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Religious Tolerance logo

Branch Davidians: The Waco tragedy

The Danforth report

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During 1999-SEP, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed former Senator John C. Danforth, (R-MO) as special counsel to head up an independent investigation into the Waco tragedy. He is an Episcopal priest, and had been the attorney general in Missouri for eight years. The study was restricted to determining "...whether representatives of the United States committed bad acts, not whether they exercised bad judgment." After a ten month independent investigation, announced that the blame for the Waco catastrophe rests solely with David Koresh. 1,2

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Issues covered by the investigation:

Senator Danforth and Attorney General Reno established five principal issues to be covered by the investigation:

  1. Whether agents of the United States started or contributed to the spread of the fire that killed members of the Branch Davidian group on April 19, 1993;
  2. Whether agents of the United States directed gunfire at the Branch Davidian complex on April 19, 1993;
  3. Whether agents of the United States used any incendiary or pyrotechnic device at the Branch Davidian complex on April 19, 1993;6
  4. Whether there was any illegal use of the armed forces of the United States in connection with the events leading up to the deaths occurring at the Branch Davidian complex on April 19, 1993; and
  5. Whether any government representative made or allowed others to make false or misleading statements, withheld evidence or information from any individual or entity entitled to receive it, or destroyed, altered or suppressed evidence or information concerning the events occurring at the Branch Davidian complex on April 19, 1993.

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Main conclusions of the investigation:

Their study lasted lasted "14 months, employed 74 personnel, and cost approximately $17 million. The Office of Special Counsel interviewed exactly 1,001 witnesses, reviewed over 2.3 million pages of documents, and examined thousands of pounds of physical evidence." They concluded:

bulletThe government of the United States and its agents are not responsible for the April 19, 1993, tragedy at Waco. The government:
bullet(a) did not cause the fire;
bullet(b) did not direct gunfire at the Branch Davidian complex; and
bullet(c) did not improperly employ the armed forces of the United States.
bulletResponsibility for the tragedy of Waco rests with certain of the Branch Davidians and their leader, Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, who:
bullet(a) shot and killed four ATF agents on February 28, 1993, and wounded 20 others;
bullet(b) refused to exit the complex peacefully during the 51-day standoff that followed the ATF raid despite extensive efforts and concessions by negotiators for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI);
bullet(c) directed gunfire at FBI agents who were inserting tear gas into the complex on April 19, 1993;
bullet(d) spread fuel throughout the main structure of the complex and ignited it in at least three places causing the fire which resulted in the deaths of those Branch Davidians not killed by their own gunfire; and
bullet(e) killed some of their own people by gunfire, including at least five children.
bulletWhile the Special Counsel has concluded that the United States government is not responsible for the tragedy at Waco on April 19, 1993, the Special Counsel states with equal certainty that an FBI agent fired three pyrotechnic tear gas rounds at 8:08 a.m. on April 19, 1993, at the concrete construction pit approximately 75 feet from the living quarters of the Davidian complex. The pyrotechnic tear gas rounds did not start the fire that consumed the complex four hours later.
bulletThe Special Counsel has also concluded that certain FBI and Department of Justice officials failed to disclose to the Attorney General, Congress, the courts, counsel for the Davidians, and the public, evidence and information about the use of pyrotechnic tear gas rounds until August 1999. This failure resulted from a combination of the inappropriate handling of evidence and the dereliction of duty by FBI and Department of Justice employees. As more fully set out below, the Special Counsel has concluded that some of these employees also obstructed the investigation. [Two lines are censored at this point.]

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Branch Davidian beliefs as related to the tragedy:

The investigators determined that "...the Davidians considered death by fire justifiedĖ even desirableĖ under circumstances in which they were under attack by forces that they considered to be evil, including the government. Koresh taught the Davidians that fire would 'transcend' or 'translate' them immediately to heaven....The Davidians referred to their complex as 'Ranch Apocalypse' and, on April 16, 1993, several federal agents observed a Davidian hold a sign outside a window of the complex that read 'the flames await: Isaiah 13'."

The reference may have been to the biblical passage Isaiah 13:6 to 9:

"Howl ye; for the day of the LORD is at hand; it shall come as a destruction from the Almighty. Therefore shall all hands be faint, and every man's heart shall melt: And they shall be afraid: pangs and sorrows shall take hold of them; they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth: they shall be amazed one at another; their faces shall be as flames. Behold, the day of the LORD cometh, cruel both with wrath and fierce anger, to lay the land desolate: and he shall destroy the sinners thereof out of it." 3

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References used:

  1. "Waco: Who's telling the truth?  John Danforth's investigation," Policy.com, 1999-SEP-20, at: http://www.policy.com/
  2. "Final report to the Deputy Attorney General concerning the 1993 confrontation at the Mt. Carmel Comples, Waco Texas," at: Waco: The rules of engagement," at:  http://www.waco93.com/ This is a PDF file. You may require software to read it. Software can be obtained free from: 
  3. King James Version of the Bible.

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Copyright © 2005 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally published: 2005-MAR-28
Last update: 2005-MAR-28
Author: B.A. Robinson

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