Did the FBI fire first at Branch Davidian complex?
December 10, 2001 8:50 PM   Subscribe

Did the FBI fire first at Branch Davidian complex? At least one person says that science and FLIR can prove that they did. Coming at a time when Janet Reno is trying to put some steam into a political career, will this have any negative impact on it? Will the FBI PR machine go into overdrive trying to disprove Barbara Grant's claims?
posted by MAYORBOB (30 comments total)
Whether they fired first or not will forever be in dispute. However, the ATF was definitely the first to drive a tank into the Davidian complex/compound/compost heap. David Koresh had a bunch of guns but he didn't have any tanks. I'd say a tank being driven into one's home in order to pipe tear gas into it would be sufficient provocation. If someone drove a tank into my house I'd shoot them, and I don't even own a gun.
posted by ZachsMind at 9:15 PM on December 10, 2001

I don't even feel there is an issue here. They (branch davidians) knew that their presence was requested outside, and yet they remained held up for near two months. There is a certain monetary expense to having a stand off of this magnitude, and frankly, I don't want to pay the bill.
posted by howa2396 at 10:33 PM on December 10, 2001

So, you thought they should be killed?
posted by Doug at 10:40 PM on December 10, 2001

posted by Bixby23 at 10:49 PM on December 10, 2001

"Requested "??? I would hate to see what they would have done if they demanded. There would have been no standoff if the ATF was not showboating for the cameras, the government blew it.
posted by thirteen at 11:03 PM on December 10, 2001

one of my favorite "this american life" episodes (is that the right word?) had a really interesting segment on the ways in which the FBI didn't really understand what they were dealing with and the inevitable outcome.

the whole episode is great, especially if you're craving the apocalyptic fervor of good ol' 1999.
posted by clockwork at 12:13 AM on December 11, 2001

here's footage of janet reno's flaming tank. go public access!
posted by deftone at 12:22 AM on December 11, 2001

There's a long history of conflict between right-wing militia types and the FBI/US Military. And in many of the stories the military and FBI don't come out looking too pretty. I can totally understand why the Davidians wouldn't feel like co-operating with the FBI or ATF; on the other hand you've got to ask yourself whether there was actual evidence to suggest the US officials needed to bring the tank over. And there wasn't. In fact most of the scare stories about Koresh bandied around at the time (eg child abuser) turned out to be just that.
posted by skylar at 12:56 AM on December 11, 2001

Will someone explain to me exactly why the ATF was outside the complex in the first place? What laws had the Branch Davidians broken?

(serious question; I know nothing of the origins of the conflict)
posted by salmacis at 12:57 AM on December 11, 2001

Anyone who is even remotely interested in this topic must rent or buy Waco: Rules of Engagement. It's the best documentary I've ever seen.
posted by milnak at 1:15 AM on December 11, 2001

The film milnak refers to contains some of the best (worst) examples of bureaucratic weasel wording I've encountered (especially in regards to the conversation between the helicopter and the compound.) If you don't believe that the ATF fired the first shot, this will give you second thoughts.
posted by DBAPaul at 2:57 AM on December 11, 2001

salmacis: as I remember it, the ATF were serving a warrant to do with illegal modifications to semi-automatic guns, making them full auto, only the actual warrant had a great many references to child abuse and statutory rape.

this, of course, was not within the ATF's jurisdiction, and the charges of abuse had already been investigated by the local sheriffs department and dismissed for lack of evidence.

one thing to keep in mind when considering the priorities of the feds at Waco, the Public Relations officer of the ATF called all the local media outlets the day before to let them know "something big was going to happen" and to have camera crews ready BUT they somehow forgot to inform the local sheriffs department. the first the sheriffs heard about it was a frantic 911 call from within the compound, by the Branch Davidians.
posted by johnboy at 4:39 AM on December 11, 2001

From Salon: "A survivor says the government still isn't admitting its role in the deaths of 74 Branch Davidians. "The Truth about Waco" by David Thibodeau, whose political/spiritual wanderings remind me of John Walker's.
posted by Carol Anne at 4:48 AM on December 11, 2001

Thanks for the Sacred Cow link, deftone. Once again, Bill Hicks helps us squeegee our third eye.
posted by Optamystic at 5:31 AM on December 11, 2001

"I'm not saying he should have killed her... but I understand."
posted by howa2396 at 6:50 AM on December 11, 2001

with this tragedy/atrocity (the final seige, not the initial raid) on her record, and the virulent opposition from the elian supporters, why did janet reno ever consider running for public office in florida?
posted by lescour at 7:25 AM on December 11, 2001

Because there are those here who actually think she's done the right things. Myself included.

Difficult decisions are not often popular. That's why they're difficult. But some people do what's right, w/o regard for that popular opinion you are obviously referring to.
posted by eas98 at 9:06 AM on December 11, 2001

It always seemed like it would have gone ok if the FBI had simply upped to the door, knocked, and said, "Hi, we're Bill and Steve from the FBI. We hate to bother you, but we've had some reports that you'all have a lot of guns here, semis that could be altered to full, and we'd like to have a look at 'em of you don't mind, just to make sure. Also, we'd like to make sure the kids here are OK, while we're here. Yeah, we figure everything's fine, but the boss says 'go look' so we gotta go look, right? If it wouldn't be too much trouble, we'd certainly appreciate it, and then we'd be on our way. We know you're busy here, and we want to disturb you as little as possible..."

