Waco: Many Questions Still Unanswered Essay, Research Paper
WACO: MANY QUESTIONS STILL UNANSWERED
On February 28, 1993, the nation watched as government law
officials climbed the walls of the Branch-Davidian compound on Mount Carmel in Waco, Texas, breaking windows and throwing grenades inside the buildings, all for arresting Vernon Wayne Hall, A.K.A. David Koresh. Koresh was the leader of the Davidians, who believed that Koresh was a god who lived in this religious community on Mount Carmel.
The public’s first view of this crisis was from the press’s not very supportive opinion of the Davidian’s beliefs. The newspaper articles were leaning on the government’s side, which they had every right to do, until April 19. On April 19, 1993, Mount Carmel rapidly burned to the ground, taking the lives of seventy-six people. Millions of viewers across America watched the conflagration live on national television. Immediately, as the flames were seen on the screen, a government spokesman began explaining what was going on. The spokesman immediately told the country that this fire was an act of suicide by Koresh or his followers. Two days later, the press pretty much abandoned the whole Waco story.
One year later, it was discovered that the Davidians didn’t use drugs, own guns, nor had they ever been accused of sexual misconduct. In October of 1993, Report Of The Deputy Attorney General On The Events At Waco, Texas, February 28 to April 19, 1993 (the edited version) was released by the FBI. In September of 1993, Report Of The Department Of Treasury On The Bureau Of Alcohol, Tobacco, And Firearms Investigation Of Vernon Wayne Howell, A.K.A. David Koresh was released by the ATF.
Despite all the reports that the government has put out against the Davidians, suspicions of foul play on the part of our government began because of multiple pieces of evidence, one of these pieces of evidence being the telephone conversations between Mount Carmel residents and the FBI. Another significant piece of evidence is the nine survivors of the fire have no recollection of how the fire began, because they didn’t see it start.
The concern that most people have of this incident comes from the fact that the government lied, broke internal orders and, most importantly, denied the Mount Carmel residents their constitutional rights. This scandal is more serious than other affairs, like Watergate, because the Attorney General, Janet Reno, stepped in for the President by giving the executive order for government officials to invade Mount Carmel. Eventually, Mount Carmel was burned to the ground and a lot of fingers point to the government officials who unmistakably did not cooperate with the Mount Carmel residents.
In the Watergate affair, the public believes that the seriousness of the crisis comes from the President’s abuse of power, like the “Iran-Contra” or the “Lewinsky” scandals. They were major crises, but Waco involves improprieties by all three branches of government, and, as a result, innocent people were massacred. Waco is important for three major reasons: It raises questions about human rights in our country; it involves a scandal involving all three branches of government; it opens the door for our government to tolerate more of this behavior.
The residents of Mount Carmel were American citizens with constitutional rights, but their rights were violated because of complaints by Marc Brealt, a neighbor of the Branch Davidians, that children were being held in this compound against their will. Child welfare visited the place four times in 1991 and found nothing, but suspicion still grew. In March of 1992, neighbors saw men dressed in SWAT team attire practicing forced entries at an abandoned house nearby. Suspicion still continued to grow as rumors escalated from child molestation to alcohol and guns. In June of 1992, the ATF set up a pole camera to watch the compound. During the summer of 1992, helicopters also made low passes at the compound to take pictures. These helicopters also flew over the compound a few weeks prior to February 28, 1993.
On January 27th, an ATF agent, disguised as a UPS deliveryman, asked if he could use a bathroom, and David Jones handed him a roll of toilet paper and escorted him to the men’s outhouse. That very day, David Koresh called the sheriff’s office and asked why he was being spied on.
On the morning of February 28th, Koresh learned about the raid from Perry Jones, but said that he learned it from a vision. Robert Rodriguez was an undercover spy that was in the compound the morning of the disaster. David Koresh received word of this and acted in a surprising way. He walked over to Rodriguez and told him that he was confused, like Pilate was confused, whether to let Jesus go or not. He quickly decided to let Rodriguez go without even thinking about harming him or jumping him at the door.
Upon his arrival outside the complex, Rodriguez told the raid’s commander, Charles Sarabyn, that Koresh knew about the raid. Instead of calling to abort, he just kept asking Rodriguez questions about the compound. Helicopters began circling the compound at 1:30 p.m., but they were all news helicopters fighting for the best aerial view of the shootout. Later that night, the Federal Aviation Administration designated the area ten miles around Mount Carmel as a no-fly zone. When the day was over, ATF agents were forced to retreat.
The ATF first stated, “The problem we had is that we were outgunned. They had bigger firearms than we had. They were able to shoot through doors, and, due to that, a lot of our agents were hurt.” These remarks only hurt the situation because the reality was that the ATF had lost the element of surprise. Rumors quickly began to spread, due to Rodriguez’s report, that mentioned a telephone call from “England.” The rumor was that Mark England, a tribune reporter, tipped Koresh about the agency’s raid. Once again, the agency avoided media speculation by blaming England. This rumor was obviously not true, but even if it was, a closer look reveals that it probably would not have made any difference.
New helicopters were flying in circles around the compound at 1:30, just before the raid began; “UPS” workers also kept trying to use the bathroom at Mount Carmel. The Davidians also had observed the ATF put up a “pole” camera outside the compound property. Two men in white coats were spotted, but when two residents approached them, they jumped in their car and took off fast. A bit suspicious? Davidians were even calling the sheriff’s office in confusion as to why they were under such close surveillance. If only the ATF knew about the raid, a tip would only be able to come from inside of that agency. On March 15, 1993, the ATF released a gag order that threatened an agent’s dismissal if the agent talked to anyone outside the agency about the raid.
This issue is extremely important because it started the whole war at the compound. Koresh could never have been tipped off if only the ATF knew about the raid. Somehow the agency leaked the news to the press, and the Davidians probably watched themselves on t.v. before the raid began. Not long after the raid, Charles Sarabyn, the raid leader, and Phil Chojnacki, the assistant raid leader, were dismissed because they didn’t abort the strike when they knew the Davidians were awaiting their arrival.
In March, the FBI began negotiations with the Branch Davidians.
All exchanges between the FBI and the Davidians were only verbal until April 19th, 1993. On April 19th, FBI agents used tanks and tear gas to force a surrender; six hours after the FBI assault began, the compound caught fire and burned to the ground.
Since 1993, many private and government investigations have taken place. One of the results of Waco is that a federal U.S. District Judge has forced every agency of the U.S. government to surrender what he termed “a mountain of sealed documents.” An independent investigation has been ordered by the government. Perhaps this time investigators will get to the bottom of what really happened in Waco.
Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes Of Waco. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995.
Hancock, Lee Dallas Morning News, 12/23/99 ed., “U.S. Switches Course, Agrees To Waco Test.”
Hancock, Lee Dallas Morning News, 10/16/99 ed., “May Trial Likely For Davidians’ Suit.”