Analysis, History

WACO: 25 Years Later

25 years ago, a religious compound called Mt. Carmel outside of Waco, Texas was besieged and destroyed by the US government. Their apocalypse began when the ATF arrived with a search warrant, but instead of coming as police, they came as soldiers. A gunfight began between the Branch-Davidians and the nearly hundred agents trained for a special forces style raid on the small community. Four ATF agents died, alongside five Branch-Davidians. On his way home, another Branch-Davidian was killed, shot trying to climb over the compound’s fence so he could see his wife and children.

That was just the beginning of their end. Almost two months later, the siege gave way to an assault, where tanks and APC’s – that had been methodically crushing and destroying everything around their buildings – deployed CS gas in supposed hopes of “saving” the women and children.

While there has been much debate on what started the fire that razed the compound to the ground, what one finds is that the siege in the first place was completely unjustified.

Even if the fire was a complete accident, it doesn’t change the fact that the fire would have never occurred if the ATF had settled for acting like police, instead of like soldiers. If the search warrant – which was very flimsy in the first place – had been executed in a proper way, there would have never been so much death and tragedy. No ATF agents would have died, but more importantly, the women and children wouldn’t have been doomed to die within the flaming rubble of a once close-knit community.

While this publication is from a Catholic perspective, it’s important to remember that the government would see little difference between the Branch-Davidians and actual Traditionalist Christians. The Branch-Davidians might have been very wrong when it came to theology, being Adventist Protestants, but they were targeted purely for having an almost “off-grid” community. Even though many Branch-Davidians participated in their second community, that being Waco, Texas, they were still too self-sufficient and close-knit, making them a “cult” in the eyes of the secular world.

That was the only reason they came under the watchful eyes of the ATF. Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms – that was the bureau that decided it wanted to search the premises, though its reasoning was shoddy at best. There were accusations of child abuse and polygamy, but these don’t fall under the ATF’s jurisdiction. These claims were also rejected by the local police department, which had already extensively investigated them. They were included on the warrant anyway. Even if these allegations were true, the answer isn’t to treat the situation like a military target. How does that help save the women and children?

The other allegation does fall under ATF jurisdiction. It involved fully-automatic weapons. Supposedly, the Branch-Davidians were converting their semi-automatic rifles so that they could be used for full-auto fire. However, this was based on neighbors saying they “heard” fully automatic gunfire from the compound. There are many legal ways to fire a semi-automatic rifle in an almost full-auto way, and one of these mechanisms was owned by David Koresh, the community’s leader. Apparently, there was a report that the Branch-Davidians were disassembling their guns and modifying them. However, this report described AK47’s having their “upper” and “lower” receivers removed. An AK47 only has one receiver, unlike the AR-15. How trustworthy is the report if a detail so basic, yet also crucial, is wrong?

This leaves us with a warrant based primarily on allegations that either don’t fall into the ATF’s jurisdiction, or aren’t from reliable sources. They didn’t have many reasons to search the compound in the first place, but the crime wasn’t that they came knocking at the door.

Instead of giving Koresh and the Branch-Davidians a chance to peacefully comply with the warrant, the ATF planned out an assault, a raid. They weren’t coming like police officers, but as soldiers. With help from local Special Forces, they plotted out how they’d breach and clear the community. Despite all this preparation, their military-style operation proved to be a complete failure.

The ATF came, the ATF saw, but the ATF didn’t conquer. They started off their day by firing at David Koresh, who had arrived at the doorway to meet the officers. He very clearly didn’t want a gunfight, but the ATF did. The Branch-Davidians did what any American citizen would do during a home invasion – they fired back and called the police. Unfortunately, the cops couldn’t help them, and they should’ve known this, but it is telling. Were the Branch-Davidians really a bunch of apocalyptic, paranoid “whackjobs” when one of the first things they did when they came under attack was to phone the local authorities?

