Waco - The Charred Land of the Free
Most people first heard of David Koresh, the charismatic leader of the religious sect that came to be called The Branch Dividians, and the Dividians themselves, in February of 1993, but the Branch Dividians had existed for fifty years before Koresh was even born.
They were a break off of the Seven Day Adventist's Church, and were originally lead by a man by the name of Victor Halhead. They were formed in 1935, and based their lives around the belief that God would once again visit them in the form of a living profit. Halhead claimed to be this prophet, and relocated the group from California to Mount Carmel, which is located 10 miles outside of Waco, Texas.
They studied the Bible as literal truth. The book of Revelation and it's cryptic seven seals. The Christians believe that the seven seals tell God's plan for the sequence of events leading up to Judgment Day, and can only be deciphered by a messiah who would come near the end of days.
Five years after Halhead's death, the Dividians gathered at Mount Carmel, believing Armageddon, the final fight between good and evil described within the Bible, was close at hand.
The Dividian church almost disappeared after that, but Bill and Lois Roden kept a small group together. After Bill's death, Lois continued on, and began training a young Vernon Howell as her understudy. When Lois Roden died, a power struggle between Vernon and Lois's son George began for leadership.
The majority backed Howell. When Roden chased them away at gunpoint, they temporarily lived in Palistine, Texas, sleeping in rusted out buses and tents. But in late 1987, Howell returned with seven male followers, dressed in camouflage and armed with five .223 caliber semi-automatic assault rifles, two .22 caliber rifles, two twelve-gauge shotguns, and nearly four hundred rounds ammunition. During the gunfight, Roden was shot in the chest and hands (www.disinfo.com).
Vernon and his followers were put on trial for attempted murder. The seven were aquitted and a mistrial was declared in Vernon's case. Howell told the jury that he and his followers had gone to Mount Carmel to search for evidence of corpse abuse by Roden, and their shots were aimed at a tree.
George Roden was later convicted of murder in an unrelated matter.
Thus, Vernon Howell came into power and became the official leader of the Branch Dividians. He then legally changed his name to David Koresh. David because he believed he was now head of the Biblical House of David, and Koresh because Koresh is the Hebrew translation Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed the Jews held captive in Babylon to return to Israel.
He did not claim to be Jesus, but instead to be that final messiah mentioned in the Book of Revelations, the seventh messenger. He claimed to be the Sinful Messiah mentioned in the book. The phrase Sinful Messiah was picked up by the Waco-Tribune, and used in a negative tone. It was not meant to be the negative title the paper made it seem. It simply meant that, unlike Jesus, this messiah would be an ordinary human, one who is not without sin.
Attracted by Koresh's teachings, the congregation grew. They took the lumber from the cottages they had lived in before, and used it to build the Communal Church, referred to as a Compound during the upcoming siege.
The Dividians were well respected members of the Waco Community. As Jack Harwell, the sheriff of McLennan County said:
They were good people. Sure, they had different beliefs than you and me, in their way of life, and especially in their religious beliefs, but they were still good people. I was around them a lot. They were always nice, well mannered, never overbearing. I liked them
(Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP 00:12:00)
One of the major prophecies which existed among the Branch Dividians was that there would be a massive confrontation between God's people (those of Mount Carmel) and the forces of an armed Apostate power, called Babylon. Due to this belief, Koresh and his followers became interested in guns. David was a strong believer in the 2nd amendment, and peoples right to defend themselves. He believed that this was a great government. He said What's great is that we have freedom. Not freedom for speech, or freedom for religion, but freedom for all (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP00:20:30) He pretty quickly found out there was lots of money to be made at gun shows, and before long, they began going to gun shows. They bought and sold. The combination of their being a cult, and the fact that they were stockpiling weapons, brought them attention from the ATF. Now, whether the ATF was justified in targeting the Dividians for this is debatable, as all gun dealers stockpile weapons. But either way, this helped convince the ATF that the Dividians were a threat to the population as a whole, and action needed to be taken.
