1995] A House investigation will conclude that the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed 78 members were set by the sect members, and not caused by any actions of the FBI (see August 4, 1995).

Entity Tags: US Senate, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert J. (“Bob”) Dole

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

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

July 2, 1995: Former BATF Head Defends Waco Raid

Stephen Higgins, the former head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF), publishes an op-ed for the Washington Post explaining why his agency mounted a raid on the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Higgins says he wrote the piece after watching and reading about the public reaction to the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), which many claim was triggered by the Waco debacle (see April 19, 1993). Higgins says a raft of misinformation surrounds the BATF raid on the Davidian compound, and gives his rationale for the raid.
BATF Did Not Instigate Investigation into Davidians - “[D]espite what fundraisers at the National Rifle Association would have us believe, the [B]ATF is not part of some sinister federal plot to confiscate guns from innocent people,” he writes. The agency was alerted to the Davidians’ stockpiling of weapons by reports from a local deputy sheriff, who heard from a United Parcel Services driver that a package he delivered to the Davidians contained grenade parts (see November 1992 - January 1993), and earlier deliveries included black gunpower, firearms parts, and casings. “[C]onspiracy theorists had best include the local sheriff’s office and UPS as part of the collusion,” Higgins writes. In addition, the day before the raid, the Waco Tribune-Herald began the “Sinful Messiah” series of reports on the Davidians and their leader, David Koresh (see February 27 - March 3, 1993), which detailed, Higgins writes, “the potential danger the group represented to the community as well as, somewhat ironically, the failure of local law enforcement agencies in addressing the threat. (The conspiracy now would have to include the local newspaper publisher!)”
Davidians Posed Clear Threat to Community - Higgins says that it would have been dangerous to assume that the Davidians were peaceful people who did not plan to actually use the weapons they were amassing, and repeats the claim that Koresh said in late 1992 that “the riots in Los Angeles would pale in comparison to what was going to happen in Waco” (see December 7, 1992). Higgins goes on to say that during the 51-day siege, Koresh alluded to a previous plan to blow up the dam at Lake Waco, that Koresh wanted to provoke a confrontation with the BATF, and had at one point considered opening fire on a Waco restaurant to provoke just such a conflict.
BATF Feared Mass Suicide - Higgins notes that the BATF, like the FBI, feared the possibility of “mass suicide” (see February 24-27, 1993, Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993, March 5, 1993, March 7-8, 1993, March 12, 1993, (March 19, 1993), and March 23, 1993), and gives several examples of cults who have carried out just such mass suicides.
Disputes Claims that BATF Fired First Shots - Higgins disputes the claims “that the Davidians were only defending themselves when they shot and killed four [B]ATF agents and wounded numerous others” during the February 1993 raid. He notes that investigations have shown that all four BATF agents were killed by Davidian gunfire (see February 2000) and not “friendly fire,” as some have alleged, and asks, “[W]hat possible excuse could there have been for the Davidians even taking up arms—let along using them—upon learning inadvertently from a TV cameraman that ATF agents were on their way to serve warrants?” Had the Davidians allowed the BATF agents to serve their warrants, “there would have been no subsequent loss of life on either side.” He goes on to say that it was the Davidians, not the BATF, who first opened fire, as a Treasury Department report has confirmed (see Late September - October 1993). He writes that for BATF agents to have merely “driven up to the compound and politely asked to conduct a search without displaying any firearms” would have been “dangerous and potentially suicidal.”
Using Waco as an Excuse for Violence - Higgins concludes that people like Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, do not decide to do violence to innocent people because of tragedies such as the Davidian incident, but “use it as an excuse for their behavior.” He notes that after the Oklahoma City bombing, someone called it a “damned good start.” He says perhaps the upcoming hearings on the Waco tragedy (see Late July 1995) might influence some of these people: “By seeing the faces of the survivors and reading their stories, maybe those who so vehemently rail against government authority in general, and government workers in particular, will come to understand better that those people they’ve been so quick to criticize have real faces and real families. They car-pool to work. They coach Little League sports. They mow their lawns. They’re the family next door that waters your plants and takes in your mail while you’re away. No one deserves to have their life placed in jeopardy simply because they work in, or happen to be passing by, a government office. And no one, not even law enforcement officers who get paid for risking their lives, deserves to be targeted by violent extremists threatening to kill them simply for doing their jobs.” For others, like radio talk show host G. Gordon Liddy, who has advised his listeners to shoot BATF agents in the head because they wear bulletproof vests (see August 26 - September 15, 1994), “I doubt there’s much hope,” Higgins writes. He says that Liddy’s excuse that he was talking strictly about self-defense doesn’t wash; some angry and unstable individuals might well take Liddy’s words literally. Higgins compares Koresh to mass murderers such as Charles Manson and David Berkowitz (“Son of Sam”), and concludes: “We can’t change the outcome of what happened at Waco, but we have a responsibility not to ignore simple fairness and compassion in our search for the truth. If there is to be another hearing on Waco, let’s hope it’s for the purpose of examining the facts and learning from the tragedy, not merely to please one more special interest group with an anti-government agenda.” [Washington Post, 7/2/1995]

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

Kiri Jewell and her father David Jewell, in an undated photo.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]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Kiri Jewell, David Jewell

Two Congressional subcommittees begin 10 days of joint hearings in an attempt to provide “a full accounting” of what happened at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] The hearings conclude that the Davidians, and not federal officials, caused the fires that swept through the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see August 4, 1995).

Entity Tags: US Congress, Branch Davidians

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

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

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

A federal appeals court upholds the convictions of six Branch Davidians (see January-February 1994), saying federal agents did not use excessive force in trying to arrest Davidian leader David Koresh, who perished along with nearly 80 of his followers after a 51-day standoff with federal authorities (see April 19, 1993). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians

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

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

Without comment, the US Supreme Court refuses to hear the appeals of six Branch Davidians convicted of an array of crimes (see January-February 1994) surrounding the February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) and the subsequent assault on the Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). An appeals court ordered that four Davidians given 30-year sentences for the use of firearms during a violent crime, and a fifth given a 10-year sentence, must be set aside and new sentences given; the appeals court said those sentences could only be reinstated if the lower court found that the four not only had the guns but “actively employed” them during the February 1993 raid. Lawyer Steven Rosen, who represents defendant Kevin A. Whitecliff, says he expects the sentences to be reinstated and the appeals process to start over again. [Houston Chronicle, 4/21/1997] In 2000, the Court will overturn the sentences (see June 5, 2000).

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Kevin A. Whitecliff, Steven Rosen

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

Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million wrongful-death civil suit filed by a number of Branch Davidians (see April 1995) against the federal government and a number of its employees and officials, removes some of the defendants and plaintiffs from the proceedings. However, he rules that the case can go to trial. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Walter Smith

Attorney General Janet Reno says she knows of no evidence that would prove the FBI was responsible for the fires that killed nearly 80 Branch Davidians in a 1993 assault on the group’s Waco compound (see April 19, 1993). Reno is responding to questions raised by a Texas state commissioner and a documentary filmmaker that center on the possible use of incendiary devices by the FBI during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see July 29, 1999). “I have gone over everything and I know of no such evidence,” she says, and echoes Justice Department assertions that the Davidians themselves started the fires that destroyed their compound and killed most of their fellow group members. “Our practice has been… to review all reports, to consider all allegations. And to date, I have found no basis for concluding that the FBI was in any way responsible,” Reno says. A Justice Department spokesperson has called the allegations “nonsense.” [Excite, 7/29/1999] 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).

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

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).

Entity Tags: Myron Marlin, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Francis Jr, Michael McNulty

