by Willy Wegner, translated by Claus Larsen
The attack, February 28, 1993
Around 9:30 in the morning, agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) tried to serve a warrant for David Koresh in Mount Carmel, as well as a search warrant.
There are two kinds of warrants in the United Stated. In this case, it was not a so-called “no-knock” warrant, which would mean the ATF could merely knock down the door and go ahead, like so often seen in cop shows, where drug dealers are to be surprised, with the goods on the table. Such a warrant requires a special ruling from a judge, but the ATF had not sought to get one such. In Waco, the warrant was of the kind where you knock on the door, and state your legal business. Only if the authorities are denied entrance is it allowed to force entry.
On the other hand, the ATF operation Showtime wasn’t particularly secret. Ahead in time, the ATF had rented 150 hotel rooms at three local hotels. The local ambulance service had been contacted and the hospitals had been warned of possible wounded. A group coordinator had stayed in Waco a full month to prepare all this.
That the Davidians knew about the ATF coming, was due to the authorities’ poor lack of knowledge of local affairs. At some point before the raid, the ATF asked the local ambulance service to keep an ambulance ready, close to Mount Carmel. The driver was also working as an informant for a reporter at a local news station, and he called the station to let them know that something was going to happen. The reporter in turn contacted a local newspaper man, which meant that the local news were ready, just waiting for the ATF to arrive. Around 9am, the local mail man, Perry Jones, noticed a car parked on the side of the road. He asked if there was anything he could help with. The driver was the camera man, Jim Peeler, who asked for directions to “Rodenville”, an old name for Mount Carmel. Perry Jones also happened to be David Koresh’ father-in-law. While they talked, a helicopter flew past them, and a car with armed men drove by. Perry Jones drove straight to Mount Carmel and told Koresh what he had learned.
Koresh already knew that something was going on. He knew that the “student” Robert Gonzales (Rodriguez) was a federal agent. Rodriguez left Mount Carmel and drove straight to the surveillance house. Here, he informed his superior officer, Charles Sarabyn, that Koresh now knew about the operation. Sarabyn asked what the Davidians were doing after he had left the place. When Rodriguez said that there were no weapons visible, or that the Davidians had not been asked by Koresh to take up arms, but instead were at prayer, Sarabyn decided that the operation could continue, even though the element of surprise was lost.
According to the newspaper the Houston Post, March 1, 1993, it looked as if the ATF had no intention of serving the warrant legally. ATF agents told the newspaper that prior to the raid, they had practiced to leave the transport cars in 7 seconds, and reach the main front door in 12 seconds. After such a wild race, would they merely stop and politely knock on the door, calmly explaining the purpose of their visit, and wait for the answer, before they would enter the building?
Dick DeGuerin, a lawyer from Houston, stated that if a warrant is illegally executed by force, you and I have every right to oppose this illegal use of force. If someone tries to kill you, even with the excuse of them having a warrant, you have the right to defend yourself with firearms, and kill that person.
Close to 100 armed agents had been mobilised, about 30 of them in black battle uniforms, only to serve a search warrant and a warrant for David Koresh’s arrest. There are various accounts of what happened next. ATF Chief of Intelligence, David Troy, stated that the whole operation had been video taped. Parts of these tapings were later handed over to the press, but not tapings from the start of the raid.
It may sound like an old cowboy movie, but who shot first? The ATF claimed, that the following shoot-out started when the Davidians fired a rifle through the closed half of the double door. But one of Koresh’s lawyers investigated the door after the event and found that most holes came from bullets coming from the outside. This particular piece of evidence, having survived the following blaze, was removed by the authorities and disappeared. Nobody has seen it since. The video tapes that could have proved ATF’s claim were blank – no images.
According to surviving Davidians, shots were fired from those helicopters circling Mount Carmel. Bullets blasted through the roof, and the shots purportedly killed three persons on the top floor of the building. The ATF has denied that shots were fired from the helicopters.