On the morning of Feb 28, ATF agents and the local police blocked the roads leading to the Mount Carmel center. The ATF raid team was suiting up, planning to surprise the Dividians. Most of 130 Branch Dividians within the compound were unaware of the impending raid until just minutes before it began. A group of news personnel had set themselves up out side, and apparently that's what tipped them off.
Robert Rodriguez was an ATF agent undercover in the compound. When Koresh told the Dividians of the upcoming raid, and told them to get prepared, Robert ran outside and over to the command post, telling the team of coordinators the element of surprise had been lost, the raid must be called off. His warning went unheeded, and this proved to be a grave mistake.
Three helicopters arrived at first, and were supposed to fly behind the compound and distract the Dividians while the ground troops were approaching from the front in covered cattle trailers.
As the cattle trailer stopped in front, dozens of ATF agents jumped out. There is much debate over from where the first shot came, whether an ATF agent fired or a Dividian did. But regardless of that, the firefight had begun. ATF agents took cover behind the cattle cars and fired through the front metal door at Dividians who were firing out at them. Meanwhile, more agents set up ladders and climbed onto the roof of the compound, breaking windows and attempting to fire through at those inside. Helicopters flew over head, and armed men within these leaned out and fired through any windows they could get good aim at. 17 year-old Peter Gentless climbed atop a silo to try and see what was happening. There is video in which you can clearly see a helicopter fly over head, and then the Dividian's body drops out of view and doesn't stand up again, making it appear he was shot by the agent within the helicopter, despite the Peter's being unarmed. The Dividians were not allowed to remove the body from the water tower for five days.
What should have been a peaceful serving of a warrant, an agent approaching the front door and explaining the terms of the warrant, had become a blood bath. As the rest of the agents were battling it out with the Dividians, one agent walked over to the pen in which the children's five Alaskan malamutes dogs were kept, and shot the dogs in cold blood. Wayne Martin, a Branch Dividian called 911 during the attack and begged for them to call the agents back, that there were women and children in danger. Eventually, the ATF was forced to fall back and call a cease fire at noon. A call was put out for an ambulance, and the ATF got its wounded men to a hospital. The ATF had done poorly in the confrontation. They had measly 9mm s, while the Dividians were armed .45 caliber's and the such. The ATF lost four agents, and more than twenty were injured.
One Dividian was searching for his friend Winston after the ATF agents had been forced to retreat and fall back. As he neared Winston's room, he could hear water running. He turned the corner to find Winston lying dead in a pool of blood next to his bed. The window had been shattered, and the water tanks outside had been riddled full of bullets. The angle suggests that the bullets had to have come from a helicopter.
The Dividians refused to surrender. A siege ensued, and 668 FBI personnel were eventually called in. (Hamm, pg.104)
During this siege, Jim Cavanaugh, the FBI's negotiator, had many recorded conversations with David Koresh, such as this one, in which they talk about what's going to be happening next;
- Jim: If you die... you tell me... if you die from that wound, I want you to tell me what's going to happen.
- David: Well, I'm not going to be around any more, am I, to influence anybody, right?
- Jim: David, listen...
- David: No Jim, listen...
- Jim: This has been painful for all of us...
- David Koresh: Jim listen... listen Jim... There's nothing that hurts me more than being called a cult leader, alright? If I'm wrong, people like me don't deserve to live, OK?
- Jim: ...listen ... listen...
- David: Do you understand me Jim? If you let the people, think, cause you know, they're all scared around here now. You know, don't burn our building down...
- Jim: Awe... we won't do that.
- David: Don't shoot us all up... they ve got to have that time.
- Jim: But David, if you die, you're leaving your people helpless.
- David: Look, they're God's people... I'm just an instrument, OK? I show them out of a book what God teaches. Then it's for them to decide. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP01:07:30)
Jim and David also had other conversations. Jim was mainly trying to calm David down, make sure he was acting rationally. And if he had to double-talk, that's what he would do. Unfortunately, Koresh saw through his lies, such as when Jim continued harping on the fact that the helicopters had no mounted guns, when it was fairly obvious that there were men inside the helicopter firing on them with sub-machine guns.
