Waco Siege

Waco Siege

The Waco Siege began in early 1993, when a government raid on a compound near Waco, Texas, led to a 51-day standoff between federal agents and members of a millennial Christian sect called the Branch Davidians. The siege ended dramatically on April 19, 1993, when fires consumed the compound, leaving some 75 people dead, including 25 children.

DAVID KORESH

On February 28, 1993, some 80 agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided a religious compound at Mount Carmel, near Waco, Texas, after receiving reports that the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, were violating federal firearms regulations.

After four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed in the gun battle that followed, a cease-fire was arranged, and nearly 900 law enforcement officials eventually surrounded the compound, including hostage negotiators and rescue teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Reporters soon arrived on the scene as well, and the 51-day siege that followed would play out on TV screens and in newspaper headlines around the world. Despite some early negotiating successes—the Davidians sent about 2 dozen children out in exchange for food and other supplies—numerous children remained among those inside, many of them Koresh’s children with various women.

BRANCH DAVIDIANS

In the 1930s, a disgruntled member of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church named Victor Houteff had broken away and founded the Davidian movement. After Houteff’s death, Ben Roden led an offshoot of the movement known as the Branch Davidians, who took control of Houteff’s original settlement at Mount Carmel, near Waco, by 1962.

Believing the Bible is literally the word of God, the Branch Davidians looked to it for clues about the end of the world and Christ’s Second Coming, as told in the Book of Revelation.

Roden died in 1978, leaving his wife, Lois, as head prophetess of the sect. In 1981, a 22-year-old convert named Vernon Wayne Howell arrived at Mount Carmel; he became involved with Lois Roden, and after her death clashed with her son, George, over control.

In a gun battle in late 1987, George Roden was shot in the head and chest, and Howell and seven followers went on trial for attempted murder. The seven other men were acquitted, and Howell’s case ended in a mistrial.

By 1990, having asserted control over the Branch Davidians, Howell legally changed his name to David Koresh. (“Koresh” is the Hebrew translation of Cyrus, the ancient Persian king who conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return to Israel.)

KORESH AND THE FBI

In his negotiations with the FBI during the Waco siege, Koresh claimed he was a messianic figure prophesied in the Bible and that God had given him his surname. He threatened violence against those who would attack him and his family, but asserted that the Davidians weren’t planning a mass suicide.

To the Branch Davidians, Koresh was “the Lamb,” the only one (according to the Book of Revelation) worthy of unlocking the Seven Seals and revealing to the world the entirety of the Bible’s teachings. This identification allowed Koresh to justify some of his controversial (even within the sect) practices, including taking various “spiritual wives,” some reportedly as young as 11 years old.

As time wore on, the negotiators and the Hostage Rescue Team, which handled all the tactical maneuvers, disagreed on how to handle the siege. The latter team, frustrated by the slow pace of negotiations, employed aggressive tactics like playing ear-splitting music or crushing the Davidians’ cars—disrupting often-delicate negotiation efforts.

FIRE ENGULFS WACO COMPOUND

In mid-April, after religious scholars reached out to Koresh through a radio discussion of the teachings of Revelation, Koresh sent a message through his lawyer announcing he had received word from God and was writing his message on the Seven Seals; he would come out with his followers when he was finished.

The FBI, unconvinced, decided to act to end the siege. Though initially reluctant, Attorney General Janet Reno ended up approving a plan to fire CS gas (a form of tear gas) into the Mount Carmel compound to try and force out the Davidians. Just after 6 a.m. on April 19, 1993, FBI agents used two specially equipped tanks to penetrate the compound and deposit some 400 containers of gas inside.

Soon after the attack ended, around 12 pm, several fires simultaneously broke out around the compound, and gunfire was heard inside. Safety concerns prevented firefighters from entering Mount Carmel immediately, and the flames spread quickly and engulfed the property.

Though nine Davidians were able to escape, investigators later found 76 bodies inside the compound, including 25 children. Some of them, including Koresh, had fatal gunshot wounds, suggesting suicide or murder-suicide.

LEGACY OF THE WACO SIEGE

From the beginning, the government’s handling of the Waco siege (which played out in the national and international media) was heavily criticized. Reno took responsibility for the botched raid, later admitting there was no evidence of ongoing child abuse within the compound (which had been one of the justifications for ordering the gas attack).

Though the government long maintained that its actions played no role in starting the fires at the Waco compound, in 1999 it was revealed that some of the gas the FBI used was flammable under certain conditions.

Reno subsequently appointed the lawyer and former senator John Danforth to lead an investigation into the siege’s end. In 2000, he concluded that government agents did not start the fires or shoot at the compound.

Despite this conclusion, resentment lingered about the government’s handling of the situation, which partially fueled the growth of homegrown militias in the United States. The Waco siege and the 1992 Ruby Ridge incident in Idaho are often cited by government critics as examples of overreach and intrusion by federal officials.

In April 1995, on the second anniversary of the Waco siege’s end, a militant named Timothy McVeigh used a truck loaded with 4,800 pounds of fuel oil and aluminum nitrate to attack the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. With a total of 168 people killed and some 850 wounded, the Oklahoma City bombing was by far the deadliest terrorist attack in the United States to that date.

WATCH: Full episodes of The UnXplained online now.

Sources

Waco: The Inside Story, PBS Frontline.
James D. Tabor and Eugene V. Gallagher, Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America.
Malcolm Gladwell, “Sacred and Profane,” The New Yorker (March 31, 2014).


Waco: The City Where the Waco Siege Didn't Actually Happen

John Willingham is a regular contributor to the History News Network. He has an M.A. in American social/intellectual history from the University of Texas at Austin and is the author of "The Edge of Freedom: A Fact-Based Novel of the Texas Revolution."

Today, April 19, 2013, is the twentieth anniversary of the bloody end to the "Waco" Siege at the Branch Davidian's Mount Carmel compound -- a forlorn place that is, in fact, 13.8 miles east of the city of Waco.

I do not know who was the first person to assign the name of "Waco" to the terrible events that took place 20 years ago. What I do know is that he or she did a great disservice to Waco, often pronounced "Wacko," as I have heard repeatedly whenever I tell someone that I was born and raised in the city.

Let me be quick to own that Waco has had its share of problems, one of them a so-called act of God, a 1953 tornado that killed more than 100 people and blew away much of downtown. As a young boy, I watched from the picture window of my father's real estate office about one and a half miles from the eye of the storm. The day turned completely dark, almost black, and downtown was never the same.

Then the feds closed a big Air Force base and a tactical fighter wing, and the people and the real estate market went, if not altogether south, then off to Austin, Houston, or Dallas.

And speaking of the South, Waco was the farthest extension of the Old South, sending soldiers off to the lost Confederate cause, including several generals. As an approximate end point for the reach of slavery, the city has had its share of tragic relapses to the harshness of Reconstruction, but now struggles more conventionally with the issue of race.

Waco is also associated with the Baptist denomination, mainly because Baylor University is located in the city. Baylor can be the butt of jokes, a few of them earned, but the university and its religion department are actually a significant moderating influence, in Texas and worldwide. Baylor also has excellent academic programs in business and law, and recently, engineering.

Ann Richards was a Baylor grad, along with four other Texas governors, three U.S. Senators, and about a dozen congressmen.

I did not attend Baylor (one of my daughters did), and I do not live in Waco. Yet this business of referring to the city as the site of the siege and its fiery climax has bothered me for years, particularly since President George W. Bush decided to buy a ranch near Crawford, Texas.

Now Crawford, Texas, is a town of about 800 located exactly 24.4 miles west of the city of Waco. How many news datelines have begun something like this, "Crawford -- We are at President Bush's ranch near Crawford, Texas, where he just announced. "?

As I see it, the net geographical difference between being identified with a president versus becoming the name for a national tragedy is about 10.6 miles -- the difference between the distances of Mount Carmel and Crawford from Waco. For otherwise, wouldn't we have seen datelines saying, "Waco -- President Bush announced from his ranch near here today that. "?

The closest town to Mount Carmel is Elk, a tiny hamlet of about 150 souls. Also nearby is the town of Hallsburg with a population of about 800. Depending on where one might be standing in these towns, the distance to Mount Carmel would be around 3 or 4 miles, or even less.

Now this is not an argument that the so-called "Waco Siege" now be referred to as the "Elk Siege" or the "Hallsburg Siege." But there are, in truth, striking examples of how tragedies are not named for the towns near which (or even in) the cities where they occurred.

Thus we have the "Columbine" massacre, even though the high school has an address in Littleton, Colorado. There are the "Aurora" theater shootings, referring to the Denver suburb less than nine miles out of town.

Columbine, in naming an awful event for the school in which it occurred, both narrows the location to an actual structure and reminds us that it was tragedy of the most terrible kind, one in which children were killed. Yet naming an event for its exact location would seem to suggest a more logical name for the "Waco" siege: Mount Carmel. For that is where the Davidian compound was located. Not in Waco, Texas.

Instead of a Frontline documentary on "Waco -- the Inside Story," or the award-winning "Waco: the Rules of Engagement," we would have "Mount Carmel: the Tragic Siege." But then we could have a dispute over naming a tragedy after the mountain where the prophet Elijah challenged each false, contending deity to make a sacrifice and then cause it to blaze the one who succeeded could claim to be the true god. The deities failed, but the sacrificial altar erupted in flames, destroying the altar, sacrifices, wood and stone. The Bible says it was a real act of God.

Endnote: On April 17, a fertilizer plant exploded in West, Texas, about 18 miles north of Waco.


The True Story of ‘Waco’ Is Still One of Contention

It was 25 years ago this spring when the skies 13 miles northeast of Waco, Texas, filled with roaring fire in a government siege gone wrong. When the smoke cleared, more than 70 were dead.

Charges and countercharges followed the incident, from Congressional hearings to court cases. There were also a handful of TV movies about David Koresh, the leader of the religious cult called the Branch Davidians and the siege by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and the FBI.

The most detailed filmed version may be the miniseries that premiered last week on the Paramount Network, the cable outlet that up to recently had been Spike TV.

“Waco” boasts an impressive cast that includes Taylor Kitsch of “Friday Night Lights” sporting aviator frames and a mullet as Koresh. Opposite him is two-time Oscar nominee Michael Shannon as Gary Noesner, the head of the FBI’s Crisis Negotiation Unit Gary Noesner. Other cast members include “Supergirl” Melissa Benoit as one of Koresh’s wives and Camryn Mannheim of “The Practice” as the mother of a compound member.  

The premiere garnered 1.11 million viewers — a success for a smaller cable network in the first week of its new name. In the target 18-49 demo, it tied the episode of the much more publicized “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story” the same night.

Early reviews of the miniseries have played up its historical accuracy - almost to a fault. The Guardian called it “re-enactment rather than dramatization, presenting these characters and images without developing them beyond their factual bullet points.” A writer for Forbes said it “ultimately suffers from feeling more like a history lesson than a drama.” And The New York Times said it was “a workmanlike summary of events that paints a largely, some say excessively, sympathetic portrait of Koresh and his followers.”

The filmmakers based the series on a pair of books by participants from inside and out of the siege —  Noesner’s 2010 Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator and the 1999 A Place Called Waco: A Survivor’s Story by David Thibodeau, one of nine Branch Davidian survivors. Thibodeau is portrayed in the series by Rory Culkin.

Together the books, and other interviews done in preparation, were meant to show more of what was going on among those living inside the compound, as well as the squabbles between the ATF and FBI leading up to the tragedy.

“People talk about ‘David Koresh did all these horrible things, David Koresh kind of had this coming to him,’” says John Erick Dowdle, who created the miniseries with his brother Drew Dowdle. (Koresh was believed to have committed multiple accounts of child abuse and statutory rape within the compound, not to mention the illegal arms cache that ostensibly brought the compound under siege in the first place.) “But it never occurred to us to think, ‘Well, what about the other people in there, who were innocent of anything, who were good people trying to live a life they thought was positive and the correct way?’”

The Dowdle brothers, who previously made such big screen thrillers as No Escape, As Above/So Below and Devil, began by looking into Koresh’s backstory. And there was a lot to tell there.

Born Vernon Howell to a 14-year-old single mother, Koresh was severely abused as a child, had a learning disability and was bullied at school. His father abandoned the family for another teenage girl before Koresh was born his mother began living with a violent alcoholic.

Howell became a born-again Christian and joined his mother’s Seventh-Day Adventist church, before being expelled for wanting to marry the pastor’s young daughter.

He ended up with the Branch Davidian group, a Waco separatist cult that grew out of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists , which he eventually took over after a series of violent incidents. He changed his name to David Koresh in 1990 to refer not only to King David, but Koresh is the Biblical name for Cyrus the Great.

Rather than deal with Koresh’s backstory, however, the Dowdles focus on that of his followers, including Thibodeau. “What we read [in Thibodeau’s book] was so completely different than what we expected to read,” John Erick Dowdle told reporters this month at the TV Critics Association winter press tour.

“I just want the people inside to be humanized,” said Thibodeau, who was also at the press conference, in describing his book. “They died for what they believed in, whether you believe that or not. To me, they’re martyrs, and they shouldn’t just be demonized and hated.”

In “Waco,” in addition to empathy for those caught inside the compound, there is also an understanding for the FBI negotiator’s role, and how Noesner fought the militarization of law enforcement, a debate still raging today. Noesner bumps up against his colleagues who wanted to make a show of the siege, as a make-up of sorts for the bad headlines that came out of a similar standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, six months earlier.

In that incident, Randy Weaver, his family and a friend wouldn’t come out of their remote cabin to answer firearms charges. An initial shootout left a U.S. Marshal, and Weaver’s wife and son dead. Negotiations led to a peaceful surrender came 11 days later. (The miniseries places Noesner at Ruby Ridge as a dramatic embellishment the actual negotiator was not there in 1992.)

Both botched incidents caused death, inflamed the far-right and were cited by Timothy McVeigh in inspiring the 1995 bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, which occurred on the second anniversary of the Waco fire. 

