The mental health profession recognizes a thing called an “anniversary reaction”. When a loved one dies, or some other traumatic event happens, the subconscious mind may commemorate the anniversary, even if the conscious mind isn’t paying attention. The mind or the body will mark the stressful date with a migraine, an attack of hives, suicidal fantasies, or one of any number of other responses.
Every year on April 19, I get a severe anniversary reaction: intense anger. Yeah, I’m still royally pissed off about something that happened in 1993: the sequence of events whose mass media code name is “Waco,” though some think of it as the Mount Carmel Massacre.
This isn’t the venue for an exhaustive summary of all the details of the 50-day siege, or even of the final day. So let me just mention a few high points. It will be my reward if even one reader’s interest is tweaked enough to look up some stuff. Even those of us who obsess on the “Waco” saga can still find surprises. For instance, one site lists all the mysterious and untimely deaths of witnesses and others connected with the case.
There are hundreds of loose threads, and following any one of them can turn you into a different person overnight. For instance, look up Dr. Charles T. Sell, a military reservist who was ordered to Waco during the siege. His field of expertise? Forensic dentistry: the identification of corpses by their teeth. For talking out of turn, Dr. Sell was imprisoned without a trial for eight years
The Annual Government Employees Picnic
with Texas-Style Barbecue
Months before the first paperwork had been drawn up, the full-scale hostile invasion of Mount Carmel was mapped out and Special Response Teams from three cities were already practicing. The besiegers were ready with a large stock of body bags, and a medical man trained to identify “burned beyond recognition” human remains. On the day before the final attack, Dallas’s Parkland Hospital was warned to expect a whole lot of seriously charred patients. But the well-prepared, think-of-everything authorities somehow omitted to order up any fire-fighting equipment. Because it would be irresponsible and wrong to ask the firefighters to expose themselves to Branch Davidian bullets, don’t you know. Except, they also refused the loan of armored fire-fighting vehicles offered by another jurisdiction. And refused to let the fire trucks that eventually did show up get near the conflagration. Right from the start, they planned to kill everyone and incinerate everything: this conclusion is inescapable.
Officially called Operation Showtime or Operation Trojan Horse (and wouldn’t you like to know why?) the murder by government agents of 80-some people should be called Operation Burn & Bulldoze. But evidence of an atrocity on this scale is difficult to erase.
Long before the final attack, a noise barrage was set up, the latest thing in psychological torture and sleep deprivation, supposedly to drive the Branch Davidians from their home. One theory says that under cover of this noise, some inhabitants were shot, and not by each other. One theory says paralyzing nerve gas was used to immobilize the inhabitants, so that no one could give up even if they’d wanted to. And the coroner wasn’t shown the results of ballistics tests.
At the end, even the pitiful remnants of humanity were further damaged (and efforts to properly examine them thwarted) when the morgue’s cooling system experienced a convenient power failure. Everything had to be utterly destroyed, in order to hide the evidence of premeditated mass murder.
The obliteration efforts worked well enough so that nobody seems to know for sure how many corpses were removed from the smoldering wreckage, and a glance at the autopsy photos suggests why. Check out the hideous lump of melded-together matter labeled as the partial remains of 11 individuals.
Warrants were obtained on the strength of a document prepared by an agent from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. It was full of third-hand hearsay “evidence” and flat-out lies. Its freshest information concerning possible illegal weapons was eight months old. It quoted a social worker, who said that David Koresh told her he’d show the world something that would make the riots in Los Angeles look rinky-dink. Only problem is, this woman’s last visit to Mount Carmel had been three weeks before the L.A. riots, making either Koresh a true prophet, or the social worker a true bullshit artist.
Jack Harwell, Sheriff of McLennan County, has gone on record describing Koresh as a man who had several times willingly complied with the requests of law enforcement personnel, and who had never been convicted of any type of crime. On one occasion, when the legality of a modified weapon was questioned by a neighbor, Koresh had even brought it in to the Sheriff’s office for an opinion. But none of this found its way into the affadavit.
Don’t Know Much About a Science Book
Koresh was said to have been asking around for where to get a copy of The Anarchist’s Cookbook. (This was pre-Amazon) Hell, even I knew three or four different sources for that book. If Koresh couldn’t figure out how to lay hands on a copy, he certainly was not the terrifying criminal mastermind the government portrays him as.
Desperado, You Better Come to Your Senses
Federal spokesmen have tried to excuse the original raid by claiming that Koresh was holed up like a rat, hadn’t shown his face in weeks, so needed to be cornered and captured on his home ground. “Wrong,” say the citizens of Waco. Koresh was away from the ranch frequently. He could have been apprehended while out jogging. In town he could have been picked up at a gun show or the auto parts store. He stopped in at Lone Star Music once or twice a week. Even if there were justifiable reasons to arrest Koresh, everybody except the government agrees that he could have been collared any day of the week with no muss, no fuss.
Going to the Chapel
The government has tried to justify the massive attack on a religious community by claiming it was a hostage situation. Oh, really? Some Mount Carmel members had willingly traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to join. And the children were no more hostages than the children of Catholics or Presbyterians. In this country, religious adults control hundreds of thousands of children, most of whom manage to grow up and recover. If you could ask the Mount Carmel kids, I bet they would say religious instruction, even on a daily basis, is preferable to being roasted alive.