James B. Francis Jr., the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety and a fundraiser for the presidential campaign of Governor George W. Bush, convinces federal judge Walter Smith to order that government vaults containing 12 tons of evidence from the Branch Davidian compound near Waco be opened, and the contents reexamined. The Davidian compound was destroyed six years ago as the culmination of a 51-day standoff between the residents and the FBI (see April 19, 1993). Smith orders the reopening of the vaults after inquiries from an independent filmmaker, Michael McNulty (see July 29, 1999), and a lawyer, David Hardy, who has long challenged the government’s account of events. There are three kinds of evidence to be examined, Francis has said: “One is shells, shell casings, physical things. The second type of evidence is video and still photographs. The third type are interviews done there on the spot at the time.” Smith’s order reads in part: “First and foremost, the parties to civil litigation pending in this court have the right to seek access (see April 1995). Second, the events that took place between Feb. 28 and April 19, 1993, and thereafter, have resulted in sometimes intense interest from the national media and the members of the public. There may come a time when persons other than the current civil litigants would be allowed access to the materials.” [Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] One document that will prove to be extremely significant is the 49th and final page of a December 1993 lab report that has long ago been made available to lawmakers and attorneys. The 49th page had been removed. It states that FBI investigators who examined the scene at Waco found a “fired US military 40mm shell casing which originally contained a CS gas round,” and two “expended 40mm tear gas projectiles.” (The Justice Department will later claim that the prosecution and defense lawyers in the civil trial received the 49th page as well.) [Associated Press, 9/11/1999] The Texas Rangers review the contents, and find a spent military tear-gas canister, which forces the FBI and the Justice Department to admit that their agents fired incendiary gas canisters into the compound during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). The government has previously denied firing any weapons into the compound that might have caused the conflagration that consumed the building and killed almost all of the residents. As a result of the investigation, the federal government names a special prosecutor to investigate whether there was a government cover-up (see September 7-8, 1999 and July 21, 2000), and Attorney General Janet Reno (see July 29, 1999) has to weather calls from Republican lawmakers to resign. Later, Francis denies reopening the case for political reasons. His decision “unleashed a series of forces that were apparently a lot bigger than what I recognized,” he will say. “I never dreamed that it would turn into something like this.” He will claim that he is “doing everything in my power to not politicize this” controversy. Governor Bush himself refrains from commenting on the issue, though his chief of staff helped bring McNulty and Hardy to Francis’s attention. Hardy will say of Francis, “I don’t think there’s any question that he is the shining light of this entire inquiry.” Hardy used his friends in the Texas gun lobby to contact former Texas Senator Jerry Patterson; Patterson contacted Bush’s chief of staff Clay Johnson, who in turn referred him to Francis. “I think what happened to Jim Francis is he initially wanted to be very low-key and then as more and more revelations began to surface, he became angry and disgusted, as all of us are,” Patterson will say. “This was not a role that he sought.” As for his own role, Francis will say: “It’s important that the facts come out, whatever those are. I’m not a hero, but I have done the right thing.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999; Associated Press, 8/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/17/1999] In July, the Justice Department called Francis’s allegations of mismanagement and possible cover-ups “nonsense.” [Excite, 7/28/1999; Excite, 7/29/1999]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, George W. Bush, David Hardy, Clay Johnson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, Texas Rangers, James B. Francis Jr, US Department of Justice, Janet Reno, Michael McNulty, Jerry Patterson

Pyrotechnic CS gas canisters.Pyrotechnic CS gas canisters. [Source: Law Enforcement Equipment Distribution]According to newly presented documents, the FBI used two or three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The documents contradict earlier FBI and Justice Department claims that law enforcement officials did nothing that could have contributed to the fire that killed over 80 sect members. Former senior FBI official Danny Coulson begins the revelations by admitting to the Dallas Morning News that the FBI had indeed used pyrotechnic grenades, though he says the grenades did not start the fires that consumed the building. Texas Department of Public Safety Commission Chairman James Francis says the Texas Rangers have “overwhelming evidence” supporting Coulson’s statement. “There are written reports by Rangers, there is photographic evidence, there is physical evidence, all three of which are problematic,” Francis says. Coulson, the founder of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team and a former assistant deputy director, says that two M651 CS tear gas grenades were fired into the building, but they were fired hours before the blazes erupted. Attorney General Janet Reno, who tells reporters she knew nothing of the grenade usage and is “very, very frustrated” at the knowledge, appoints former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) as the head of an investigatory commission (see September 7-8, 1999); Danforth will find that, regardless of the use of the pyrotechnic gas canisters, law enforcement officials were not responsible for the fire, and neither the FBI nor the Justice Department tried to cover up any actions (see July 21, 2000). [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 8/25/1999; Salon, 9/9/1999] The military M651 canisters, which burn for about 30 seconds to heat and release the solidified tear gas inside, were fired from a Bradley fighting vehicle at a bunker near the main building (see September 3, 1999). After the assault, a Texas Ranger found a spent 40mm gas canister shell lying on the ground and asked a nearby FBI agent, “What’s this?” The agent promised to find out, but never returned with an answer; the shell went into evidence containers (see August 10, 1999 and After). Two weeks after the FBI acknowledges the use of incendiary gas canisters at the Waco assault, Reno testifies on the matter to the House Judiciary Committee. She says that, based on the briefings she had been given (see April 17-18, 1993), “It was my understanding that the tear gas produced no risk of fire.… That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building.” After her testimony, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) calls on Reno to resign. [Newsweek, 9/6/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999] FBI agent Byron Sage, the chief negotiator during the Davidian standoff, will say in 2003 that the incendiary gas canisters could not have set the fires. “This is the critical point, the M651 rounds were never directed towards the wooden structure,” he will say. “They were used in an area yards away from the building. Also, they were used earlier in the day. The fire didn’t start until four hours later. They had absolutely nothing to do with that fire.” Sage will say that the canisters were fired only at a construction pit near the compound where other gas-discharging devices had been smothered in mud. The pit was targeted because some Davidian gunfire during the ATF raid had come from that area, he will say. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 3/16/2003] Charles Cutshaw, an editor of Jane’s Defense Information and an expert on this kind of weapon, says these military tear gas cartridges are not intended to start fires. He says he knows of no studies or reports on how often such cartridges may have caused fires. [Washington Post, 9/4/1999] Shortly after the admission, federal prosecutor Bill Johnston, one of the lawyers for the government in the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by surviving Davidians (see April 1995), informs Reno that government lawyers had known for years about the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds (see August 30, 1999). Johnston will be removed from the lawsuit and replaced by US Attorney Michael Bradford. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] He will also plead guilty to concealing evidence from investigators concerning the canisters (see November 9, 2000).

Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Bill Johnston, Danny Coulson, Byron Sage, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Francis Jr, Trent Lott, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, John C. Danforth, Texas Rangers, Charles Cutshaw, Michael Bradford

The FBI launches an internal inquiry into why it took six years to admit that agents may have fired potentially flammable tear gas canisters on the final day of the 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidian cult near Waco, Texas (see August 25, 1999 and After). Attorney General Janet Reno and FBI Director Louis Freeh order 40 FBI agents led by an FBI inspector to re-interview everyone who was at the Waco scene. James Francis, the chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety who pressed for evidence to be reexamined (see August 10, 1999 and After), says federal officials must explain why Delta Force members were at the scene of the final assault (see August 28, 1999). “Everyone involved knows they were there. If there is an issue, it was what was their role at the time,” Francis says. “Some of the evidence that I have reviewed and been made aware of is very problematical as to the role of Delta Force at the siege.” A Defense Department document shows that a Special Forces unit was at the assault; the US military is prohibited from involvement in domestic police work without a presidential order. FBI spokesman James Collingwood says the bureau continues to insist that it did nothing to start the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). “Freeh is deeply concerned that prior Congressional testimony and public statements [about the use of flammable devices] may prove to be inaccurate, a possibility we sincerely would regret.… [A]ll available indications are that those [pyrotechnic gas] rounds were not directed at the main, wooden compound. The rounds did not land near the wooden compound, and they were discharged several hours before the fire started.” Dan Burton (R-IN), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, says: “I am deeply concerned by these inconsistencies.… I intend for the committee to get to the bottom of this.” Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says that the new evidence indicated “further erosion of the FBI’s credibility.” Privately, Justice Department officials are said to be furious that Reno was allowed to maintain for years that no such incendiary rounds were used during the assault, when some FBI officials presumably knew otherwise. [Associated Press, 8/26/1999] Reno has publicly said she is “very, very upset” at the sequence of events, and Collingwood describes Freeh as “incredulous.” [Newsweek, 9/6/1999]

Entity Tags: James B. Francis Jr, Branch Davidians, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Louis J. Freeh, US Department of Justice, James Collingwood, Janet Reno, Dan Burton

The media learns that members of the US Army’s elite Delta Force were involved in a March 1993 meeting to discuss the management of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Former CIA officer Gene Cullen, who was a senior officer in the CIA’s Office of Security, says that he attended that meeting, which took place at CIA headquarters. Federal law prohibits military involvement in law enforcement matters and precludes CIA operations on domestic soil. The Delta Force members were “mostly observers,” Cullen recalls, but he says that they offered to lend more overt assistance if any more federal agents were killed. “Their biggest fear was that more agents would be killed,” says Cullen. Participants at the meeting also discussed the use of “sleeping gas” which could be used to peacefully end the siege. Cullen tells reporters: “My charter at the agency was facilities personnel and operations worldwide. So we called this meeting [at CIA] during the Waco crisis… to see how the [FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team] would respond if it was one of our buildings in this country, and if it were overseas, how Delta would respond. So we’re all sitting around the room talking about scenarios. The FBI gave us a briefing on what had transpired. The Delta guys didn’t say much. They were playing second fiddle to the FBI.” Pentagon officials deny any military involvement in the Waco siege. [Salon, 8/28/1999] In late October, Army officials will confirm they were asked to assist in the BATF assault that precipitated the crisis (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), and say they questioned the legality of military involvement, which would require a presidential order to allow their involvement in domestic law enforcement matters. A Pentagon official says no consideration was ever given to making a request of President Clinton to allow Army involvement in the situation. Pentagon officials will also admit that three Delta Force members were present at the April assault that destroyed the Davidians and killed almost all of the members, but say that they participated only as observers. They also admit that Delta Force officers did meet with Reno to discuss strategies of forcing the Davidians out of their compound. [Associated Press, 10/31/1999]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Gene Cullen, US Special Forces, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of the Army

Assistant US Attorney William Johnston writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, stating that he believes Justice Department officials may have withheld information from her about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the assault on the Branch Davidian compound (see April 17-18, 1993 and August 25, 1999 and After). “I have formed the belief that facts may have been kept from you—and quite possibly are being kept from you even now, by components of the department,” he writes. Johnston is the Justice Department’s assistant US attorney in Waco, Texas. [New York Times, 9/14/1999] As recently as a month ago, Reno told reporters that she knew nothing of the use of incendiary devices during the assault (see July 29, 1999). Over a year later, Johnston will plead guilty to concealing such evidence himself (see November 9, 2000).