Could have gathered evidence and intel and nipped whatever was doing in the bud sans tank and inflammables. Nice works! Why is it always guns out and screaming right off the bat? FBI agents ought to take a class entitled "Sleazing Up 101."
posted by UncleFes at 9:24 AM on December 11, 2001

A once-popular bumper sticker among militia-types and gun nuts in general was "You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold, dead hands." I'm always happy to see someone oblige them. It's only fitting when fascists are rewarded with the same rights that they would afford other people.

You can cry about the children in the Davidian compound all you want, but I'm willing to bet that their minds were all as thoroughly poisoned as Randy Weaver's disgusting brood. Good riddance to them and a big "Thank you" to Janet Reno.
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 9:28 AM on December 11, 2001

...only the actual warrant had a great many references to child abuse and statutory rape.

Here's a copy of the warrant. Out of 15 pages, about a dozen paragraphs refer to child abuse and statutory rape and those are within the context of questioning witnesses about guns within the compound.

...and the charges of abuse had already been investigated by the local sheriffs department and dismissed for lack of evidence.

Joyce Sparks was the case worker from Human Services who was investigating these complaints. You can read some of her comments here.

There's a good summary of the Waco story here.
posted by joaquim at 10:07 AM on December 11, 2001

It's only fitting when fascists are rewarded with the same rights that they would afford other people.

Are you talking into a mirror or something?
posted by thirteen at 10:22 AM on December 11, 2001

Harry Hopkins' Hat
Wait.. are you Rightwinger trolling on the other side of the aisle?
posted by thirteen at 10:23 AM on December 11, 2001

I assure you that I'm not anyone except myself. I just don't know why we shed tears when dangerous right-wing cults get destroyed.

Naturally, if the Waco incedent involved a leftist organization, I'd be outraged. However, I can be pragmatic about it and say "I didn't like them, and now they're gone. That's good."
posted by Harry Hopkins' Hat at 10:56 AM on December 11, 2001

Wow. I'll try and stay on your good side.
posted by thirteen at 11:04 AM on December 11, 2001

I think you're talking through your hat when you say Waco doesn't matter because they weren't leftists. —Oh, you are a hat.

Though it was sophistically and cynically misused in Bush et al v. Gore, the concept of equal protection under the law, imo, is fundamental to what this country is supposed to represent.

(The MORE case in Philadelphia would be a good parallel from "the other side of the aisle".)
posted by retrofut at 12:31 PM on December 11, 2001

The MOVE Organization
posted by thirteen at 12:46 PM on December 11, 2001

"The event commemorated the state's killing of 11 MOVE members. "

Well, not exactly.
posted by yerfatma at 1:12 PM on December 11, 2001

"The event commemorated the state's killing of 11 MOVE members."

Actually, it was the City of Philadelphia that ordered the bomb to be dropped on the MOVE house. The whole incident came at the end of a long standoff between the city and the MOVE organization, which is often referred to as a "back to nature" movement.

Only thing was, in MOVE's case going back to nature meant throwing trash and shit wherever they wanted to, blaring speeches over bullhorns in the middle of the night, intimidating neighbors by openly brandishing automatic weapons on their property, and just generally being a royal pain in the ass for all involved. The neighbors kept complaining to the city until the city was sort of forced to do something.

That something was an eviction notice, the serving of which earned the officers on site a round of gunfire coming from inside the MOVE house. The thing deteriorated into a day long standoff with the city repeatedly asking MOVE to peacefully leave the house. Then the police had the state cops drop an explosive satchel on the roof of the house.

The house quickly was consumed in flames, as was the surrounding neighborhood and a number of MOVE members did die that day (although my memory has it that it was fewer than 11). Reverend Washington was a member of the MOVE Commission that evaluated the city's handling of the crisis. I remember his words on the matter, "it is curious to me that the city would send an explosives expert to conduct an eviction."

Bottomline, MOVE was found responsible for the property loss and loss of life in not complying with a lawful request to leave the property. It was considered fairly common assumption at the time that the reason the mayor of Philadelphia didn't get censured was because he, and his onsite commander at the scene -- the managing director of the city -- were Black.
posted by MAYORBOB at 8:29 PM on December 11, 2001

From what I've read about MOVE, the problem was exacerbated by Mayor Wilson Goode's sucking up to the organization - or, more specifically, trying to avoid harming the people there at all, a non-confrontational policy thing. Goode was a Baptist deacon and lay preacher, and thought he should have tried everything possible before letting police do their work. He waited too late, and then didn't bother keeping up with what was going on after the police raid began (said, in a paranoid state, that he feared the Philly police, who did have and continue to have a bad rep, were out for him).

Who's to censure a mayor, by the way? Um, the city council? The state? Or are we talking about lawsuits, criminal charges. (Anyone can sue, y'know. It doesn't matter in that case whether the mayor's black or not.) Sounds like speculation to me. In any case, there were also violent incidents before the bombing, and the building was completely boarded up. There's a classic academic journal article about it, contantly republished in public policy and administration texts.
posted by raysmj at 10:22 PM on December 11, 2001

Who to censure the mayor? Well, the commission charged with investigating the incident. But they were largely appointed by the mayor.

You raise a valid point about Goode's failure to act until it was too late. But not necessarily because he was sucking up to them. Mayor Goode's record as mayor was a tendency to do nothing to rock any particular boat, be it extremist political outfit, the Democratic Party apparatus, the police, the labor unions, or City Council.

It's also doubtful that he stayed a hand out of a concern about being gotten at by the police. He spent the preceding four years before he was elected as mayor as managing director of the city and had fairly good relations with the police department. No, he stayed his hand because he just had an established work ethic that told him that "everything would work out well in the end".
posted by MAYORBOB at 3:39 AM on December 12, 2001

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