Appointment with the Apocalypse

Detail of Albrecht Durer’s Four Horsemen after the Book of Revelation; woodcut 1498

Morale at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) might have been reaching an all-time low early in 1993. The previous summer, the agency had initiated and botched a case against Randy Weaver in Idaho. (Weaver later collected $3.1 million in restitution for the death of his wife and son. ) Then came widespread accusations of sexual harassment inside the agency. 60 Minutes, the most-watched news show in the country, jumped all over that one.

FBI surveillance on the mother and son killed by snipers.

The ATF brass wanted something to turn around the bad publicity, and they wanted it fast. In March, they were scheduled to appear before Congress to defend their annual budget. The solution? They began planning the biggest, most elaborate raid in ATF history. On February 28, a mile-long, 80-vehicle caravan pulled out of Ford Hood, Texas and headed 50 miles northeast for an appointment with the Apocalypse near Waco.

“Raiding is the expertise of the ATF, and statistically, it’s not as dangerous as one might think,” writes Dick J. Reavis in The Ashes of Waco. “In 36 months, the agency had called out its SRT or SWAT teams 578 times, executed 603 search warrants, mostly against dope dealers, and had seized some 1,500 weapons. It had encountered gunfire on only two of its raids, and the only fatalities (three of them) had been among the suspects.

The ATF videotaped the planning sessions, as well as the training maneuvers at Fort Hood. Many agents carried cameras along with their flash-bang grenades, nylon handcuffs and assault rifles. A video camera was mounted on one of the three helicopters that were scheduled to arrive with the raiding party.

Unfortunately, there were serious problems with the raid’s planning and execution. The search warrant contained inflammatory and prejudicial comments. Legal citations were incorrect. It contained blatantly false information about a methamphetamine lab, info which had been fabricated to obtain free military assistance. Two-thirds of the warrant involved charges of child abuse, a crime for which the ATF had no jurisdiction. Many consultants had urged the ATF to conduct the raid before sunrise, but the designated time had been moved to to 9:30 am. The plan involved multiple “dynamic entries,” which meant forced entry from numerous sides and levels simultaneously.

The planning was shoddy because the ATF needed the raid to happen fast, and expected a cakewalk. It needed to happen during good lighting conditions to optimize the video footage. The target, a religious community called Mount Carmel, had been under observation for over a month. It housed about 130 people, of which two-thirds were women and children. The occupants ranged from very elderly to babies and included two pregnant women. An undercover agent who’d penetrated the community reported endless hours of Bible study, with two communion services daily. The last thing the ATF expected was armed resistance in the face of their overwhelming firepower. Had they a better understanding of the Students  of the Seven Seals who lived at Mount Carmel, the ATF might have realized they were about to stick their nose into a hornet’s nest.

St. John.

The Search for a Living Prophet

The Romans threw John the Apostle into a pot of boiling oil as punishment for spreading Christianity; but he survived and eventually was banished to the Greek isle of Patmos, where, around 90 AD, he wrote the Book of Revelation, a violent prophecy in which the unbelievers (read: Romans) are subjected to horrible tortures while the true followers of Christ are lifted into a golden city in heaven. Think of it as the original vengeance drama. Written before much of the New Testament, Revelation was placed at the end of the Bible. Martin Luther warned that excessive study of it could lead to insanity. It ends with a plea for the Apocalypse to come quickly.

William Miller.

In 1831, William Miller launched the Second Advent Awakening, the biggest American-born religious movement in history. According to Miller’s calculations, the end of the world was due on Oct. 22, 1844. Miller attracted a huge following of doomsday advocates, the survivalists of their time. When Jesus and the Apocalypse failed to appear at the appointed hour, the devotees had to recover from what they dubbed the “great disappointment.” Miller’s followers eventually blossomed into 84 groups of churches with over ten million members worldwide, the largest of which is the Seventh Day Adventist Church, with about 750,000 members in the United States. Adventists believe the Second Coming is imminent, and that the power of prophecy will flourish in the final days. Despite this, only one person since Miller has ascended to official “living prophet” status.

Victor Houteff.

In 1935, Bulgarian immigrant Victor Houteff declared himself a living prophet and was promptly banished from the church. He assembled a large band of devotees at Mount Carmel Center in Texas. Upon his death in 1955, his widow took over and announced the Second Coming was due April 22, 1959. But when the date came and passed without an Apocalypse, 10,000 members were left in disarray. Most stopped sending in contributions, leaving self-proclaimed prophet Ben Roden and about fifty “Branch Davidians,” as they called themselves, in charge of the once prosperous Mount Carmel.