While the Branch-Davidians dialed 9-1-1 and returned fire in a desperate defense of their home, which wasn’t a fortress, its walls easily shot through by even lower caliber weapons, the ATF executed the plan they’d been training for constantly. They tried to breach the compound and enact their search by force, but instead they were driven back in confusion by a bunch of families armed with legal firearms. Four agents were killed, three of which were Bill Clinton’s bodyguards during his presidential campaign. Five Branch-Davidians died defending their home, just citizens who knew to shoot back when men clad in black broke through their windows tossing grenades. The ATF’s failure was an embarrassment, so they came up with excuses for it, claiming the compound was well armed compared to their kevlar-equipped agents with proper military arms. Supposedly, the Waco compound had enough firepower that there needed to be tanks and APC’s called in to keep the federal agents safe. The same thing happened at Ruby Ridge, where excessive firepower was mobilized against one single family.

The ATF at the initial Waco raid.

At the end of the day, the ATF and the government now were stuck on one path – besieging the Waco compound like it was some hostile military target. While the public heard about the suffering of women and children, they were also told that the government would save them. Waco was not a castle under siege, but presented as a hostage scenario. The “cult” accusations and dubious claims of child abuse were used to justify military action against nearly a hundred civilians holed up in a home they had all built together. Their biggest justification, legally, was the four dead agents that were shot during the failed raid. It no longer mattered if any other accusation was true, as Koresh and his Branch-Davidians could be charged with murder. Clearly the government didn’t care how truthful their allegations were, but only how useful they were. Laws put in place for the War on Drugs were used to bring in even more military equipment, even more toys to play soldier with, by claiming that the compound was home to a meth lab.

The women and children inside were suffering – from the effects of modern siege warfare. They were cut off from supplies, such as food and water, stuck with their stockpiles and reserves. They had no contact with the outside world, their communication lines cut. They were subject to psychological attacks, such as spotlights used to keep them up during the middle of the night, alongside the blasting of not just music, but audio tracks of rabbits being slaughtered.

The government was supposed to save these women and children from the siege, and supposedly, the abuses of “cult-leader” David Koresh. Instead, an assault was launched after 51 days of psychological siegecraft. By now, everything around the compound had been cleared out by the destructive forces of federal tanks and armored vehicles. This proved to be useful, as when the compound caught ablaze, the fire was unable to spread, as it was already surrounded by scorched earth.

During the final assault, CS gas was deployed – the government has admitted to this. CS gas is illegal to use during wartime against our foreign enemies, yet it was used against our own civilians at Waco. CS gas, according to its creator, should also never be used indoors, but it was pumped inside of a compound full of women and children. At the same time, a fire began, and the entire place burnt down, leading to numerous deaths from the flames and suffocation. The fire even reached the underground bunker, which due to a building collapse, provided the unfortunate occupants with no way to escape. As all of this occurred, a sniper’s nest watched over the smoldering ruins, with one man we should take note of.

The sniper who murdered Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge was also present at Waco. Ruby Ridge came before Waco, and is perhaps even more concerning. The government brought out all its guns to go after a man and his family up in the woods, all because he didn’t want to become a federal informant. He lost his son and his wife over a charge involving two sawn-off shotguns.

At Waco, 82 people died. 76 died in the final, fiery assault, while 6 died on that first day, February 28th, when the ATF came eager to play soldier. Even if the accusations against Koresh and the Branch-Davidians were true, even if the search warrant was valid, it was executed in an inexcusable way. The government treated its own civilians like a foreign enemy and spilled the blood of many women and children. If the warrant had been executed by men who considered themselves police, not soldiers, unnecessary deaths on both sides could have been avoided. However, what is done is done. While recent situations that could have evolved into another Waco have been defused properly by law enforcement agencies, these two disasters from recent history should remind us that the government is willing to bring out its arsenal for those on the “fringe.” When they do, it’s likely that while there will be a public outcry, nobody will actually be held accountable for the murders that occur, just as we’ve seen with the infamous Waco and Ruby Ridge sieges.

FBI sniper
An FBI sniper poses, triumphantly, at the ruins of Mount Carmel.

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