“It’s hard not to read both of these books and not have empathy for both sides, no matter what your preconceptions might be,” Drew Dowdle says. “Reading [Thibodeau’s] book, it was just learning who these people really were and putting names and faces to a lot of the people who perished, that was very eye-opening to us.”

But, he added, “You read [Noesner’s] book, too you just realize how difficult their challenge was in this situation as well.”

The Branch Davidians believed they were living in a time when Biblical prophesies and divine judgement was coming were imminent ahead of Christ’s second coming. A headquarters was first established near Waco in 1935 and at its height, 900 people moved there awaiting a sign from God.  Koresh rose to power as a young man in the 1980s, in part by taking its leader, a woman in her 60s, as a lover. When she died in 1986 at 70, there was a power struggle between her son and Koresh.

Upon ascending to the leadership position, Koresh never claimed to be Jesus, but did refer to himself as “the Son of God, the Lamb” and unlike his predecessors, began stockpiling arms, a departure from its pacifist belief system. About 130 people were living at the compound when the ATF first approached in early 1993. They had been tipped off after a UPS package of grenade casings en route to the compound had accidentally broken open.

The ATF tried to execute a search warrant relating to weapons violations and the sexual abuse allegations.

The miniseries begins with ATF closing in on Mount Carmel on Feb. 28, 1993. Then it flashes back nine months earlier to establish Thibodeau’s entry to the group — because Koresh’s rock group needed a drummer.

Unlike what is depicted in “Waco,” the two did not meet at a local bar sound check, where they hit it off and played “My Sharona.”

“I went to L.A. to be a drummer in a band,” said Thibodeau, who, unlike the smaller figure portrayed by Culkin in the film, is a big hulking man 25 years later.

He said he met Koresh “at Guitar Center” and he gave him a business card with some scripture on it and the drummer replied, “I’m not looking to be in a Christian band.”

“The way that they described it was that they had some insights to Scripture that was kind of deeper than Christianity,” Thibodeau said. “To my surprise, about a week later, I ended up calling them. It just kept pressing on me for some reason.”

Early that Sunday morning, 78 ATF agents approached in an 80-vehicle convoy to the compound. The raid was not called off when thought it was clear the Branch Davidians had been tipped off by a news vehicle asking for direction. The cultists prepared for the raid.

The question of who fired the first shot has long been in contention. Some ATF agents said they heard shots from within the compound. Another suggested an agent’s gun accidentally went off. But the miniseries runs with the assertion that the first shots were those fired at the compound dogs by the agents.

What began at 9:45 a.m. ended at 11:30 a.m. with four ATF agents dead and 16 wounded a fifth was killed later in the day. Five Branch Davidians were killed. It was the longest gun battle in U.S. law enforcement history. And the ceasefire came only because federal agents were running out of ammunition.

The siege consumes much of the third episode of the miniseries. The tense, 51-day standoff with the FBI, which took over government operations, culminates in a tear gas attack on April 19 and the apocalyptic fire that killed 76 at the compound including Koresh.

An internal Justice Department investigation concluded in 2000 that the fire was started from within other interpretations, including a 2000 film by then little-known conspiracy mongerer Alex Jones, America Wake Up (Or Waco) contend it was the government.

How “Waco” deals with the aftermath of the fire, who caused it and whether it was set by the cultists as part of a violent, Biblical-inspired endgames, remains to be seen -- just three episodes were made available to the press in advance. But based on the source material, Thibodeau has maintained that the Branch Davidians did not start the fire itself, as the resulting Justice Department report in 2000 claimed. And Noesner has little to add to that debate, having left Waco three weeks before the raid, after freeing 35 people, mostly children, from the compound.  

Many of the main characters of “Waco” are based on real people, including Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider (Paul Sparks), local radio personality Ron Engleman (Eric Lange) and the compound lawyer Wayne Martin (Demore Barnes). But John Leguizamo’s character — an ATF agent that got close to the compound by moving next door — is named Jacob Vazquez instead of Robert Rodriguez, who was the actual undercover ATF agent.

As to whether the tragedy could have been avoided, Thibodeau says he thinks Koresh “could have been reasoned with.”

“He was always a reasonable individual the entire time that I’ve known him,” Thibodeau says of Koresh. “I think that what happened was the ATF messed up horribly bad on the first day. And then the FBI came in, and the miscommunication was so profound that both sides felt they were being lied to. And over the course of the 51 days, every day there was a news conference, and every day they were calling us a cult, demonizing us.”

Controlling the message on the outside, Thibodeau says, meant “the people inside were forgotten about, and they were just crazy cult leaders that deserved what they got. And that’s really too bad.”

As a negotiator, Noesner expected Koresh to renege on some of his promises as a normal part of the process. But “at Waco, our on-scene commander and the tactical commander took those behaviors in a very negative way,” he says. “Then they would take actions that would the only ratchet up things with David. So it was a very complex tragedy.”

For Kitsch, portraying Koresh “was kind of a hard-learning experience, to be honest. I’ve never kind of played anybody like this or remotely close.”

But even after all the research he did, studying audio tapes, recruitment materials and literature, Kitsch says. “There are still things that I’ll never have answers to, and I don’t think any of us will.”


Contents

The Branch Davidians (also known as "The Branch") are a religious group that originated in 1955 from a schism in the Shepherd's Rod (Davidians) following the death of the Shepherd's Rod founder Victor Houteff. Houteff founded the Davidians based on his prophecy of an imminent apocalypse involving the Second Coming of Jesus Christ and the defeat of the evil armies of Babylon. [16] As the original Davidian group gained members, its leadership moved the church to a hilltop several miles east of Waco, Texas, which they named Mount Carmel, after a mountain in Israel mentioned in Joshua 19:26 in the Bible's Old Testament. [17]

A few years later, they moved again to a much larger site east of the city. In 1959, Victor's widow, Florence Houteff, announced that the expected Armageddon was about to take place, and members were told to gather at the center to await this event. Many of them built houses, others stayed in tents, trucks, or buses, and most of them sold their possessions. [17]

Following the failure of this prophecy, control of the site (Mount Carmel Center) fell to Benjamin Roden, founder of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventist Association (Branch Davidians). He promoted different doctrinal beliefs than those of Victor Houteff's original Davidian Seventh-day Adventist organization. On Roden's death, control of the Branch Davidians fell to his wife, Lois Roden. Lois considered their son, George Roden, unfit to assume the position of prophet. Instead, she groomed Vernon Wayne Howell (later known as David Koresh) to be her successor. [ citation needed ]

In 1984, a meeting led to a division of the group, with Howell leading one faction (calling themselves the Branch Davidians) and George Roden leading the competing faction. After this split, George Roden ran Howell and his followers off Mount Carmel at gunpoint. Howell and his group relocated to Palestine, Texas. [18] [19]

After the death of Lois Roden and probate of her estate in January 1987, Howell attempted to gain control of Mount Carmel Center by force. [20] George Roden had dug up the casket of one Anna Hughes from the Davidian cemetery and had challenged Howell to a resurrection contest to prove who was the rightful heir to the leadership. Howell instead went to the police and claimed Roden was guilty of corpse abuse, but the county prosecutors refused to file charges without proof. [21]

On November 3, 1987, Howell and seven armed companions tried to get into the Mount Carmel chapel, intending to photograph the body in the casket as incriminating evidence. Roden was informed of the interlopers and opened fire. The Sheriff's Department responded about 20 minutes into the gunfight, during which Roden had been wounded. Sheriff Harwell got Howell on the phone and told him to stop shooting and surrender. Howell and his companions, dubbed the "Rodenville Eight" by the media, were tried for attempted murder on April 12, 1988. Seven were acquitted, and the jury hung on Howell's verdict. The county prosecutors did not press the case further. [21]

Even with all the effort to bring the casket to court, the standing judge refused to use it as evidence for the case. [22] Judge Herman Fitts ruled that the courtroom is no place for a casket when defense attorney Gary Coker requested it be used as evidence for the case. During questions about the casket, Roden admitted to attempting to resurrect Anne Hughes on three occasions. The Rodenville Eight were forced to carry the casket down the street to a van awaiting the body. [ citation needed ]

While waiting for the trial, Roden was put in jail under contempt of court charges because of his use of foul language [23] in some court pleadings. He threatened the Texas court with sexually transmitted diseases if the court ruled in Howell's favor. Alongside these charges, Roden was jailed for six months for legal motions he filed with explicit language. Roden faced 90 days in jail for living on the property after being ordered to neither live on the property nor call himself the leader of the religious group in a 1979 case. [23] The next day, Perry Jones and several of Howell's other followers moved from their headquarters in Palestine, Texas, to Mount Carmel. [ citation needed ] In mid-1989, Roden used an axe to kill a Davidian named Wayman Dale Adair, who visited him to discuss Adair's vision of being God's chosen messiah. He was found guilty under an insanity defense and was committed to a mental hospital. Shortly after Roden's commitment, Howell raised money to pay off all the back taxes on Mount Carmel owed by Roden and took legal control of the property. [24] After these legal proceedings, it was noted in a 90-minute interview by the Davidians attorney Douglas Martin that the religious group had been back and forth to court since 1955. [25]

On August 5, 1989, Howell released the "New Light" audiotape, in which he said that God told him to procreate with the women in the group to establish a "House of David" of his "special people." This involved separating married couples in the group, who had to agree that only he could have sexual relations with the wives, while the men should observe celibacy. [24] [26] Howell also said that God had told him to start building an "Army for God" to prepare for the end of days and a salvation for his followers. [26]

Howell filed a petition in the California State Superior Court in Pomona on May 15, 1990, to legally change his name "for publicity and business purposes" to David Koresh. On August 28, he was granted the petition. [27] By 1992, most of the land belonging to the group had been sold except for a core 77 acres (31 ha). Most of the buildings had been removed or were being salvaged for construction materials to convert much of the main chapel and a tall water tank into apartments for the resident members of the group. Many of the members of the group had been involved with the Davidians for a few generations, and many had large families. [28]

—Opening passage of "The Sinful Messiah", Waco Tribune-Herald, February 27, 1993 [29]

On February 27, 1993, the Waco Tribune-Herald began publishing "The Sinful Messiah", a series of articles by Mark England and Darlene McCormick, who reported allegations that Koresh had physically abused children in the compound and had committed statutory rape by taking multiple underage brides. Koresh was also said to advocate polygamy for himself and declared himself married to several female residents of the small community. The paper claimed that Koresh had announced he was entitled to at least 140 wives and that he was entitled to claim any of the women in the group as his, that he had fathered at least a dozen children, and that some of these mothers became brides as young as 12 or 13 years old. [29]

In addition to allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct, Koresh and his followers were suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons. In May 1992, Chief Deputy Daniel Weyenberg of the McLennan County Sheriff's Department called the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to notify them that his office had been contacted by a local UPS representative concerned about a report by a local driver. The UPS driver said a package had broken open on delivery to the Branch Davidian residence, revealing firearms, inert grenade casings, and black powder. [ citation needed ]

On June 9, the ATF opened a formal investigation and a week later it was classified as sensitive, "thereby calling for a high degree of oversight" from both Houston and headquarters. [30] [31] The documentary Inside Waco claims that the investigation started when in 1992 the ATF became concerned over reports of automatic gunfire coming from the Carmel compound. [32] On July 30, ATF agents David Aguilera and Skinner visited the Branch Davidians' gun dealer Henry McMahon, who tried to get them to talk with Koresh on the phone. Koresh offered to let ATF inspect the Branch Davidians' weapons and paperwork and asked to speak with Aguilera, but Aguilera declined. [33] [34]

Sheriff Harwell told reporters regarding law enforcement talking with Koresh, "Just go out and talk to them, what's wrong with notifying them?" [35] The ATF began surveillance from a house across the road from the compound several months before the siege. Their cover was noticeably poor (the "college students" were in their thirties, had new cars, were not registered at the local schools, and did not keep a schedule that would have fit any legitimate employment or classes). [36] The investigation included sending in an undercover agent, Robert Rodriguez, whose identity Koresh learned, though he chose not to reveal that fact until the day of the raid.

The ATF obtained a search warrant on suspicion that the Davidians were modifying guns to have illegal automatic fire capability. Former Branch Davidian Marc Breault claimed that Koresh had "M16 lower receiver parts" [24] (combining M16 trigger components with a modified AR-15 lower receiver is, according to ATF regulations, "constructive possession" of an unregistered machine gun, regulated in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 [37] ).

The ATF used an affidavit filed by David Aguilera to obtain the warrant that led to the Waco siege. The official filing date of this affidavit was February 25, 1993. [38] Allegedly, the initial investigation began in June 1992 when a postal worker informed a sheriff of McLennan County that he believed he had been delivering explosives to the ammo and gun store owned and operated by the Branch Davidians. This store, named the "Mag-Bag", had been identified by the said postal worker as suspicious in deliveries. The postal worker continued deliveries to the Mt. Carmel Center and reported seeing manned observation posts in the affidavit, it states he believed there were armed personnel at these observation posts.

