VIENNA, VA, April 19, 2012 – The events of April 19 in two different years, 1993 and 1995, are familiar to almost everyone. They stand out in contemporary history as two occasions on which the actions and plans of the country’s best criminal apprehension groups were unsuccessful and a scar on those communities still stands.
One was provoked into action and the other allowed to happen through lack of awareness.
David Koresh, a misguided, self-ordained prophet had led a group of followers, known as Branch Davidians, into a compound known as Mount Carmel, on the outskirts of Waco, Texas. Koresh had formed his extended family, including small children, from a church group he had led earlier, and had been named the prophet by a former leader, Lois Roden.
Charges of sexual exploitation and child abuse had been trickling out of the compound for some time. Some sort of at-length negotiations had been dismal failures, and the Government decided that this group must be arrested and brought under control. That many of the allegations were baseless has never been proven, but Attorney General Janet Reno drew her ‘line in the sand’ and when initial Federal agents were fired on, it was determined that action must be taken.
Search Warrant starts raid
Initially on February 28, 1993, Federal agents accompanied by some media members attempted to serve a search warrant on the Davidians; word leaked out of the attempt when a not-too-savvy reporter stopped a U.S. Postal Service employee and asked for directions.
The mail employee was the brother-in-law of David Koresh, and the information was sent to the leader immediately.
A contingent of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms agents, along with FBI agents and assorted other groups and officials decided to lay siege to the compound, which was fairly well secluded and defended. There were numerous reports of automatic weapons contained in the house and large amounts of ammunition. All of it illegal. Someone fired a shot, by accident or on purpose, fire was returned, and an ATF agent was killed, Koresh being injured.
At least two agents made it to the house and placed ladders up against it, to reach Koresh’s room. They were shot at and at least one agent wounded, and the Federal agents had to retire.
Siege of Compound begins
Koresh and his followers settled down into their home, and the Government began a siege. All sorts of preliminary steps were taken, from cutting off electricity to the compound, shooting holes in the compound water tower, to bringing tanks close to the house, and playing loud music accompanied by brilliant spotlights 24 hours a day to further annoy the Koresh clan with sleep deprivation.
All along, the Koresh group had been making defensive preparations for the warned armed assault, and had sandbags placed in front of windows, and escape plans for the women and children. An old school bus had been buried in the ground, and the plan was that all the children would be removed to virtual safety within it, should any attack be imminent. The fortress was thoroughly armed, and its men educated in their use. Automatic rifles were on hand and some 400,000 rounds of ammunition available.
The FBI’s justification to bring the siege to an end after 51 days was that Koresh was abusing children as young as 8-9 months. Attorney General Reno told reporters “we had specific information that babies were being beaten.”
Later FBI Director William Sessions publicly denied the charge and told the press that they had no such information. All in all, various charges of child abuse were found to be “weak and ambiguous” but the die had been cast.
More agents and troops were brought in, CEV tanks were put in place, their noses up against the building itself. Shots came from within and without the house. At one point a few of the Branch Davidians and a few children were allowed to leave, in an apparent show of good faith by Koresh.
The initial raid resulted in the deaths of four agents and six Davidians, at which point the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) took over. Though there was some communication with those inside the house, nothing was achieved. By this time Koresh’s injury needed attention, while he continued writing lengthy, rambling religious rants regarding the Apocalypse and other world’s end writings including one called the “Seven Seals.”
In an effort to make their point, the Davidians made a two-hour video, in which the adults and the older children did their best to convince the agents that they were fine, and living there of their own free will.
Reno’s drastic decision
At the 51 day mark, it was obvious from one end of the country to the other, that the Attorney General had given up any idea of peaceful ending the siege, and after conferring with the FBI, it was decided to assault the house and physically remove all the Davidians including David Koresh. It was a “take no prisoners” event, they would all be removed, one way or another.
Various accounts differ; even videos give nothing that is 100% reliable, but at some point early on, an incendiary device went into the house, and set the place on fire. The agents say that the members themselves set the fire, which is very difficult to believe.