Lois Roden.

Following Roden’s death in 1978, his widow, Lois, took over the church. Lois not only proclaimed herself a prophetess, she attracted a lot of attention in Adventist circles by declaring the Holy Spirit was feminine.

Vernon Wayne Howell joined the congregation in 1981. Born in Texas to a 15-year-old single mother, Howell had been passed between family members and physically and sexually abused during childhood. Due to dyslexia, he was held back many  times in school, earning the nickname “Mr.  Retardo.” At age nine, he became a devout Seventh Day Adventist. By age 12, he’d memorized large tracts of the King James Bible.

Vernon W. Howell.

When Howell arrived at Mount Carmel, he was a stuttering, insecure boy given to fits of self-pity. More than anything, he wanted contact with a living prophet. He formed a secret sexual liason with Lois Roden, then in her late sixties. With his encyclopedic command of the Bible, Howell became an inspirational figure whose “visions” were taken seriously, despite his ninth-grade education. This angered George Roden, Lois’ son, who saw himself as the future leader of the group. George suffered from Tourette’s syndrome and frequently exploded with uncontrollable rage and inappropriate behavior. When Howell took a 14-year-old member of the congregation as his wife, Lois acted the jilted lover and confessed her secret affair during Bible study class. George expelled Howell and his teenage bride from Mount Carmel at the point of an Uzi. Most of the congregation followed Howell to East Texas, where they lived communally in wretched conditions. Thus began his conversion from inspirational figure to living prophet. In 1987, Marc Breault joined the East Texas enclave and became Howell’s right-hand man, helping recruit dozens of new members to the community.

George Roden.

After his mother died in 1986, George Roden became completely unglued. Determined to wrest back his congregation, he dug up a corpse and challenged Howell to see who could raise the dead. Instead, Howell reported the corpse abuse to the local sheriff. The sheriff wanted evidence, so Howell and several armed followers crept back to Mount Carmel under cover of night with a camera. Before they embarked on this mission, however, Howell outfitted everyone with identical camouflage fatigues and armed them with AR-15 assault rifles.

A gun battle ensued and Roden was wounded. He would have likely been killed, except the neighbors called the police, who broke up the gunfight and arrested Howell and his men for attempted murder. During the trial, Roden wrote angry letters to the judge, threatening to reign down a pox of AIDS and herpes on him. The judge sentenced him to six months in jail for contempt. The trial ended in a hung jury. Two years later, Roden was convicted of an ax murder and locked in an insane asylum.

David Koresh and family.

Meanwhile, Howell and his followers rebuilt Mount Carmel, which had fallen into disrepair. They maintained a 24-hour armed vigil against possible retribution from Roden, who’d briefly escaped from the mental institution and continued to assert his ownership over the property. By paying back taxes and occupying the site, Howell hoped to gain full legal ownership within five years. In 1990, he changed his name to David Koresh and announced the Apocalypse was commencing in five years.

His group called themselves “Students of the Seven Seals,” not “Branch Davidians,” as they would later be known by the news media. Koresh yearned for recognition as a living prophet from the Adventist Church. His group lived a happy and communal life. They were an eclectic group of races, cultures and nationalities, some with advanced degrees in theology. One was the first black graduate of Harvard Law School.

Koresh formed a rock band, and the elders viewed him as a possible MTV-style prophet who could breathe life into a dying religious movement. He drove a souped-up Camaro and enjoyed target practice with semiautomatic assault weapons. He believed guns would come  in handy during the 1995 Apocalypse. “What are you going to do when the tanks are surrounding us?” he’d ask his congregation.

Adventists believe the Bible contains clues concerning the date and nature of Judgment Day. They also have a religious obligation to take claims of prophecy seriously. By creating down-home explanations for many confusing passages in Revelation, and by memorizing all 150 Psalms and treating them as prophecy, Koresh created a fresh take on doomsday Christianity that was irresistible to some Adventists. His congregation was not a collection of brainwashed zombies, but an educated and highly spiritual community. Koresh frequently came to Bible class straight from work, his hands soiled with axle grease, the tones of his voice always conversational, never bombastic like a typical Southern Baptist.

