[as printed in U.S. Gun October/93]
On April 19, 1993, 51 days after the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian enclave near Elk, Texas, the combined federal task force led by the Federal Bureau of Investigation sharply escalated attempts to bring the standoff to a close.
Negotiations had failed to secure the surrender of more than a handful of Koresh followers, and Task Force spokespersons reported to the media that Koresh was doing nothing to advance a voluntary surrender. Although attorneys were reporting progress in negotiating a peaceful surrender, Koresh was again delaying action, promising to come out after he finished writing a book on the "Seven Seals." The Bureau later reported that listening devices planted in video tapes taken to the compound revealed that Koresh was willfully misleading his attorneys, and had no intentions of coming out.
Nightly bombardments of loud music, Tibetan chants and animal sounds apparently had no effect on the Davidians, and the task force perimeter failed to prevent two outsiders from sneaking into the compound.
Accordingly, tanks equipped with tear gas dispensers began knocking holes in the walls of the compound and inserting tear gas in an effort to force the occupants out. The occupants, all equipped with gas masks, responded by opening windows to allow the high winds to carry the gas away. The substantial small arms fire they directed at the armored vehicles had no effect.
At mid morning, task force vehicles continued to breach the compound walls and continued this activity until the beginning of the conflagration that consumed the structure and killed most of the occupants.
The few Davidians who escaped the fire reported that tanks had run over containers of lantern fuel and upset a lamp, with the resulting fire sweeping through the structure driven by the high winds and fed by flammable building materials. This version was repeated by each of the cultists who escaped. It does not appear that they had opportunity to rehearse this story, as they were captured separately. They steadfastly denied any suicide pact.
Official word from the task force was that the Davidians had committed suicide by starting fires in at least three separate locations. Post mortem reports from Dallas/Ft. Worth revealed that many of the men, women and children died from gunshot wounds of self-inflicted or obscure origin. Koresh and his key followers have all been positively identified. At this time (June 04, 1993) survivors are variously housed in jail, charged with Conspiracy to Murder Federal Officers, or as material witnesses, in "halfway houses" as material witnesses, or have been released. The reasons that some witnesses are being held an inordinately long time and others released are occult. One woman who had announced intentions of leaving the area was scheduled for release. When she changed her mind and decided to visit friends in the Central Texas area, her release was canceled. Other freed Davidians have left the state.
The intensity of the fire destroyed all structures except the metal stand pipe and the concrete bunker at the base of the watchtower. It seems certain that the value of any recovered evidence is greatly compromised. To maintain the appearance of impartiality, an independent forensic medical team was called in for post mortem examinations of bodies, and the responsibility for collection of physical evidence has been turned over to the Texas Rangers. News reporters were early allowed on the scene to record their observations.
I have in hand the first page of "Search Warrant W93-15m, Western District of Texas," issued February 28, 1993, by United States Judge Dennis G. Green. I also have Attachment Sheet D, detailing concealed property believed to be on the premises covered. (Attachments A, B, and C are descriptions and photographs of the Mt. Carmel property.)
The warrant orders the search of: "... residence of Vernon Wayne Howell and others, Rt 7, Box 471 B, AKA: Mount Carmel Center, Waco, Mclennan County Texas, its appurtenances, vehicles, underground structures located on entire premises of the 77-acre compound."
A quantity of firearms, including but not limited to: An assortment of AR-15 rifles and AK-47 rifles, and parts thereof, along with a quantity of assorted machinegun conversion parts, machinery and implements used or suitable for use in converting semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic and for constructing destructive devices such as pipe bombs and homemade grenades, this machinery would include, but not be limited to, metal lathes and milling machines, .50-caliber anti-tank rifle, Sten guns, grenade launchers, practice rifle grenades, practice hand grenades, various chemicals, including but not limited to, black powder and potassium nitrate, magnesium metal powder, metals in various forms, inert "pineapple" type hand grenades, pipe bombs and parts thereof, and other suitable casings of unknown descriptions which, when assembled, would be classified as destructive devices as those terms are defined in Section 5845 (b), and Section 5845 (f), Chapter 53, Title 26, United States Code, which are not registered with the National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record, Washington, D.C., as required by law, and documentary and computerized evidence of receipt, ownership and instructions for converting semi-automatic firearms into machineguns, and the construction of improvised explosive weapons, including computer hardware, peripheral equipment and software containing files and directories and the information thereon. This is to include any disks, manuals, printouts and other assorted computer equipment."