Entity Tags: William (“Bill”) Johnston, Branch Davidians, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Janet Reno

The FBI releases a videotape taken during the first minutes of the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), which contains audio of Richard Rogers, the assistant special agent in charge of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (see March 23, 1993), giving permission for agents to fire military tear gas at a bunker several hundred yards away from the main Davidian compound. Those military gas canisters contained incendiary devices to help disperse the gas. The Justice Department recently admitted, after six years of denials, that the FBI did use incendiary devices during the attack, though both agencies continue to insist that their actions did not lead to the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rogers gave permission to fire the incendiary canisters at 7:48 a.m., almost two hours after the assault commenced. The videotape was taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar during the first hours of the assault. [Reuters, 9/4/1999; Washington Post, 9/4/1999] The next day, the FBI will release another tape with audio describing the effects of one such gas canister on the bunker (see September 3, 1999).

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Rogers, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

The FBI releases a newly discovered videotape that shows FBI agents using incendiary, or pyrotechnic, tear-gas canisters during the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The audio portion of the videotape, taken by an FBI surveillance aircraft using infrared radar during the first hours of the assault, shows that agents were unable to breach the concrete wall of a bunker near to the main compound with the gas canister; the tape has an agent saying: “Yeah, the military gas did not penetrate that, uh, bunker where the bus was. It bounced off.” Another agent then suggested moving to a different position where a gas canister could be fired into the bunker through a doorway. The day before, the FBI released an earlier portion of the same videotape that shows the head of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) giving permission for agents to use the incendiary gas canisters on the bunker (see September 2, 1999). The canister bounced off the bunker wall at 8:08 a.m.; the tape runs through 8:24 a.m., when an agent asked that it be shut off. The videotape is more evidence that, contrary to six years of denials from the FBI and the Justice Department, the FBI did use two and perhaps three incendiary devices during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Four hours after the events of the videotape, the compound erupted in flames that killed almost 80 Davidians; both the Justice Department and the FBI insist that the Davidians, not the FBI, caused the fires that consumed the compound. Attorney General Janet Reno describes herself as “very troubled” over the new evidence. “Over the past two weeks, I, along with many Americans, have been troubled, very troubled, over what has transpired,” she says during a press converence. Reno says her orders to assault the compound (see April 17-18, 1993) were very specific in banning the use of incendiary devices on any portion of the compound. Reno says she will appoint an outsider to head an independent investigation to “get to the truth” of what happened during that assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Reno says she has asked why it took so long for the FBI to inform the Justice Department about the tapes: “I questioned that. I think this is a matter the outside investigator should look at.” [Reuters, 9/4/1999; Washington Post, 9/4/1999]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Branch Davidians, Janet Reno, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation

James Francis, the head of the Texas Department of Public Safety, announces that Texas Rangers have discovered an expended military illumination flare fired by FBI personnel during the assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). Francis ordered the 12 tons of evidence removed by the Rangers to be reexamined in light of allegations that the FBI might have helped start the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 people inside (see August 10, 1999 and After and August 25, 1999 and After). Evidence logs indicate that more of the flares were recovered in the weeks after the compound was destroyed. “These flares are potentially a very important issue, inasmuch as the government had enormous spotlights trained on the compound throughout the standoff,” Francis says. “They didn’t need these flares to light the compound. One or more was fired. For what purpose or reason would these rounds be used? I can’t tell you whether they were [shot by] the military or FBI, but certainly, they were fired by government officials.” Francis is referring to allegations that military personnel took part in the assault (see August 28, 1999). FBI spokesman John Collingwood says that he cannot rule out the use of illumination flares during the assault itself: “Several times during the standoff they had people sneaking in or out of the compound at night. Whether they ever used them then, I don’t know. But I can say categorically, we did not use illumination rounds on the 19th.” Rangers continue to comb through the evidence, stored at a warehouse in Waco. Illumination rounds similar to the ones used during the 51-day siege were used by FBI agents during the gun battle with right-wing extremist Robert Jay Mathews (see December 8, 1984). The house Mathews was using as a hideout caught fire during the battle and Mathews died in the flames. [Dallas Morning News, 9/8/1999] Days later, the FBI will assert that the flares were definitely used during the early days of the siege, in an attempt to prevent an intruder from entering the compound (see September 9, 1999).

Entity Tags: Texas Rangers, Branch Davidians, Robert Jay Mathews, Federal Bureau of Investigation, James B. Francis Jr

John C. Danforth.John C. Danforth. [Source: Huffington Post]Attorney General Janet Reno names former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) as a special counsel to investigate the events of the April 1993 tragedy outside of Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and specifically to determine whether actions by the FBI led to the fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Reno opens the investigation after learning that the FBI concealed evidence of the use of incendiary gas cartridges during the assault on the Davidian compound, actions that some believe may have started some of the fires (see August 10, 1999 and After, August 25, 1999 and After, and August 26, 1999). Danforth is a former US attorney general and an Episcopal priest. According to an Associated Press report, “both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.” Former Senator Thomas Eagleton (D-MO), who served in the Senate with Danforth for 10 years, says: “He calls them like he sees them. Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding.” [Associated Press, 9/7/1999; Associated Press, 9/9/1999; Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] Republicans in Congress have called on Reno to resign, while Democrats defend her tenure and say her actions during and after the Waco assault have been “commendable.” House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-IL) says that he will hold off on attempting to launch a five-member commission to probe the Waco debacle. He will allow the Danforth investigation to proceed unimpeded, unless he feels the Justice Department is not cooperating with the probe. “Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision,” Hyde says. [Associated Press, 9/9/1999] Danforth’s investigation will clear the FBI and the federal government of any wrongdoing (see July 21, 2000).

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Henry Hyde, John C. Danforth, Branch Davidians, Thomas F. Eagleton, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Investigators say that a spent illumination flare found in evidence stored after the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7, 1999) may have been one of two such devices fired by FBI agents to stop an intruder from entering the sect’s compound during the early days of the standoff (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). At least two such flares were fired during the 51-day standoff, which ended in flames that killed almost 80 Davidians. Some believe the FBI started the fires, either deliberately or accidentally, that consumed the compound. FBI spokesman John Collingwood says, “From talking to people in our Hostage Rescue Team, at one time, when your floodlight illumination was not active, they shot two parachute illumination rounds because of concern about people trying to sneak into the compound.” Rangers discovered the spent remains of one of the devices, a star parachute flare, when they recently searched a Waco storage facility for missing pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades (see August 10, 1999 and After). Currently, the government is enacting an investigation to determine if the FBI fired flammable devices into the compound, and why it took six years to acknowledge the use of military tear-gas canisters (see September 7-8, 1999). [Associated Press, 9/9/1999]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, John Collingwood, Branch Davidians, FBI Hostage Rescue Team

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]

Entity Tags: US Special Forces, David Thibodeau, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Marc Breault, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Former Senator John Danforth (R-MO), the newly empaneled special counsel who will head a government investigation of the FBI’s actions that led up to the 1993 debacle at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), says his investigation will answer “the dark questions” still pending six years later. “Was there a cover-up? Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? And was there shooting?” Danforth asks, ticking off the issues he hopes to resolve. “Those are questions that go to the basic integrity of government, not judgment calls.” Danforth says the investigation will focus primarily on the events of April 19, 1993, the final day in a 51-day standoff between the FBI and the Davidians, including allegations that FBI agents fired at the compound during that final assault and military personnel took part in the assault (see August 28, 1999). As a “special counsel,” Danforth can impanel a grand jury and seek federal charges. “I come into this with a totally open mind,” Danforth says, with Attorney General Janet Reno standing at his side. “I come into this with the notion that the chips should fall where they may. And that’s going to happen.” Congressional Republicans praise Danforth’s appointment, while President Clinton calls him honorable and intelligent, and says, “Based on what I know of him, it [Danforth’s selection] was a good move by the attorney general.” Reno says she will turn over future decisions on Danforth’s investigation to her deputy, Eric Holder, in the interests of impartiality. Danforth says he will use private-sector investigators rather than FBI agents to do the actual investigating. US Attorney Edward Dowd of St. Louis, a Democrat, will resign his position to join Danforth as his chief assistant. [Knight Ridder, 9/10/1999; Associated Press, 9/10/1999]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, Edward Dowd, Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, John C. Danforth, Eric Holder

