Waco 30 Years Later — The Deadly ATF/FBI Assaults on the Koresh Cult Compound
Five things we remember vividly about the most disgraceful ATF/FBI tactical assaults in modern history.
“It has been said that all Government is an evil. It would be more proper to say that the necessity of any Government is a misfortune. This necessity however exists; and the problem to be solved is, not what form of Government is perfect, but which of the forms is least imperfect.” —James Madison (1833)
It marks the opening salvo of the American Revolution at Lexington and Concord in 1775, the first steps toward establishing an irrevocable declaration of the unalienable Rights of Man, the rights of all people endowed by our Creator — subordinating the rule of men to the Rule of Law, the basis for our Republic’s Constitution.
April 19th, though, is also a date that was irrevocably scarred by the disgraceful actions of the ATF and particularly the FBI 30 years ago, when they assaulted the cult compound of a delusional sociopathic pedophile, Vernon Howell (a.k.a. “David Koresh”), northeast of Waco, Texas. That assault was the culmination of what is infamously known as the Waco siege.
That siege began February 28th, a month after Bill Clinton became president. It ended 51 days later in a deadly failed attempt to force the cult members out of their compound, actions ordered by Clinton’s attorney general, Janet Reno.
It is notable that under Reno’s “stewardship,” two rogue AG outlaws rose to power — both Barack Obama’s AG Eric Holder, who was Reno’s deputy attorney general, and Joe Biden’s AG, Merrick Garland, who was Reno’s principal associate deputy attorney general.
In Koresh’s compound at the beginning of the siege, there were 79 cult adherents of his narcissistic messianic apocalyptic vision, and 46 children, the latter by no means there under their own volition. Some of those children were sired by Koresh with his “wives,” at least one of whom he “married” at age 14.
After months of investigations regarding illegal weapons and explosives in the compound, the ATF had warrants for arrests and search/seizure. A full-mounted assault plan was executed early on Sunday morning the 28th.
Shortly before the ATF commenced with its dynamic entry plan, a photographer, Jim Peeler, was trying to locate two friends, a reporter and camera man with Waco’s CBS affiliate KWTX, John McLemore and Dan Mulloney. The latter had been tipped off about the raid, possibly by a Waco Herald-Tribune colleague, or a law enforcement source hoping to get some positive publicity of a successful ATF raid. A day earlier, the Waco Herald-Tribune had begun an exposé series on Koresh — “The Sinful Messiah.”
Unable to find Koresh’s Mt. Carmel compound, Peeler stopped to ask directions from a man along the road. That man was a mail carrier, David Jones, and he gave Peeler the directions to the compound, after discussing all the activity that morning, and becoming aware of the raid.
As fate would have it, Jones was one of Koresh’s brothers-in-law, and he tipped off Koresh about the coming raid. As Koresh was sounding the alarm inside the compound, he informed Robert Rodriguez, an ATF undercover agent who had been living in the compound for months, that he knew who Rodriguez was and to call off the raid.
Rodriguez left the compound and warned ATF command post supervisors Chuck Sarabyn and Phillip Chojnacki in a nearby house that the raid had been compromised: “They know, Chuck. They know, they know we’re coming!” But Sarabyn and Chojnacki moved forward with the dynamic entry plan, despite Rodriguez yelling: “Why? Why? They know we’re coming!”
At 09:45, that deadly tactical mistake commenced with a convoy of civilian cattle carriers arriving with ATF assault teams hidden inside. A gun battle immediately ensued, with conflicting testimony later by ATF agents regarding who fired first. In the next two hours, there were four ATF agents killed and 16 wounded. There were six Koresh followers killed and 11 wounded.
What followed were weeks of grossly negligent FBI ineptitude, combined with unbridled aggression in what played out as a schizophrenic “good cop – bad cop” personality disorder where the good cops (negotiators) and the bad cops (tactical teams) were often at odds with each other.
The FBI Agents in Charge (SACs) during the siege were Jeff Jamar and Bob Ricks, who, of course, have defiantly defended their actions. The “good cop” crew were the chief negotiators, Byron Sage and Gary Noesner, who were having some success reasoning with Koresh and winning release of some adults and children. The “bad cop” FBI HRT tactical team was under the command of Assistant SAC, Richard Rogers from the DC Metropolitan Field Office – they were geared up and ready for assault.
Five things stand out as most memorable about the siege.
First would be the fact that reporters with video cameras were present and filmed much of the failed entry and gun battle. There were 75 ATF and FBI agents, and, overhead, three Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks with Texas National Guard crews.