Life at Mount Carmel was spartan, but people stayed because it was spiritually charged. One never knew what outlandish prophesy Koresh might spout next. He had a knack for constantly topping himself, like Jackie Chan dreaming up new stunts. Serious problems began, however, soon after Breault left the community and moved back to Australia, a split that coincided with Koresh’s celibacy prophecy, which he called “The New Light.”

“At the time of the end, those who have wives should live as they have none,” said Koresh, quoting the Bible to support the new policy. It was time for male members at Mount Carmel to become celibate, except for Koresh, who was obligated to sire 24 children by 1995. He already had several wives at Mount Carmel, one of whom he’d seduced when she was twelve. (Koresh later admitted it was difficult keeping former couples from getting it on once in a while, just as it was difficult keeping his harem sexually satisfied.)

It wasn’t your typical American family, but the children were Koresh’s jewels. They were reportedly extremely well-mannered, quiet, obedient and showered with love. They’d never seen a television, never eaten junk food, never been to a public school. Their welfare had been monitered by the Texas Department of Human Services. The children showed no signs of physical or emotional abuse.

The community sincerely believed Koresh’s interpretations of the Bible, and accepted him as “The Lamb,” the only person capable of opening the seven seals that would bring about the Apocalypse. His matings with teenagers was unlawful, but conducted with parental approval. It was considered a sacred honor to bear his child. “It’s not like I really want to do this,” Koresh would always explain. “The Lord is telling me I have to.”

Marc Breault.

Instead of turning his newlywed wife over to “The House of David,” Marc Breault embarked on a vendetta to expose Koresh. He hired a private investigator to document Koresh’s history of statutory rape. When he couldn’t get the press or authorities interesting in the story, he began mixing exaggerations with real facts to produce a tantalizing stew of tabloid sensationalism. Eventually, he gave the story to an Australian TV show and began working on a book deal. Meanwhile, based on his evidence, the ATF elevated Koresh to ZBO.

Zee Big One

Zee Big One (ZBO) is “a press-drawing stunt that when shown to Congress at budget time justifies more funding,” wrote investigative reporter Carol Vinzant in Spy. “The attack on the Branch Davidians complex was, in the eyes of some of the agents, the ultimate ZBO.” In the spring of 1992, a United States Parcel Service driver opened a box of grenade hulls that were being shipped to Mount Carmel and reported it to the local sheriff, who alerted the ATF. A member of Koresh’s community was developing a profitable and entirely legal business selling firearms and survivalist fashion wear at gun shows. The empty grenade hulls were sewn into ammo vests, part of the official David Koresh survival gear.

On July 30, 1992, gun dealer Henry McMahon called Koresh, saying ATF agents were at his home asking questions about him. “Tell them to come out here,” replied Koresh. “If they want to see my guns, they are more than welcome.” The agents responded by motioning silently, “no, no,” and getting McMahon to hang up.

Robert Rodriguez

In January 1993, three undercover ATF agents occupied the house across the street from Mount Carmel and began videotaping and gathering intelligence. Although it was obvious they were government agents, Koresh welcomed their arrival and spent considerable time discussing the Bible with agent Robert Rodriguez, trying to convince him the government represented a false Babylonian power. He urged Rodriguez to move into Mount Carmel so he could have a better understanding of the community. They engaged in target practice together and inspected each other’s weapons. Koresh noticed Rodriguez’s gun had a hair trigger, standard issue for a police sniper, and had been converted to full automatic fire, normally an illegal modification unless one registered the gun and paid the proper taxes. “This is a dangerous weapon,” noted Koresh.

The day before launching “Operation Trojan Horse,” the ATF reserved rooms in local hotels for over a hundred agents and personnel. They also alerted the national and local media to be ready for a big story that was about to break. A highly inflammatory article attacking Koresh as a child abuser appeared in the Waco Tribune-Herald the morning of the raid. It wasn’t difficult to see a massive operation was underway, aimed at Mount Carmel.

David Jones, a local postman and Mount Carmel resident, was tipped off to the upcoming raid when a news cameraman asked for directions to “Rodenville.” While they spoke, an ATF sniper team drove past and National Guard helicopters flew overhead. Jones raced to Mount Carmel and found Koresh discussing theology with Rodriguez. He whispers in Koresh’s ear that the Feds are in route. Koresh remains calm. “We know they’re coming,” he said while shaking hands goodbye with the agent. “Do what you gotta do.”