Richard Schwein, the former special agent in charge of the El Paso division of the FBI who was involved in the Branch Davidian siege of 1993 (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993), says the bureau was worried about more than just the possibility that the Davidians might torch their own compound. Schwein recalls that the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) contacted former Davidians around the world (see Around 4:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). He says, “We were trying to find out as much as we could—what this was all about.” Schwein says the FBI feared an armed assault from the Davidians. “There was a concern they would burst out of the building shooting,” he says. “I know at one point, they intended to come out wired with explosives and set them off to kill FBI agents. We had a lot of concerns. We tried to plan for every eventuality.” [Daytona Beach Sunday News-Journal, 9/12/1999]

Entity Tags: Richard Schwein, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) discloses that internal FBI documents that show information about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), have been available in Justice Department files for years and were given to Congress no later than 1995. The FBI was embarrassed by recent revelations that its agents fired such canisters near the Davidian compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After), though the bureau and the Justice Department both deny that the canisters had anything to do with the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department sent US Marshals to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington to seize infrared videotapes that contain references to the tear-gas rounds, but did not reveal that it contained FBI records in its own files regarding the use of those rounds. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the seizure, saying she was angered by the revelations after spending six years denying the FBI ever used such incendiary devices. Reno says she did not see the internal FBI documents until two weeks ago. From the documents that have been made public, there is no indication that FBI officials explained to Reno or other Justice Department officials the potential dangers surrounding the use of such canisters (see April 17-18, 1993). A senior Justice Department official says the documents will likely be scrutinized by investigators with the Danforth inquiry (see September 7-8, 1999). Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, says he released the documents because the committee chairman, Dan Burton (R-IN), has said Reno failed to tell Congress about the incendiary canisters. Burton accused Reno of failing to inform Congress about the canisters after learning that an incomplete copy of a FBI lab report was sent to his committee in 1995 (see August 10, 1999 and After). [New York Times, 9/14/1999]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, Henry A. Waxman, Dan Burton, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

The Texas Rangers release a report to Congress that says they found spent cartridges from two different makes of sniper rifles carried by FBI agents during the final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The cartridges indicate that FBI agents may have fired shots at the compound during the final assault on the Davidian compound, an assertion the FBI has long denied. Officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) say that the cartridges may have come from shots their agents fired during the initial BATF raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Federal law enforcement officials say the cartridges were collected by FBI agents after they arrived in Waco (see March 1, 1993). [New York Times, 9/14/1999]

Entity Tags: Texas Rangers, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), asks the judge presiding over a civil lawsuit filed by some of the Davidian survivors (see April 1995) for a delay in the suit’s proceedings. In a filing for Judge Walter Smith, Danforth explains that the government inquiry seeks to depose witnesses who will also testify in the civil suit, and wants to interview those witnesses before they testify for the lawsuit, saying: “It is my firm belief that our inquiry will benefit by interviewing witnesses prior to their preparation for testimony in a civil trial. Because a civil trial inherently involves advocacy, testimony tends to be very well-rehearsed and coordinated with the testimony of other witnesses.” Danforth wants to find out if the FBI deliberately covered up its use of incendiary gas grenades during the April 19, 1993 siege (see August 25, 1999 and After), and whether agents fired shots during the assault on the Davidian compound. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys has volunteered to postpone taking depositions from Attorney General Janet Reno and two key FBI agents for two weeks, but is reluctant to delay the depositions for 30 days; another lawyer intends to resist the request completely. [Associated Press, 9/17/1999]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, John C. Danforth

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

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

An expert retained by a House committee looking into the events of the FBI assault that led to the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), says that the FBI fired gunshots during the assault. The FBI has said it fired no shots during the assault. The expert says that his examination of videotape taken during the final assault shows FBI agents did indeed fire shots into the compound. The expert’s testimony is taken up by the plaintiffs in a $675 million civil suit against the government (see April 1995), who will propose recreating aspects of the siege’s final hours. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] Experts for the civil suit will come to a different conclusion, saying that the videotape shows sunlight reflecting off debris and not muzzle flashes (see May 10, 2000).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians

US Postal Inspection Service logo.US Postal Inspection Service logo. [Source: Center for Regulatory Effectiveness]Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), names a group of US postal inspectors to investigate claims that the FBI tried to cover up its use of incendiary devices during the final assault on the Davidian compound. Preferring not to use FBI agents to investigate allegations against the bureau, Danforth said from the outset that he would use investigators from outside the Justice Department. “My basic thought is, the FBI should not be investigating the FBI,” Danforth said. Reporters laughed when someone suggested—facetiously—that US Postal Service “cops” could conduct the investigation. Now Danforth is bringing aboard some 80 postal inspectors to look into the allegations. The use of postal inspectors may indicate Justice Department officials could be targeted by the probe. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Robert Bethel acknowledges the choice of postal inspectors may seem odd to Americans unfamiliar with the agency. “A lot of people don’t know what a postal inspector is,” he says. “If they hear of postal inspectors, they think, is that someone who inspects post offices?” Postal inspectors have been investigating federal crimes involving the mails since 1772, and often investigate crimes such as extortion, child pornography, and on occasion murder, if they involve Postal Service employees. “We’ve always been called the ‘silent service,’ because we go about our business and don’t seek publicity,” Bethel says. The specific inspectors have not yet been chosen. In 1996, postal inspectors helped FBI investigators look into the events of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff (see August 31, 1992) and found evidence that an FBI official had obstructed justice. [All Points Broadcasting News, 10/2/1999]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Branch Davidians, Robert Bethel, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John C. Danforth, US Postal Inspection Service

Copies of FBI infrared surveillance tapes taken during the first hours of the FBI assault against the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), clearly show repeated bursts of rhythmic flashes from agents’ positions and from the compound; two experts hired by the surviving Davidians say the flashes must be gunfire. A third expert retained by the House Government Reform Committee, Carlos Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging and videotape analysis, says he, too, believes the flashes to be gunfire. “The gunfire from the ground is there, without a doubt,” he says. FBI officials have long maintained that no agent fired a shot during either the 51-day standoff or during the final assault. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their lawsuit against the government (see April 1995), says he has shown the tapes and the expert analysis to John Danforth, the former senator who is leading a government investigation into the FBI’s actions during the siege and the assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Caddell says his two experts are former Defense Department surveillance analysts. One of Caddell’s two experts also says the FBI’s infrared videotapes that have been released to the public, Congress, and the courts may have been altered. “There’s so much editing on this tape, it’s ridiculous,” says Steve Cain, an audio and video analysis expert who has worked with the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service. Cain says his analysis is preliminary because he has not been granted access to the original tapes. But, he says, the tapes appear to have been erased. There are significant erasures during the 80-minute period before the compound began burning. Cain says: “It’s just like the 18-minute gap on the Watergate tape. That was erased six times by Rose Mary Woods (see November 21, 1973). That’s why we’re trying to get to the originals.” Cain also says that he believes images were inserted into the videotapes, perhaps from different video cameras. Caddell says, “I think at this point, it’s clear that the whole investigation, and particularly the fire investigation, was garbage in-garbage out.” The videotapes were used in a 1993 Treasury Department review of the siege (see Late September - October 1993) and as evidence in a 1994 criminal trial against some of the surviving Davidians (see January-February 1994), both of which concluded that the Davidians themselves set the fires that consumed the compound. [Associated Press, 10/6/1999; Dallas Morning News, 10/7/1999]

Entity Tags: John C. Danforth, Branch Davidians, Carlos Ghigliotti, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Steve Cain, Michael Caddell, Federal Bureau of Investigation

A former Army colonel tells a Dallas reporter that the FBI overheard Branch Davidian leader David Koresh ordering the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 of Koresh’s followers (see April 19, 1993). For years, many have accused the FBI of causing the fires that culminated the April 19, 1993 assault on the Davidian compound. Now, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, a former military adviser, says that he was in the FBI monitoring room outside the compound on the day of the assault, and he and several FBI agents overheard Koresh give the orders to fire the compound. The FBI had surveillance “bugs” in several places inside the compound, but FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, have said that they did not know if Koresh ordered the fires. In recent weeks, the FBI has come under heavy criticism for having to admit that its agents fired incendiary tear gas rounds at a bunker near the compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rawlings tells the Dallas Morning News that as the Army’s senior liaison to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), he was in the monitoring room during the assault. He says: “You could hear everything from the very beginning, as it was happening. Anyone who says you couldn’t at the time is being less than truthful.” Rawlings says the FBI surveillance bugs picked up Koresh’s orders to set the fires. Shortly afterwards, he says, the bugs picked up the sound of gunfire. The bugs then recorded Koresh declaring that God did not want him to die, and Koresh’s chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying that Koresh “wasn’t going to get out of this.” Both Koresh and Schneider were later found dead in a room of the compound, both dead of gunshot wounds. FBI officials have previously testified that transmissions from the eavesdropping devices were too garbled to allow agents to hear discussions about spreading fuel and setting fires. Rawlings says that the FBI’s denials bother him “to no end. They’ve had the opportunity to say, ‘We knew.’ We’ve not gotten a straightforward answer.” [Reuters, 10/8/1999]

