do not think the United States government is responsible because
a bunch of religious fanatics decided to kill themselves…"
Bill Clinton, April 20, 1993
all goes back to Waco" has become a frequent rejoinder in Libertarian
circles and there is much merit to this profound sentiment. To many,
the 1993 FBI-Delta Force assault on Mt. Carmel has come to symbolize
the malign potential of the lawless state. Further, the February
BATF raid and its deadly aftermath graphically articulated the worst
fears of those who oppose the lethal convergence of police and military.
Yet in a
recent National Review On-Line (NRO) essay penned by Libertarian
scholars Paul H. Blackman and David Kopel, the historical significance
of this tragic event is inexplicably discarded.
"Waco Lessons for War," the November 6th editorial ostensibly urges
Pentagon strategists to taken into account the strident Islamic
beliefs which characterize Muslim terror groups. However, in the
process of dispensing this advice, the two authors inadvertently
rely on some of the more spurious government claims about the Branch
Davidian religious sect.
the discriminating researcher would be hard-pressed to equate a
largely pacifistic spiritual community with Afghanistan’s ruthless
Taliban fighters, Blackman and Kopel make little distinction between
the two. Indeed, the essay draws a parallel between the battle-hardened
Afghan rebels and the Davidians who are described as yet another
group "sincerely devoted to do evil." With this sweeping generalization,
a diverse congregation which included musicians, Biblical scholars,
Harvard graduates, religious seekers, mothers, children, and senior
citizens is transformed into a malevolent band of religious warriors.
fact, readers are informed that the February 28 BATF raid on Mt.
Carmel was repulsed because the Branch Davidians allegedly "fought
with the zeal of martyrs" causing the most "humiliating defeat"
in the agency’s history.
only does this grossly mischaracterize the nature of the February
raid, but the use of the term "defeat" is highly disingenuous. This
wasn’t a confrontation between two equal military forces, but an
agency of the federal government seeking to search a private residence
and arrest one individual: David Koresh. Nevertheless, Blackman
and Kopel portray the religious group as a unique military entity
with its own faith-based esprit de corps.
fact that Koresh and his followers were tipped off to the impending
the raid and failed to give themselves up is submitted as further
evidence that the allegedly "evil" Davidians "fully expected to
be massacred at the hands of ‘Babylon’ (the American government)."
Kopel and Blackman substantiate this by citing the testimony of
"apostate Branch Davidians" and ATF agents.
the vindictive opinions of disaffected church members and self-serving
ATF agents cannot be considered credible sources of information
and it’s surprising that Blackman and Kopel would even entertain
such a notion especially in light of their extensive knowledge
of this particular topic.
cursory examination of the evidence indicates that if anyone was
preparing for a violent confrontation it was ATF. In the weeks leading
up to the blundered raid, agency officials were openly soliciting
the assistance of military officials and the use of the Army Urban
Terrain facility at Ft. Hood, TX. It is now known that these tactical
preparations directly contradicted the express wishes of then US
Attorney William Johnston who, according to the Treasury Department
report "informed ATF early in the investigation that he would not
authorize a search warrant" for the Davidian property "if it was
to be executed through a siege-style operation."
debating the question of whether or nor the arrest of Koresh was
warranted, it is certainly not difficult to surmise that his apprehension
by federal law enforcement needn’t have cost any lives. Texas firearms
dealer Henry McMahon has repeatedly testified that the sectarian
leader was well aware he was under investigation for violating federal
firearms statutes and willingly offered to cooperate with ATF agents.
Moreover, federal officials have yet to make a good faith explanation
as to why Koresh wasn’t taken into custody during his daily jogging
sessions or frequent trips into town.
conciliatory relationship with local law enforcement provides further
proof that the dynamic-entry raid was largely unwarranted. Indeed,
even as helicopters buzzed the sky in the tension-filled moments
before the ATF arrived, Davidian Survivor Clive Doyle has testified
that Koresh remained committed to resolving the matter peacefully.
"He wanted everybody to remain calm, go back to their rooms, just
stay cool" as "he would go down to the front door and talk" Doyle
recalls. 911 transcripts of deceased Davdian Wayne Martin’s repeated
requests for government agents to cease hostilities certainly undermine
Kopel and Blackman’s assertion that the "Davidians intended to become
martyrs and enter heaven":
Martin (WM): "Yeah there’s 75 men around our building and they’re
shootin’ at us at Mt. Carmel!
Operator: Mt. Carmel?
Yeah, tell em’ there’re women and children here and to call
Operator: I hear gunfire who is this?
Operator: Wayne…tell me what’s happening Wayne.
We got women and children in danger.
I’m under fire…tell ‘em to call if off!
Martin: Tell em’ to pull back…I have the right to defend myself.
They started firing first!