Some Dividian parents sent their children outside of Mount Carmel, where they were delivered to a rendezvous point. A story appeared in many newspapers claiming that three Dividians had tried to shoot their way through ATF agents to safety. This was completely made up.
On March 1st, the ATF handed control to the FBI. The FBI proceeded to set itself up accordingly.
The Dividians were surrounded. FBI snipers were set up in two sandbag positions, Sierra One, guarding the front end, and Sierra Two, hidden in back, invisible to the cameras. Anyone trying to leave the compound would be easily gunned down.
At one point during the negotiations, it was believed that an end was in sight. On March 2nd, Koresh had agreed to come out if a local radio station would play the message he had recently made for the world. However, after the message had been played, and David was approached to fulfill his part of the deal, and come out of the compound, he claimed he could not, that God had told him to stay, and not come out just yet.
As one FBI agent was heard to remark The FBI wasn't prepared to share David Koresh's contingent that we should wait on God to resolve. The FBI is God. It's gonna decide how this is resolved. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP1:17:07)
Agent Pete Shmireck was in charge of drawing up the physchological report on Koresh, and advise a course of action. He advised for a calm, cautious, non-confrontational method to be taken in regards to Koresh and his followers. According to Schmireck, he was pressured by FBI officials to change his assessments to co-align with a more confrontational approach.
This was to justify the FBI's next decision, to engage in psychological warfare. They would do things like play tapes of rabbits being slaughtered, chainsaws, and Nancy Sinatra singing. They would bring out lights at night, and, in essence, were essentially trying to cause dangerous amounts of sleep-deprivation, and take a man who they already viewed as unstable, and push him over the brink! And then they would get mad when he does something they think is irrational. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP01:18:42)
At one point, the Dividians hung a banner out of a window stating God help us, we want the press! Reporters jokingly replied with the statement God help us, we are the press!
Eventually, the FBI became plain-out immature after an entire month of doing next to nothing. FBI agents mooned Dividians, flicked them the bird, and ran over graves with tanks.
David Koresh's grandmother came to talk to him, to try and get him to lay down his arms and come out. This, of course, failed as well. As David's grandmother left, one FBI official was heard to remark, I hope she has told him goodbye,
On April 14th, there was a major breakthrough in negotiations. In a letter to one of the FBI's negotiators, Koresh wrote that he'd received his mission, that he was working on his translation of the seven seals, and that everyone within the compound was relieved that the prophecies were not coming true, and that they would not have to die. David would come out when he had finished his writing. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP01:30:00)
This, however, was dismissed as a stalling technique by Janet Reno, our Attorney General. No good would come from waiting. It was decided that negotiations were over, and now was the time for the FBI to mobilize and take action.
President Clinton described the FBI's plan as an operation prepared by the FBI designed to increase pressure on Koresh and persuade those in the compound to surrender peacefully. They would use tear gas that would not cause permanent harm to health but would . . . force the people within the compound to come out and surrender. (Hamm, pg.108)
On April 19, 1993, the FBI had two specially equipped Abrams tanks and four Bradley armored vehicles punch holes in the compound, literally knocking out sections of wall, and spray CS gas into the compound, while soldiers outside fired Ferret rounds of the gas into the building. Ferret rounds are like miniature grenades fired from a hand-held grenade launcher. Tear gas is released as the tip disintegrates. Despite the claim that all this was done to minimize causalities, Ferret rounds pack enough force to kill, and were aimed at any window in which movement was spotted. It was announced over a sound system that those within the compound should put on their masks, and that although they were releasing tear gas into the building, this was not an assault.
The gas used was CS gas, which is not a common tear gas. More than one hundred nations, including the US, have banned CS gas in warfare: but at Waco it was used on women and children. (Hamm, pg. 108) In a video of boot camp trainees being subjected to CS for only a few seconds, we can see them, teary eyed, red, even throwing up and having trouble breathing. The Dividians received ten times that dosage, for six hours. In a 1975 U.S. Army publication, it stated that Generally, persons reacting to CS are incapable of executing organized and concerted actions and excessive exposure to CS may make them incapable of vacating an area. So Clinton's explanation that it was to be used to force the Dividians to come out and surrender was the exact opposite of the truth.
