Waco: Massacre or Mistake?
One lesson we all learn with age is this: you can’t bargain with a messiah. No matter how many government tanks, snipers, and tear gas canisters you may have on your side, it’s really difficult to get past the whole, “Hey, jokers, I’m the Son of God, and no Whore of Babylon is getting me out of this compound until I’m good and ready."
Such is the position FBI negotiators found themselves in during the early months of 1993. On February 28, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (dudes throw a wicked kegger) attempted to execute search and arrest warrants on the Branch Davidian ranch, just outside Waco, Texas, home to a splinter group of Seventh Day Adventists. Led by would-be messiah David Koresh (less glamorously known as Vernon Howell), whose literal interpretation of the Book of Revelation makes Pat Roberston’s appear downright sunny, the Davidians had stockpiled massive amounts of guns & ammo in preparation for Armageddon. When law enforcement attempted to raid the compound, someone – neither side agrees who – started firing. A gunfight ensued, killing four ATF agents and wounding 16 more.
What had begun as a relatively routine search-and-seizure operation became a 51 day standoff, with the FBI’s Hostage Response Team cutting water and power to the compound. At first, Koresh seemed willing to bargain, allowing several children to leave the compound in exchange for milk and other supplies. As the siege wore on, however, his rhetoric grew more and more apocalyptic. The FBI began psychological warfare, bombarding the Davidians with loud music throughout the night; the group responded with their own music and a large sign reading, “Rodney King, we know how you feel!”
By April 19, the FBI had suffered enough of Koresh’s stalling. With the authorization of Attorney General Janet Reno (who, mistakenly it seems, believed the Davidians were abusing the children inside), the Bureau began to fill the compound with tear gas. For four hours they pumped in gas, eventually realizing that strong winds were blowing it back outside. (Because of budget cuts, the FBI has to make do with basic cable – no Weather Channel!) No one moved.
Around noon that day, three fires started in separate areas of the compound. The surviving Davidians claim pyrotechnic tear gas rounds ignited hay inside the building; the FBI countered that bugging devices picked up voices saying, “spread the fuel,” and, “don’t light it yet.” Koresh’s sermons often contained references to biblical fire.
Whatever the cause, the fire spread quickly, reaching temperatures of over 3,000 degrees. As government agents watched, flames engulfed the compound, along with 79 Branch Davidians, 17 of them children. By the time the fire cooled enough for EMS workers to approach, they could help no one.
At some point, every conspiracy theory hinges on the question of malice versus incompetence. To most observers, the Waco tragedy looks like a colossal failure by FBI negotiators, who, while trying to coax the Davidians out of their compound, flipped the bird to those inside. Knowing nothing about the Davidian religion and remembering nothing of Jonestown, the FBI went in blind and dumb, and tragedy resulted.
Others, though, see more sinister motives. What about the FBI snipers, who some believe fired into the compound as it burned, forcing the Davidians back inside? What about the disappearing evidence – videotape of the initial raid; CS gas canisters; and the steel front door that would provide forensic proof for just who fired first? Why was the Delta Force in Waco that day, and who told Janet Reno that children were being abused, provoking her to authorize the use of force against the Davidians?
You may have heard of one of those doubters: his name was Timothy McVeigh. On April 19, 1995, the two-year anniversary of Waco, he loaded a Ryder truck with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, creating a 5,000 pound bomb. With great care and self-righteousness he parked his message in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. At 9:02 AM he detonated it, killing 168 people.
Davidians = Good/misunderstood.
FBI = Evil/incompetent.
Two guys walk into a bar. First guy says, “I guess that’d be the first time any government has distorted facts to get what it wants or to cover up gross incompetence.” Second guy goes, “Are you being sarcastic?” First guy: “Oh, I am not. I so. Totally. Am not.” Then he checks his watch and the time reads: Revolution.
Where It Will Help You Score:
With the Branch Davidians, obviously, though that’s not playing your best odds. Instead, clothe yourself in camouflage and Carhartt and head for the Midwest. Roll around in some militia literature; let its musk rub off on you. Finally, when you’ve caught the eye of that Flecktarn-wearing, Walther-slinging blonde, say to her, “I’m going to whisper two words in your ear: Waco. Texas.”