Entity Tags: Janet Reno, Branch Davidians, David Koresh, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rodney Rawlings, Steve Schneider

The special counsel’s office investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993) asks for court-supervised tests to determine if flashes recorded by FBI infrared cameras during the final assault on the Davidian compound were made by gunshots fired by FBI agents (see October 7, 1999). The FBI has always insisted that its agents fired no shots during the assault. The Justice Department has refused similar requests from lawyers representing surviving Davidians in a lawsuit against the government (see April 1995). Justice Department officials say that such testing would be without critical data that the government has chosen to withhold under the rubric of national security. However, deputy special counsel Edward L. Dowd believes otherwise. In a letter to Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the civil suit, Dowd writes: “Both the trust of the public and the truth-seeking process are not best served by the course of events as they are unfolding. We propose therefore that the court supervise a neutral FLIR [forward-looking infrared] re-creation.” The Justice Department is facing growing criticism over what some perceive as its lack of cooperation in providing documents and other evidence relating to the Davidian siege and final assault. Even some FBI officials have privately complained that the department’s handling of the matter has further damaged the bureau’s credibility. Experts hired by lawyers in the suit have determined that the flashes captured by FBI cameras may well have been gunfire. Michael Caddell, lead lawyer for the Davidians in the civil suit, says that the special counsel’s request “forces the issue.” Caddell adds: “The procedure that’s been proposed is clearly designed to protect any legitimate security concerns by the FBI and the Department of Justice. They’ve taken away the one legitimate reason that they could have for refusing. Any refusal now is because they already know what the answer is going to be. I think that would be the most damning admission of liability they could possibly make. It’s clear now that the office of special counsel, the courts, and the plaintiffs are all interested in getting to the truth of what happened on April 19. The question that’s lingering out there is, is the government interested in getting at the truth?” FBI officials have offered to secretly conduct an examination of the FLIR videotapes for the special counsel’s investigation. [Dallas Morning News, 11/10/1999; Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] Smith will order the tests (see November 15, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Caddell, Branch Davidians, Edward Dowd, John C. Danforth, Walter Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of Justice

US District Judge Walter Smith overrides Justice Department objections and orders independent field testing to help determine whether government agents fired at the Branch Davidian compound in the last hours of a 1993 siege (see April 19, 1993 and November 5, 1999). In a three-page ruling, Smith writes that he has been “persuaded” by arguments from Branch Davidian lawyers and the office of special counsel John Danforth that the tests are needed to resolve whether flashes of light recorded by FBI infrared cameras were caused by government gunfire. FBI officials have consistently denied allegations that any of their agents fired gunshots during the final assault. Flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera just before the compound began burning are inexplicable electronic “anomalies,” the FBI claims. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their civil suit against the government (see April 1995), says: “It again demonstrates that Judge Smith wants to get at the truth. If they [the FBI] really believe that’s not gunfire on that video, then the government’s lawyers should embrace this test with open arms.” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] The special counsel’s office also requests the actual guns carried by FBI agents during the assault. Examination of the weapons may help determine if agents fired during the six-hour assault. [Associated Press, 11/16/1999] FBI officials have secretly offered to conduct private tests for Danforth’s investigators, though Justice Department lawyers have rejected a proposal from Caddell and the Branch Davidian lawyers for a joint public test. These actions, along with a warning from Justice Department lawyers that they intended to use national security exemptions to withhold data needed to ensure accurate public tests, impelled Danforth’s office to ask for the public tests. Smith rules, “The court is persuaded that one FLIR [infrared] test should be conducted, with participation and observation by the parties and the OSC [office of special counsel].” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, US Department of Justice, John C. Danforth, Walter Smith, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Caddell

Byron Sage, the chief FBI negotiator during the Waco, Texas, siege that claimed the lives of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), now says the FBI’s strategy during the siege was wrong. “We played right into the hands of David Koresh,” the leader of the Branch Davidians, Sage tells a television interviewer. “He had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy.” [San Antonio Express-News, 2/27/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Branch Davidians

A newly released surveillance photograph taken during the FBI’s final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), casts doubt on theories that FBI agents opened fire on the Davidians during the assault (see September 14, 1999, October 1999, October 7, 1999, November 5, 1999, and November 15, 1999). The photo is part of a batch submitted to the Danforth investigation (see September 7-8, 1999) and to Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Davidian survivors against the government (see April 1995). The photograph was taken on April 19, 1993, within seconds of the time when a flash appears on an infrared surveillance videotape at 11:24 a.m. Experts have claimed that such flashes indicate gunfire from FBI agents; however, no one is in the vicinity of the flash as shown in the photograph. Smith has ordered tests to be done to determine if the flashes on the videotapes are, indeed, gunfire. Lawyer Michael Caddell, speaking for the Davidians, says the photograph proves nothing: “Seeing one or two or 10 photographs doesn’t tell you a whole lot.” Two FBI planes were flying over the compound during the attack. One, an FBI Nightstalker, took infrared videotape of the scene and the other took still photographs on film. Until recently, the two had not been compared to one another. The infrared tapes show a tank destroying the back wall of the Davidians’ gymnasium just before 11:30 a.m.; at 11:24, the tape shows a flash off the right rear corner of the tank. The photo was taken almost at that same instance; no one can be seen in the photo, casting doubt on claims that someone was near the tank firing into the compound. Caddell notes that the photographs are not time-stamped, and the times of the photos must be estimated based on the amount of damage done to the gymnasium. “Being able to identify what time it is and whatever the precise moment when someone was firing from the rear of the tank is very suspect unless you’ve got a complete roll of film and you can see the entire sequence,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2000; Associated Press, 1/13/2000]

Entity Tags: Walter Smith, Branch Davidians, Michael Caddell, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John C. Danforth

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

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

FBI agents testifying for an upcoming civil case filed against the government by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas, in 1993 (see April 19, 1993) contradict the government’s official explanation for its decision to dismantle the Davidians’ gymnasium with armored vehicles, as laid out in a 1993 Justice Department report on the assault by FBI agents on the Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993). The Justice Department report gave two reasons why a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV)—described as a modified Patton tank—tore through the back of the Davidian compound, causing the gym to partially collapse. According to the report, the CEV ripped out the back wall to give the Davidians an escape route and to allow for the eventual insertion of tear gas. However, an FBI agent testifying in the trial says the orders were to use the CEV to find a way to get to a guard tower at the back of the compound, where supervisors believed the Davidians had retreated to escape the tear gas already fired inside the compound. The agent was a passenger in the CEV in question. “You were not ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings?” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Caddell of Houston asks in the deposition. “You were ordered to clear this path to the tower, correct?” The passenger responds, “Correct.” Caddell then asks, “What was the purpose of this path if it was cleared, or when it was cleared?” The passenger responds, “To effectively deliver gas to that tower area of the building where it was believed we were not getting gas.” He denies that the CEV was attempting to demolish the building, but Caddell asks, “You don’t call that building destroyed?” The passenger acknowledges that “portions of it” were indeed destroyed. An FBI agent who piloted a surveillance plane over the Davidian compound testifies that other agents in the plane noted that the Davidians would have to flee the compound because it was being demolished. The pilot testifies: “I recall some remarks that were made while, you know, ‘People were going to have to get out pretty soon because it’s going to, you know, the things are being kind of, during the penetrations, being taken away from them.’” Caddell also questions another agent, who drove the CEV in question. Caddell focuses on his assertion that the FBI drastically sped up the execution of the plan, which was originally conceived to take place over two days instead of a matter of hours. The driver testifies, “It was another CEV that had basically, what had been done was a railroad, a stanchion of railroad was welded to the blade itself, extending three feet on either side of the blade, and it was going to be used to drive along the side of the building, basically cutting the studs away and the sheetrock away, so we could actually see into the front sides of the building in hopes that they would come out when they were in plain view at that point.” Caddell asks, “How would the gym have looked any different if you had attacked it with the railroad CEV as opposed to the CEV you had?” The driver responds: “I have no idea. We never got to that part of the plan. I mean, in hindsight, it could have very well been the exact same result. But my plan at that point was not to destroy the gymnasium.” The agent who was riding in the CEV says that the FBI could have easily and quickly demolished the entire compound if it wanted to: “I think in no time at all the collateral destruction that you see on the empty gymnasium area would be the entire compound. I mean these are large powerful vehicles.” The driver denies Caddell’s assertion that the holes made by the CEVs could have served as openings for agents on foot to enter the compound. “They had told them we weren’t going to make entry into the building, and we didn’t,” he says. The passenger testifies that he didn’t think the Davidians would see the FBI’s actions as hostile and begin firing weapons, which led to the FBI dramatically escalating its schedule of firing tear gas into the compound. “I was actually very surprised when we were shot at,” the CEV passenger testifies. “I mean, you’ve got to keep in mind we were here 50 some days and there had been no exchanges and no shooting. And I especially felt with the notification and the negotiators talking to them and explaining what was going on, that they would not shoot. Didn’t see where that would be the logical step.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000]

