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Branch Davidians:

The Waco, TX standoff in 1993

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Topics covered in this essay

bullet The Waco standoff
bullet What is known

bullet What is not known

bullet Events from the Branch Davidian perspective

bullet Events from the FBI perspective

bullet Summary by Time magazine

bullet A documentary film

bullet Link to the Oklahoma bombing

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What is Known about Waco:

A major tragedy happened at Waco in the Spring of 1993. There is a general consensus that the sequence of events included:

bullet The ATF decided to arrest David Koresh on firearms violations. He could have been easily arrested away from the compound while jogging or while visiting Waco. But apparently it was necessary for them to arrest him at the compound near the guns in order to have a chance of winning a court case.

bullet A group of 76 armed ATF agents entered the compound on 1993-FEB-28 and attempted to serve a search warrant

bullet A shot was heard; it is unclear whether it was an accidental firing by an ATF agent, or an intentional or accidental discharge from within the buildings.

bullet In the resultant firefight, 6 Davidians and 4 ATF agents died; at least one Davidian and 24 agents were wounded.

bullet The ATF withdrew. The FBI took charge; a 51 day siege followed.

bullet Based on a report from a psychiatrist at the Baylor College of Medicine, the FBI believed that the Branch Davidian children were being sexually and physically abused inside the compound. (The FBI has since acknowledged that the report was false. It is apparently based on false memories implanted in the children).

bullet The FBI consulted a number of experts on new religious movements with knowledge about destructive cults, who warned of a high probability of mass murder or suicide if aggressive action was taken. The FBI also consulted a number of psychiatrists who had no specialized experience with doomsday cults, who assured the FBI that the chances of major loss of life was slim. They also received advise from members of the Anti-cult movement.  The Bureau decided that it was safe to attack the compound with tear gas. The FBI seem to have ignored the religious experts and accepted the beliefs of the psychiatrists.

bullet The FBI emergency response team had been at the site for almost 2 months. If the siege lasted much longer, then the team would be in need of refresher training; there was no replacement team.

bullet On 1993-APR-19: 
bullet About 6 AM, two incendiary tear-gas grenades were fired at a concrete bunker some distance from the frame buildings of the compound. They bounced off the roof and fizzled out harmlessly in a nearby puddle.

bullet About 12 o'clock noon, specially adapted tanks approached the building to penetrate the walls and inject a form of tear gas inside. A group of fires started almost simultaneously in different locations within the compound; they combined to form a great conflagration.
bullet8 followers were able to escape during the attack; many were severely burned.

bullet Koresh and about 75 of his followers [numbers differ in various sources] died of stab wounds, gun shots, and from the effects of smoke and flames. This included 21 children.

bullet 5 followers were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and firearms violations. Two others were convicted of arms charges.

bullet Later, a video has been distributed which appears to show a flame-throwing tank igniting the compound. This has been proven to be a fake: a forged picture of a flame superimposed in a film laboratory on top of actual footage of the tanks at Waco. The latter was taken about 2 hours before the fire.

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Whenever a high-profile and tragic event occurs (e.g. the assassination of President Kennedy, the bombing at Oklahoma City, etc.) facts become mixed with fantasies. Waco is no exception; the truth will probably remain unknown. There have been many individuals and groups who have disseminated information of varying quality, including:

bullet surviving members of the Branch Davidians still faithful to David Koresh's beliefs

bullet disgruntled ex-members of the group

bullet the ATF

bullet the FBI

bullet counter-cult groups

bullet anti-cult groups

We believe that none of the above are reliable sources of information. Some seem to have intentionally disseminated misinformation in order to further their own agendas and/or to protect themselves and/or to project their religion in a very positive or negative light. Others have given versions of events as they remember them to be, but which may have been colored by their intense emotional involvement.

It is difficult to separate fact from fiction, although rumors of attacks by helicopter gun ships do seem most improbable, and flame throwing tanks have been proven to be a hoax. We feel that the main fundamental, preventable causes of the tragedy were:

bullet David Koresh refused to recognize a government search warrant.

bullet David Koresh and the FBI were unable to communicate effectively. 

bullet Koresh and his followers anticipated death at the hands of government agents; most were willing to commit suicide rather than surrender.

bullet The FBI ignored the advice of new religious movement experts; they accepted the advice of mental health professionals who had no specialized knowledge of destructive/doomsday cults. They also relied on anti-cult movement specialists.

bullet The FBI believed (incorrectly) that children were being abused.

bullet Many of the Branch Davidian parents refused to recognize the danger and send their children out of the compound to safety.

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What is not known about Waco:

bullet Were there illegal weapons at Waco?: Probably there were. Koresh implied so in a telephone conversation with the FBI; he also admitted it to his lawyer. There is also