That denial must sound strange to editor Brian Blansett and Darlene McCormick at the Waco Tribune-Herald. They tried to enter the compound from the back, but both claimed later that they had been prevented by a hail of bullets from a helicopter. Blansett hit the brakes just before the car was hit.
Dick DeGuerin, the lawyer who was inside Mount Carmel to negotiate with the members to get them to surrender, later reported that there was indeed bullet holes in the top roof, coming from the outside. This alledged piece of evidence disappeared in the fire on April 19.
During the siege, the phone calls between Jim Cavanaugh, FBI negotiator, and David Koresh, show that they discussed whether shots were fired from the National Guard’s helicopters or not. It is word against word, but David Koresh is clear in the head, and does not resort to what the FBI calls bible nonsense. The dialogue can be heard in the documentary “Waco – the rules of engagement”: 39
Cavanaugh: Well, I think we need to set the record straight, and that is that there was no guns on those helicopters. There was National Guard officers on those helicopters . . .
Koresh: Now Jim, you’re a damn liar. Now let’s get real.
Cavanaugh: David, I . . .
Koresh: No! You listen to me! You’re sittin’ there and tellin’ me that there were no guns on that helicopter!?
Cavanaugh: I said they didn’t shoot. There’s no guns on . . .
Koresh: You are a damn liar!
Cavanaugh: Well, you’re wrong, David.
Koresh: You are a liar!
Cavanaugh: OK. Well, just calm down . . .
Koresh: No! Let me tell you something. That night be what you want the media to believe, but there’s other people that saw too! Now, tell me Jim again. You’re honestly going to say those helicopters didn’t fire on any of us?
Koresh: I’m here.
Cavanaugh: What I’m sayin’ is . . . now I listened to you, now you listen to me, OK?
Koresh: I’m listening.
Cavanaugh: What I’m sayin’ is that those helicopters didn’t have mounted guns. OK? I’m not disputing the fact that there might have been fire from the helicopters. If you say there was fire from the helicopters and you were there that’s OK with me. What I’m tellin’ you is there was no mounted guns, ya know, outside mounted guns on those helicopters.
Koresh: I agree with you on that.
Cavanaugh: Alright. Now, that’s the only thing I’m sayin’. Now, the agents on the helicopters had guns.
Koresh: I agree with you on that!
Cavanaugh: You understand what I’m sayin’?
Koresh: I agree with you.
Cavanaugh: OK, OK. So see, we’re not even in dispute and Steven’s getting all worked up over it.
Koresh: Well, no. What the dispute was over, I believe Jim, is that you said they didn’t fire on us from the helicopters.
Cavanaugh: Well, what I mean is a mounted gun . . . like a, you know, like a mounted machine gun.
Koresh: Yeah. But like that’s beside the point. What they did have was machine guns.
Cavanaugh: OK. I don’t know what they had. They were armed. The people inside had pistols or rifles . . .
Koresh: We agree.
Cavanaugh: OK, alright, that’s good, that’s good, we agree. So how ya doin’ otherwise?
Soldier of Fortune Magazine writes in their June 1993 issue that they received information from sources within the FBI that an agent accidentally shot himself in the leg while exiting the transport car. Shouting that he was hit, it is easy to imagine that this could have started the melee, especially if it was hard to believe that an agent could be so careless. Soldier of Fortune Magazine also wrote that, based on two sources, the shooting was so out of control that some of the ATF’s own losses were due to “friendly fire”. It is also noted that the ATF used 9mm Cyclone ammo, which is designed to penetrate armored vests. However, I have not been able to confirm this from other sources.
David Thibodeau, one of the few survivors, could at a Congressional hearing on July 19, 1993 tell that while he was in the cafeteria in Mount Carmel, he heard a low noise from helicopters coming from the back of the building. Again, unrest spread within the building. Koresh entered the cafeteria, with five or six people around him. A lot of doors were slamming, it was as if a lot of things were happening at the same time. More people came in, from other parts of the building.