So, ATF was looking for: (1) semi-autos converted to machineguns, (2) homemade bombs, a .50 caliber "anti-tank" rifle, destructive devices and/or the artifacts associated with the construction of any of the above -- legal unless assembled.
This list corresponds closely with the description of the arsenal I was given by local residents shortly after the raid. It appears that the ATF knew or suspected that the high order explosives, 50 caliber machineguns and military ordnance widely posited by the press and trumpeted by Koresh, were not present. One post standoff news report referred to a description given to the ATF which resembled a "British .52 Caliber Boys Anti-Tank Rifle," an item which would have been a destructive device because of the bore size. The description no doubt also fit the various legal Barrett .50 rifles which were later found in the rubble.
Texas Rangers reportedly found "...a large quantity of machineguns," indicating that some were automatic and some were semi-automatic. They also recovered a quantity of grenade cases, some of which had been re-armed. The concrete bunker contained a quantity and variety of ammunition which the media reported at "one million rounds." Two Barrett Rifles were found. There have been no reports of high velocity explosives or military ordnance and the huge fireball which occurred shortly after the beginning of the fire was actually a propane cylinder exploding.
A statement by a former Davidian alleged that Koresh had consulted with a California member about obtaining templates for making "grease gun" receivers out of metal tubing and setting up an operation to manufacture these simple submachinguns at Mount Carmel. The manufacture of these weapons is quite feasible, but l have seen no reports of grease gun or Sten type weapons being found.
A reporter on the media tour described "hand grenades lying everywhere" and rockets with "wicked looking fins." The rockets were purchased from a hobby company in Oregon and were modelers' toys, incapable of carrying significant explosives.
Although gun control advocates have largely turned to more current events to promote their cause, the events at Mount Carmel are sure to be recalled when the Administration presses for its gun control agenda. The push for gun control has been side-tracked by the fight over the budget, gays in the military, and other concerns.
The Waco Tribune Herald remains staunchly anti-gun, but there has been an interesting side development. Roland Nethaway, the editorial writer who branded gun owners as "nuts and cultists," apparently moderated (however slightly) his original stance upon learning the breadth and depth of commitment which exists throughout the nation for the Bill of Rights, particularly the portion of Amendment I dealing with religious liberty, and Amendment II. He was particularly impressed when he learned of the size and success of the pro freedom Libertarian Party.
An ATF agent injured in the initial raid has filed suit against the Waco Tribune Herald and an individual employee, alleging that a tip-off from the employee resulted in the violent response to attempts to serve the Federal Warrant.
A British reporter who came to Waco during the Stand-off registered amazement at the existence of a Constitutional Bill of Rights, and criticized the United States for having such a thing. He reported to his home newspaper that Wacoans collect guns because there is nothing else there to buy, and called the community "... a one horse town where the horse has died."
Cults in general have attracted the attention of the television news magazines, and they have learned that there are some two thousand of them in the United States. Some of them are heavily armed, and all of them espouse beliefs which (1) are shared by the larger community; (2) are rejected by the community, and; (3) are protected by the Bill of Rights unless and until accompanied by overt acts which constitute an immediate threat.
Efforts by elements of the media and federal law enforcement to dismiss the individual members of these movements as mental defectives do not hold up under objective scrutiny. I have encountered several Davidians who, in the wake of the fire, displayed remarkable ingenuity and fortitude in putting their lives back together. Their apocalyptic beliefs and continued veneration of David Koresh are incomprehensible to me, but given their responses to personal tragedy, I cannot fault their mental processes or moral fortitude.
The NBC In The Line of Duty movie about the standoff, completed well before the real life drama was over, aired late in May. This was a highly fictionized account of the events leading up to and immediately following the February 28 raid. The leading actor closely resembled Vernon Howell/David Koresh, and the outside of the compound was realistic. Other details were essentially fiction. These included the sequence of events, the general topography, the character and actions of the composite Child Welfare worker, the character and actions of the Mclennan County Sheriff and his department, and the gun purchase related activity. This episode briefly elevated NBC to the top of the weekly ratings, a position that network almost never attains.
In my first article about the Mount Carmel Stand Off, I referred to two pieces of legislation in the current session of the Texas Legislature. There was a bill banning a broad variety of semi-auto rifles. This was summarily killed in committee.
For the past six years, Texas has attempted to reform state gun laws to conform to the prevailing practice of a significant number of otherwise law-abiding Texans, who have chosen to carry handguns for protection. Present law allows for lawful carry only by law enforcement officers, security guards, persons on their own property, traveling or engaging in lawful sporting activities. Even those in compliance with the letter of the law are subject to arrest, and may have to prove their innocence in court.