Chuck Sarabyn.

Rodriguez called ATF Special Agent Chuck Sarabyn in a failed attempt to cancel the raid as the crucial element of surprise had been lost. Instead, however, Sarabyn panics and orders his troops to speed up, “They know we’re coming!” The Ft. Hood convoy was at Bellmead Civic Center, ten miles from Mount Carmel, with seventy-six ATF raiders loaded into two unprotected cattle trailers pulled by pickup trucks.

Despite the clear possibility of an ambush, Sarabyn felt he could not cancel a ZBO.

David Thibodeau.

There are many versions of what happened next, but the most believable accounts come from the surviving residents of Mount Carmel. Their perspective has been best documented by David Thibodeau, the drummer in Koresh’s band, in his book, A Place Called Waco. “David appeared in the cafeteria accompanied by four or five men armed with AR-15s,” writes Thibodeau. Koresh told his congregation to keep cool. “I want to talk it out with these people,” he said. “We want to work it out.”

A few minutes later the cattle cars filled with agents pulled up broadside to the front door. The first shots were probably fired by agents into the dog pen in front of the building, where an Alaskan malamute lived with her pups. All the dogs were killed. There is also evidence one panicky agent accidentally discharged two rounds into the radiator and windshield of an ATF vehicle.

Perry Jones

Koresh opened the front door. He was unarmed. “What’s going on?” he shouted. “There are women and children in here!” When he failed to hit the ground upon command, the agents opened fire, fatally wounding 64-year-old Perry Jones, who was standing next to Koresh. The door slammed shut and residents began to return fire. Under Texas law, defending oneself against excessive police force is legal.

Wayne Martin.

Within seconds, Harvard Law graduate Wayne Martin, a local attorney, called 911. “There’s 75 men around our building shooting at us at Mount Carmel,” said Martin. “Tell them there are women and children in here and to call it off!” Ten minutes passed before Lieutenant Lynch, a deputy sheriff known to Martin, picked up the line. “I have a right to defend myself!” shrieked Martin. “We want a cease fire!”

Strangely, there was no line of communication between local law enforcement and the raiding party, even though Lynch had visited the ATF command center earlier in the day. The command center was filled with phones and fax machines, all ready to blanket the news media with press releases, but had no communication with the raiding team. Apparently, none of the raiders had cell phone.

It would take two agonizing hours to arrange a cease fire, and it happened only after ATF agents ran out of bullets. During that time, six residents were killed and four were wounded, while four ATF agents were killed and sixteen wounded. Many of the wounded agents were lying helpless on the field of battle. Of all the residents, Koresh was the most seriously wounded, a bullet had blown through his side. News photos reveal ATF agents in panic and disarray, loading their wounded on the hoods of vehicles.

The ATF had arrived in overwhelming force, including air support, and assaulted a church, only to be driven back by less than a dozen armed men and at least one woman shooting back. Suddenly, instead of a ZBO, ATF had one of the biggest pubic relations disasters in American history in the making. The ATF agents were quickly replaced by the FBI, the media were drawn back a mile from the scene and all lines of communication to Mount Carmel were severed. “A crazy cult is holding their children hostage,” went the standard press release.

The most damaging “evidence” of what really happened that day is the bizarre disappearance of all videotape shot by the ATF. The explanation given was that all cameras malfunctioned simultaneously, producing no tapes whatsoever. It’s far more likely the tapes disappeared because they supported the claim of Mount Carmel residents, all of whom insisted the ATF fired first.

Even worse, no written reports were filed by any agents on the field of battle, a startling reversal of ATF policy. Later, when agents were questioned about the skirmish, interviews had to be canceled because they were producing evidence favorable to the defendants inside Mount Carmel.

Today, the ATF tells a much different story: “We were ambushed by a hail of machine gun fire the moment we got off the cattle cars.” This explanation doesn’t hold up. Photos reveal Mount Carmel heavily peppered with bullet holes, while the vehicles used as cover by the ATF bear few signs of incoming fire.

Dr. Alan Stone, a Harvard psychiatrist and law expert hired by the government to write a report on Waco, concluded: “If they were militants determined to ambush and kill as many ATF agents as possible, it seemed to me that given their firepower, the devastation could have been even worse….the agents brought to the compound in cattle cars could have been cattle going to slaughter if the Branch Davidians had taken full advantage of their tactical superiority.”