The McLennan county sheriff was notified in May and June of that year of two cases of inert grenades, black gunpowder, 90 pounds of powdered aluminum metal, and 30–40 cardboard tubes. Furthermore, the sheriff noticed another shipment of sixty AR-15/M-16 (stanag) magazines, to which Aguilera made the statement, "I have been involved in many cases where defendants, following a relatively simple process, convert AR-15 semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic rifles of the nature of the M-16" to justify the ATF's involvement in the case. [38]

In November 1992, a local farmer reported to the sheriff that he had heard machine gunfire. "By the sound of it," he said, "it was likely a .50 caliber machine gun and multiple M-16s." This farmer claimed he was very familiar with machine guns, having done a tour overseas in the U.S Army. The affidavit closed with Aguilera verifying the story via interviews made with associated parties and gun shops from which the Mag-Bag purchased items. Among these items were over forty-five AR-15 upper receivers and five M-16 upper receivers, which Aguilera annotated, "These kits contain all the parts of an M-16 except for the lower receiver unit, which is the 'firearm' by lawful definition," admitting that neither the noise complaints nor the items ordered were necessarily illegal. [39]

Preparations Edit

Using the affidavit filed by Aguilera that alleged that the Davidians had violated federal law, the ATF obtained search and arrest warrants for Koresh and specific followers on weapons charges, citing the many firearms they had accumulated. [40] [41] The search warrant commanded a search "on or before February 28, 1993", in the daytime between 6:00 am and 10:00 pm. The ATF made a claim that Koresh was possibly operating a methamphetamine lab, to establish a drug nexus and obtain military assets under the War on Drugs. [42] Although the ATF's investigation "focused on firearm violations, not on illegal drugs", the ATF requested assistance from the DEA and the DOD "citing a drug connection" based on 1) a recent delivery to the compound of "chemicals, instruments, and glassware", 2) a written testimony from a former compound's resident, alleging "Howell had told him that drug trafficking was a desirable way to raise money", 3) several current residents who "had prior drug involvement", 4) two former residents who were incarcerated for drug-trafficking crimes, and 5) National Guard overflights' thermal images showing a "hot spot inside the compound, possibly indicating a methamphetamine laboratory". [43] Although the original request for assistance was initially approved, the commander of the Special Forces detachment questioned the request, and the ATF obtained only a training site at Fort Hood, Texas, from February 25 to February 27 with safety inspections for the training lanes, and was given only medical and communications training and equipment. [44]

The ATF had planned their raid for Monday, March 1, 1993, with the code name "Showtime". [45] The ATF later claimed that the raid was moved up a day, to February 28, 1993, in response to the Waco Tribune-Herald ' s "The Sinful Messiah" series of articles (which the ATF had tried to prevent from being published). [32] Beginning February 1, ATF agents had three meetings with Tribune-Herald staff regarding a delay in publication of "The Sinful Messiah". The paper was first told by the ATF that the raid would take place February 22, which they changed to March 1, and then ultimately to an indefinite date. [46] ATF agents felt the newspaper had held off publication at the request of the ATF for at least three weeks. In a February 24 meeting between Tribune-Herald staff and ATF agent Phillip Chojancki and two other agents, the ATF could not give the newspaper staff a clear idea of what action was planned or when. The Tribune-Herald informed ATF they were publishing the series, which included an editorial calling for local authorities to act. Personnel of the Tribune-Herald found out about the imminent raid after the first installment of "The Sinful Messiah" had already appeared on February 27. [46]

Although the ATF preferred to arrest Koresh when he was outside Mount Carmel, planners received inaccurate information that Koresh rarely left it. [47] The Branch Davidian members were well known locally and had cordial relations with other locals. The Branch Davidians partly supported themselves by trading at gun shows and took care to have the relevant paperwork to ensure their transactions were legal. [48] Branch Davidian Paul Fatta was a federal firearms licensed dealer, and the group operated a retail gun business called the Mag Bag. When shipments for the Mag-Bag arrived, they were signed for by Fatta, Steve Schneider, or Koresh. The morning of the raid, Paul Fatta and his son Kalani were on their way to an Austin gun show to conduct business. [49]

February 28 Edit

The ATF attempted to execute their search warrant on Sunday morning, February 28, 1993. The local sheriff, in audiotapes broadcast after the incident, said he was not apprised of the raid. Despite being informed that the Branch Davidians knew a raid was coming, the ATF commander ordered that it go ahead, even though their plan depended on reaching the compound without the Branch Davidians being armed and prepared. [32] While not standard procedure, ATF agents had their blood type written on their arms or neck after leaving the staging area and before the raid, because it was recommended by the military to facilitate speedy blood transfusions in the case of injury. [50] [51]

Any advantage of surprise was lost when a KWTX-TV reporter who had been tipped off about the raid asked for directions from a U.S. Postal Service mail carrier who was coincidentally Koresh's brother-in-law. [32] Koresh then told undercover ATF agent Robert Rodriguez that they knew a raid was imminent. Rodriguez had infiltrated the Branch Davidians and was astonished to find that his cover had been blown. The agent made an excuse and left the compound. When asked later what the Branch Davidians had been doing when he left the compound, Rodriguez replied, "They were praying." Branch Davidian survivors have written that Koresh ordered selected male followers to begin arming and taking up defensive positions, while the women and children were told to take cover in their rooms. [32] Koresh told them he would try to speak to the agents, and what happened next would depend on the agents' intentions. The ATF arrived at 9:45 am in a convoy of civilian vehicles containing uniformed personnel in SWAT-style tactical gear.

ATF agents stated that they heard shots coming from within the compound, while Branch Davidian survivors claimed that the first shots came from the ATF agents outside. A suggested reason may have been an accidental discharge of a weapon, possibly by an ATF agent, causing the ATF to respond with fire from automatic weapons. [48] Other reports claim the first shots were fired by the ATF "dog team" sent to kill the dogs in the Branch Davidian kennel. [52] Three helicopters of the Army National Guard were used as an aerial distraction, and all took incoming fire. [53] During the first shots, Koresh was wounded, shot in the hand and the stomach. Within a minute of the raid's start, Branch Davidian Wayne Martin called emergency services, pleading for them to stop shooting. [54] Martin asked for a ceasefire, and audiotapes record him saying, "Here they come again!" and, "That's them shooting! That's not us!" [54]

The first ATF casualty was an agent who had made it to the west side of the building before he was wounded. Agents quickly took cover and fired at the buildings while the helicopters began their diversion and swept in low over the complex, 350 feet (105 m) away from the building. [53] The Branch Davidians fired on the helicopters and hit them, although none of the crewmembers were injured in response, the helicopter pilots chose to pull away from the compound and land. [53] On the east side of the compound, agents brought out two ladders and set them against the side of the building. They then climbed onto the roof to secure it to reach Koresh's room and the location where they believed weapons were stored. [55] On the west slope of the roof, three agents reached Koresh's window and were crouching beside it when they came under fire. One agent was killed and another wounded. The third agent clambered over the peak of the roof and joined other agents attempting to enter the armoury. The window was smashed, a flashbang stun grenade was thrown in, and three agents entered the armoury. When another tried to follow them, a hail of bullets penetrated the wall and wounded him, but he was able to reach a ladder and slide to safety. An agent fired his shotgun at Branch Davidians until he was hit in the head by return fire and killed. [55] Inside the armoury, the agents killed a Branch Davidian and discovered a cache of weapons, but subsequently came under heavy fire two were wounded. As they escaped, the third agent laid down covering fire, killing a Branch Davidian. As he made his escape, he hit his head on a wooden support beam and fell off the roof but survived. An agent outside provided them with covering fire but was shot by a Branch Davidian and killed instantly. Dozens of ATF agents took cover, many behind Branch Davidian vehicles, and exchanged fire with the Branch Davidians. The number of ATF wounded increased, and an agent was killed by gunfire from the compound as agents were firing at a Branch Davidian perched on top of the water tower. The exchange of fire continued, but 45 minutes into the raid the gunfire began to slow down as agents began to run low on ammunition. The shooting continued for a total of two hours. [55]

Sheriff Lt. Lynch of the McLennan County Sheriff Department contacted the ATF and negotiated a ceasefire. [32] Sheriff Harwell states in William Gazecki's documentary Waco: The Rules of Engagement that the ATF agents withdrew only after they were out of ammunition. [56] ATF agent Chuck Hustmyre later wrote: "About 45 minutes into the shootout, the volume of gunfire finally started to slacken. We were running out of ammunition. The Davidians, however, had plenty." In all, four ATF agents (Steve Willis, Robert Williams, Todd McKeehan, and Conway Charles LeBleu) had been killed during the firefight. Another 16 had been injured. After the ceasefire, the Branch Davidians allowed the ATF dead and wounded to be evacuated and held their fire during the ATF retreat.

The five Branch Davidians killed in the raid were Winston Blake, Peter Gent, Peter Hipsman, Perry Jones, and Jaydean Wendell two were killed at the hands of the Branch Davidians after having been wounded. [57] Their bodies were buried on the grounds. Nearly six hours after the 11:30 am ceasefire, Michael Schroeder was shot dead by ATF agents who alleged he fired a pistol at agents as he attempted to re-enter the compound with Woodrow Kendrick and Norman Allison. [32]

Alan A. Stone's report states that the Branch Davidians did not ambush the ATF and that they "apparently did not maximize the kill of ATF agents", explaining that they were rather "desperate religious fanatics expecting an apocalyptic ending, in which they were destined to die defending their sacred ground and destined to achieve salvation." [58] A 1999 federal report noted:

The violent tendencies of dangerous cults can be classified into two general categories—defensive violence and offensive violence. Defensive violence is utilized by cults to defend a compound or enclave that was created specifically to eliminate most contact with the dominant culture. The 1993 clash in Waco, Texas at the Branch Davidian complex is an illustration of such defensive violence. History has shown that groups that seek to withdraw from the dominant culture seldom act on their beliefs that the endtime has come unless provoked. [59]

ATF agents established contact with Koresh and others inside the compound after they withdrew. The FBI took command soon after as a result of the deaths of federal agents, placing Jeff Jamar, head of the Bureau's San Antonio field office, in charge of the siege as Site Commander. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) was headed by HRT Commander Richard Rogers, who had previously been criticized for his actions during the Ruby Ridge incident. As at Ruby Ridge, Rogers often overrode the Site Commander at Waco and had mobilized both the Blue and Gold HRT tactical teams to the same site, which ultimately created pressure to resolve the situation tactically due to lack of HRT reserves.

At first, the Davidians had telephone contact with local news media, and Koresh gave phone interviews. The FBI cut Davidian communication to the outside world. For the next 51 days, communication with those inside was by telephone by a group of 25 FBI negotiators. [32] The final Justice Department report found that negotiators criticized the tactical commanders for undercutting negotiations. [60]

In the first few days, the FBI believed they had made a breakthrough when they negotiated with Koresh an agreement that the Branch Davidians would peacefully leave the compound in return for a message, recorded by Koresh, being broadcast on national radio. [32] The broadcast was made, but Koresh then told negotiators that God had told him to remain in the building and "wait". [32] Despite this, soon afterwards negotiators managed to facilitate the release of 19 children, ranging in age from five months to 12 years old, without their parents. [17] However, 98 people remained in the building. [32] The children were then interviewed by the FBI and Texas Rangers, some for hours at a time. [17] Allegedly, the children had been physically and sexually abused long before the standoff. [61] This was the key justification offered by the FBI (both to President Bill Clinton and to Attorney General Janet Reno) for launching tear gas attacks to force the Branch Davidians out of the compound. [62]

During the siege, the FBI sent a video camera to the Branch Davidians. In the videotape made by Koresh's followers, Koresh introduced his children and his "wives" to the FBI negotiators, including several minors who claimed to have had babies fathered by Koresh. (Koresh had fathered perhaps 14 of the children who stayed with him in the compound.) Several Branch Davidians made statements in the video. [63] On day nine, Monday, March 8, the Branch Davidians sent out the videotape to show the FBI that there were no hostages, but everyone was staying inside on their own free will. This video also included a message from Koresh. [32]

The negotiators' log showed that when the tape was reviewed, there was concern that the tape's release to the media would gain sympathy for Koresh and the Branch Davidians. [64] Videos also showed the 23 children still inside the compound, and child care professionals on the outside prepared to take care of those children as well as the previous 19 released. [17] As the siege continued, Koresh negotiated for more time, allegedly so that he could write religious documents he needed to complete before surrendering. His conversations, which were dense with Biblical imagery, alienated the federal negotiators, who treated the situation as a hostage crisis. Among themselves, the negotiation teams took to calling Koresh's words "Bible babble." [65]

As the siege wore on, two factions developed within the FBI, [32] one believing negotiation to be the answer, the other, force. Increasingly aggressive techniques were used to try to force the Branch Davidians out. For instance, sleep deprivation of the inhabitants through all-night broadcasts of recordings of jet planes, pop music, chanting, and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered. Outside the compound, nine Bradley Fighting Vehicles carrying M651 CS tear gas grenades and Ferret rounds and five M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles obtained from the U.S. Army began patrolling. [32] The armored vehicles were used to destroy perimeter fencing and outbuildings and crush cars belonging to the Branch Davidians. Armored vehicles repeatedly drove over the grave of Branch Davidian Peter Gent despite protests by the Branch Davidians and the negotiators. [32]

Two of the three water storage tanks on the roof of the main building had been damaged during the initial ATF raid. Eventually, the FBI cut all power and water to the compound, forcing those inside to survive on rainwater and stockpiled military MRE rations. [32] Criticism was later leveled by Schneider's attorney, Jack Zimmerman, at the tactic of using sleep-and-peace-disrupting sound against the Branch Davidians: "The point was this—they were trying to have sleep disturbance and they were trying to take someone that they viewed as unstable to start with, and they were trying to drive him crazy. And then they got mad 'cos he does something that they think is irrational!" [66]

Despite the increasingly aggressive tactics, Koresh ordered a group of followers to leave. Eleven people left and were arrested as material witnesses, with one person charged with conspiracy to murder. [32] The children's willingness to stay with Koresh disturbed the negotiators, who were unprepared to work around the Branch Davidians' religious zeal. However, as the siege went on, the children were aware that an earlier group of children who had left with some women were immediately separated, and the women arrested.