Second would be images of the siege and the FBI’s military vehicles surrounding the compound, including nine Bradley Fighting Vehicles, five M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles, two M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, and one M88 tank retriever, augmented by two Bell UH-1 Iroquois overhead. These are images that should anger all Americans. There were also the psychological ops at night, including spotlighting the facility and blaring sounds to prevent sleep — jet planes, music, Buddhists chanting, and the screams of rabbits being slaughtered.
Third, the image seared into most memories is that of the compound engulfed in flames after modified Combat Engineering Vehicles ripped holes in the building and pumped tear gas into different sections.
On that fateful final day, of the 84 people inside the building, 76 were killed, including 28 children (two pregnant women). Nine escaped from the fire and eight were later convicted of firearms charges. Forensic review of the remaining bodies determined that 16, including Koresh, had gunshot wounds to the head.
Fourth, the FBI’s indefensible actions at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, six months earlier significantly influenced Koresh’s distrust of the agency.
And fifth would be the grotesque “retribution” in response to Waco, images of the Oklahoma City bombing two years later — on April 19, 1995 — by terrorist Timothy McVeigh with help from his accomplice Terry Nichols. This sociopath murdered 168 people (including 19 children) in the Murrah Federal Building, which housed among other regional federal offices, the ATF, DEA and Secret Service. It also housed a daycare center.
It was the deadliest act of homegrown terrorism in the nation’s history.
It is no coincident that Bob Ricks, who was the SAC at Waco, was also the SAC in Oklahoma City at the time of the bombing. Ricks was not present as the FBI’s Oklahoma City Field Office was located about five from the Murrah building. However, he recalls a phone conversation with his ASAC on the scene, who said, “Bob, you know what today is?” Only then did Ricks make the April 19th connection. McVeigh testified his attack was an act of revenge for the deaths of the Koresh cult members.
On all counts, Americans should loudly proclaim, “NEVER AGAIN”!
I am not going into further detail about the siege, but if you’re interested in the full account, the most objective of the documentaries was released by Netflix in March: “Waco: American Apocalypse.” The best books on the siege are two recent releases, Kevin Cook’s Waco Rising and Jeff Guinn’s Waco. Another scheduled for release this month is Stephan Talty’s Koresh.
I will offer a few considered opinions after having spoken directly with knowledgeable HRT personnel in regards to both Ruby Ridge and Waco, and having viewed and read many accounts – and through the lens of having a law enforcement background. Keeping in mind that hindsight is sometimes 20/20, these observations are consistent with those I held 30 years ago.
There is a common refrain regarding Koresh and his cult, that people in our country have a right to be crazy as long as they are not endangering anyone else. That is true, but not of Koresh and some of his followers, who clearly were endangering others, including the children Koresh victimized.
There are legitimate questions about why the ATF did not arrest Koresh offsite. In fact, Koresh did leave his compound with some regularity, and in retrospect, there are no acceptable explanations as to why he was not arrested when away from the compound.
The FBI’s tactical operations before and on the final day are indefensible. These obscene operations played right into Koresh’s apocalyptic vision and final act of martyrdom. This was a prime example of the “Paradox of Power” — the harder they pushed, the more Koresh resisted, but the HRT commanders could not comprehend the inevitable outcome.
I believe that Koresh ordered the compound burned, and there is ample evidence of that, despite the fact that some incendiary tear gas canisters were used by the FBI. That assertion has been backed up by both congressional inquiries and accounts by cult members who escaped the fires.
In review, there was much-deserved bipartisan condemnation of the FBI’s overreach, and a congressional investigation concluded that the ATF “was predisposed to using aggressive military tactics.” According to my contacts within these agencies, the ATF now uses “dynamic entry” only when all other options have been ruled out, and the FBI now places a greater emphasis on negotiation rather than confrontation, except of course, in the cases of Mar-a-Lago, Roger Stone, Mark Houck, James O'Keefe and others…
Finally, it is notable that the FBI’s actions 30 years ago were indicative of a rogue cadre of command-level personnel who acted with impunity. Despite the inexcusable and deadly Koresh cult confrontation, the FBI and other federal agencies still harbor dangerous rogue elements to this day, which pose a direct threat to American Liberty.
Most recently that has been clearly evident in the abject corruption of a lawless cadre of high-level deep state partisans within the Department of Justice and FBI, who attempted to bring down the presidency of Donald Trump.
There should be a resounding bipartisan condemnation of such rogue government operations. But no such bipartisan denunciation will be forthcoming.
At no time since its inception has the FBI’s reputation been more soiled than it has been since the 2016 election, and the prosecutorial persecution of Trump ahead of the 2024 election continues.
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