Tragically, the fact four ATF agents died while attempting the initial dynamic entry calls into suspicion any statements made by agents at the scene. Why? Because “testi-lying” (fabricating evidence against suspected criminals in order to obtain convictions) has become standard operating procedure for some agencies, and an unofficial wall of silence protects police engaged in vigilante retribution against cop-killers. Many law enforcement officers will always believe Koresh and his followers got what they deserved, and if it requires a few lies to make it stand up in court, who cares?

The Siege

The FBI brought in ten Bradley fighting vehicles, two Abrams tanks and a multitude of other armored vehicles. Shortwave radio and cell phones were electronically jammed. The only contact out was a single phone line the FBI ran from Mount Carmel to FBI negotiators off-site.

Koresh requested that Robert Rodriguez be installed as a negotiator, a logical choice since they had already developed a relationship. The request was denied. Instead, the FBI created a team of revolving negotiators, none of whom developed any sensitivity to Seventh Day Adventist doctrine. FBI negotiators dismissed all religious talk as “Bible babble,” not realizing Bible quotations were perhaps the best tool for bringing the residents out.

Early on, Koresh agreed to voluntarily surrender if a one-hour tape explaining his theology was aired on national radio. However, the night before, the residents had dug out the medicinal whiskey supply and held a party in the chapel while he lay wounded upstairs. Koresh abruptly canceled the surrender by saying God had told him to wait. “Some of us blamed the previous night’s binge, saying we’d sinned and acted wildly,” writes Thibodeau.

The FBI responded angrily and began a psychological war, playing loud music and the sounds of animals being tortured. Searchlights beamed into the building during the night. “Every time we thought we were cooperating, people were coming out, or we were doing what they asked, we’d be punished, almost right after complying,” says Clive Doyle, one of the survivors. “The electricity being cut off, the music being played, all that kind of stuff just gave us the attitude they certainly did not mean what they were promising, that we couldn’t trust them. All the things that went on for the next fifty-odd days just confirmed in our  minds they had no concern for our children at all.”

During the siege, snipers routinely mooned women with their exposed buttocks. They also gave the finger to the men inside and loudly called them “cocksuckers” and “motherfuckers,” behavior that contributed to the residents impression that they were surrounded by an immoral force sent by Babylon. Meanwhile, the tanks and armored vehicles circled Mount Carmel, crushing cars, trampling graves, destroying property and contaminating the crime scene.

During the siege, 35 residents voluntarily left Mount Carmel, mostly children and the elderly. The elderly were immediately put in chains and treated like hardened criminals, while the children were fed candy and other junk food. Most of the people remaining inside became convinced surrender was not a viable option by watching how the FBI treated those exiting Mount Carmel.

On April 15, after the residents celebrated several days of Passover, Koresh informed the FBI that God had given him permission to write down his interpretation of the Seven Seals, a major breakthrough since he had never written down any of his philosphy. He feverishly went to work on the manuscript. As soon as it was done, he planned to surrender. His aides expected the work to be completed within a week.

But the mood of the FBI had turned permanently sour. Residents were no longer able to peacefully surrender after April 15. Instead, anyone who left the compound was immediately subjected to a barrage of deadly flash-bang grenades. Apparently, the cost of keeping so much law enforcement and equipment at the site (estimated at $500 thousand per day) had reached the limit. Deep inside the bowels of the federal government, a final solution was being hatched for the Students of the Seven Seals.

The Final Solution

In January 1993, the United States and 130 other countries signed the Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use of CS gas in warfare. Use of this toxic chemical had been condemned by everyone from Amnesty Internatonal to the US Army.

On April 14, 1993, the Department of Justice secretly flew in two military officers, Brigadier General Paul J. Shoomaker and Colonel William “Jerry” Boykin, then Commander of Delta Force (B Squadron) Special Ops at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina. They were flown by FBI transport to Waco to “assess the situation,” then flown to Washington to meet Attorney General Janet Reno, to discuss “contingency plans that may be used to bring the situation in Waco to an end,” according to an Army Operations Command memo obtained by WorldNetDaily in August 1999.

On Saturday, April 17, Reno suddenly agreed to the use of CS gas in ending the Waco siege. She would later offer several reasons for approving the gas attack: Intelligence had indicated Koresh was sexually abusing the children. Armed militia from around the country was converging on Mount Carmel to free the residents. The perimeter had become unstable. Finally, the agents at the scene were suffering from fatigue.