Entity Tags: Michael Caddell, US Department of Justice, Branch Davidians, Federal Bureau of Investigation

A Delta Force commando says he took an observer’s role during the April 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound (see April 19, 1993), watching the events unfold from the command post. The commando, now retired, was a sniper. Conflicting reports have surfaced about the role of Delta Force soldiers during the assault, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 80 Davidians (see August 28, 1999). The soldier, a former sergeant who is not publicly named, is questioned by lawyers representing a number of surviving Davidians and the family members of the slain in a civil lawsuit against the government (see April 1995). Two other Delta Forces members, both electronics technicians, have testified that they did not know where their colleague was during the assault, and said that he showed up hours after the siege ended and was tired, red-faced, and disheveled. The commando says he never got within a half-mile of the compound and did not carry a weapon that day. Lawyer Michael Caddell, representing the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he is troubled by conflicting testimony from the two Delta Force technicians and the retired sergeant, but adds that the issue may never be resolved. “The contradictions between his testimony and that of the previous two soldiers are striking and incredible,” he says. [CNN, 1/31/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, Michael Caddell, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta

Livingstone Fagan.Livingstone Fagan. [Source: Carol Moore (.net)]Livingstone Fagan, one of the 11 Branch Davidians convicted of crimes related to the February 1993 shootout with federal agents near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), admits to firing at two of the four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) agents killed during the battle. He is the first Davidian to admit firing on BATF agents during the raid. Fagan says in a deposition that he fired at the two agents from the roof of the Davidian compound. The deposition is part of a wrongful death lawsuit brought by a number of Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995). In 1994, Fagan was convicted of manslaughter and a weapons charge, and given a 40-year prison sentence. He chose not to appeal his sentence based on what he says are religious reasons. He is serving his time at a federal prison in Pennsylvania. Fagan is a party to the lawsuit because his mother and wife died in the April 1993 assault on the compound (see April 19, 1993). During the trial, Fagan was identified by BATF agent Eric Evers, who was wounded in the February 1993 raid, as one of the Davidians who shot him. Fagan denies shooting at Evers, but says he did shoot at two other BATF agents. In a statement to attorney Marie Hagen, Fagan claimed he shot in self-defense, saying, “Your government murdered people who were very dear to me.” In the following exchange, which is part of Fagan’s deposition, he admits to shooting at the agents:
bullet Hagen: “Did you shoot at them?”
bullet Fagan: “Well, they fired at me.”
bullet Hagen: “OK. But did you shoot at them?”
bullet Fagan: “And so I responded.”
bullet Hagen: “Did you hit any of them?”
bullet Fagan: “I don’t know specifically, because I assume that there were others, too, that were firing then.”
Fagan says he watched one wounded BATF agent, Kenneth King, crawl from the rooftop, drop to the ground, and writhe in pain until he was rescued by fellow agents. A fellow Davidian who survived the April 1993 conflagration, David Thibodeau (see September 9, 1999), had written that Fagan “was kneeling in prayer in the chapel while the bullets were flying.” And Clive Doyle, a survivor who was acquitted in the same trial that convicted Fagan, has said he didn’t think Fagan fired during the raid. Fagan’s lawyer Kirk Lyons tries to downplay Fagan’s admission, saying: “This is a guy that’s been in solitary confinement for a long time, and he’s had nobody of his own mental abilities that he can talk to. He’s a little stir-crazy.” [San Antonio Express-News, 2/23/2000]

Entity Tags: David Thibodeau, Branch Davidians, Clive J. Doyle, Eric Evers, Kenneth King, Marie Hagen, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Kirk Lyons, Livingstone Fagan

Memos withheld from Congressional investigators (see August 4, 1995) by the FBI show that the FBI was riven by dissension during the Branch Davidian siege, which culminated in a fiery conflagration that killed scores of sect members (see April 19, 1993). The memos are released by the Dallas Morning News. Many senior FBI officials were pressing to use tear gas to bring the siege to a close, some as early as three weeks after its start. According to a March 23, 1993 memo (see March 23, 1993) written by then-Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactics, the Hostage Rescue Team leader, Richard Rogers, was pressuring FBI officials to terminate the siege by using gas as part of an assault. Coulson disagreed with Rogers’s recommendations. Coulson is the former agent who recently revealed that the FBI had used pyrotechnic grenades during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Some House members are angry about the withheld memo, and note that they have consistently been denied documents even after subpoenas were issued. “We’ve had a subpoena out there for all relevant documents—all documents—since September 7, 1999,” says Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. “Is the Department of Justice withholding only embarrassing documents from us? It makes you wonder.” Other FBI documents released by the Dallas Morning News show that Attorney General Janet Reno gave her approval to use tear gas on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, Dallas Morning News, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, Mark Corallo, Richard Rogers, Janet Reno, Danny Coulson

Two former FBI negotiators who were heavily involved in the bureau’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993), testify that the aggressive and hostile methods used by the FBI during the siege and final assault (see April 19, 1993) destroyed any chances of successfully negotiating a peaceful surrender from the Davidians, and resulted in the needless deaths of many Davidians who might have otherwise left the compound before the final, fatal assault. The agents give depositions for an upcoming civil suit filed by the surviving Davidians against the government (see April 1995). Retired FBI agent Frederick Lanceley testifies: “I think we could’ve gotten more people out if there were better decisions. I don’t think we would have gotten everybody out. But I think we would’ve gotten more people out.” [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Frederick Lanceley, Branch Davidians

Six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers, all dressed in a variety of FBI-standard assault garb, reenact key scenarios from the 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The purpose is to recreate “flashes” observed in 1993 infrared videotapes made by FBI observers during the assault, and determine if they were indeed gunfire from FBI agents, as some have alleged (see November 15, 1999). The exercise is done at the behest of District Judge Walter Smith, who ordered it as part of the proceedings of a civil suit by surviving Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995); additionally, the scenario is part of the evidentiary gathering by federal special counsel John Danforth, investigating the role of the FBI in the burning of the Davidian compound (see September 7-8, 1999). FBI officials who view the infrared tapes say they bear out their long-held assertions that none of their agents fired their guns during the April 19 assault on the Davidian compound. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he believes the simulations will prove that the FBI shot at the compound, which is what his own experts reviewing the videos have said. US Attorney Michael Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, disagrees. “What we’re trying to do here… is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day,” he says. “It didn’t happen.” [New York Times, 3/20/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
Public Precluded from Seeing Videotapes - The exercise takes place at Fort Hood, Texas, under Danforth’s supervision. Initially, the infrared videos of the exercises were to be released to the public, but Smith seals the videos from public view. And, siding with Danforth against the Davidian lawyers, Smith denies motions by several news media organizations to witness the test. The New York Times writes, “The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos.” An independent analysis of the videos conducted by the private British company that conducts the simulations may be released to the public after they are turned over to the court some time in April. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Simulations Carried Out to Determine Whether Videotaped 'Flashes' Might Be Gunfire - Danforth, Smith, and a group of about 20 observers watch the simulations, including representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. In the simulations, the eight participants fire different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. They then slowly advance to a prescribed firing line, where they fire a series of single shots followed by short bursts and then long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeat the exercise four times, as an FBI “Nightstalker” surveillance aircraft and a British Navy helicopter take turns filming from different angles. Additionally, an armored vehicle is driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass, and pools of water, to see if light flashes from the debris could have caused similar flashes on the infrared video that could be mistaken for gunfire. Bradford has said that no matter how the videos are interpreted, they cannot be taken as proof that agents fired guns during the assault. “If there’s a flash in the testing, you can’t just conclude that means there was gunfire on April 19th,” Bradford said. “To me, that would mean the opposite. It would indicate it’s not a gun flash because you can’t see a person there. There’s more to be analyzed than just the flashes.” The private British firm, Vector Data Systems, was chosen in part because it owns FLIR, or “forward-looking infrared,” video cameras similar to those used by the FBI in 1993; the bureau has since abandoned those video cameras for more current technology. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Davidian Lawyer: No Broad Conspiracy by FBI, Justice Department to Conceal Truth - Caddell disagrees with some Davidian supporters in discounting the broader conspiracy theories they advocate. “I know that may disappoint some people,” he says. “But this is not a big conspiracy, it’s a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. Those people have to be held accountable.” Of the Danforth investigators, Caddell says: “I think they’ll issue an honest report, a fair report. And I think it will be critical in many respects.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/18/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, John C. Danforth, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Bradford, Michael Caddell, Vector Data Systems, Walter Smith, New York Times, US Department of Justice, Texas Rangers