Children are the Last Refuge of Scoundrels
Practically everyone believes that Mount Carmel was a nest of untrammeled child abuse. They know it. How? The newspapers said so. Who told the newspapers? The government. Who told the government? A disgruntled parent involved in a custody case, and we all know how reliable they are.
The affidavit mentioned a child abuse investigation, but did not mention that the investigation was closed due to lack of evidence. Later, interviews with children who left during the 51-day siege failed to turn up any evidence of abuse.
Far from being a neglectful parent, Koresh took care of not only his own children but everybody at the settlement. A Waco musician who knew some of the residents said, “It’s a free ride. Koresh feeds and clothes you. …. You’re free to play guitar 24 hours a day.”
Get a Job
When a law-enforcement agency blows a wad of cash on tons of fancy, pricey gear, the expense has to be justified. The February 28 raid was supposed to result in a glorious victory over a crew of backwoods Bible-thumpers, a spectacle of military prowess whose memory would be quite fresh for the BATF’s annual budget review hearing on March 10. Plus, the TV show 60 Minutes had recently aired an expose’ of the Bureau’s incompetence and corruption. The surrender of a wacky cult leader and his followers would be the media event to take everybody’s minds off all that loose talk. David Koresh was elected scapegoat.
Sex, Drugs, & Rock’n’Roll
In the government’s mind, Koresh represented the entire unholy trinity of the Sixties. First, drugs: a story about a suspected meth lab was released. It was a lie, but the National Guard would not bring their helicopters to the party unless dope was involved. So the G-men said what they needed to say.
Rock’n’roll: Occupationally, the Mount Carmel community was musician-heavy, with all the equipment set up in the main parlor including David Koresh’s 30 guitars. The jazz-rock fusion band played out sometimes, and invited their audiences home for Bible study.
Sex: Koresh appears to have managed a feat that most men would love to get away with: simultaneous affairs with women who knew about each other and were okay with it. What the general public really can’t forgive him for is being a successful seducer.
David Died for Somebody’s Sins, But Not Mine
The embarrassing 60 Minutes show had revealed the unacceptable behavior of male federal agents to their female colleagues. To divert attention from its own culture of sexual abusiveness, the BATF arranged to turn the spotlight on the much more colorful story of a preacher who got too much nookie.
Let’s face it, Koresh was attractive and charismatic and never had trouble finding somebody to slide between the sheets with. He must have reminded hundreds of dorky federal agents of that guy back in Junior High who stole their first girlfriend. That cool, sexy dude they envisioned every time they went for target practice at the shooting range, the one they’d been waiting for years to train their sights on. At one of the later hearings, a BATF agent named Cavanaugh even admitted to resenting the “unlimited sexual favors” enjoyed by Koresh.
Freud said it first: sexuality must be repressed for civilization to exist. “For one man to act as though he has sexual access to all women without fear of challenge is to threaten the very foundation of public order.” In this quote, David Friedman refers to the downfall of President Clinton, but it applies to Koresh too. Psychologist Jonathan Lear said another thing of Clinton that also fits Koresh: that his real crime was thinking himself literally omni-potent, in other words entitled to have sex with anyone. “Only a god can get away with that.”
So David Koresh was indeed the sacrificial lamb: sacrificed to the long-smoldering resentments of unpopular adolescents, the victim of their atavistic, primal hatred for the alpha male.
Like a Burning Ring of Fire
Due to the efforts of many journalists, lawyers, filmmakers and other people of conscience, the Mount Carmel story has not been forgotten.
Mike McNulty was responsible for Waco: The Rules of Engagement, which was nominated for an Academy Award, captured an Emmy in the investigative journalism category, and won a major international prize. He later joined with the Van Vleets and their company MGA to create Waco: A New Revelation. Their research into the documents and especially their scrutiny of the physical evidence stirred things up enough to result in government investigations. Confronted by Lee Hancock of the Dallas Morning News, an FBI official admitted to the use of pyrotechnic devices during the Mt. Carmel siege. This, of course, was one of the allegations denied by the government for six and a half years. Civil lawsuits for wrongful-death were launched. We started hearing about FLIR technology, “overlooked” and mishandled evidence, missing pages, military secretiveness, delays in carrying out orders, lies about use of tear gas and snipers, a heinously altered crime scene, and on and on
Inquiring Minds Want to Know
Why didn’t the BATF accept Koresh’s freely extended invitation to inspect his group’s weapons? Why couldn’t the local 911 dispatcher communicate with the troops at Mount Carmel? Why did the FBI lie to the Attorney General? Why didn’t they let Koresh’s grandmother try to talk him out? As the place burned, why did two machine-guns fire continuously at the only escape route? Who made the command-level decisions? These questions and hundreds more have been asked by obsessed people who just won’t leave it alone. They’ve done and are still doing brilliant work. But amongst all the thousands of evidence items and the meanings assigned to them by various parties, I want to keep hold of the big picture. In the heat of debate over the later complications, we need to recall:
There was never any justification for governmental interference with the Branch Davidian community, or any excuse for a federal presence there, in the first place.
The arms charges were very probably bullshit. However the children of Mount Carmel were treated (and the likelihood of ever knowing the truth grows fainter with each passing year), child welfare is definitely not under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, nor of the FBI. No matter what real or imaginary peril the minor children might have faced previously, the actions of these two federal agencies put them at infinitely greater risk and of course ultimately killed many of them. And no branch of government is supposed to be in the business of protecting people from false messiahs. Of the whole shameful mess, the biggest atrocity of all is that those people were not simply left the hell alone.
Photos via Creative Commons license