At 6 am on April 19, while it was still dark, the huge speakers began broadcasting a new message to the 83 people inside. “The siege is over. We’re going to put tear gas in the building. The tear gas is harmless, but it will make your environment uninhabitable. You are under arrest. Come out now with your hands up. There will be no shooting. This is not an assault.”

From several sides at once, M60A1 tanks modified for demolition began punching holes into the walls of Mount Carmel. According to the plan signed off on by Reno, this phase of the gas attack was supposed to continue for 48 hours if necessary. However, in the fine print of the plan, the part Reno may not have read, rapid escalation of the attack was approved if the tanks drew fire from the residents. Within a few minutes, four BV tanks began firing ferret rounds into the building. Four hundred canisters had been stockpiled for the attack. Ninety minutes later, they had practically expended the supply and put out an emergency request for more canisters.

“By noon the building is a tinderbox,” writes Thibodeau. “A thick layer of methylene chloride dust deposited by the CS gas coats the walls, floors, and ceilings, mingling with kerosene and propane vapors from our spilled lanterns and crushed heaters. To make things worse, a brisk, thirty-knot Texas wind whips through the holes ripped in the building like a potbellied stove with its damper flung open.”

Shortly after two pyrotechnic ferret round were fired into the house, one in the rear and one in the front, two fireballs raced through building. Within seconds, the entire structure was in flames. According to the survivors, the only logical exit for most people was through the cafeteria. Most of the women and children were huddled in a concrete vault nearby. The children had no gas masks, so they sought shelter under wet blankets. When people tried to exit, they were driven back into the building by sniper fire. With their escape cut off, they roasted alive.

Nine residents survived, all of whom emerged from locations visible to the telephoto lenses of the network TV cameras. The presence of those cameras may explain why they survived, unlike the unfortunate ones who attempted to exit through the rear.

Fire trucks were available to put out the blaze, but were held back and not allowed near the scene until nothing but ashes were left. Meanwhile, the tanks ran over bodies and pushed debris into the fire to make sure nothing remained standing. Texas Rangers, who were not allowed near the scene until much later in the day, believed the FBI was salting phony evidence, while destroying the crime scene to make an investigation impossible. What little evidence did remain disappeared quickly.

After the smoke and dust cleared, the ATF flag was run up the Mount Carmel flagpole, signaling victory. Only the bunker where the moms and kids roasted alive (or were poisoned by gas) was left standing. Meanwhile, the official press release went out and the official story became: “The cult set fire to the building and committed mass suicide rather than surrender.” It was spun in the media as a Jim Jones-style event.

Dr. Nizam Peerwani, medical examiner for Tarrant County, was in charge of the autopsies. Although 21 people appeared to have died from gunshot wounds, all bullet fragments were immediately confiscated by the FBI and never subjected to independent analysis. Many of the bodies were decapitated or mutilated beyond recognition. According to the official report, “There was a particular instance where all that remained was the arm and hand of a mother clasping a small child’s hand and remains of an arm. You could see how tightly the child’s hand was being squeezed by the mother.” The body of one charred six-year-old was bent backward until the head almost touched the feet, the result of CS gas suffocation. Two fetuses died instantly, expelled after their mothers’ deaths. Autopsies revealed 20 of the dead had bullet wounds, including Koresh, who was shot in the back of the head. Among the 25 children, one three-year-old had been stabbed in the heart with a knife. The major question unanswered: how many residents committed suicide to avoid being roasted alive and how many shot by snipers? Residents had been afraid to flee, as many believed the snipers wanted them all dead.

Texas Rangers tried to investigate, but were prevented from examining crucial evidence. It took four years before lies spread by the Justice Department unravelled, including the assertion no pyrotechnic rounds had been used, and no shots had been fired into the structure during the final assault, statements thoroughly debunked by the 1997 award-winning film Waco: Rules of Engagement by William Gadzecki.

The Cover-Up

The government engineered a slam-dunk cover-up almost immediately. A blatantly biased judge was selected for the criminal trial, held in San Antonio in 1993. “The government is not on trial here,” he would say repeatedly. Eleven members of the community were charged with the murder of the ATF agents, but the evidence against them was weak. The judge gave the jury 67 pages of instructions about how to render a verdict. After four days of deliberations, the jury found all eleven not guilty of murder or conspiracy to commit murder. Four were found guilty of manslaughter, with four others convicted on weapons charges. The jury felt none of the defendants deserved long prison terms, and they expected another trial to take place, one for the architects of the original assault plan.