Excerpted from Waco:
The Rules of Engagement,
1997, COPS Productions
the 911 tape suggests, bringing an end to the shooting and protecting
lives was a primary concern among members of the controversial religious
community. This is reinforced by the testimony of Ken Fawcett a
video technician who obtained an unedited feed of the one-sided
gun battle which reportedly captured images of an "unidentified
Davidian" who was seen "repeatedly calling for peace" from a lower
story doorway only to be met by a "hail of gunfire." Fawcett also
viewed footage showing wounded agents "being assisted by Branch
Davidians in the stabilization and evacuation of wounded officers"
behavior he finds "inconsistent with persons having murderous
intent." ("Why Waco?," Secret
and Suppressed, Feral House, 1993).
Davidians fired back at ATF agents in self-defense, they were hardly
prepared to ambush anyone much less engage in a sustained gun-battle
with trained federal agents. "People were running around everywhere
asking if anybody had any guns. Nobody had any handy. Most of what
we had was new, still in the box" recounted a Davidian survivor
to James L. Pate. ("What the Feds Don’t Want you to Know About Waco,"
Soldier of Fortune, October 1993). In the 1994 murder trial
of 11 surviving Davidians, even the most compliant prosecution witnesses
who agreed to testify against their co-religionists would not contradict
defense arguments that the inhabitants of Mt. Carmel "were terrified
of the raid and acted in self-defense."(Carol Moore, The
Davidian Massacre, Legacy, 1995).
the standoff ensued and the remaining Davidians were subjected to
various methods of psychological warfare in order to force them
out of their media-dubbed "compound," Kopel and Blackman glibly
assert that the close-knit group "grew all the more convinced of
the truth of Koresh’s prophecies." While religion certainly played
a role in the lives of the desperate worshippers, this analysis
fails to take into account the duplicitous role of corrupt FBI officials.
were suspicious of the government’s intentions" writes Moore who
points out that FBI promises to obtain medical assistance, allow
the Davidians to retrieve the bodies of their dead, and send their
children to relatives instead of Foster homes were all subsequently
broken. Others feared that evidence of ATF malfeasance would be
destroyed. The disappearance of the front door which would solve
the controversy over who fired the first shot shows there was a
great deal of validity to these concerns.
the final raid of April 19th, 1993, Kopel and Blackman allege that
Davidians "faced a choice: a few final hours of suffering on earth,
followed by an eternity in Heaven or an eternity in Hell,
for deserting their prophet in the moment of greatest crisis." The
implication of this statement is clear: the Davidians had the means
to escape but opted to remain inside in order to fulfill the wishes
of their crazed spiritual leader. While the two authors correctly
note that the injection of a lethal cocktail of CS gas and methylene
chloride inadvertently killed several Davidians, they fail to mention
other life-threatening hazards which may have blocked others from
fleeing the smoke-filled building.
FBI’s use of tanks on April 19, 1993 evinced an extreme indifference
to human life" remarks CATO Institute Legal Analyst Timothy Lynch.
An Unofficial Account of the Waco Incident, Cato Institute,
April 9, 2001). It is now believed that six children and three women
perished due to these ill-advised demolition efforts. The trial
testimony of Tarrant County Medical Examiner Dr. Nizaam Peerwani
reveals that the nine corpses had no smoke in their lungs leading
him to speculate that at least five of the children suffocated prior
to the fire when a concrete ceiling caved in on them. Obviously
many more were likely injured or possibly killed by these mountains
of falling debris. Moreover, the tank destruction eliminated stairways,
hallways, and ceilings in other rooms sowing mass confusion, stranding
many, and blocking a number of once-viable exits with impenetrable
chunks of fallen rubble.
few who possessed the ability to escape from the deadly fire were
further deterred by lethal FBI "ferret" rounds which were fired
at Davidians by the hundreds. In fact, "newly released documents
from the FBI show that agents asked for permission to shoot any
unarmed Branch Davidians who left Mt. Carmel and approached their
armored vehicles" notes Lynch. Although the request was denied no
one can be sure these actions did not occur as the documents "outlined
seven instances in which FBI agents threw or launched ‘flash bang’
grenades at Davidians who were exiting Mt. Carmel earlier in the
Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) footage also provides documentary
evidence that government forces were spraying the building with
automatic weapon fire as the structure became engulfed in flames.
Although the Bureau have repeatedly denied that its agents fired
so much as a single shot during the stand off and its culmination,
several examinations of the contested tape by no less than a half-dozen
highly-credible experts dispute this contention.
light of this contradictory information, it seems all the more unfathomable
that two esteemed Libertarian thinkers like Kopel and Blackman would
seek to resurrect the government’s indefensible "mass suicide" theory
much less ATF claims that they were ambushed by trigger-happy religious
fanatics. Nevertheless, these views cannot be reconciled with the
facts as we know them. To the contrary, they stand in denial of
all that we’ve learned.
Nelson [send him mail]
is a freelance journalist in Los Angeles.
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