During the siege, several scholars who study apocalypticism in religious groups attempted to persuade the FBI that the siege tactics being used by government agents would only reinforce the impression within the Branch Davidians that they were part of a Biblical "end-of-times" confrontation that had cosmic significance. [67] This would likely increase the chances of a violent and deadly outcome. The religious scholars pointed out that the beliefs of the group may have appeared to be extreme, but to the Branch Davidians, their religious beliefs were deeply meaningful, and they were willing to die for them. [67]

Koresh's discussions with the negotiating team became increasingly difficult. According to the FBI, he proclaimed that he was the Second Coming of Christ and had been commanded by his father in heaven to remain in the compound. [32] One week before the April 19 assault, FBI planners considered using snipers to kill David Koresh and possibly other key Branch Davidians. [68] The FBI voiced concern that the Branch Davidians might commit mass suicide, as had happened in 1978 at Jim Jones's Jonestown complex. Koresh had repeatedly denied any plans for mass suicide when confronted by negotiators during the standoff, and people leaving the compound had not seen any such preparation. [69]

Newly appointed U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno approved recommendations by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team to mount an assault, after being told that conditions were deteriorating and that children were being abused inside the compound. [61] Reno made the FBI's case to President Clinton. Recalling the April 19, 1985, The Covenant, The Sword, and the Arm of the Lord (CSAL) siege in Arkansas (which was ended without loss of life by a blockade without a deadline), President Clinton suggested similar tactics against the Branch Davidians. Reno countered that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team was tired of waiting that the standoff was costing a million dollars per week that the Branch Davidians could hold out longer than the CSAL and that the chances of child sexual abuse and mass suicide were imminent. Clinton later recounted: "Finally, I told her that if she thought it was the right thing to do, she could go ahead." [70] Over the next several months, Janet Reno's reason for approving the final gas attack varied from her initial claim that the FBI Hostage Rescue Team had told her that Koresh was sexually abusing children and beating babies (the FBI Hostage Rescue Team later denied evidence of child abuse during the standoff) to her claim that Linda Thompson's "Unorganized Militia of the United States" was on the way to Waco "either to help Koresh or to attack him." [71]

The assault took place on April 19, 1993. Because the Branch Davidians were heavily armed, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team's arms included .50 caliber (12.7 mm) rifles and armored Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEV). The CEVs used explosives to punch holes in the walls of buildings of the compound so they could pump in CS gas ("tear gas") and try to force the Branch Davidians out without harming them. The stated plan called for increasing amounts of gas to be pumped in over two days to increase pressure. [32] Officially, no armed assault was to be made. Loudspeakers were to be used to tell the Branch Davidians that there would be no armed assault and to ask them not to fire on the vehicles. According to the FBI, the Hostage Rescue Team agents had been permitted to return any incoming fire, but no shots were fired by federal agents on April 19. When several Branch Davidians opened fire, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team's response was only to increase the amount of gas being used. [32]

The FBI Hostage Rescue Team delivered 40-millimetre (1.6 in) CS grenade fire from M79 grenade launchers. Very early in the morning, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team fired two military M651 rounds at the Branch Davidian construction site. Around mid-morning, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team began to run low on 40 mm Ferret CS rounds and asked Texas Ranger Captain David Byrnes for tear gas rounds. The tear gas rounds procured from Company "F" in Waco turned out to be unusable pyrotechnic and were returned to the Company "F" office afterward. [72] 40 mm munitions recovered by the Texas Rangers at Waco included dozens of plastic Ferret Model SGA-400 Liquid CS rounds, two metal M651E1 military pyrotechnic tear gas rounds, two metal NICO Pyrotechnik sound and flash grenades, and parachute illumination flares. [72] [73] After more than six hours, no Branch Davidians had left the building, sheltering instead in an underground concrete block room ("the bunker") within the building or using gas masks. [74]

At around noon, three fires broke out almost simultaneously in different parts of the building and spread quickly footage of the blaze was broadcast live by television crews. The government maintains the fires were deliberately started by the Branch Davidians. [32] [75] Some Branch Davidian survivors maintain that the fires were accidentally or deliberately started by the assault. [76] [77]

Only nine people left the building during the fire. [32] [75] The remaining Branch Davidians, including the children, were either buried alive by rubble, suffocated, or shot. Many were killed by smoke or carbon monoxide inhalation and other causes as fire engulfed the building. [75] According to the FBI, Steve Schneider—Koresh's top aide—shot and killed Koresh and then himself. [78] In all, 76 people died. [12] [75] A large concentration of bodies, weapons, and ammunition was found in "the bunker" storage room. The Texas Rangers' arson investigator report assumes that many of the occupants were either denied escape from within or refused to leave until escape was not an option. It also mentions that the structural debris from the breaching operations on the west end of the building could have blocked a possible escape route through the tunnel system. [79] An independent investigation by two experts from the University of Maryland's Department of Fire Protection Engineering concluded that the compound residents had sufficient time to escape the fire, if they had so desired. [75]

Autopsies of the dead revealed that some women and children found beneath a fallen concrete wall of a storage room died of skull injuries. Autopsy photographs of other children locked in what appear to be spasmic death poses are consistent with cyanide poisoning, one of the results produced by burning CS gas. [56] [ unreliable source? ] The U.S. Department of Justice report indicated that only one body had traces of benzene, one of the components of solvent-dispersed CS gas, but that the gas insertions had finished nearly one hour before the fire started, and that it was enough time for solvents to dissipate from the bodies of the Branch Davidians that had inhaled the tear gas. [80] Autopsy records also indicate that at least 20 Branch Davidians were shot, including Koresh as well as five children under the age of 14. Three-year-old Dayland Gent was stabbed in the chest. The medical examiner who performed the autopsies believed these deaths were mercy killings by the Branch Davidians trapped in the fire with no escape. The expert retained by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel concluded that many of the gunshot wounds "support self-destruction either by overt suicide, consensual execution (suicide by proxy), or less likely, forced execution." [81]

Chronology of events of April 19 Edit

Time Event
05:50 Agents call the Branch Davidian compound to warn they are going to begin tank activity and advise residents "to take cover". Agents say the Branch Davidian who answered the phone did not reply but instead threw the phone and phone line out of the front door.
05:55 The FBI Hostage Rescue Team deploys two armored CEVs to the buildings. CEV1 goes to the left of the buildings, CEV2 to the right. [82]
06:00 FBI surveillance tapes from devices planted in the wall of the building record a man inside the compound saying "Everybody wake up, let's start to pray", then, "Pablo, have you poured it yet?" . "Huh?" . "Have you poured it yet?" . "In the hallway" . "Things are poured, right?" CEV1 receives orders to spray two bottles of tear gas into left corner of building. [82]
06:05 Armored vehicle with ram and delivery device to pump tear gas into building with pressurized air rips into front wall just left of front door, leaving a hole 8 feet (2.4 m) high and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide. Agents claimed the holes allowed insertion of the gas as well as provided a means of escape. Agent sees shots from inside the compound directed at CEVs. [82]
06:10 FBI surveillance tapes record "Don't pour it all out, we might need some later" and "Throw the tear gas back out." FBI negotiator Byron Sage is recorded saying "It's time for people to come out." Surveillance tapes record a man saying "What?", and then "No way."
06:12 FBI surveillance tapes record Branch Davidians saying "They're gonna kill us", then "They don't want to kill us."
06:31 The entire building is gassed. [82]
06:47 The FBI Hostage Rescue Team fires plastic, non-incendiary tear gas rounds through windows. [82]
07:23 FBI surveillance tapes record a male Branch Davidian saying, "The fuel has to go all around to get started." Then a second male says, "Well, there are two cans here, if that's poured soon."
07:30 CEV1 is redeployed, breaching the building and inserting tear gas. Branch Davidians fire shots at CEV1. [82]
07:48 On FBI tapes of agents recorded during the siege, an FBI Hostage Rescue Team agent requests permission to fire military-style tear gas shells to break through an underground concrete bunker. He receives permission and fires two shells. [82]
07:58 CEV2, with battering ram, rips a hole into second floor of compound minutes later another hole is punched into the rear of one of the buildings of the compound. The vehicles then withdraw. [82]
08:08 Three pyrotechnic military tear gas rounds are shot at the concrete construction pit (not the concrete bunker), away and downwind from the main quarters, trying to penetrate the structure, but they bounce off. [81] : 28–32 An agent in the CEV reports that one shell bounced off bunker and did not penetrate. [82] [81] : 30
08:24 The audio portion of FBI videotape ends, at the request of the pilot. [82]
09:00 The Branch Davidians unfurl a banner that reads "We want our phone fixed."
09:13 CEV1 breaks through the front door to deliver more gas. [82]
09:20 FBI surveillance records a meeting starting at 7:30 am between several unidentified males. [83] UM: "They got two cans of Coleman fuel down there? Huh?" UM: "Empty." UM: "All of it?" UM: "Nothing left."
10:00 A man is seen waving a white flag on the southeast side of the compound. He is advised over loudspeakers that if he is surrendering he should come out. He does not. At the same time, a man believed to be Schneider comes out from the remains of the front door to retrieve the phone and phone line.
11:30 The original CEV2 has mechanical difficulties (damaged tread) its replacement breaches through back side of compound. [82]
11:17–12:04 According to the government, a series of remarks such as "I want a fire", "Keep that fire going", and "Do you think I could light this soon?" indicate that the Branch Davidians have started setting fire to the complex around 11:30. [81] : 15–19 [83] : 287 Surviving Branch Davidians testified that Coleman fuel had been poured, and fire experts in Danforth's report agree "without question" that people inside the complex had started multiple accelerated fires. [81] : 15–19, appendixes D and E
11:43 Another gas insertion takes place, with the armored vehicle moving well into the building on the right rear side to reach the concrete interior room where the FBI Hostage Rescue Team believe the Branch Davidians are trying to avoid the gas.
11:45 The wall on the right rear side of the building collapses. [82]
12:03 An armored vehicle turret knocks away the first floor corner on the right side.
12:07 The first visible flames appear in two spots in the front of the building, first on the left of the front door on the second floor (a wisp of smoke than a small flicker of flame), then a short time later on the far right side of the front of the building, and at a third spot on the backside. An FBI Hostage Rescue Team agent reported seeing a Branch Davidian member igniting a fire in the front door area. [81] : 18
12:09 Ruth Riddle exits with a floppy disk in her jacket containing Koresh's Manuscript on the Seven Seals. A third fire is detected on first floor. [82]
12:10 Flames spread quickly through the building, fanned by high winds. The building burns very quickly.
12:12 An emergency call is placed regarding the fire. Two Waco Fire Department trucks are dispatched. Shortly after, the Bellmead Fire Department dispatches two trucks.
12:22 Waco fire trucks arrive at the checkpoint, where they are halted (not being allowed to pass until 12:37) [84] Bellmead follows shortly after.
12:25 There is a large explosion on the left side of the compound. One object hurtles into the air, bounces off the top of a bus, and lands on the grass.
12:30 Part of the roof collapses. Around this time, there are several further explosions, and witnesses report the sound of gunfire, attributed by the FBI Hostage Rescue Team to live ammunition cooking off throughout the buildings because of the fire.
12:43 According to fire department logs, fire trucks arrive at the compound.
12:55 Fire begins to burn out. The entire compound is leveled.
15:45 A law enforcement source states that David Koresh is dead.

The new ATF Director, John Magaw, criticized several aspects of the ATF raid. Magaw made the Treasury "Blue Book" report on Waco required reading for new agents. A 1995 Government Accountability Office report on the use of force by federal law enforcement agencies observed that "On the basis of Treasury's report on the Waco operation and views of tactical operations experts and ATF's own personnel, ATF decided in October 1995 that dynamic entry would only be planned after all other options have been considered and began to adjust its training accordingly." [85]

Nothing remains of the buildings today other than concrete foundation components, as the entire site was bulldozed two weeks after the end of the siege. Only a small chapel, built years after the siege, stands on the site. [86]

Trial and imprisonments of Branch Davidians Edit

The events at Mount Carmel spurred both criminal prosecution and civil litigation. On August 3, 1993, a federal grand jury returned a superseding ten-count indictment against 12 of the surviving Branch Davidians. The grand jury charged, among other things, that the Branch Davidians had conspired to, and aided and abetted in, the murder of federal officers, and had unlawfully possessed and used various firearms. The government dismissed the charges against one of the 12 Branch Davidians according to a plea bargain.

After a jury trial lasting nearly two months, the jury acquitted four of the Branch Davidians on all charges. Additionally, the jury acquitted all of the Branch Davidians on the murder-related charges but convicted five of them on lesser charges, including aiding and abetting the voluntary manslaughter of federal agents. [87] Eight Branch Davidians were convicted on firearms charges.

The convicted Branch Davidians, who received sentences of up to 40 years, [88] were:

  • Kevin A. Whitecliff – convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
  • Jaime Castillo – convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
  • Paul Gordon Fatta – convicted of conspiracy to possess machine guns and aiding Branch Davidian leader David Koresh in possessing machine guns.
  • Renos Lenny Avraam (British national) – convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
  • Graeme Leonard Craddock (Australian national) – convicted of possessing a grenade and using or possessing a firearm during a crime.
  • Brad Eugene Branch – convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
  • Livingstone Fagan (British national) – convicted of voluntary manslaughter and using a firearm during a crime.
  • Ruth Riddle (Canadian national) – convicted of using or carrying a weapon during a crime.
  • Kathryn Schroeder – sentenced to three years after pleading guilty to a reduced charge of forcibly resisting arrest.

Six of the eight Branch Davidians appealed both their sentences and their convictions. They raised a host of issues, challenging the constitutionality of the prohibition on possession of machine guns, the jury instructions, the district court's conduct of the trial, the sufficiency of the evidence, and the sentences imposed. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated the defendants' sentences for use of machine guns, determining that the district court had made no finding that they had "actively employed" the weapons, but left the verdicts undisturbed in all other respects, in United States v. Branch, [89] 91 F.3d 699 (5th Cir. 1996), cert. denied (1997).