The judge ignored the jury. He accused the defendants of firing the first shots and setting the fire and proceeded to sentence four defendants to 40 years, one to 20 years, one to 15, one to 10 and one to 5. The jury was outraged During appeals, all sentences were greatly reduced.

Thanks to the work of independent investigators, the cover-up began unraveling, as numerous assertions by ATF, FBI and Janet Reno kept turning up false. They claimed no pyrotechnic rounds were fired by the FBI during the siege or gas attack. They claimed no Delta Force assassins were on site. None of these assertions would hold up under scrutiny.

Journalists like Dick Reavis were paraded in front of Congress and lambasted for showing sympathy for Koresh and his community. The sickening bias of Congress was clear in the award-winning documentary, Waco: The Rules of Engagement. The most damaging evidence uncovered by the filmmakers was an infrared videotape shot from a helicopter during the CS gas attack, which revealed two snipers firing into the cafeteria.

After the initial cover-up failed to hold, Reno appointed former Senator John Danforth (R-MO) to conduct an “independent investigation,” which lasted 14 months, employed 74 people and cost $17 million. The investigation sifted through 2.3 million documents, interviewed 1,001 witnesses and examined thousands of pounds of physical evidence. Danforth state emphatically that the “government did not start or spread the fire….did not direct gunfire at the Davidians, and did not unlawfully employ the Armed Forces of the United States.” The report was a morass of obfuscation, utilizing Orwellian doublespeak at every turn.

In the preface, Danforth stated that he investigated whether the government engaged in “bad acts, not bad judgment.” He noted that 61% of the country, according to a Time magazine poll, believed the government had started the fire, a matter of grave concern. Instead of seeking the truth, he set out to calm the citizenry. “When 61% of the people believe that the government fails to ensure life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, but also intentionally murders people by fire, the existence of public consent, the very basis of government, is imperiled.”

Only one man was criminally charged by Danforth: William Johnston, a former assistant US attorney in Waco who helped draw up the original warrant and was one of the lead prosecutors in the San Antonio trial. He was indicted on five felony counts and threatened with 21 months in jail.

Apparently, Johnston’s real “crime” had been to allow filmmakers into an evidence locker, where they discovered pyrotechnic rounds mislabeled as “silencers.” Later, he came forward and admitted he’d lied by saying no pyrotechnic rounds had been fired into Mount Carmel. Johnston quietly worked out a plea-bargain agreement that resulted in no jail time.

The ATF fired Charles Sarabyn and Phillip Chojnacki, two of the raid’s commanders. But when the agents threatened to sue, they were reinstated with back pay. ATF director Stephen Higgins was eventually forced to resign, and Deputy Director Daniel Hartnett and two other ranking ATF officials were temporarily suspended. However, one of them, ATF intelligence chief David Troy, was later promoted.

The internet was flooded by contradictory statement about the massacre, and the survivors have split into camps. The cover-up continues, and some websites are undoubtedly counterintelligence operations designed to confuse and divide, like chaff and flares dropped from a jet with a heat-seeking missile on its tail.

The most frightening development, the militarization of the police, has grown exponentially, as have the ranks of the government assassins.

The Second Anniversary

In 1995, a highly decorated veteran of the Gulf War named Timothy McVeigh (who was videotaped two years earlier as a spectator at Waco) became the designated fall-guy for the bombing of a nine-story federal building in Oklahoma City, a bombing staged on the two-year anniversary of the Waco tragedy.

One third of the Alfred E. Murrah building was destroyed and 168 were killed, including 19 children and two pregnant women. Most victims were crushed by falling debris. Thus the legacy of Ruby Ridge and Waco was captured through the greatest act of domestic terrorism on American soil, an event that shocked America and took most of the wind out of the sails of a growing militia movement. In other words, this event had the opposite effect of the FBI’s burning of Mount Carmel.

Andreas Strassmir.