Thibodeau said that David raised his hand and said that they were coming, and that nobody should do anything stupid, but that people should talk about this – that was the way it was done in Mount Carmel. David Thibodeau remembered this, because at the time, he was very afraid. But Koresh’s words had a calming effect. Koresh walked towards the main front door.
One of those entering the cafeteria was Clive Doyle. He recalls that Koresh told people to remain calm, go back to their rooms and wait there. Koresh would speak to those at the door.
Then, Doyle heard Koresh tell those outside that there were women and children inside, and that they should talk about it. Right after, shots were heard. Doyle ran back to the hall and saw 60-year old Perry Jones, the mail man, Koresh’s father-in-law. He was shot in the stomach. Koresh was hit in the wrist. Jones screamed in pain and Doyle and another member got him on a bed. Shortly after, Doyle learned that another member, Winston Blake, was dead.
Doyle ran to Blake’s room and wondered why he heard running water. He found Blake in a pool of blood and water. Outside Blake’s window there was a large water tank, which almost covered the whole of the window. The tank had been hit by several bullets, coming from above, bullets that also had hit Blake.
Shortly after the attack, a group of eight ATF agents climbed on a roof close to a window where Koresh’s bedroom and the gun room were thought to be. Video tapes show that the agents smash the window, throw grenades inside, and shoot into the room.
Four ATF agents were killed in the fire, and several wounded. Later, the deputy director of the ATF testified that the losses were due to the strict rules of engagement which forbids agents to shoot only at welldefined targets. Videos show that the ATF agents had little control over their shooting.
ATF withdrew, to count the losses. Four ATF agents killed, 16 wounded. An unknown number of dead and wounded in the complex. One of the wounded was Koresh.
During the first phase of the ATF attack, a 911 emergency call was placed from Mount Carmel to the police. The call came from Davidian Wayne Martin, a Harvard educated lawyer who lived at Mount Carmel. But the police had the same difficulties getting through to the ATF communications center.
911 emergency call
Wayne Martin talks to police lieutenant Larry Lynch:
Female Dispatcher: 9-1-1. What’s your emergency?
Martin: There are 75 men around our building shooting at us.
Dispatcher: OK. Just a moment.
Lynch: Hello. Hello. This is Lt. Lynch. May I help you?
Lynch: Yeah. This is Lt. Lynch. May I help you?
Martin: Yeah. There about 75 men around our building and they’re shooting at us at Mt. Carmel.
Lynch: Mt. Carmel?
Martin: Yeah. Tell them there are women and children in here and to call it off!
Lynch: All right, all right. Hello? I hear gunfire. [shots, rapid fire in background] Oh, shit! Hello? Who is this? Hello.
Martin: Call it off!
Lynch: Who is this? Hello? Hello? God almighty. Hello? Who is this coming from?
Dispatcher: Wayne Martin?
Lynch: Wayne Martin? Hello? Wayne!
Dispatcher: He said there were 75 men circling
Lynch: More than that.
Dispatcher: And they’re shooting.
Lynch: You can hear the gunfire. Hello, Wayne. Is this Wayne Martin? Wayne? Hello.
Dispatcher: Did he hang up?
Lynch: No, he’s on the line. I can hear the shots in the back.
Larry Lynch and the switchboard discuss what is happening, while they are trying to get Wayne Martin on the phone again. There is a 30-second cut, after which David Koresh comes back. Koresh thinks he is talking to the ATF.
Koresh: This is David Koresh.
Lynch: O.K. David.
Koresh: The notorious. What’d you guys do that for?
Lynch: What I’m doing is, I’m trying to establish some communications links with you.
Koresh: No. No. No. No. No. Let me tell you something.
Lynch: Yes, sir.
Koresh: You see, you brought a bunch of guys out here and you killed some of my children, We told you we wanted to talk. How come you guys try to be ATF agents? How come you try to be so big all the time?