On remand, the district court found that the defendants had actively employed machine guns and re-sentenced five of them to substantial prison terms. The defendants again appealed. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. [90] The Branch Davidians pressed this issue before the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the term "machine gun" in the relevant statute created an element of the offense to be determined by a jury, rather than a sentencing factor to be determined by a judge, as had happened in the trial court. [91] On September 19, 2000, Judge Walter Smith followed the Supreme Court's instructions and cut 25 years from the sentences of five convicted Branch Davidians, and five years from the sentence of another. [92] All Branch Davidians have been released from prison as of July 2007. [93]

Thirty-three British citizens were among the members of the Branch Davidians during the siege. Twenty-four of them were among the 80 Branch Davidian fatalities (in the raid of February 28 and the assault of April 19), including at least one child. [62] Two more British nationals who survived the siege were immediately arrested as "material witnesses" and imprisoned without trial for months. [88] Derek Lovelock was held in McLennan County Jail for seven months, often in solitary confinement. [88] Livingstone Fagan, another British citizen, who was among those convicted and imprisoned, says he received multiple beatings at the hands of correctional officers, particularly at Leavenworth. There, Fagan claims to have been doused inside his cell with cold water from a high-pressure hose, after which an industrial fan was placed outside the cell, blasting him with cold air. Fagan was repeatedly moved between at least nine different facilities. He was strip-searched every time he took exercise, so he refused exercise. Released and deported back to the UK in July 2007, he still retained his religious beliefs. [88]

Civil suits by Branch Davidians Edit

Several of the surviving Branch Davidians, as well as more than a hundred family members of those who had died or were injured in the confrontation, brought civil suits against the United States government, numerous federal officials, the former governor of Texas Ann Richards, and members of the Texas Army National Guard. They sought monetary damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act, civil rights statutes, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, and Texas state law. The bulk of these claims were dismissed because they were insufficient as a matter of law or because the plaintiffs could advance no material evidence in support of them.

The court, after a month-long trial, rejected the Branch Davidians' case. The court found that, on February 28, 1993, the Branch Davidians initiated a gun battle when they fired at federal officers who were attempting to serve lawful warrants. [94] ATF agents returned gunfire to the building, the court ruled, to protect themselves and other agents from death or serious bodily harm. The court found that the government's planning of the siege—i.e., the decisions to use tear gas against the Branch Davidians to insert the tear gas using military vehicles and to omit specific planning for the possibility that a fire would erupt—was a discretionary function for which the government could not be sued. The court also found that the use of tear gas was not negligent. Further, even if the United States government were negligent by causing damage to the buildings before the fires broke out, thus either blocking escape routes or enabling the fires to spread faster, that negligence did not legally cause the plaintiffs' injuries because the Branch Davidians started the fires.

The Branch Davidians appealed. They contended that the trial court judge, Walter S. Smith, Jr., should have recused himself from hearing their claims on account of his relationships with defendants, defense counsel, and court staff prior judicial determinations and comments during trial. The Fifth Circuit concluded that these allegations did not reflect conduct that would cause a reasonable observer to question Judge Smith's impartiality, and it affirmed the take-nothing judgment, in Andrade v. Chojnacki, [95] 338 F.3d 448 (5th Cir. 2003), cert. denied (2004).

Roland Ballesteros, one of the agents assigned to the ATF door team that assaulted the front door, told Texas Rangers and Waco police that he thought the first shots came from the ATF dog team assigned to neutralize the Branch Davidians' dogs, but later at the trial, he insisted that the Branch Davidians had shot first. [96] The Branch Davidians claimed that the ATF door team then opened fire at the door, and they returned fire in self-defense. An Austin Chronicle article noted, "Long before the fire, the Davidians were discussing the evidence contained in the doors. During the siege, in a phone conversation with the FBI, Steve Schneider, one of Koresh's main confidants told FBI agents that 'the evidence from the front door will clearly show how many bullets and what happened'." [97] Houston attorney Dick DeGuerin, who went inside Mount Carmel during the siege, testified at the trial that protruding metal on the inside of the right-hand entry door made it clear that the bullet holes were made by incoming rounds. DeGuerin also testified that only the right-hand entry door had bullet holes, while the left-hand entry door was intact. The government presented the left-hand entry door at the trial, claiming that the right-hand entry door had been lost. The left-hand door contained numerous bullet holes made by both outgoing and incoming rounds. Texas Trooper Sgt. David Keys testified that he witnessed two men loading what could have been the missing door into a U-Haul van shortly after the siege had ended, but he did not see the object itself. [97] Michael Caddell, the lead attorney for the Branch Davidians' wrongful death lawsuit explained, "The fact that the left-hand door is in the condition it's in tells you that the right-hand door was not consumed by the fire. It was lost on purpose by somebody." Caddell offered no evidence to support this allegation, which has never been proven. However, fire investigators stated that it was "extremely unlikely" that the steel right door could have suffered damage in the fire much greater than did the steel left door, and both doors would have been found together. The right door remains missing, and the entire site was under close supervision by law enforcement officials until the debris—including both doors—had been removed. [97]

Helicopters had been obtained from the Alabama and Texas National Guard on the false pretext that there was a drug laboratory at Mount Carmel. [44] [98] There were no drug-related charges on the arrest warrant served on the morning of February 28, 1993. [99] [100] The official version of events has always stated that the helicopters were merely used as a diversion, that the crew only had 9-millimeter sidearms, and that no shots were fired from them. [53]

In the weeks preceding the raid, Rick Ross, a self-described cult expert and deprogrammer affiliated with the Cult Awareness Network, appeared on major networks such as NBC [101] and CBS in regard to Koresh. [102] Ross later described his role in advising authorities about the Davidians and Koresh, and what actions should be taken to end the siege. [103] He was quoted as saying that he was consulted by the ATF [104] and he contacted the FBI on March 4, 1993, requesting "that he be interviewed regarding his knowledge of cults in general and the Branch Davidians in particular." The FBI reports that it did not rely on Ross for advice whatsoever during the standoff, but that it did an interview and received input from him. Ross also telephoned the FBI on March 27 and March 28, offering advice about negotiation strategies, suggesting that the FBI ". attempt to embarrass Koresh by informing other members of the compound about Koresh's faults and failures in life, in order to convince them that Koresh was not the prophet they had been led to believe." [103] The ATF also contacted Ross in January 1993 for information about Koresh. [103] Several writers have documented the Cult Awareness Network's role about the government's decision-making concerning Waco. [101] Mark MacWilliams notes that several studies have shown how "self-styled cult experts like Ross, anticult organizations like the Cult Awareness Network (CAN), and disaffected Branch Davidian defectors like Breault played important roles in popularizing a harshly negative image of Koresh as a dangerous cult leader. Portrayed as "self-obsessed, egomaniacal, sociopathic and heartless", Koresh was frequently characterized as either a religious lunatic who doomed his followers to mass suicide or a con man who manipulated religion for his own bizarre personal advantage." [105] According to religious scholars Phillip Arnold and James Tabor who made an effort to help resolve the conflict, "the crisis need not have ended tragically if only the FBI had been more open to Religious Studies and better able to distinguish between the dubious ideas of Ross and the scholarly expertise." [106]

In a New Yorker article in 2014, Malcolm Gladwell wrote that Arnold and Tabor told the FBI that Koresh needed to be persuaded of an alternative interpretation of the Book of Revelation, one that does not involve a violent end. They made an audiotape, which they played for Koresh, and which seemed to convince him. However, the FBI waited only three days before beginning the assault, instead of an estimated two weeks for Koresh to complete a manuscript sparked by this alternative interpretation, and then come out peacefully. [107] An article by Stuart A. Wright published in Nova Religio discussed how the FBI mishandled the siege, stating that "there is no greater example of misfeasance than the failure of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to bring about a bloodless resolution to the 51-day standoff." [108] Some of Wright's major concerns about the operation include that the FBI officials, especially Dick Rogers, behaved increasingly aggressively and impatiently when the conflict could have been resolved by more peaceful negotiation. He mentions that Rogers said in an interview with the FBI that "when we started depriving them, [we were] really driving people closer to him [Koresh] because of their devotion to him," [108] which was different from what he said in the Department of Justice report.

Critics suggest that, during the final raid, the CS gas was injected into the building by armored vehicles in an unsafe manner, which could have started a fire. While two of the three fires were started well inside the building, away from where the CS gas was pumped in, survivor David Thibodeau claimed in a 1999 interview with Reason that damage to the building allowed the gas to spread, stating, "They started to break the walls, break the windows down, spread the CS gas out." [ citation needed ] The further controversy involves the use of gas grenades. Attorney General Reno had specifically directed that no pyrotechnic devices be used in the assault. Between 1993 and 1999, FBI spokesmen denied (even under oath) the use of any sort of pyrotechnic devices during the assault however, pyrotechnic Flite-Rite CS gas grenades had been found in the rubble immediately following the fire. In 1999, FBI spokesmen were forced to admit that they had used the grenades however, they claimed that these devices—which dispense CS gas through an internal burning process—had been used during an early morning attempt to penetrate a covered, water-filled construction pit 40 yards (35 m) away and were not fired into the building. [82] According to FBI claims the fires started approximately three hours after the grenades had been fired. When the FBI's documents were turned over to Congress for an investigation in 1994, the page listing the use of the pyrotechnic devices was missing. The failure for six years to disclose the use of pyrotechnics despite her specific directive led Reno to demand an investigation. A senior FBI official told Newsweek that as many as 100 FBI agents had known about the use of pyrotechnics, but no one spoke up until 1999. [82] In a 2020 podcast with Harry Robinson, Thibodeau claimed that seven pyrotechnic devices were found by the Branch Davidians in the areas where the fires started, but were misidentified by the government as "silencers". [109] On May 12, less than a month after the incident, Texas state authorities bulldozed the site, rendering further gathering of forensic evidence impossible.

The FBI had planted surveillance devices in the walls of the building, which captured several conversations the government claims are evidence that the Davidians started the fire. [83] : 287 The recordings were imperfect and many times difficult to understand, and the two transcriptions that were made had differences at many points. [83] : 287 According to reporter Diana Fuentes, when the FBI's April 19 tapes were played in court during the Branch Davidian trials, few people heard what the FBI audio expert claimed to hear the tapes "were filled with noise, and voices only occasionally were discernible. . The words were faint some courtroom observers said they heard it, some didn't." [110] The Branch Davidians had given ominous warnings involving a fire on several occasions. [111] This may or may not have been indicative of the Branch Davidians' future actions, but was the basis for the conclusion of Congress that the fire was started by the Branch Davidians, "absent any other potential source of ignition." This was before the FBI admission that pyrotechnics were used, but a yearlong investigation by the Office of the Special Counsel after that admission nonetheless reached the same conclusion, and no further congressional investigations followed. During a 1999 deposition for civil suits by Branch Davidian survivors, fire survivor Graeme Craddock was interviewed. He stated that he saw some Branch Davidians moving about a dozen one gallon (3.8 L) cans of fuel so they would not be run over by armored vehicles, heard talk of pouring fuel outside the building, and after the fire had started, something that sounded like "light the fire" from another individual. [112] Professor Kenneth Newport's book The Branch Davidians of Waco attempts to prove that starting the fire themselves was pre-planned and consistent with the Branch Davidians' theology. He cites as evidence conversations the FBI recorded during the siege, testimonials of survivors Clive Doyle and Graeme Craddock, and the buying of diesel fuel one month before the start of the siege. [83]

The FBI received contradictory reports on the possibility of Koresh's suicide and was not sure about whether he would commit suicide. The evidence made them believe that there was no possibility of mass suicide, with Koresh and Schneider repeatedly denying to the negotiators that they had plans to commit mass suicide, and people leaving the compound saying that they had seen no preparations for such a thing. [69] There was a possibility that some of his followers would join Koresh if he decided to commit suicide. [69] According to Alan A. Stone's report, during the siege the FBI used an incorrect psychiatric perspective to evaluate Branch Davidians' responses, which caused them to over-rely on Koresh's statements that they would not commit suicide. According to Stone, this incorrect evaluation caused the FBI to not ask pertinent questions to Koresh and to others on the compound about whether they were planning a mass suicide. A more pertinent question would have been, "What will you do if we tighten the noose around the compound in a show of overwhelming power, and using CS gas, force you to come out?" [58] Stone wrote:

The tactical arm of federal law enforcement may conventionally think of the other side as a band of criminals or as a military force or, generically, as the aggressor. But the Branch Davidians were an unconventional group in an exalted, disturbed and desperate state of mind. They were devoted to David Koresh as the Lamb of God. They were willing to die defending themselves in an apocalyptic ending and, in the alternative, to kill themselves and their children. However, these were neither psychiatrically depressed, suicidal people nor cold-blooded killers. They were ready to risk death as a test of their faith. The psychology of such behavior—together with its religious significance for the Branch Davidians—was mistakenly evaluated, if not simply ignored, by those responsible for the FBI strategy of "tightening the noose". The overwhelming show of force was not working in the way the tacticians supposed. It did not provoke the Branch Davidians to surrender, but it may have provoked David Koresh to order the mass-suicide. [58]

Danforth Report Edit

The Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, 1995, caused the media to revisit many of the questionable aspects of the government's actions at Waco, and many Americans who previously supported those actions began asking for an investigation of them. [113] By 1999—as a result of certain aspects of the documentaries discussed below, as well as allegations made by advocates for Branch Davidians during litigation—public opinion held that the federal government had engaged in serious misconduct at Waco. A Time poll conducted on August 26, 1999, for example, indicated that 61 percent of the public believed that federal law enforcement officials started the fire at the Branch Davidian complex.

In September 1999, Attorney General Reno appointed former U.S. Senator John C. Danforth as Special Counsel to investigate the matter. In particular, the Special Counsel was directed to investigate charges that government agents started or spread the fire at the Mount Carmel complex, directed gunfire at the Branch Davidians, and unlawfully employed the armed forces of the United States. A yearlong investigation ensued, during which the Office of the Special Counsel interviewed 1,001 witnesses, reviewed over 2.3 million pages of documents, and examined thousands of pounds of physical evidence. In the "Final report to the Deputy Attorney General concerning the 1993 confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Complex, Waco Texas" of November 8, 2000, Special Counsel Danforth concluded that the allegations were meritless. The report found, however, that certain government employees had failed to disclose during litigation against the Branch Davidians the use of pyrotechnic devices at the complex, and had obstructed the Special Counsel's investigation. Disciplinary action was pursued against those individuals.