CS isn't a gas, it's a chemical powder. For use in Waco, it was dissolved in Methylene Chloride, a volatile chemical used for stripping paint. It created a fine aerosol mist when sprayed through the tanks nozzles or released from a Ferret round. In closed spaces, this mixture can be ignited by a spark into a fireball. When CS burns, it creates hydrogen cyanide, the same gas used in prison gas chambers. Here it was used on young infants and senior citizens. Sure, they gave everyone in the building gas masks, but guess what? Gas masks do not fit on babies!!!
The women and children fled to the safest place within the church while the gassing continued, the kitchen storage room. A reinforced concrete room, it was a former vault. Because the children didn't have gas masks to fit them, they were covering themselves with wet towels. A tank then broke through the very center of the building and began releasing gas right into the concrete room, a virtual cul de sac (French for bottom of the bag ), with no ventilation, not acknowledging the lack of gas masks being worn by a good percentage of its occupants. They were most likely coughing, choking, and some probably were dead. Some were most likely inert. They were still alive and breathing, but they weren't going to be doing anything.
The tanks had been breaching holes into the building, lots of holes. As Joseph Perino, Former Chief of The Houston Fire Department put it, They had just unintentionally setup the configuration of a potbelly stove. You want it to burn slow, you close up the vents. You want it to burn fast, you open them. The compound was going to burn fast. . . .even without the CS gas, and the flammable liquids. . . it's going to burn fast because of the venting. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP01:55:49)
Less than a minute after the final tank had finished it's final injection of CS gas, the first of three separate fires, which started in three different spots, within three minutes of each other began on the second floor of the compound, in an area where the gas was still at it's most volatile as a fine mist. David Thibodeau says he was in a room on the outside of the main hall when he saw a fireball that ran the front length of Mount Carmel, possibly causing a second fireball to ignite, which set fire to the kitchen/dining room area. This was, unfortunately, right next to the concrete room where the women and children had been gassed earlier.
About a minute later, another armored vehicle approached the gymnasium in the rear of the church, then backed away. About half a minute later, Derek Lovelock, the other survivor who saw a fireball, claims he saw one streaking from the rear of the compound to the front, igniting everything in its path.
At this point, the back of the gym had been destroyed. Derek heard someone scream that a fire had started above, and as he could not reach the stairwell in the front, as the tank had come in there, he ran for the stairwell in the back, thinking of the kids he'd come to known and loved. He reached the top of the stairs and made his way across a catwalk that stretched above the church area. He got to a blanket, and as he opened the blanket up, a wall of flames shot from the end of the hall directly in front of him, to the other end, right in front of his eyes. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP01:58:00)
When the firefighters arrived, they were held back from helping fight the fire so that there was no chance of them being hit by a stray bullet.
The remaining Dividians were located in the kitchen/dining room area. The area surrounding them was engulfed in flames. There may have been a way out, but something must have been blocking the path. The heat was so extreme that the children's hands literally melted into those of their mothers, and when the bodies were recovered, had become permanently attached.
The burning of the gas created the cyanide mentioned earlier, which is used in prison gas chambers. The effects of the gas can be seen in the corpse of an eight year-old girl recovered from the fire, in which it seriously looks as though she is bent backwards with her head turned 180 degrees! It makes the muscles contract so wildly, it can actually break bones. When it is used on convicts in prisons, the convict is strapped down extremely tightly. This is not to keep the convict from escaping, but to keep the individuals witnessing the execution from being forced to observe the horrifying effects of hydrogen cyanide upon the human body.