McVeigh had been living at Elohim City, a right-wing religious compound and militia training camp where he’d met Andreas Strassmir, head of security. Strassmir’s grandfather had been one of the founders of the Nazi Party while his father had been chief-of-staff to German chancellor Helmet Kohl. He allegedly left the German army after four years in order to move to the USA to work for the DEA using his father’s CIA connections, but ended up at a remote white separatist cult in Oklahoma, where he became known for agitating for “blowing up a federal building,” according to ATF confidential informant Carol Howe, who had penetrated the cult. Although the plot involved a number of people, most of them disappeared from the official narrative, with the exception of McVeigh and his closest associates.

Strassmir, meanwhile, immediately fled back to safety in Germany after the bombing and remained hidden from public view while McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001. McVeigh could have been a spook working some deep-cover assignment involving hypnosis as well as wearing a biometric chip who got played like Oswald. He was so cool at his execution, I had to wonder if he was convinced the execution was going to be faked and he should act dead for the press until they were ready to relocate him into witness protection.

It’s somewhat suspicious McVeigh had zero statements to make before the execution, and left only a poem as his final statement. “I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul. My head is bloody, but unbowed.”

That’s about as nebulous as one can get.

Rollie Rohm and Tom Crosslan.

On September 3, 2001, two cannabis activists would be assassinated by government snipers in Michigan. They planned a Waco-like siege so they could spread the real story of hemp legalization while exposing the brutal oppression they had been subjected to just for being activists for legalization. Their young son had already been taken away by the state, and the state was coming next for all their property and assets. Cornered in this way, they took up arms to make a last stand, but were killed quick before they knew what hit them, and long before any media could catch on to the real crime. Just as many bodies at Waco were mutilated, so was the body of Rollie Rohm, castrated while still alive, his assassins standing over him gloating while he bled out. It’s just something assassins like to do once in a while.

A few days later some planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City and all mention of the two killings at Rainbow Farm disappeared like a snow devil in a winter storm, their misguided but brave attempt to recapture the legacy of Waco a failure.

 

Awaiting the Apocalypse

Many religions have an apocalyptic element embedded deep inside their dogmas. Since religion attempts to explain the origin of the universe and since everything has a beginning, then everything must have an ending at some point down the line. The Zoroastrian tradition laid the framework for predicting the coming apocalypse and that tradition has been imitated by various religions for eons.

But the real fervor for this type of thinking seems to be peculiarly American, starting with the granddaddy of survivalists William Miller (above), a veteran of the War of 1812 who became convinced the return of Jesus Christ was imminent in his lifetime. Miller’s cause was taken up by thousands, including a publisher who spread his dire predictions through a publication called Sign of the Times.

Many people gave up all possessions to await the end with Miller, and when it didn’t come on schedule, it became known as “The Big Disappointment.” Undeterred, many followers went on to form the Seventh Day Adventist Church, as well as other splinter groups, all of which maintained a fanatical belief in the imminent end of the world as we know it.

My generation was the first to grow up under the specter of nuclear annihilation and that might explain why so many of us buy into fears of an impending apocalypse. In the 1950s, this fear took the form of building atomic fallout shelters in basements as we prepared for World War III to engulf the globe. Early on, some shelter builders wondered if they also needed to worry about their neighbors when the complete breakdown of society as we know it inevitably took place.

However, in most cases of disaster, communities band together and help each other. They seldom turn on each other like mad dogs, which is what some Americans seem to be expecting and why they feel the need to arm themselves in anticipation of the apocalypse.

In 1981, when I became a reporter for the New York Daily News, I decided to document the survivalist movement that had just appeared. Soon this movement would morph into the militia movement and would continue expanding until the bombing of a Federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995. That attack killed 168 people, the deadliest act of terrorism in America until 9/11 happened six years later. But the bombing also spelled the end of the militia movement for a time as the country sickened towards violence. April 19th was selected because it was the same day the Branch Davidian siege ended in Waco with 76 fatalities, all killed supposedly because the FBI believed they were planning group suicide. False allegations of child abuse were also circulated to help bring that siege to its violent conclusion.

Why are people so easily manipulated by these sorts of false fears? Fear is the basis of all mind control and you can see how effective it is in the psychological mechanism of Christianity. We live in a world in which millions of people carry a fervent wish for an apocalyptic end to all humankind. This is not a nightmare for them, but something to hope and pray for, all part of their God’s master plan to punish the wicked and reward the virtuous believers like themselves. Yes, the world is coming to an end someday, probably in a few million years, but the bigger question is whether the human race can conquer irrational feelings and construct a more harmonious environment for us all, one based on empathy and compassion instead of fear.