Surviving Davidians and families swear that the tanks punched holes in the house, and blew CS gas incendiary devices in them, which caught fire. In a Texas wind, the fire spread rapidly.
In any event, the assault continued, 168 lives were lost from the cult, including 19 children under the age of six; 680 were injured. Many reports indicate that a number of the cult members were shot by agents as they tried to flee the burning building.
And more than one video implies that the agents were hit by friendly fire.
Fire burns, members die of burns or gas
The major assault on the house devastated it, fire burning within, walls being knocked down from without, and members and children found dead inside a concrete bunker from fire, gas, and the like.
Several appeared to have been shot or stabbed, possibly while they were dying of burns or gassing.
Koresh was also dead. It was a significant toll of life to prove basically nothing – no information or evidence of any children being beaten; sexual abuse impossible to prove due to the condition of the dead children; survivors still claim there was none.
The site is still there; the government bulldozed down the original building and all other remnants of the compound, and any further investigation obviously could never be carried out.
The government’s Danforth Commission examined the record for months on end, ultimately deciding that the government agents and groups acted properly. The question that they used military groups and military equipment to take over a private quasi-religious entity and kill all those inside was left unanswered.
A total of four agents were killed.
Koresh has four children still living, all of whom simply regret what they have told of the situation and the loss of their father. A trial was held of the 11 surviving Branch Davidians, which took seven weeks of testimony, 130 witnesses, and over 1,000 pieces of evidence, and could not establish who fired the first shot or set the fire.
Senator John McCain described it as “an ill-conceived exercise of Federal authority that led to the unnecessary loss of life.”
Next step: Alfred P. Murrah Building in Oklahoma City
Not everyone in the country was satisfied with the debacle that was Waco, and one who seriously objected to the attack and killing of the Branch Davidians was Timothy James McVeigh, a young U.S. Army veteran, former Green Beret, and security guard.
And so, exactly two years later on April 19, 1995, McVeigh and two friends, Terry Nichols and Michael Fortier, militia movement sympathizers, decided to take revenge against those who killed the Branch Davidians, which he hoped would inspire a national revolt against what he considered a tyrannical Federal government.
He wrote letters against the taxation by the government and the inability of politicians to keep promises made during campaigns. His life was on a downward spiral: he could not keep a job, he had back luck with women, and he was deeply in debt from gambling.
Then the government informed him he had been overpaid $1,058 while in the Army, and it had to be repaid.
He began a traveling circuit of gun shows and amassed a virtual arsenal of weapons, ending up on a farm owned by Terry Nichols, where the two watched the Waco siege on television.
Nichols and his brother started teaching McVeigh how to make pipe bombs and other explosives, using various household components and plastic jugs.
The plan is hatched
McVeigh told Fortier that he wanted to blow up a Federal building and Fortier decided he wanted out. McVeigh even sent letters to the BATF denouncing government agents as “fascist tyrants” and “storm troopers” and including thinly veiled threats.
McVeigh and Nichols together an ammonium nitrate/fuel oil (ANNM) explosive device mounted in the back of a rented Ryder truck. The bomb had 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and nitromethane, a motor racing fuel. It constituted an extraordinarily explosive device, to put it mildly.
On the morning of April 19, 1995, McVeigh drove the bomb-laden truck to the front of the Murrah Building, just before the offices opened that day. He stopped a few minutes away to light a five-minute fuse, parked the truck at the building, and walked away. At 9:02 a.m. a large explosion totally destroyed the front half of the building, killing 168 people, including 19 children who were in the daycare center on the second floor, and injured some 450 others.
McVeigh later said he had no idea of the presence of the daycare center, and acknowledged that had he known of it, “it might have given me pause to switch targets. That’s a large amount of collateral damage,” words which must be of great solace to the parents of the dead children.
McVeigh is caught, tried and convicted.
Even amid the wreckage, officials were able to get the VIN off the rear axle of the truck, contact Ryder, and ultimately get McVeigh’s name. The brilliant bomber was spotted a few miles out of town, driving his own 1977 Mercury Marquis…..with no license plate.