This is a quote from David Thibodeau, one of the only survivors of the inferno. It is the story of his harrowing escape from the fate so many others were forced to live, as he told Congress during the Joint Sub-Committee hearings:
There came a point in my rolling on the floor, trying to protect myself from the heat, in the pitch black, unable to see, that the voices of those behind me screaming, kinda got through to me... I recognized who they were, placed the voices. And I got to my feet and jumped, or dived in the direction I thought the hole was, and when I stood up, the skin was rolling off my hands, my coat was all melted on my back and smoking, and as I looked back over my shoulder, the hole I had just jumped through was covered in flames, and the first thought that came to me was 'I'm the only one'. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP02:06:45)
As the tattered Branch Dividian flag was fluttering to the ground, and the fires were settling down, the ATF raised their flag high up on the flagpole, replacing the one that now lay smoldering in the dirt.
One of the survivors had managed to save something. It was a stack of papers, titled The Decoded Message of the Seven Seals of the Book of Revelation by David Koresh. The writing that David Koresh had promised to give himself up non-violently after it's completion, which Janet Reno, the Butcher of Waco, as she has come to be called by some members of the press, had dismissed as a lie and a stalling technique. It had truly existed. Reno was wrong.
This incident lead to many debates, arguments, and controversies. One of the earlier debates to raise it's ugly head was that of who fired the first shot: the ATF, or the Dividians. The ATF fiercely denied having fired upon the Dividian's first, saying that there had been no reason for them to want to. However, the Dividian's denied the charges just as ferociously. In a 911 call placed by a Dividian member by the name of Wayne Martin on Feb. 28, during the siege, he screamed that they fired on us first, we're going to fight back! One Dividian defense rested upon the fact that the majority of holes in the metal front door were punched inward, showing that the shots had come from the outside. However, that makes sense, as Dividians who were behind those doors would not sensibly fire directly through them, but would crack them open and fire through at the ATF agents they could see. Thus, the point was moot.
However, another Dividian defense was that, had the Dividians planned to ambush the ATF, and the ATF approached the front door in unarmored cattle cars, covered only by thin blue tarp, the Dividians would have opened fire long before the ATF had time to take cover.
One formerly popular train of thought was that an ATF agent who shot a dog could have been responsible for the firefight. If the agent who shot the malamutes had shot them before the firefight had begun, the sound of the gun going off could have lead either side to believe they were in danger, and lead to the volley of bullets. This way, the ATF could not be held fully responsible. However, in a semi-recently recovered video of the raid, we can hear the dogs holler minutes after the fight had begun, meaning that the dog's death could not be associated with the first shot.
All this controversy over the ATF's plan falling through lead to the examination of the ATF's warrant and plan.
First, two thirds of the warrant concerned the lack of moral decency involved with numerous reasons to suspect Koresh of statuary rape. However, the ATF has no jurisdiction over such matters, so their being included within the warrant downplays its legality. And, secondly, the other part of the warrant dealt with the ATF's finding of gun parts within the compound. However, it was the ATF's duty to prove that those gun parts were owned with the intent to convert them into illegal weapons. This duty was never carried out.
Also, as witnesses testified, it was put together in a prejudicial and inflammatory manner. And it clearly misstates the US statute number for the offense charge.
This would make it appear that the ATF had thrown this plan together hastily. After some research, it was found that the ATF was in a hurry to make a big splash. At one time, David Koresh, upon learning he was being investigated, invited the ATF, through his gun dealer, to come to his church and inspect it themselves. This offer was never followed, nor did the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms even try to pursue it, which would suggest the ATF wanted to conduct a raid, not make an arrest or conduct a search. (Waco: Rules Of Engagement, SP00:42:00) Also, a public relations worker for the Bureau called a reporter the day before the raid in order to let him know that something big was going to be going down in Waco, Texas tomorrow. But why did they need this publicity?
The answer is this: With the Ruby Ridge hearings a week away, a large successful raid would produce numerous positive headlines which would help counter the ATF's reputation as a rogue agency whose debacles blackened the reputation of other agencies. It would also bring them into favor with the new, young, strongly anti-gun president, Bill Clinton, and scare Congress enough about fringe groups to convince them to increase the ATF's meager and non-substantial budget.
