The Waco massacre remains to be one of the still bizarre and unexplainable events in American history. It all began when Vernon Howell, later called David Koresh, became head of the Branch Davidians and soon started to implant martyrdom ideas on the followers. In anticipation of an imminent attack from the federal government, Koresh as on the leader of the Texan ranch of a religious cult sort to acquire firearms, an action that resulted in a 50-day siege in which 76 people died including men, children, and women. Koresh had managed to form the cult by convincing his followers that God gave him a premonition from the Biblical teachings that one day the world as they knew would come to an end. Convincingly, one would say Koresh, was a malicious member of the Branch Davidian crowd.
The Branch Davidians group was first established in the year 1959 by Ben Roden as a segment of the Davidian Seventh-Day Adventist Church. The group finally relocated to a farm east of Waco, Texas where Roden and his followers settled and lived a simple life while arranging for the homecoming of Jesus. Nevertheless, in the years of the 1980s, the group became entangled in a conflict and power struggle which led to David Koresh becoming the leader of the Mt. Carmel community. The happenings that ensued under his leadership comprised of him taking “spiritual wives,” some of whom were supposedly underage. These claims of possession of illegal firearms and child abuse got the attention of the administrative authorities.
After a sequence of divisive splitting within the group, Koresh seized control and managed to convince fellow cult followers that God told him to breed with the women in the cult so as to build an army in preparation for the end times. He claimed that he was going to bring salvation for the believers, a prophecy that foretold a great apocalyptic battle that will bring deaths by fire and destruction (Wright, pg. 203). In the year 1993 the month of February, some of the exiled cult members who were not in line with his beliefs started making public claims of Koresh physically abusing the kids.
The claims of statutory rape plus the prolonged surveillance on the purchase of guns and illegally stockpiling of weapons warranted the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) to arrest Koresh resulting from a need to search of the compound. In the month of February 1993, Mt. Carmel was raided by more than 70 ATF agents resulting in gunfire lasting a duration of almost two hours in which four federal representatives died while several others sustained bullet injuries. Moreover, six Branch Davidians individuals reportedly died before there was a ceasefire.
The government’s actions to handle the situation has drawn a lot of criticism since the raid. While the federal administration long upheld their claim that it was not them who instigated the fire that ended up killing most of the 76 individuals that perished in the massacre, in the year 1999, a probe revealed that the tear gas canisters used during the siege by the FBI were flammable. This gross error was also coupled with the law enforcement agencies lack of understanding of what is involved a high-energy religious movement. (Wright, pg. 360). The members of the cult were drawn into some sort of tight circle of commitment and devotion to their charismatic leader. They valued his spiritual guidance and insight more than life itself and that is why his followers believed the prophecies he conceptualized in their minds (Clifton, 2009).
The FBI tank attacks became more vicious after the second attack as the morning progressed as reports show that the building was demolished at least three times by using a tank that smashed into the main building in the compound subsequently collapsing all the concrete hallway wall. At a certain point yet unidentified in the proceedings of findings and reports, the command to demolish the building came from an agent in Waco or an official in Washington. Documentaries reveal that the siege ended when FBI sanctions were approved enabling them to advance their assault in which they intended to remove the Branch Davidians from the building by force.
In the progress of the assault, the building housing the church caught fire in unexplainable circumstances. This issue as to what really started the fire is still disputed, although, the statements from agents also revealed that lantern fuel was deliberately emptied all over the complex by the Branch Davidians members. These actions, as well as the firing of the tear gas cartridges, might have caused the three fires that broke simultaneously when the FBI were attempting to smoke out the cult members. The figure below shows the compound burning to the ground on April 19, 1993.
Questions that arise following the massacre still go unanswered as people ask what might have gone wrong in handling the issue revolving around the cult. While nine people escaped unharmed from the incidence, the rest brutally died in a fire been while others were reported to have been fatally shot, including Koresh. The gross errors in initiating and establishing conflict resolution attempt subsequently caused the FBI to use brute force following a command from the U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno (Sturken, Justin, and Mary Dore, 2007).
Photo: ABC News –Remembering the Wako Siege Mt. Carmel on fire
There was no written plan action to guide in the entry process into the building that would ensure minimal loss of innocent lives. The failure of the FBI to deploy the minimal fire and safety precautions shows that there was no clear line of the decision-making process. This meant that the instructions set for agents did not follow the chain of command given that a post-assault written report was not filed by the representatives involved in the events.
If there would have existed a log showing records of the minute by minute battlefield decisions, then we would know the actual truth of the events that prevailed. Still, 20 years later, there are lingering claims of Steve Schneider, Koresh’s right-hand man, to be have been that one that killed him then committed suicide, that is, according to the FBI (Sturken, Justin, and Mary Dore, 2007). Also, the autopsy outcomes displayed in the reports state that approximately 20 people were shot including children, even though, the federal law enforcement personnel claimed that no actual gunshots were fired by them. The FBI said that this was caused by the fire which ignited the ammunition in the building. The cause of the massacre is also mostly attributed to fire, which the fire rescue services failed to quell in time to save innocent lives.
Clifton, Jonathan. “A membership categorization analysis of the Waco Siege: Perpetrator-victim identity as a moral discrepancy device for’doing’subversion.” Sociological Research Online 14.5 (2009): 8.
Sturken, Justin, and Mary Dore. “Remembering the Waco Siege.” ABC News.com 29 (2007).
Wright, Stuart A. Armageddon in Waco: Critical Perspectives on the Branch Davidian Conflict. Chicago, Ill. [u.a.: Univ. of Chicago Pr, 1995. Print.