Allegations that the government started the fire were based largely on an FBI agent's having fired three "pyrotechnic" tear gas rounds, which are delivered with a charge that burns. The Special Counsel concluded that the rounds did not start or contribute to the spread of the fire, based on the finding that the FBI fired the rounds nearly four hours before the fire started, at a concrete construction pit partially filled with water, 75 feet (23 m) away and downwind from the main living quarters of the complex. The Special Counsel noted, by contrast, that recorded interceptions of Branch Davidian conversations included such statements as "David said we have to get the fuel on" and "So we light it first when they come in with the tank right . right as they're coming in." Some Branch Davidians who survived the fire acknowledged that other Branch Davidians started the fire. FBI agents witnessed Branch Davidians pouring fuel and igniting a fire, and noted these observations contemporaneously. Lab analysis found accelerants on the clothing of Branch Davidians, and investigators found deliberately punctured fuel cans and a homemade torch at the site. Based on this evidence and testimony, the Special Counsel concluded that the fire was started by the Branch Davidians.

Charges that government agents fired shots into the complex on April 19, 1993, were based on forward looking infrared (FLIR) video recorded by the Night Stalkers aircraft. These tapes showed 57 flashes, with some occurring around government vehicles that were operating near the complex. The Office of Special Counsel conducted a field test of FLIR technology on March 19, 2000, to determine whether gunfire caused the flashes. The testing was conducted under a protocol agreed to and signed by attorneys and experts for the Branch Davidians and their families, as well as for the government. Analysis of the shape, duration, and location of the flashes indicated that they resulted from a reflection off debris on or around the complex, rather than gunfire. Additionally, an independent expert review of photography taken at the scene showed no people at or near the points from which the flashes emanated. Interviews of Branch Davidians, government witnesses, filmmakers, writers, and advocates for the Branch Davidians found that none had witnessed any government gunfire on April 19. None of the Branch Davidians who died on that day displayed evidence of having been struck by a high velocity round, as would be expected had they been shot from outside of the complex by government sniper rifles or other assault weapons. Given this evidence, the Special Counsel concluded that the claim that government gunfire occurred on April 19, 1993, amounted to "an unsupportable case based entirely upon flawed technological assumptions."

The Special Counsel considered whether the use of active-duty military at Waco violated the Posse Comitatus Act or the Military Assistance to Law Enforcement Act. These statutes generally prohibit direct military participation in law enforcement functions but do not preclude indirect support such as lending equipment, training in the use of equipment, offering expert advice, and providing equipment maintenance. The Special Counsel noted that the military provided "extensive" loans of equipment to the ATF and FBI, including—among other things—two tanks, the offensive capability of which had been disabled. Additionally, the military provided limited advice, training, and medical support. The Special Counsel concluded that these actions amounted to indirect military assistance within the bounds of applicable law. The Texas National Guard, in its state status, also provided substantial loans of military equipment, as well as performing reconnaissance flights over the Branch Davidian complex. Because the Posse Comitatus Act does not apply to the National Guard in its state status, the Special Counsel determined that the National Guard lawfully provided its assistance.

Ramsey Clark—a former U.S. Attorney General, who represented several Branch Davidian survivors and relatives in a civil lawsuit—said that the report "failed to address the obvious": "History will clearly record, I believe, that these assaults on the Mt. Carmel church center remain the greatest domestic law enforcement tragedy in the history of the United States." [114]

Government agencies Edit

  • Raid (February 28): 75 federal agents (ATF and FBI) 3 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters manned by 10 Texas National Guard counter-drug personnel as distraction during the raid and filming.

[98] [115] Ballistic protection equipment, fire retardant clothing, regular flashlights, regular cameras (i.e., flash photography), pump-action shotguns and flashbang grenades, [116] 9 mm handguns, 9 mm MP5 submachine guns, 5.56 NATO M16 rifles, a .308 bolt-action sniper rifle. [117]

  • Siege (March 1 through April 18): Hundreds of federal agents 2 Bell UH-1 Iroquois helicopters. [118]
  • Assault (April 19): Hundreds of federal agents military vehicles (with their normal weapon systems removed): 9–10 M3 Bradley infantry fighting vehicles, 4–5 M728Combat Engineering Vehicles (CEVs) armed with CS gas, 2 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 1 M88 tank retriever. [115][118]
  • Support: [115] 1 Britten-Norman Defender surveillance aircraft [119] a number of Texas National Guard personnel for maintenance of military vehicles and training on the use of the vehicles and their support vehicles (Humvees and flatbed trucks) surveillance from Texas National Guard counter-drugUC-26 surveillance aircraft and from Alabama National Guard 3 soldiers from Delta Force, to serve as observers (also present during assault) [120] 2 senior U.S. Army officers as advisers, 2 members of the British Army's 22nd Special Air Service (SAS) Regiment as observers [121] 50+ men in total. [122]

Branch Davidians Edit

The Branch Davidians were well armed with small arms, [122] [123] possessing 305 total firearms, including numerous rifles (semi-automatic AK-47s and AR-15s), shotguns, revolvers and pistols [75] [81] [124] 46 semi-automatic firearms modified to fire in fully automatic mode (included on above list): 22 AR-15 (erroneously referred to as M16), 20 AK-47 rifles, 2 HK SP-89, 2 M-11/Nine [81] [124] Texas Rangers reported "at least 16 AR-15 rifles," [75] 2 AR-15 lower receivers modified to fire in fully automatic mode [124] 39 "auto sear" devices used to convert semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons parts for fully automatic AK-47 and M16 rifles 30-round magazines and 100-round magazines for M16 and AK-47 rifles pouches to carry large ammunition magazines substantial quantities of ammunition of various sizes.

Other items found at the compound included about 1.9 million rounds of "cooked off" ammunition [75] grenade launcher parts flare launchers gas masks and chemical warfare suits night vision equipment hundreds of practice hand grenade hulls and components (including more than 200 inert M31 practice rifle grenades, more than 100 modified M-21 practice hand grenade bodies, 219 grenade safety pins and 243 grenade safety levers found after the fire) [124] Kevlar helmets and bulletproof vests 88 lower receivers for the AR-15 rifle and approximately 15 sound suppressors or silencers (the Treasury reports lists 21 silencers, [124] Texas Rangers report that at least six items had been mislabeled and were actually 40 mm grenades or flash bang grenades from manufacturers who sold those models to the ATF or FBI exclusively [125] [126] former Branch Davidian Donald Bunds testified he had manufactured silencers under direct orders of Koresh). [50]

The ATF knew that the Branch Davidians had a pair of .50 caliber rifles, so they asked for Bradley armored vehicles, which could resist that caliber. [127] During the siege, Koresh said that he had weapons bigger than .50 rifles and that he could destroy the Bradleys, so they were supplemented with two Abrams tanks and five M728 vehicles. [127] [128] The Texas Rangers recovered at least two .50 caliber weapons from the remains of the compound. [75] [81]

There is the question of whether the Branch Davidians fired the .50 caliber rifles during the raid or the assault. Various groups supporting gun bans, such as Handgun Control Incorporated and the Violence Policy Center have claimed that the Branch Davidians had used .50 caliber rifles and that therefore these types of firearms should be banned. [129] [130] The ATF claims such rifles were used against ATF agents the day of the search. Several years later, the General Accounting Office, in response to a request from Henry Waxman, released a briefing paper titled "Criminal Activity Associated with .50 Caliber Semiautomatic Rifles" that repeated the ATF's claims that the Branch Davidians used .50 caliber rifles during the search. [131] FBI Hostage Rescue Team snipers reported sighting one of the weapons, readily identifiable by its distinctive muzzle brake, during the siege. [132]

Oklahoma City bombing connection Edit

Timothy McVeigh cited the Waco incident as a primary motivation [133] for the Oklahoma City bombing, his April 19, 1995, truck bomb attack that destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, a U.S. government office complex in downtown Oklahoma City, and destroyed or damaged numerous other buildings in the vicinity. The attack claimed 168 lives (including 19 children under age 6) and left over 600 injured in the deadliest act of terrorism on U.S. soil before the September 11 attacks, and as of 2021, it remains the deadliest act of domestic terrorism in American history. [134]

Within days after the bombing, McVeigh and Terry Nichols were both taken into custody for their roles in the bombing. Investigators determined that the two were both sympathizers of an anti-government militia movement and that their motive was to avenge the government's handling of the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents. [135] McVeigh testified that he chose the date of April 19 because it was the second anniversary of the deadly fire at Mount Carmel. In March 1993, McVeigh drove from Arizona to Waco to observe the federal standoff. Along with other protesters, he was photographed by the FBI. [136] A courtroom reporter also claims to have seen McVeigh outside the courthouse at Waco, selling anti-government bumper stickers. [137]

Other events sharing the date of fire at Mt. Carmel have been mentioned in discussions of the Waco siege. The April 20, 1999, Columbine High School massacre might have been timed to mark either an anniversary of the FBI's assault at Waco or Adolf Hitler's birthday. [138] Some of the connections appear coincidental. Eight years before the Waco fire, the ATF and FBI raided another compound of a religious cult: The Covenant, the Sword, and the Arm of the Lord. Some ATF agents who were present at that raid were present at Waco. April 19 was also the date from the American Revolution's opening battles.

Montana Freeman siege Edit

The Montana Freeman became the center of public attention in 1996 when they engaged in a prolonged armed standoff with agents of the FBI. The Waco siege, as well as the 1992 incident between the Weaver family and the FBI at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, were still fresh in the public mind, and the FBI was extremely cautious and wanted to prevent a recurrence of those violent events. [139] After 81 days of negotiations, the Freemen surrendered to authorities on June 14, 1996 without a loss of life. [140]

Media portrayals of Waco Edit

The Waco siege has been the subject of numerous documentary films and books. The first film was a made-for television docudrama film, In the Line of Duty: Ambush in Waco, which was made during the siege, before the April 19 assault on the church, and presented the initial firefight of February 28, 1993 as an ambush. The film's writer, Phil Penningroth, has since disowned his screenplay as pro-ATF "propaganda". [141]

Books Edit

The first book about the incident was 1993's Inside the Cult co-authored by ex-Branch Davidian Marc Breault, who left the group in September 1989, and Martin King who interviewed Koresh for Australian television in 1992. In July 1993, true crime author Clifford L. Linedecker published his book Massacre at Waco, Texas. Shortly after, in 1994, a collection of 45 essays called From the Ashes: Making Sense of Waco was published, about the events of Waco from various cultural, historical, and religious perspectives. The essays in the book include one by Michael Barkun that talked about how the Branch Davidians' behavior was consistent with other millenarian religious sects and how the use of the word cult is used to discredit religious organizations, one by James R. Lewis that claims a large amount of evidence that the FBI lit the fires, and many others. All of these perspectives are united in the belief that the deaths of the Branch Davidians at Waco could have been prevented and that "the popular demonization of nontraditional religious movements in the aftermath of Waco represents a continuing threat to freedom of religion". [142]

Documentaries Edit

The first documentary films critical of the official versions were Waco, the Big Lie [143] and Waco II, the Big Lie Continues, both produced by Linda Thompson in 1993. Thompson's films made several controversial allegations, the most notorious of which was her claim that footage of an armored vehicle breaking through the outer walls of the compound, with an appearance of orange light on its front, [144] was showing a flamethrower attached to the vehicle, setting fire to the building. As a response to Thompson, Michael McNulty released footage to support his counter-claim that the appearance of light was a reflection on aluminized insulation that was torn from the wall and snagged on the vehicle. (The vehicle is an M728 CEV, which is not normally equipped with a flamethrower. [145] ) McNulty accused Thompson of "creative editing" in his film Waco: An Apparent Deviation. Thompson worked from a VHS copy of the surveillance tape McNulty was given access to a beta original. However, McNulty in turn was later accused of having digitally altered his footage, an allegation he denied. [146]

The next film was Day 51: The True Story of Waco, produced in 1995 by Richard Mosley and featuring Ron Cole, a self-proclaimed militia member from Colorado who was later prosecuted for weapons violations. [147] Thompson's and Mosley's films, along with extensive coverage given to the Waco siege on some talk radio shows, galvanized support for the Branch Davidians among some sections of the right, including the nascent militia movement, while critics on the left also denounced the government siege on civil liberties grounds. Radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones made his documentary film, America Wake Up (Or Waco), in 2000. [ citation needed ]

In 1997, filmmakers Dan Gifford and Amy Sommer produced their Emmy Award-winning documentary film, Waco: The Rules of Engagement, [99] presenting a history of the Branch Davidian movement and a critical examination of the conduct of law enforcement, both leading up to the raid and through the aftermath of the fire. The film features footage of the Congressional hearings on Waco, and the juxtaposition of official government spokespeople with footage and evidence often directly contradicting the spokespeople. In the documentary, Dr. Edward Allard (who held patents on FLIR technology) maintained that flashes on the FBI's infra-red footage were consistent with a grenade launcher and automatic small arms fire from FBI positions at the back of the complex toward the locations that would have provided exits for Branch Davidians attempting to flee the fire. Waco: The Rules of Engagement was nominated for a 1997 Academy Award for best documentary and was followed by another film in 1999, Waco: A New Revelation. [148]

In 2001, another Michael McNulty documentary, The F.L.I.R. Project, researched the aerial thermal images recorded by the FBI, and using identical FLIR equipment recreated the same results as were recorded by federal agencies April 19, 1993. Subsequent government-funded studies [149] contend that the infra-red evidence does not support the view that the FBI improperly used incendiary devices or fired on Branch Davidians. Infra-red experts continue to disagree and filmmaker Amy Sommer stands by the original conclusions presented in Waco: The Rules of Engagement.