Next, the conversation moved on to the truth on what really happened on April 19, the day of the gassing and the fire. And of course, the first thing the conversation came to was what started the fire. As mentioned above, the house had been turned into a giant potbelly stove. Oxygen was being provided to the fire via the thirty-one-mph winds that were blowing through Mount Caramel's building of salvaged wood, soaked in Methalyne Chloride, which made the structure extremely volatile. The FBI came to embrace the story that the Dividian's had started the fire themselves. The survivors who had exited the building smelled of diesel fuel, gasoline, and lighter fluid, and tests proved that traces of all were within the fibers of their clothing. However, key information was left out, mainly that of how the survivors had to walk through an area that was largely contaminated with spilled tank fuel, which would explain all of that. The government did admit to, however, throwing in flashbangs during the gassing, which very easily could have set off the fire.
The next flaw in the government story came after the autopsy reports were completed. After a non-jurisdictional autopsy on the bodies at Waco was completed, it was the coroner's opinion that the majority of the bodies were victims of homicide. The FBI claimed that at no point did they fire automatic weapons at the Dividians, nor deliberately try to mortally wound anyone. Yet firefighters were kept away from the compound to protect them from gunfire and a large portion of the victims had gun wounds. Could these all have been self-inflicted? Not likely, due to other evidence.
The western portion of the gym had been utterly demolished by the tanks. All five of the bodies found within had extensive body mutilation.
Dividian Steven Henry had a gun shot wound through his chest. Jim Riddle had been shot as well, but a large circular portion had been ripped out of the right side of his chest. Riddle's red shirt was dangling from his wrist, and his nearby coat had a red lining. About ten minutes after some gun-fire is believed to have been seen nearby the gym, something got caught in one of the tank's left wheel, causing the tread to come off. That something was mostly red. It is believed to have been Jim Riddle's body.
In order to look into the suspected gun-fire, the Judicial Committee had a look at the FLIR (Forward-Looking-Infra-Red) tapes taken by government planes overhead. What they found was, to say the least, shocking.
FLIR works differently than, say, ordinary film. Despite the fact that when viewed it does resemble a black and white film, it photographs heat, instead of light. Fire would show up as bright white on the film, and it is believed gun shots should easily produce the heat needed to register on the film. They appear to register as small, sharp bursts, and will appear in succession when fired rapidly, such as when the trigger is depressed and the gun on full automatic. Unfortunately, there are many spots on this video where we can see these gunshots. The shot that may have killed Jim Riddle is shown on these tapes.
As a tank is knocking down the western wall of the gym, there was gunfire visible to the rear of the tank, being fired inward, into the building, from two different positions, with automatic weapons. There is nothing in nature which could duplicate these thermal signals.
There was also evidence of fire in the courtyard nearby the dining room area, firing in the direction of the dining room/kitchen area, where the women and children were taking shelter from the gas, once again from two positions.
These accounts were verified by the FLIR experts at The Introspection Institute. They agree that it is obviously gunfire seen on the tape on several occasions, coming from automatic weapons, fired into the building. Unfortunately, due to the sensitive nature of the material, and fear of repercussion, Intraspection declined to make any further comments. (Waco: The Rules Of Engagement, SP01:47:47) However, they did also mention that there were incidents on the tape in which it appeared people were entering, exiting, or being run over by an armored vehicle.
And possibly the worst thing that was found on the FLIR tape came after the fire had begun. For, even though it is hard to make out due to the fire, automatic weapon fire can be identified directly outside the only exit from the concrete room in the kitchen/dining room area. That was the something that had kept those people inside the burning building. They were forced back into the flames by machine gun fire as they tried to escape from the building.
Let me be clear, this investigation has not uncovered any evidence of political corruption, or influences, we have not found any of that.
There was no conspiracy to kill Branch Dividians.
The record of the Waco incident documents mistakes, but the record from Waco does not evidence, however, any improper motive or intent on the part of law enforcement.
David Koresh and the Dividians set fire to themselves.
They committed suicide.
The Government did not do that.
--Orrin G. Hatch--
--U.S. Senate Utah (R)--
(Waco: Rules Of Engagement; SP02:17:00)