In an interview, President Clinton says he “gave in” to the Justice Department’s arguments to go forward with the April 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The resulting fiery conflagration took the lives of almost 80 Davidians and touched off a never-ending storm of controversy, accusations, and alternative theories (see April 19, 1993). The transcript of the interview will not be released until July 2000. When the transcript is released, Attorney General Janet Reno will say both she and Clinton required assurances about the operation’s necessity. “I think we both had to be convinced, if you will,” Reno will say. Reno signed off on the final orders for the assault (see April 17-18, 1993). Clinton says: “I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do. I made a terrible mistake.” Reno will say that she and Clinton discussed the imminent assault and the answers she had received from senior FBI officials. “My recollection was that we had a very difficult situation, that there were many issues,” she will say. “I went over those issues with him. He wanted to make sure my questions had been answered.” [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] In November 2000, Reno will tell a group of schoolchildren in New York City, “[I]n a way, I’ll never know what the right thing to do was” in ending the standoff, but people have to “live with [their] judgments.… I’ve tried to do what is right.” Reno will make her statement in response to a direct question by a young girl. [New York Post, 11/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Branch Davidians, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995), announces that a court expert has determined that neither the FBI nor the Davidians fired weapons during the final day of the siege (see April 19, 1993). The expert’s preliminary study of infrared videotapes finds no firearm muzzle flashes from either federal agents or sect members (see March 20, 2000). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, Branch Davidians

The court in the $675 million civil suit brought by Branch Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995) releases the final report on a simulation of some aspects of the final siege, which killed almost 80 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). Experts find that flashes seen on a videotape, once thought to be muzzle flashes from the weapons of FBI agents (see October 1999), were sunlight reflecting off debris and not gunfire (see March 20, 2000). The final report supports earlier findings (see April 24, 2000). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians

The Supreme Court unanimously overturns the lengthy prison sentences given to five Branch Davidians for using machine guns during a February 1993 shootout with federal agents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and January-February 1994). Writing for the Court, Justice Stephen Breyer says a Texas federal judge should not have used a federal firearm law to increase the convicted Davidians’ sentences, but instead let the jury make that decision. The ruling sends the case back to the judge for a new sentencing. [Reuters, 6/5/2000] A judge will reduce the 40-year sentences to 15 years. [Associated Press, 4/19/2006]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Branch Davidians, Stephen Breyer

Testimony begins in the civil suit filed by the survivors of the Branch Davidian conflagration outside Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), and the family members of those killed in the fire. The plaintiffs claim the government is responsible for the wrongful death of some 80 Davidians (see April 1995). The lead attorney for the plaintiffs, Michael Caddell, shows pictures of 15 children who died in the fire, and tells the jury that each of the children “never owned a gun. Never broke the law. Never hurt anyone.” For his part, US Attorney Michael Bradford, heading the government defense team, calls the Mt. Carmel compound of the Davidians an “armed encampment,” and says the Davidians ambushed agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF, sometimes abbreviated ATF) when those agents presented search and arrest warrants to the residents (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). Bradford tells the jury that Davidian leader David Koresh is responsible for the fire, not the FBI agents who assaulted the compound with tear gas and assault vehicles (see Late September - October 1993, August 2, 1996, and July 21, 2000). “The responsibility for those tragic events should not be placed upon the shoulders of the brave men and women of the ATF and the FBI,” Bradford says. “The responsibility for what happened at Mount Carmel is on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians. They caused this dangerous situation to occur, and they brought it to a tragic end.” The first to testify are three survivors of the conflagration, marking the first time any survivors have testified in the five-year legal proceedings. The survivors say that government reports of the Davidians being “armed to the teeth” are wrong, and depict the community as a happy, peaceful group. “There were people from all over the world: different personalities, different families, different interests, different likes and dislikes. We were all there for one purpose, and that was the Bible studies,” says Rita Riddle, who lost her brother Jimmy Riddle in the final fire. “David [Koresh] was my teacher.” Jaunessa Wendel, one of the children who left the compound before the fire, says: “It was our home. It was like an apartment building, a community center.” She testifies about bullets smashing through a window during the initial BATF raid, coming perilously close to striking her three younger siblings. “There was glass in my brother’s crib,” she recalls. Wendel’s mother, Jaydean Wendel, died in the shootout. Her father, Mark Wendel, died in the final fire. The three say they never learned to use guns from Koresh and other Davidians, disputing government testimony to the contrary, but admit that Koresh took other men’s wives as his own and fathered many of the community’s children (see February 27 - March 3, 1993). The government lawyers note that Wendel and another adult survivor previously told authorities that, contrary to their testimony today, they saw Riddle carrying or shooting a gun during the BATF raid, a contention that Riddle denies. Wendel says she lied during that testimony for fear that her family “might be split up” by the authorities if she did not tell them what she believed they wanted to hear. Government lawyers repeat earlier testimony from Wendel saying that she saw her mother fire on BATF agents. “You just made all that up?” Bradford asks. [Dallas Morning News, 6/6/2000]

Entity Tags: Mark Wendel, David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Jaunessa Wendel, Jimmy Riddle, Michael Caddell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Michael Bradford, Jaydean Wendel, Rita Riddle

Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995 and June 6, 2000), rules that the question of whether FBI agents fired on Davidians during the final siege (see May 10, 2000) will not be considered by the advisory jury that will determine whether the government is culpable for the “wrongful deaths” of some 80 Davidians. Instead, Smith says he will revisit the issue when a court-appointed expert becomes available to provide testimony. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, Branch Davidians

Media investigations show that the February 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, that resulted in the deaths of four BATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) agents and six Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993) lost the element of surprise when a local sheriff’s department official tipped off the Davidians. The BATF has blamed television cameraman Jim Peeler of Waco’s KWTX-TV for alerting a local mailman, David Jones, to the upcoming raid. Jones, a relative of Davidian leader David Koresh, alerted Koresh to the imminent raid. However, Peeler was told of the raid by Cal Luedke, a longtime member of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office. Luedke was part of the BATF’s raid preparation and support team. Luedke denies the allegation, but a KWTX cameraman who filmed part of the raid, Dan Mulloney, says station officials learned of Luedke’s role from local reporter Tommy Witherspoon, who learned of the incident from Luedke himself. “Tommy told me it was Cal. No doubt about it,” Mulloney says. “I knew if Tommy said something was true, it was. I could trust him 100 percent. And he told me that Cal had told him the raid had been moved up to Sunday.” Witherspoon denies telling Mulloney the identity of his source, and says Mulloney learned of Luedke’s involvement from another source, whom Mulloney identifies as his girlfriend, who worked for the Waco ambulance company that was on alert the morning of the raid. State and federal authorities, including the BATF and the Texas Rangers, have confirmed Luedke’s involvement in alerting the Davidians, and say that Luedke has admitted to tipping off the Davidians to the raid. However, when asked by reporters in March about the story, he denied any involvement. He has also denied his involvement in a deposition given on behalf of a lawsuit filed by a group of current and former BATF agents against KWTX, a local newspaper, and the ambulance company, which charged that the three were responsible for tipping off the Davidians. The case was settled out of court. Peeler and Mulloney say their reputations have been irreparably damaged by years of accusations that they were partly responsible for the 10 deaths at the Davidian compound. [Austin Chronicle, 6/23/2000]

Entity Tags: US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Tommy Witherspoon, McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), Dan Mulloney, Cal Luedke, Branch Davidians, David Jones (Waco), David Koresh, Jim Peeler, KWTX-TV, Texas Rangers

An advisory jury of five panelists in Waco, Texas, rules that law enforcement agents did not start the gun battle that began the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), and decides that the federal government owes nothing to the Davidians who survived the conflagration. The panel takes just over an hour to decide that the government has no liability in the BATF raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), standoff, FBI assault, and culminating fire. The presiding judge, Walter Smith, will issue a final verdict next month after an expert testifies as to the possibility that the FBI fired into the compound during the siege, actions the FBI and Justice Department have long denied (see June 12, 2000). The civil suit had asked for $675 million in damages for the government’s allegedly causing the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians. Waco music shop owner Bill Buzze says he and his fellow residents are ready for the publicity and the notoriety surrounding the Davidians to come to an end. “We really want it all to just go away,” he says. “It’s gone on too long, cost too much money, and hurt too many people.” Buzze’s employee Inez Bederka is not sure that people will forget so quickly. “I think it will always be on Waco, the stigma,” she says. “People are still putting Waco down real hard these days. The outside world just won’t treat you fair after a thing like that.… [I]t’s a shame that something bad like that had to happen before people heard about Waco.” Buzze says that many people have an unwarranted fascination and even fear of Waco and the surrounding area. “The Chamber of Commerce has a tough job now,” Buzze says. “They have to reassure people that we’re not going to shoot them if they come down to visit.” Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart is quick to point out that the Branch Davidians did not live in Waco proper, but in Elk, a small township on the outskirts of Waco. [Waco Journal, 7/18/2000; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]