The documentary The Assault on Waco was first aired in 2006 on the Discovery Channel, detailing the entire incident. A British-American documentary, Inside Waco, was produced jointly by Channel 4 and HBO in 2007, attempting to show what happened inside by piecing together accounts from the parties involved. The MSNBC documentary "Witness to Waco" was aired in 2009. [ citation needed ]

Songs Edit

Two heavy metal bands wrote songs about the Davidian standoff: Machine Head's "Davidian" opened their debut album Burn My Eyes [150] and Sepultura’s “Amen” was the fourth track from their Chaos A.D. album. [151] Native American activist Russell Means included a song about the siege on his 2007 album The Radical, titled "Waco: The White Man's Wounded Knee". [152]

In 2011, British indie rock band The Indelicates released a concept album, David Koresh Superstar, about Koresh and the Waco siege. [153] [154]

Personal accounts Edit

Branch Davidian survivor David Thibodeau wrote his account of life in the group and of the siege in the book A Place Called Waco, published in 1999. His book served in part as the basis for the 2018 Paramount Network six-part television drama miniseries Waco, starring Michael Shannon as the FBI negotiator Gary Noesner and Taylor Kitsch as David Koresh. [155] [156] Developed by John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, it premiered on January 24, 2018.

The City of God: A New American Opera by Joshua Armenta dramatized the negotiations between the FBI and Koresh, premiered in 2012, utilizing actual transcripts from the negotiations as well as biblical texts and hymns from the Davidian hymnal. [157] In 2015, Retro Report released a mini documentary looking back at Waco and how it has fueled many right-wing militias. [158]


The history of deadly standoffs with the federal government, mapped

If you visit Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay, an unexpected sign greets you. Above a sign identifying the island as the site of a federal penitentiary is block lettering in red: "INDIANS WELCOME."

It's a remnant of one of the earlier examples of an occupation of a federal facility by a group seeking recognition of their sovereignty, transfer of federal land or both — an occupation similar to the one of a wildlife refuge that's underway near Burns, Ore.

The good news is that in most examples since the Alcatraz Island one began in 1969, the stand-off has ended peacefully.

We can start the history of these confrontations at Alcatraz.

1. Occupation of Alcatraz, 1969–1971
No civilians or federal agents killed.

A group of nearly 100 people calling itself Indians of All Tribes took control of Alcatraz Island on Thanksgiving of 1969. Their numbers dwindled over time, with the government ousting them in June 1971. No one was killed.

2. Occupation of a Milwaukee Coast Guard station and Mount Rushmore, 1971
No civilians or federal agents killed.

A few members of the American Indian Movement claimed ownership of Mount Rushmore in 1971, occupying the monument for a brief period of time.

The occupation of an abandoned Coast Guard station by the same group was more successful. The government allowed the group to start a school at the site and, for nearly a decade, operated a school there.

3. Occupation of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 1972
No civilians or federal agents killed.

After briefly taking control of the government agency in 1971, a large group of hundreds of members of the American Indian Movement took it over for a week the following year. They offered a list of 20 demands, including protection of native American sovereignty. The protest ended without injuries.

4. Occupation of Wounded Knee, 1973
Two civilians killed.

Several hundred members of the American Indian Movement took control of the town of Wounded Knee in 1973, holding it for more than two months. The federal government shut off electricity and limited the availability of food and water and the two sides exchanged gunfire on occasion. Two occupiers were killed by gunfire.

Over the course of the 1960s and 1970s, a number of occupations were initiated (largely on college campuses) in opposition to the Vietnam War or around other social issues. (Former attorney general Eric Holder participated in one at Columbia University in 1970.) By the 1990s, the stand-offs with government officials shifted in focus.

5. Stand-off at Ruby Ridge, 1992
Two civilians and one federal agent killed.


Early Years

Koresh was born Vernon Wayne Howell to an unwed teenage mother named Bonnie Clark, on August 17, 1959, in Houston, Texas.

Spending much of his early years with his grandparents, Koresh attended the Seventh-day Adventist Church. In his senior year, Koresh dropped out of Garland High School to take a carpentry job. While in his early 20s, he spent a short time in Los Angeles trying to make it as a rock star. He rejoined the Seventh-day Adventists after returning to Texas but was kicked out after butting heads with church leaders.


Waco (2018)

The miniseries doesn't provide much of a history when it comes to the Branch Davidians. The Waco true story reveals that the religious sect was founded in 1959 by Benjamin Roden as a spin-off of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The group was led by Roden until his death in 1978. His wife Lois took over until her own death in 1986. David Koresh joined in 1981 and began a sexual relationship with Lois. After her death, Koresh faced off against her son, George Roden, for control of the group. The two factions clashed in a gunfight and Roden was shot and injured. Koresh, whose real name is Vernon Howell, emerged as the leader in 1987. He led the group for roughly five years up until the siege. About 130 people were living at the Mount Carmel compound in Waco at the time.

Did ATF agents shooting barking dogs spark the initial firefight?

How long did the Waco standoff last?

The 1993 standoff in Waco, Texas between the Branch Davidians and the authorities lasted a total of 51 days, beginning on February 28, 1993 and ending on April 19, 1993. The ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives) believed that Koresh and his followers were stockpiling nearly 250 weapons inside the compound, including shotguns, semi-automatic rifles, pistols, revolvers and hundreds of grenades. They had first been tipped off after a UPS package of grenade casings had accidentally tore open. The ATF came to execute a search warrant for weapons violations and allegations of sexual abuse. They intended to search the 77-acre Mount Carmel compound. -TIME

Was FBI negotiator Gary Noesner also present at Ruby Ridge?

No. Six months prior to the Waco siege, there was a standoff in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which kicks off the miniseries. In that altercation, former Green Beret Randy Weaver was to be arrested on an illegal firearms charge. Botched surveillance by several U.S. Marshalls led to Weaver's 14-year-old son Sammy and family friend Kevin Harris (24) confronting the marshalls and a shootout ensued. Sammy shot U.S. Marshall Bill Degan and a dying Degan returned fire, killing Sammy.

The FBI's Hostage Rescue Team then came in to help. The following day, FBI HRT sniper Lon Horiuchi shot at Randy Weaver after Weaver went to view his son Sammy's body, which had been moved to a shed. Horiuchi intended to fatally hit weaver in the spine but missed and hit him in the right shoulder. As Weaver, his 16-year-old daughter Sara, and Kevin Harris ran back into the house, Horiuchi fired again. The bullet struck Weaver's wife Vicki in the head as she stood at the door holding their 10-month-old daughter Elishiba. She fell to the floor and died instantly. The same bullet struck Harris in the chest, injuring him. The most fictional element in the miniseries' depiction of Ruby Ridge is that FBI negotiator Gary Noesner (Michael Shannon) is depicted as being present at the scene and figures out a way to convince Randy Weaver to surrender. A Waco fact check reveals that Noesner was not at Ruby Ridge.

Did David Thibodeau meet David Koresh at a local bar soundcheck?

No. The real David Thibodeau actually met Koresh at a Guitar Center store. Koresh handed him a business card that had some scripture on it and he told Koresh, "I'm not looking to be in a Christian band." The Branch Davidians described their views as being deeper than Christianity. Thibodeau spent a week thinking it over and decided to call them. "It just kept pressing on me for some reason," he said. -Smithsonian Magazine

How many people died in the initial confrontation between the ATF and the Branch Davidians?

Believing that there were illegal weapons inside, it's true that the ATF agents were heavily armed and attempted to serve a warrant in full tactical gear. The confrontation led to the deaths of six of the Branch Davidians and four ATF agents. Koresh was indeed wounded in the skirmish. This began the 51-day standoff. Watch Footage of a Wounded David Koresh Speaking.

Is the Waco miniseries based on survivor David Thibodeau's book?

Yes. The miniseries, which originally aired on the Paramount Network in 2018, is based on two books, Waco: A Survivor's Story by David Thibodeau and Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator by Gary Noesner. Thibodeau is portrayed by Rory Culkin and Noesner is played by Michael Shannon in the series.

Did David Koresh really tell his male followers that they had to be celibate and only he could have sex with their wives?

Did David Koresh abuse children?

In the Waco miniseries, agents seem to be making largely baseless claims that David Koresh (Taylor Kitsch) is abusing children. Their claims are juxtaposed with images of children playing happily. The Waco miniseries true story is darker than what is depicted in the series, which paints a much more flattering depiction of Koresh. As stated earlier, it's true that he took multiple wives from within the group. Some of the girls were as young as 12 years old (according to the FBI, Koresh had sex with girls as young as 10). Almost all of the 21 children who survived the siege reported that sexual abuse and physical abuse by Koresh was extensive in the compound.

For example, the series shows Koresh with a wooden stick ready to punish a boy who snuck into a freezer to take ice cream. However, instead of punishing the boy, Koresh tells him that since he's a member of the group, everyone is guilty along with him. In an act of fairness, he then gives everyone a spoonful of ice cream. In real life, the children who survived told a team of therapists that they were struck with a wooden paddle that Koresh called "the helper" for something as small as spilling a glass of milk. To prepare for a potential siege, they said he made them fight each other and paddled those who didn't fight with enough force.

According to the children, Koresh instructed them to call their parents "dogs" and told them they were only allowed to call him their "father". He gave girls as young as 11 a plastic Star of David to indicate they had "the light" and could now have sex with their leader. Now adults, the children still describe the abuse they faced from Koresh.

"You just did not know what [he] had up his sleeve at any time of the day," said survivor Joann Vaega, who was six at the time of the siege. She was one of 21 children released prior to the fire, however, both of her parents perished in the inferno. "It was kind of scary, going from being spanked for everything you do to making mistakes as a kid and waiting for the ax to drop." -Today

Many of the surviving adult Davidians and their lawyers insisted that the abuse never happened. -The New York Times

How big was the force of federal agents that surrounded the compound?

Did the FBI really play loud music to try and force the Branch Davidians out?

Yes. Waco survivor Clive Doyle recounted this in his autobiography, stating that the FBI used loud noises constantly. They blared the sounds of "rabbits being killed, warped-up music, Nancy Sinatra singing 'These Boots Are Made For Walking', Tibetan monks chanting, Christmas carols, telephones ringing, reveille." It's true that David Koresh sent his own loud music back at the authorities. However, according to a 1993 Entertainment Weekly article, this happened prior to the compound's power being cut. Unlike the series, he didn't do it with the generator's last bit of remaining fuel. Listen to the David Koresh Song 'Mad Man in Waco'.

Did the FBI smuggle listening devices into the compound?

Yes. An agent testified that the FBI had placed 11 listening devices inside the compound over the course of the 51-day standoff. The miniseries only shows one such device, which is smuggled in with a crate of milk. -The New York Times

Did FBI Hostage Negotiator Gary Noesner butt heads with the on-scene FBI commanders?

Yes, and a Waco miniseries fact check confirms that Gary Noesner left Waco three weeks before the fire. It's also true that he managed to free 35 people, many of whom were children. In speaking of David Koresh reneging on some of his promises to the FBI, Noesner said, "At Waco, our on-scene commander and the tactical commander took those behaviors in a very negative way. Then they would take actions that would only ratchet up things with David. So it was a very complex tragedy." Noesner shares his viewpoint and his side of the story in his book Stalling for Time: My Life as an FBI Hostage Negotiator. -Smithsonian Magazine

Were children really gassed to death in the Waco standoff?

The Waco miniseries true story confirms that a total of 25 children died after being trapped inside the compound. "They gassed the kids to death," says David Thibodeau. "American law enforcement officers gassed American children to death. They went to the structure where the kids were and put so much tear gas in there that they anesthetized all the mothers and children in that little concrete structure. Most young men with good physiques could not have gotten out of that situation." While autopsy reports confirm that some of the children died from the gas, others were buried alive by rubble or executed in mercy killings. -Brown Political Review

How many people died in the tear-gassing and fire?

While the miniseries keeps its main focus on a select number of characters, a total of 76 people died on April 19, 1993 after fires broke out roughly one hour after agents finished inserting tear gas into the compound to try and flush people out. They also rammed the buildings to try and get them to come out, using Koresh's physical and sexual child abuse as a justification for their assault. Before long, the compound known as Mount Carmel went up in flames. Of the 76 who perished, 25 were children, many of whom had gone into the concrete vault room with their mothers for safety.

Did the tear gas really start the fires?

There are two versions of how the fires started. The government came out with a report in 2000 that concluded that it was the Branch Davidians who started the fires. As implied on the show, the report indeed found that incendiary tear gas canisters were used by the FBI, but arson investigators determined that the fires were started simultaneously by the Davidians in no less than three different locations in the compound. Transcripts from listening devices the FBI placed within the compound support this assertion. On the day of the siege, members can be heard talking about setting the fires (The New York Times). The survivors, including David Thibodeau, say that this is entirely untrue. Thibodeau has maintained over the years that the fires started as a result of the actions of the FBI. This is the version that we see in the Waco miniseries.

Could the Branch Davidians have committed mass suicide?

While the miniseries takes the stance that there was no mass suicide, evidence, including transcripts from listening devices mentioned in the previous question, suggests otherwise, indicating that it was the Davidians who set the fires. However, it's hard to say definitively (The New York Times). We do know for certain that there were a number of suicides inside the compound, either self-inflicted or by proxy. Koresh himself had a gunshot wound in the middle of his forehead. The series implies that it was Steve Schneider who pulled the trigger prior to taking his own life. In real life, it is less clear whether Koresh's head wound was self-inflicted or not, however, the FBI agrees with the show's version.

The series leaves out the even darker side of the Waco true story, failing to show the many others who had fatal gunshot wounds to either the face, head or chest, including five children. It also omits the 3-year-old boy who had been fatally stabbed in the chest, and the other two minors who died from blows to the head. Instead of including these mercy killings/murders, Koresh's death is depicted as a sort of martyrdom.

