The Waco Siege was the most controversial use of federal force in decades

On February 28, 1993, a standoff between federal agents and an offshoot branch of Seventh-Day Adventists escalated into armed conflict on American soil. Agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in an effort to execute a legal search warrant.

Once the shooting started, four agents and six Davidians were dead. The ensuing standoff would last 51 days. The conspiracy theories would live forever.

By March 11, there was a new sheriff in town – that is to say, a new top law enforcement officer was at the desk of Attorney General.

For Janet Reno — the first female to hold top cop job — one of the first tasks was a literal trial by fire: how to handle the ultimate hand of “Texas Hold ‘Em” happening down Waco way.

Waco Siege

Reno in an undated broadcast TV interview.

Related: This is how the US military would put down an armed rebellion >

There are two segments to the Waco standoff, sadly bookended by violence. The first was the ATF raid for the initial search warrant. President Clinton was inaugurated the previous January, creating a transition period for many departments of the federal government. The Department of Justice was in what it called “caretaker mode” before a new AG could be appointed. For much of the time after the February raid, it was assumed by many that the FBI would negotiate a resolution with the Davidians, so that’s what the caretakers – senior justice department officials – did.

Waco Siege

Branch Davidian Compound (YouTube Screengrab)

The second major event came when the Attorney General’s office ordered a full-on storming of the compound by the FBI on April 19th. For the 51 days in between, FBI negotiators tried to end the siege peacefully — and came close a few times. It was when Davidian leader David Koresh proclaimed that God told him to remain inside the compound that factions within the FBI began to advocate for an assault. The Davidians made a number of demands, to a mixed reception by the FBI.

Though some children inside the compound were released to the care of the FBI, there were still children inside the Davidian compound. Allegations of child sexual assault prompted many to wonder why the government forces allowed the standoff to continue. Acting Attorney General Stuart Gerson, a holdover from the Bush Administration, requested military firepower from nearby Fort Hood. When President Clinton was informed, he demanded that Gerson not use the requested military vehicles for a “more aggressive” tactical push.

Federal forces used Bradley Armored Fighting Vehicles and M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles to destroy perimeter fences and structures and to destroy the cars of people on the compound. Troops around the area also had 2 M1A1 Abrams Tanks. The feds used loud music, pre-recorded aircraft noise, and even the sounds of slaughtered rabbits to deprive the Davidians of sleep while cutting water, power, and communications to the compound. Koresh reportedly began to believe he was the second coming of Christ.

As incoming Attorney General, Reno was briefed about the Waco Siege situation on March 12. By April 18, she was informing President Clinton that she authorized the FBI’s use of tear gas on the compound. With the assurance that the children in the compound were protected, he left it to Reno to decide the next steps. The FBI planned the assault for 0700.

On April 19th, agents from the FBI and ATF, as well as troops from the U.S. Army and Texas National Guard, were authorized by Clinton to assault the compound. Reno told the president the risk of abused children inside was high while the siege was costing the government upward of $1 million per week.

Federal forces used the CEVs, .50 cal machine guns, and explosives to punch holes in the walls of the compound. The area was then saturated with tear gas in an attempt to flush the Davidians out. The people inside the complex responded by firing on the CEVs. The federal forces maintained they never returned a shot. For six hours the Davidians held out.

But fire is what ultimately ended the Waco siege.

waco siege

The Davidians’ Mount Carmel Compound in flames on April 19, 1993. (FBI photo)

Three fires began at separate locations within the building at about noon local time. Nine people escaped the blaze, but 76 died inside the walls. The government forces maintain the fires were started by the Davidians in the compound while those who escape claim the fires were a result of the assault. According to an official Justice Department report, poor construction, high winds, and the holes created by the government attack helped vent the fire and contribute to its fast spread.

Time Magazine reported that 12 autopsies found Davidians who died from bullet wounds to the head, “indicating either suicide or murder.” Koresh was killed by his right-hand man during the Waco siege, who then turned the gun on himself.

“I’m accountable,” Time Magazine reported Reno as saying on April 19, 1993. “The buck stops with me.”

After all was said and done, the original ATF warrant was founded in fact. The Justice Department reported they recovered a number of illegal weapons from the compound, including 1.9 million rounds of spent ammunition,  20 fully automatic AK-47 assault rifles, 12 fully automatic AR-15 assault rifles, at least two .50 caliber semi-automatic rifles, and anti-tank armor-piercing ammunition.

TOP ARTICLES
If you don't know about Sword & Plough, you are wrong

The Holidays, like a hyped-up drill sergeant, are upon you. Don't you wish you had a 12-day guide to the best vet-made gifts around? Ho! Ho! Hoo-rah!

Why the 'Butcher of Bosnia' faces a life sentence for war crimes

Ratko Mladic, a former Serbian general, will receive a verdict from the International Criminal Tribunal for war crimes he committed, to include genocide.

Russia swears a cloud of radioactive pollution is not a nuclear accident

A radioactive cloud is moving over parts of Europe, seemingly coming from Russia, reminiscent of the Chernobyl nuclear-power-plant disaster in 1986.

Taliban drug labs targeted by B-52 strikes overnight

American aircraft have targeted drug producing facilities in Afghanistan for the first time under a new strategy aimed at cutting off Taliban funding.

Why South Korea is building a unique missile interceptor

A missile system that could be used to target North Korea Scuds will cost Seoul more than $800 million to develop, a Seoul defense committee said.

SEALs honor the man who made the ‘frogmen’ possible

Last week, at the Omni Shoreham Hotel, a crowd gathered to commemorate the fateful event that gave rise to what would become the US Navy SEALs.

The 50 most violent cities in the world

Of the fifty cities on the list, forty-three are in Latin America, including nineteen in Brazil, eight in Mexico, and seven in Venezuela.

How the true story of Thanksgiving ended in a war

Just a generation after the famed Thanksgiving feast shared between pilgrims and Native Americans, the two groups were engaged in bloody battles.

The wounded North Korean defector is infected by an unknown parasite

The North Korean defector shot by his fellow soldiers has been found to be riddled with parasites his South Korean doctors have never seen.

North Korea's emerging free market threatens to topple the regime

Kim Jong Un's regime of dictatorship continues to be threatened as North Korea advances into the free market. Capitalism could be hero here.