Entity Tags: Jack Stewart, Bill Buzze, Branch Davidians, Inez Bederka, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Walter Smith, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

An investigative commission headed by former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) finds no wrongdoing on the parts of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), or the Justice Department in their actions during the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Attorney General Janet Reno appointed the commission after documents surfaced in 1999 that indicated an FBI agent fired pyrotechnic gas canisters near the Branch Davidian compound during the raid, possibily contributing to the fire that destroyed the compound and killed many sect members (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth’s investigation also finds that, despite the documents, no government agency or individual contributed to any alleged cover-up, and emphatically clears Reno of any responsibility for the calamity. Danforth does find that a single FBI agent fired three flammable gas canisters into a concrete pit some 75 feet from the compound itself, as previously acknowledged. His report concludes that the FBI most likely mishandled that information, though the possibility exists of some sort of deliberate cover-up or falsification of evidence. Danforth’s report also notes that he had encountered “substantial resistance” to his probe from Justice Department officials, in some cases resulting in a “tug of war” over requested evidence that required intervention by Reno’s top deputy. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] Asked whether she feels vindicated by the report, Reno says: “One doesn’t think in terms of exoneration when you look at something like that. That was a terrible tragedy. And what I have always said was we have got to look to the future to see what we can do, what we can learn about human behavior to avoid tragedies like that.” The final report sums up 10 months of investigation, interviews, and evidence assessment; the investigation cost $12 million. [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000]

Entity Tags: John C. Danforth, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Branch Davidians, US Department of Justice, Janet Reno

Former federal prosecutor William “Bill” Johnston is indicted for obstructing the investigation of special counsel John Danforth, who led a government probe into the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, September 7-8, 1999, and July 21, 2000). Johnston, a former US attorney in Waco, is accused of concealing information about the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic CS gas rounds during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth, a former Republican senator, says he preferred to release the investigation report without prosecuting anyone, but says the charges against Johnston are too severe to ignore. “I couldn’t just shrug it off,” Danforth says. Johnston is accused of hiding his notes about the use of incendiary tear gas rounds from the Justice Department and Congress. He is also accused of later lying about the notes to Danforth’s investigators and to the grand jury. Johnston has admitted to hiding his notes, but also helped bring the information about the incendiary gas rounds to the public. “My actions were foolish, regrettable, and wrong, but they were not criminal,” Johnston says. “I can’t confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them. And I can’t take full blame when there is so much blame to be spread around.” Danforth’s report found no evidence of a widespread government conspiracy to cover up the use of the pyrotechnic gas rounds, but asserted that members of the Justice Department’s prosecution team had failed to give information about the rounds to Davidian defense lawyers during a criminal trial in 1994 (see January-February 1994). The report also criticized two FBI evidence technicians, Richard Crum and James Cadigan, who checked the crime scene for failing to keep notes and giving evasive statements on their findings. Johnston says he hid his notes to protect himself from “enemies” in the Justice Department. “Certain people leaked a memo to the news media making it appear—falsely—that I attended a 1993 meeting at which the term ‘pyrotechnic’ was used,” Johnston says. “In any event, when I uncovered the notes, only days after the memo was leaked, I panicked, because I had just been ordered to place all my trial material in the hands of the people behind the smear campaign. I should have turned those notes over anyway and suffered the consequences, but I didn’t.” Danforth says that two other prosecutors on the trial, Ray Jahns and LeRoy Jahns, knew about the pyrotechnic gas rounds but did not disclose their knowledge. However, Danforth says there is not enough “tangible” evidence against the two to file charges. “There is a difference between what I believe and conclude and what I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/9/2000] Johnston will accept a plea-bargain deal that gives him two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service in return for an admission of guilt. He will tell the court: “Whatever my reason [for withholding his notes], it was wrong. It will never be right to withhold something in fear or panic or whatever reason.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2001] In August 1999, Johnston wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno that he believes unnamed Justice Department officials were concealing evidence from her (see August 30, 1999).

Entity Tags: LeRoy Jahns, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Branch Davidians, James Cadigan, John C. Danforth, William (“Bill”) Johnston, US Department of Justice, Richard Crum, Janet Reno, Ray Jahns

A small number of Branch Davidians, who live a quiet existence outside of Waco, Texas, and worship in a church dedicated in April 2000 (see September 18, 1999 - April 19, 2000) and built very near the site of the April 1993 conflagration that killed almost 80 of their fellow Davidians (see April 19, 1993), say they have no connection to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh, a racist white separatist who evidence shows used the 1993 tragedy as a spark for his decision to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the Davidian tragedy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), is due to be executed for his crime (see June 2, 1997). Davidian leader Clive Doyle says his group does not appreciate McVeigh’s actions. “I don’t see that blowing up a building that kills a whole bunch of kids really makes a strike against the government or law enforcement, if that’s what you’re against,” he says. “It didn’t hurt them all that much and it didn’t help us.” Doyle escaped the April 1993 fire that destroyed the Mt. Carmel compound, but lost his 18-year-old daughter in the flames. Doyle and others say that in recent weeks more and more radical-right extremists have come to view the site of the conflagration; he has begun building a security fence to keep out unwanted visitors. Robert Darden, an English professor who wrote a book on the Branch Davidians and the Waco siege, says the sect is generally peaceful, and had been so until its leader David Koresh led its members down a path of armed militancy. Doyle says he does not believe Koresh would have approved of either the McVeigh bombing or any armed assault against government authorities. He recalls Koresh welcoming a man who offered to rally thousands of militiamen in an attack on federal agents, but also says Koresh discouraged such an action. Ron Goins, who is not a Davidian but who often visits the new church and its members, says, “I felt the same rage [as McVeigh], but I didn’t feel the responsibility upon myself to take lives, especially since there were innocent people who died in Oklahoma City.” Moreover, Goins says, McVeigh’s bombing shifted public attention away from scrutiny of the government and toward “mad bombers, lone gunmen, and things like that.” Doyle says he is unhappy that people now connect the Davidian tragedy with the Oklahoma City bombing. [Waco Tribune-Herald, 6/10/2001]

Entity Tags: Ron Goins, Branch Davidians, Robert Darden, Clive J. Doyle, David Koresh, Timothy James McVeigh

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Dr. Stuart Wright, a professor of sociology who testified before Congress on the Branch Davidian siege (see April 19, 1993) in 1995 (see Late July 1995 and August 4, 1995), says government investigations of the Davidian siege and the final assault that took almost 80 lives became so politicized as to be almost useless. “The [National Rifle Association] got involved in it, allied with the Republicans, in Congressional subcommittee hearings,” Wright says. “And on the other side, the Democrats were defensive because the Republicans were going after [President] Clinton.” Wright concludes, “I’m not sure the evidence was ever looked at in an objective light.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/23/2003]

Entity Tags: Stuart Wright, Branch Davidians, Clinton administration, National Rifle Association, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

The House Appropriations subcommittee investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco (see March 1, 1993 and April 19, 1993) releases heavily edited excerpts from 911 call conversations between federal agents and Davidian members made during the February 1993 raid on the Davidian compound by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF—see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). A Dallas FBI agent released edited portions of the tapes to a Congressional investigator, who gave the tapes to the subcommittee members. The Justice Department says the FBI agent, Oliver “Buck” Revell, erred in giving the tape; a department investigation finds Revell did not knowingly do anything wrong in releasing the tape, which is used by the FBI to train negotiators to deal with similar situations. The McLennan County, Texas, Police Department releases unedited versions of the tapes shortly after the House subcommittee makes its tapes public; federal prosecutors who intend to prosecute some of the surviving Davidians (see August 7, 1993) had intended to keep the tapes secret until the trial. Senator Dennis DeConcini (D-AZ) asks Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate the tape’s initial release, saying: “Who edited the version of the tape given to the House in the first place, and why, in that version, are conversations with David Koresh out of order? Is there a reason why the FBI, for training purposes, would leave out the threatening statements made by the Branch Davidians on the actual tape?” The House subcommittee was told that the tape was an accurate recording of the first half-hour of local police negotiations with Davidian Wayne Martin. “The release of altered tapes that are evidence before a grand jury is an assault on the department’s integrity,” DeConcini writes. “It is essential that this matter be investigated thoroughly and that the individuals responsible receive the most severe penalties available under the law.” The edited tape makes it appear that the 911 call center could not reach BATF agents for almost an hour after the 911 calls commenced. The police tapes feature two unedited hours of conversation between Martin and local law enforcement officials, and show that 911 operators made contact with BATF raid commanders within a half-hour of the first call to the hotline by Martin. The police tapes also indicate that BATF officials worked closely with the 911 call center to negotiate a cease-fire and evacuation of wounded federal agents. [Dallas Morning News, 8/7/1993]

Entity Tags: McLennan County Sheriff’s Department (Texas ), David Koresh, Branch Davidians, Dennis DeConcini, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, House Committee on Appropriations, Janet Reno, US Department of Justice, Wayne Martin, Oliver (“Buck”) Revell

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