The real David Thibodeau told TIME that he believes that it's likely some of the Branch Davidians opted to take their own lives instead of dying more painful deaths in the fire. "They died for what they believed in, whether you believe that or not," Thibodeau said during an interview with Smithsonian Magazine. "To me, they're martyrs, and they shouldn't just be demonized and hated."

How many of the Branch Davidians survived?

In researching the Waco fact vs. fiction, we learned that prior to the fire that destroyed the compound, 35 people had left, including 21 children. Nine more fled the compound after the fire began. In total, 44 members survived the 51-day siege. -The New York Times

How many firearms were found in the Branch Davidian compound?

The real David Thibodeau (portrayed by Rory Culkin in the miniseries) has stated that there were a total of 76 firearms in the compound at the time, which is not as many as the miniseries implies. "It was made to sound as though there were hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. There weren't, because we were selling a lot of the guns at a gun show" (Brown Political Review). Thibodeau shares his side of the story in his book Waco: A Survivor's Story.

However, Thibodeau's claims contradict the actual number of weapons that were reportedly found in the compound after it burned to the ground. A Waco miniseries fact check reveals that the authorities recovered approximately 300 assault rifles and pistols from the charred remains of the compound, including 60 AK47 assault rifles, 60 M-16 machine guns, and roughly 30 AR-15 assault rifles. Many of the guns were found in the concrete vault, and 22 weapons were removed from underneath bodies in the vault, including an unexploded grenade. -Los Angeles Times

Were any of the surviving Branch Davidians sent to prison?

Yes. Our investigation into the Waco fact vs. fiction reveals that eight surviving Branch Davidian members were convicted on charges of voluntary manslaughter and using firearms while carrying out a crime. By 2007, all had been released from prison. David Thibodeau (played by Rory Culkin in the series), along with several other surviving adults, was not sentenced to prison time. -Fox News

Did any of the survivors have cameos in the Waco miniseries?

Yes. The real David Thibodeau had a cameo in the Waco series finale. At the end of the episode, Thibodeau can be seen sitting on a bench next to his onscreen counterpart (played by Rory Culkin) outside a hearing room in Washington, D.C.

Do the Branch Davidians still exist?

Watch footage of David Koresh speaking from inside Waco and listen to his song 'Mad Man in Waco'.


The Waco Siege: The History of the Federal Government’s Standoff with David Koresh and the Branch Davidians

*Includes pictures
*Includes accounts of the standoff by federal agents and members of the Branch Davidians
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

“If you are a Branch Davidian, Christ lives on a threadbare piece of land 10 miles east of here called Mount Carmel. He has dimples, claims a ninth-grade education, married hi *Includes pictures
*Includes accounts of the standoff by federal agents and members of the Branch Davidians
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

“If you are a Branch Davidian, Christ lives on a threadbare piece of land 10 miles east of here called Mount Carmel. He has dimples, claims a ninth-grade education, married his legal wife when she was 14, enjoys a beer now and then, plays a mean guitar, reportedly packs a 9mm Glock and keeps an arsenal of military assault rifles, and willingly admits that he is a sinner without equal." – The opening passage of "The Sinful Messiah", published in the Waco Tribune-Herald on February 27, 1993

In February 1993, President Bill Clinton had only been in office for a few weeks when one of the most important events of his presidency began to take shape. Ironically, it would involve a group that the vast majority of Americans had never heard of and knew absolutely nothing about.

The Branch Davidians were an obscure religious sect located in Texas, but members of the group led by David Koresh in Waco, Texas stockpiled enough weaponry to catch the attention of the federal government. The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) ultimately decided to serve arrest and search warrants at the compound for the possession of illegal weapons, even though they fully expected it would require a raid that could potentially turn fatal.

The ATF hoped to use the element of surprise when it commenced the raid on February 28, but the Branch Davidians were ready for them, which led to an intense firefight between the two sides that resulted in the deaths of 4 ATF agents and a number of Branch Davidians. With that, the FBI got involved, and federal agents settled in for a standoff that would last about 50 days, trying everything from negotiating to using sleep deprivation tactics to coerce the Branch Davidians into ending the confrontation. Finally, on April 19, government agents breached the compound’s walls and tried to use gas to flush the Branch Davidians out peacefully, but a series of fires broke out and quickly spread, killing the vast majority of the occupants inside, including many young children.

Naturally, controversy spread over how the siege ended for example, while most believe the Branch Davidians intentionally started the fires as part of a mass suicide, others insist it was the fault of the ATF. Debate also raged over whether the government could have and should have made different decisions to defuse the situation.

No matter which side people came down on, the violent confrontation embarrassed government officials, and Dick Morris, an advisor of Clinton’s, even claimed that Attorney General Janet Reno only kept her job after Waco by threatening to pin the blame on the president: "[H]e went into a meeting with her, and he told me that she begged and pleaded, saying that . . . she didn't want to be fired because if she were fired it would look like he was firing her over Waco. And I knew that what that meant was that she would tell the truth about what happened in Waco. Now, to be fair, that's my supposition. I don't know what went on in Waco, but that was the cause. But I do know that she told him that if you fire me, I'm going to talk about Waco."

In addition to influencing how the government approached potential future conflicts with other groups, Waco’s most important legacy was that it enraged people who already had an anti-government bent. The most notable, of course, was Timothy McVeigh, who conducted what was at the time the deadliest terrorist attack in American history in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the final confrontation at Waco. . more


The Waco Siege: How a Man from Nottingham Became Part of an American Tragedy

26 years ago, a religious centre in Texas was home to one of the most brutal massacres in US history. Among the survivors was Livingstone Fagan, a young man from Nottingham – but how did he get there, and what part did he have to play in the infamous and calamitous Waco siege?

It is April 19, 1993, and the skies above Waco, Texas, are filled with smoke. The Mount Carmel Centre, a religious compound currently occupied by members of the Branch Davidian sect of Christianity, is under fire from federal agents representing the United States government. This is the culmination of a two-month long siege on Mount Carmel, in which both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) sought to round up and capture as many Branch Davidians as possible – including their charismatic and notorious leader David Koresh – and take them into custody.

Seventy-six people are killed during the raid.

This is the world in which Livingstone Fagan found himself in 1993. Fagan was one of the few Branch Davidians to escape the compound alive, sent out on Koresh’s request to act as a “witness.” His subsequent conviction – one count of voluntary manslaughter and another of possession and use of a firearm during a criminal activity – led to a lengthy prison sentence in the United States, followed by a swift deportation to his hometown of Nottingham.

The question remains: How does a theology student and former social worker from Nottingham come to be a key player in one of the greatest tragedies in American history? What sequence of events can take a man from a promising academic career and lead him to spend fourteen years behind bars?

Fagan’s story actually begins some five years earlier, at the Newbold College of Higher Education in Bracknell, one of many Seventh Day Adventist education centres across the UK. The Seventh Day Adventists, a branch of Protestantism of which both Fagan and Koresh are members, are, as a rule, preoccupied with the Second Coming of Christ, an event described in the Bible as narrowly preceding the end of days. It was here, in 1988, that Livingstone Fagan was studying to join the ministry. Described as “impulsive, bright, [and] articulate” by his former lecturer Albert Waite, Fagan was, by all accounts, an intelligent man, happily married and with an auspicious future in the church ahead of him.

It was at this time Fagan encountered a youthful, enchanting preacher by the name of Vernon Wayne Howell – the birth name of the man soon to become David Koresh. Koresh had come to the Newbold College as part of a speaking tour/recruitment drive, and it would become a consistent source of new followers for the fledgling Branch Davidians. Including Fagan, three Newbold alumni would go on to join the church, and from there many more would be converted from across London, Manchester and Nottingham.

Fagan was immediately taken by Koresh and his teachings. As with many who became indoctrinated into the Branch Davidian cult, Fagan was of the belief that Koresh was an incarnation of Christ, and that he was blessed with the divine gift of prophecy. Though unlike many of the public religious figures in the United Kingdom in the late eighties, Koresh was cool. He was handsome, engaging, a skilled guitar player with radical views and the kind of self-possession not often seen outside of a rock star.

“He was, in many ways, like Jesus,” Fagan says in a 2018 interview for the BBC podcast End of Days. The comparison was very much intentional on Koresh’s part – the name he adopted in 1990 combined elements of King David, the proto-Messiah discussed at length in the Old Testament, and a corrupted form of the Persian name Cyrus, a name shared by the historical emperor famed for freeing Jewish slaves from Babylonian captivity. This, combined with his electrifying public presence and previously-established cult of followers back in Texas, gave Koresh the kind of messianic aura seemingly hand-crafted to draw people like Fagan in.

In an interview with journalist Ed Caesar, Fagan says that he had “only spoken for a few hours” with Koresh before realising that he was in the presence of someone special, and later that year Fagan and his wife Yvette decided to visit Koresh at the Mount Carmel compound in Texas for Christmas. On subsequent visits Fagan would bring along his family, including his two children and eventually even his mother, Doris.

Both Yvette and Doris died in the ATF raid on the Mount Carmel compound in 1993.

While there are certain stereotypes immediate to the discussions surrounding cults, Fagan is quick to remind outsiders that those within the Branch Davidians “were not brainwashed”. To hear him speak, you’d most likely agree with him. Fagan is a confident, erudite speaker, explaining his more outwardly radical tendencies as part of his “committed” nature. Brainwashed or not, Fagan soon became instrumental to the Branch Davidian’s recruitment program, inviting people from across the country to his home in Nottingham in the hopes of introducing them to Koresh’s teachings. Indeed, the sister of Bernadette Monbelly, one of the twenty-four Brits to die in the Waco siege, partly cites Fagan as being responsible for her sister’s introduction to the cult.
Looking back, it now seems inevitable that disaster would strike eventually. The Davidians, believing as they did in the apocalypse described at length in the Biblical Book of Revelations, soon became convinced that war was on the horizon. Under the banner of their new messiah, the Davidians would go on to stockpile arms – ostensibly for the purpose of re-selling them on at gun shows. While legal, this activity soon drew the attention of the ATF, and when allegations of sexual misconduct involving underaged girls were thrown into the mix, Koresh soon became a person of interest in the eyes of the US judicial system.

The ATF’s siege began on February 28, 1993, and during the initial gun battle four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. Fagan, who had briefly been a member of the Territorial Army and had some degree of training in firearms, was one of the Branch Davidians to take up arms against the US government during the siege. In his interview with Ed Caesar, Fagan claims that Koresh had foreknowledge of the ATF’s plans on account of his divine gifts, though he and many of the other surviving Branch Davidians remain insistent that Koresh’s increasing stockpile of weapons was exclusively for commercial and defensive purposes.

Regardless of the intent expressed by Koresh and his followers, the siege was set to be an important moment for the US government. Less than twelve months prior to the siege, the ATF had received extensive criticism following the deaths of Vicki and Samuel Weaver, the wife and infant son of suspected terrorist Randy Weaver, at their home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Eager to gain some favour in the public eye and hoping to prevent a repeat of the 1978 Jonestown Massacre, the ATF set about their preparations for the ostentatiously-named “Project Showtime”. An undercover agent, Robert Rodriguez, was sent to investigate the cult and, although his identity was quickly uncovered by Koresh, Rodriguez was able to remain within the Mount Carmel centre long enough to report back to the ATF.

If the Branch Davidians, with their apocalyptic teachings, were preparing for the end of days, so too were the ATF. In a move jarring in both its fatalistic and eerily practical nature, ATF agents were advised to enter the compound with their name and blood type written on their neck in permanent marker, should they need a sudden transfusion as a result of unexpected gunfire. Going off of Rodriguez’s findings and what intelligence they had already gathered regarding the Branch Davidian’s firearm stockpile, the ATF knew to expect resistance, though looking back it is difficult to ascertain just how quickly they anticipated the conflict to escalate.

“We were not about killing people,” Fagan tells Caesar in the 2008 interview. “We were about a message.” When the ATF arrived, Koresh sent Branch Davidians out to speak with ATF agents and members of the press, seeking a peaceful resolution to the siege and assuring onlookers that the Branch Davidians had not engaged in any criminal activity. Despite this, Fagan does note that it would have been easy for the Branch Davidians to take out the oncoming ATF trucks during the initial raid, asserting that much as the Pharisees and Roman Senate has ordered the death of Christ, the US government were intent on destroying Koresh and his followers.

It wasn’t until he was specifically asked by Koresh to leave the compound twenty-one days into the siege that Livingstone Fagan put down his weapons and walked into police custody. He was swiftly arrested and held at a nearby jail, where he watched the final days of the siege unfold on television. Three fires broke out across the compound and Koresh, along with Fagan’s family and seventy-six other Branch Davidians, died.

Once sentenced, Fagan was sent to the McLennan County jail, but over the course of his fourteen years in prison he would be moved nine times. Fagan’s time behind bars was an unpleasant, degrading experience, in which he was kept in solitary confinement for upwards of seven years and subjected to near-daily beatings from prison guards. In one particularly harrowing story Fagan talks about how staff at a Virginia holding centre would forcibly remove his blood to store it on a database, and in another he speaks about how guards at the state penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, would blast him with a firehose before sitting him in front of an electric fan.

Livingstone Fagan was released from prison and deported back to the UK in 2007. He returned to Nottingham where he lives to this day, spending much of his time studying the word of God. Unlike his children, both of whom left Waco some time towards the beginning of the siege to live with Fagan’s siblings, Fagan still firmly follows the teachings of Koresh and still anticipates the rapidly-approaching Day of Judgement.

There is plenty to be learned from the events at Waco. For many, it is a case study into how delusional behaviour is contagious, spreading from one mind to the next and taking root wherever it is allowed to settle. To others, it is proof of how the manipulative and insidious abilities of one person can lead to the deaths of countless innocents. To those like Fagan and the remaining Branch Davidians, it is evidence that a nation’s government does not always act in the best interests of its people, and that the path to a better world is one slick with bloodshed.