Conversely, many individual police officers and district attorneys recognize the need for self-protection, and endorse the law selectively.
Passage of a concealed carry law would protect good citizens from arrest, and provide for a base line of training in safe gun handling and prevailing laws pertaining to deadly force. This training alone would make the State of Texas a safer place for all of its citizens.
The drive for a law which would allow the concealed carry of handguns by trained and licensed citizens stayed alive through the last day of the legislative session. It was overwhelmingly approved by both the Senate and the House of Representatives, reconciled and presented to Governor Anne Richards.
After the Mount Carmel events, she had harderred her opposition to the Bill (HR 1776), promising a veto. The bill was modified and passed first as a Binding Referendum, then as a Non-Binding Referendum which would allow the voters to express approval or disapproval of the legislation upon the November election. The Governor contrived a delaying action which prevented passage before the last day of the session, leaving no time for an over ride. Two days after the legislative session ended, she held a Veto Party, much like the ceremony which accompanies the signing of a bill into law. She called the bill a "poll for the handgun interests," and said that it would cost Texans $60,000.
This is the same Governor who openly supported a referendum in favor of state supported gambling with its accompanying crime and social problems. She has deprived Texans of the right to vote on other important issues, and clearly considers her own judgement to be superior to that of the electorate which placed her in office.
Look for the Concealed Handgun Bill to gain new life in 1995, when Texas elects a new Governor.
The ATF is under close scrutiny with Justice Department attention focused upon questions about the propriety of the February 28 raid. The agency has had image problems for some time, and radical restructuring is expected. Points currently under investigation include:
(1) Inconsistencies about whether the media was informed in advance of the raid. Obviously, area news agencies were aware of the impending raid, and influenced the course of events. Dallas television stations report being informed of the impending action and being advised to stand ready.
There have been several allegations of sexual harassment and retaliation by female agents of ATF. Some of the putative victims report physical attacks and death threats. All say that the Mount Carmel raid was designed as a media event to restore the public image of the agency.
(2) Questions about why Koresh was not arrested away from the Compound, avoiding the raid all together.
Early official reports indicated that Koresh had stopped leaving the Mount Carmel property about a month before. These claims are refuted by local residents, who report meeting him in a Waco beer joint the night of February 27, 1993.
Agency claims of plans for mass suicide or an attack on Waco citizens have been consistently denied by survivors and other local Davidians.
Justice Department inquiries are not examining the activities of the Joint Task Force after the initial raid. Federal activities under the FBI had full oversight by the Attorney General.
Since the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has been an agency with an identity crisis. Technically a police agency, the ATF must frequently resort to military tactics to reach its objectives. The goals and tactics of police and military are quite different. Technically, ATF is a police agency with the duty to enforce laws, preserve evidence, and abide by due process, but the agents have also received considerable training from military specialists with the emphasis on winning battles.
The agency is subject to the changing and sometimes ambiguous expectation of the political power structure.
There is talk of placing the ATF directly under the Attorney General or a Federal Gun Control Czar, bringing all federal police agencies under one directive. This is an eventuality which would pose grave threats to personal liberty.
There is an awakened and often expressed realization that our anti-gun public officials live in a different world than we do, regard our opinions with contempt, and consider our safety to be secondary to their conceptions of an orderly society,
In recent months, membership in the National Rifle Association has grown at an unprecedented rate. This is largely in response to the election of an administration that is openly hostile to private ownership of arms. While attending the NRA Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tennessee, I learned that Central Texas is the largest single source of new members.
Area NRA members are taking a more active role in the fight to preserve the Second Amendment intact. A "Friends of NRA" banquet is scheduled for June of 1993. Area sportsmen who have been historically indifferent to legislative affairs are now openly supporting the Handgun Permit Bill, and expressing their views in public and to elected officials. Voting in run-off elections has increased, with citizens turning out to repudiate the anti-gun governor, her political agenda and her political appointments.
The tragic outcome of the Mount Carmel incident assures the Stand Off a place in the public consciousness for many decades to come. Central Texans can now go about their business without encountering massed troops and road blocks. The media have folded their tents and gone home. On Friday, June 4, 1993, Vernon Wayne Howells, AKA David Koresh, was buried in a private ceremony somewhere near Tyler, Texas. The grave is unmarked, and will remain so.
Officers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have said farewell to their fallen comrades and returned to Mount Carmel, each to find some personal resolution of the events that took place there and that continue to unfold in the highest corridors of government.
Hopefully, time and reason will give us all the perspective to deal with the issues raised by this tragic episode in our history.