Lynch: O.K. David.
Koresh: Now, there’s a bunch of us dead. There’s a bunch of you guys dead. Now, now, that’s your fault.
Lynch: O.K. Let, let’s try to resolve this now. Tell me this, now, you have casualties. How many casualties? Do you want to try to work something out? ATF is pulling back, we’re trying to, ah . . .
Koresh: Why didn’t you do that first?
Lynch: All I’m, all I’m doing is handling communications. I can’t give you that answer David.
The local sheriff, Jack Harwell, followed everything closely. As he sees it, the first mistake made was the loss of the element of surprise. Despite that, someone in charge gave the order to proceed, the order that led to the shoot-out, death and the whole mess.
Harwell believes, that if the element of surprise hadn’t been lost, the ATF could have secured the place in five minutes. The search could have been done, and in the case of illegal weapons being found, there was the warrant for David Koresh.
According to the Houston Post March 4, 1993, retired colonel Charles Beckwith, founder of Delta Force, the army’s counter-terrorist unit, described the ATF raid as amateurish.
Why such a show of force?
It is a good question why such a large display of force was needed, for a search warrant and a warrant for David Koresh’s arrest?
ATF agents had been monitoring the cult for months. An informer had been placed inside the compound, and had been in direct contact with Koresh. If an armed confrontation were to be avoided, Koresh could simply have been served with the warrant during his many trips to Waco, or when he was out jogging, which often took him right past the surveillance house. They could have taken him to Mount Carmel and asked him for the key to the gun room. Or, the ATF could have accepted his invitation back in July 1992 to come to Mount Carmel to inspect the weapons.
There are several signs that the ATF were looking for a public relations boost, and would use the Waco operation for that purpose. The ATF were at the time of the raid in deep trouble.
In January 1993, the CBS programme “60 Minutes” ran a story on the ATF, about sexual harrassment. Several female agents came forward, one of them Michelle Roberts. She told of an incident after a surveillance job, where her male co-agents forcibly stripped her at a parking lot, making her fear for her life. Another female agent, Sandra Hernandez said that her complaints about sexual harrassment at first were ignored by her superiors. Later, she found herself transferred to office duty.
In the programme, ATF agent Bob Hoffman stated that the people he put in jail had more honor than the top administration. Agent Lou Tomasello stated that the oath he took was violated by the people in the top administration. They also violated basic principles, the law and the constitution, as well as basic ethics and morals.
Prior to “60 Minutes”, the reputation of the ATF was already tarnished. In 1990, non-white agents had gone to court, complaining about racial discrimination when it came to recruiting, promotions and evaluation of their work within the ATF.
This bad publicity put the ATF in a very vulnerable position prior to the congressional budget hearings in March 1993. Some politicians had even suggested that the ATF was dismantled and the resources transferred to other governmental departments. The ATF needed a success, to demonstrate that their existence was essential. Last chance before curtains!
An internal memo circulating within the ATF a few days before the attack on Mount Carmel described the anticipated media coverage, not just in Texas, but nationwide. One might get the idea that this was the whole reason for this operation.
Before the raid, ATF PR Director Sharon Wheeler called several members of the press and asked for their weekend phone numbers. Allegedly, she asked if they were interested in covering an armed raid on a cult. Later, she denied having said this, stating that she only implied that something was under way. However, right after the raid, it was officially denied that the ATF had contacted the media at all. That was contradictory to what several reporters said, and in reality, several press crew, with cameras, were ready approximately when the ATF arrived. Some of the reporters refused to divulge who had given them the tip.
The Treasury added to the bonfire, by refusing to make documents written before the raid public, referring to non-disclosure acts.
In any case, the ATF also had their own PR people at Mount Carmel on the day of the raid. A publicised, successful armed operation against a large group of heavily armed cultists would definitely improve ATF Director Stephen Higgins’ position prior to the upcoming budget negotiations, as well as the public image of the organisation.
To be continued.