He was tried and convicted; sentenced to death, he was transferred to the U. S. Penitentiary at Terre Haute, Indiana with execution set for June 11, 2001 after he dropped his request for further appeal; the Supreme Court had denied certiorari, and his options were gone.
Ever the pseudo dilettante, McVeigh invited California conductor/composer David Woodward to perform pre-requiem Mass music on the eve of his execution. He also asked for a Catholic chaplain to visit him, and his last meal was two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream, possibly Baskin & Robbins.
The execution was at 7:14 a.m. that day, and my daughter who was a CBS reporter there to observe it, said that the morning had been dark and dismal, with a light rain falling. Riding on a golf cart to the assembly point with other press people, she vividly remembered that the sun came out and shone brightly as his fatal hour arrived, as though ‘Someone’ approved.
The other debacle – Ruby Ridge
It is difficult to leave out the deadly confrontation at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992, since it actually laid the way in many respects for Waco and Oklahoma City which followed it, though not on the same month and day.
Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki had moved with their children to northern Idaho sometime during the 1980s because he wanted to home-school his children and get further away from what they saw as a corrupted world. Vicki was the religious head of the family, a believer in the “end times” and that the biblical Apocalypse was not far off. Being out in a wilderness situation afforded the Weavers a better chance of survival, she felt.
Authorities first believed that Randy was a member of the Aryan Nation group, and at his first attendance at a meeting of the white supremacist group, he met a man who turned out to be an BATF informant. The two met on several occasions and Weaver finally sold the man two sawed-off shotguns, whose length made them illegal weapons. Later the informant’s handler, Herb Byerly, tried to get Weaver to become an informant on the Aryan Nation group, using the sale of the two weapons as leverage.
Trumped-up charges are brought.
Weaver refused to become a “snitch” and the BATF quickly filed weapons charges against him, also saying he was a bank robber with criminal connections. These facts were totally wrong, as the agents well knew, and were later dismissed. The government continued to file charges against him on the weapons sale, appointed him an attorney, and set a trial date of February 20. Weaver did not show up, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. No one had notified Weaver of the new trial date, and his failure to appear caused the matter to be handed over to the U. S. Marshals to bring him in.
It was no secret that Weaver distrusted the government and any of its entities and he and Vicki and their family retreated to the cabin for safety. Never one to take no for an answer, two marshals went to the cabin posing as real estate prospects and thus got the layout of the cabin and how the Weavers reacted to people coming to see them.
After several months of playing agent games with the Weavers to no avail, throwing rocks at the cabin got the couple and their children outside, following one of their dogs who appeared to be chasing something into the woods. When Randy and Vicki together with 14-year old Sammy realized they had been lured outside, they turned and ran toward the door. One Deputy U.S. Marshal, Art Roderick, shot the dog, killing “Striker” instantly, Sammy Weaver shot at the Marshal and was shot in the back while retreating.
Vicki Weaver is killed by agents
Vicki ran with the children to the cabin, and standing inside the door holding 10-month-old baby Elisheba, was shot in the head and killed instantly. Sammy’s body had been placed in a shed, and Randy was shot in the side while attempting to go see his son’s body.
On August 26, 1992 the stand-off was finally resolved.
There were no charges against Vicki; Randy was eventually acquitted of all charges except missing his court date and spent an additional four months in jail.
Survivors of the Weaver family filed a wrongful death suit and the government awarded Randy a $100,000 settlement and his three daughters $1 million each. In an out-of-court settlement, the government did not admit to any wrongdoing in the deaths of Vicki Weaver and her son Samuel.
This totally unrelated incident to Waco and Oklahoma City still provided tinder from a lingering fire, and escalated the atrocities which occurred on April 19, 1993 and April 19, 1995.
Though congressional hearings have been held and recommendations made, the quiet battles between local militia groups and over-zealous Federal agents continue to pop up in various areas of the country.
Numerous books have been written about all three incidents and each has more than a few videos to accompany them. The reader can judge for him or her self as to the actions of members of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the U. S. Marshal’s Service which led to the killing of American citizens.
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