30 years after the siege, ‘Waco’ examines what led to the catastrophe

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In the winter and spring of 1993, more than 80 people, including four federal agents and at least 20 children, died in two violent confrontations between federal law enforcement and the Branch Davidian Christian sect near Waco, Texas. Extremist groups have since cited the assaults as evidence for anti-government conspiracy theories.

In his new book, Waco: David Koresh, The Branch Davidians and a Legacy of Rage, author Jeff Guinn describes the group’s leader, David Koresh, as a religious demagogue who took multiple teenage brides and preached that he and his followers would bring about a conflict that would make the end of days happen in their lifetimes.

“David Koresh wanted to make sure that when the final battle occurred, his followers would be able to fight the way the Book of Revelation said they must,” Guinn says. “It had to be an all-out battle. His people were going to die, but, obviously, they had to be ready to kill the the agents of Babylon.”

Government agents began investigating the Branch Davidians over charges that children at the compound were being abused and that the group was stockpiling weapons. On the morning of Feb. 28, 1993, 76 agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) arrived at the compound, called Mount Carmel, expecting to surprise the group.

“[The agents] were given no information about what the Branch Davidians believed, what their religious faith meant,” Guinn says. “They thought from their sources that all the guns were kept in a locked room at Mount Carmel, a room that could only be opened with Koresh’s permission.”

In fact, Koresh had passed out weapons at the compound, so most members of the group were stocked with guns and ammunition. What’s more, the Branch Davidians knew the ATF was coming. A three-hour gunfight ensued, during which five Branch Davidians and four federal agents were killed.

“Almost one third of the ATF agents are carried away, bleeding or dead from this fight,” Guinn says. “Before noon on this day, ATF is dragging itself away like a defeated army.”

A 51-day standoff followed, during which the FBI took over from the ATF. Hostage negotiators tried to convince Koresh to surrender. Meanwhile, tactical experts planned for a second raid that would rely on CS gas (a type of tear gas) to drive the group members out.

“In small doses, [the gas] wasn’t supposed to be flammable, and it wasn’t supposed to really be too physically affecting beyond irritation to eyes and skin,” Guinn says. “It would be enough, if inserted gradually, so the Branch Davidians would come out.”

Content retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2023/01/25/1151283229/waco-branch-davidian-david-koresh-jeff-guinn.

1 comment

  1. There was ample forensic evidence that David Koresh ordered to set the compound on fire through voice recordings, aerial infrared photography and identified accelerant. The government did make mistakes, but it was Koresh who decided to die with his followers.

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