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HomeAlmanacApril 19: 30th anniversary of deadly siege on Branch Davidians at Waco

April 19: 30th anniversary of deadly siege on Branch Davidians at Waco

The Waco Siege, which took place in early 1993, unfolded when a government raid was conducted on an unorthodox church compound at Mount Caramel near Waco, Texas.

The raid was aimed at the Branch Davidians, a group led by charismatic leader David Koresh, who were suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons.

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The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) obtained a “no knock search warrant” for the church and brought warrants for Koresh’s arrest.

The initial incident began with an attempted raid by 75 armed ATF agents, supported by two cattle trailers and military helicopters. A gun battle ensued, resulting in the deaths of four government agents, six Branch Davidians, and numerous injuries on both sides.

After the failed raid, a standoff continued for 51 days, and the crime scene was eventually taken over by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

After several weeks, the FBI launched a final assault April 19, using incendiary tear gas in an attempt to force the Branch Davidians out of the church.

During the attack, a fire erupted and engulfed the Mount Carmel Center, resulting in the deaths of 82 Branch Davidians, including 25 children, two pregnant women, and the group’s leader David Koresh.

The Waco Siege raised questions about the actions of law enforcement agencies and the handling of the situation under Attorney General Janet Reno, during the Clinton Administration.

The FBI eventually acknowledged that agents fired “a very limited number” of potentially incendiary tear gas cartridges during the final assault, according to news accounts after the event. Many government officials have said that someone inside the compound started the fire, and that the law enforcement agencies were not to blame for the apocalypse that followed inside the walls.

“One of the truths that we will never be able to get to is what was the right thing to do, because we don’t know whether [Branch Davidian leader] David Koresh would have done it two weeks later on his own without any provocation. And we would have been blamed for not acting,” Reno told the Washington Post.

“All that we can do in law enforcement where we deal with human beings who do different things and march to different drummers is make the best judgment we can based on the information we have available, pursue it, and then do everything we can to get to the truth and to determine what can be done to avoid such tragedies for the future,” said Reno, who died in 2016.

Wikipedia describes Branch Davidians as “an apocalyptic new religious movement founded in 1955 by Benjamin Roden. They regard themselves as a continuation of the General Association of Davidian Seventh-Day Adventists, established by Victor Houteff in 1935.” The government has referred to them as a cult or sect.

Koresh arrived at the compound in 1981, and within 10 years had become the leader of the group, taking over from Roden, after a power struggle with Roden’s daughter Lois Roden. Koresh had several “spiritual wives” and some were as young as 12 or 13. He also had many children with these wives.

David Thibodeau, one of the nine survivors of the federal siege on Mount Caramel, is a Los Angeles musician who has written his account of the event and has a website devoted to the memory of those who died, where people can purchase Thibodeau’s book, “Waco, a Survivor’s Story.” His account has been made into a documentary.

All nine of the survivors spent several years in prison on charges relating to the initial raid, when four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians were killed. By 2013 they had all been released. Thibodeau was charged with conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes related to the resistance to the federal raid, but was eventually acquitted of all charges. All 11 Branch Davidian members who were indicted for murder and conspiracy to murder were acquitted, but five were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges and three were convicted on weapons charges.

In addition to Thibodeau, Livingstone Fagan is one of the last living survivors who keep the memory alive of the Branch Davidians, and the group still remains in the Waco area. Books, documentaries, podcasts, and writers still ponder what happened during this 51 days at Mount Caramel and if the government might have done something different.

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Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.


  1. Koresh was a freak who needed to be behind bars. But the feds overstepped massively (as usual) in Waco.

    The hallmark of the FBI has always been massive overuse of force with little regard to collateral damage.

    That and spectacular failures like 9-11.

    It needs to be burnt down and beyond serving as a national clearinghouse of information it’s powers distributed to the individual states where it belongs.

    • And if by chance they don’t start a fire, you can be sure they will damn sure find something that will.

  2. operation Show Time the ATF called it and what a show it turned out to be!!!all coming of the heels of another little ATF oopsie daisy up in the Idaho mountains on Ruby Ridge where the red headed step Child of federal law enforcement agencies killed a dog and a 13yr old boy which led to a situation in which the FBI murdered an unarmed woman with a baby in her arms all originating from a veteran cutting the barrels of a couple of shotguns (oh the horror)

    defund the 3 letter agencies.

  3. This should be required learning about the federal governments heavy handed DOJ against American citizens. It wasn’t like they were out robbing shooting and killing people. The government was making a statement. We will use any means to make people do what we want. Fear the government as they are not concerned about their citizens.

  4. We have an alleged Republican House and they still haven’t moved to impeach Garland.

    Republicans are useless.

      • At this point it’s not the actual impeachment as much as having him, his dereliction of duty, and his crimes against the non Biden voters of America aired out.

        Sunlight is one hell of a disinfectant.

        Ordinarily I don’t go for gestures, but sometimes you just gotta stand. This is one of those times.

        The GOP is rapidly becoming pointless to America. It’s why we elected Trump. Bad as he is, he actually fights. The GOP is our version of Vichy.

  5. Upon the Oklahoma City bombing most veterans and most blue collar people I knew at the time said, ‘There, now the people have evened the score.’ WWII vets I knew were unanimous in seeing it that way. Yes, that bombing was a tragedy but it was the FBI and the ATFE that wound up the clock. If the Oklahoma City bombing had not happened then someone else, in some other part of the US perhaps, would have evened the score.

    The feds, and no one else, had blood on their hands. Convicting some of those federal agents and sending them to jail with long sentences might have let enough steam out of the tank to have prevented anything like the Oklahoma bombing, but no one can say for sure.

    The federal government paid Weaver $2 million for killing his wife and son, and Weaver was guilty of nothing except being poor, simple and naive. The Koresh fellow may have been as nutty and evil as the feds that were involved.

  6. The group was a bunch of fruit loops but what exactly did they do that was illegal? Stockpiling ‘weapons’ is not illegal. There was a rumor that they were trying to convert some AR-15 to full auto but, last I heard, you can’t get a search warrant for rumors. After the fire died down I heard a claim of one or two converted rifles found but doubt the honesty of any agents involved and the condition of any evidence found after a fire that hot.

    Remember that many of these same agents, involved at Waco, were also involved at Ruby Ridge a few months prior. That was a nifty little operation where the feds killed a dog, a teenager, and Vicki Weaver while she was holding an infant. All of THAT was over Randy Weaver being talked into making a short barrel shotgun by a government agent.

    With Waco, even the locals were telling the feds that Koresh went for a jog each morning which left him open to be arrested away from his compound, but they turned down that option. And notice that the feds never tried to simply contact Koresh and negotiate a search of the compound or possibly his arrest. I’m not backing the group firing on the feds when they made the first attempted raid but I can understand the reaction to do that when you see a bunch of heavily armed guys rushing the houses where your women and children live. There would be an immense rush to protect your loved ones.

    Then they brought in military equipment for the final raid and started tearing down the houses. I remember watching engineering vehicles ramming lift booms through the walls of some of the buildings to, as we were told at the time, pump gas into the building and force the members out. They didn’t admit until later that they were dropping tear gas canisters inside the houses, not pumping the gas in. Anyone here that has handled any kind of riot gas canisters can tell you they generate a lot of heat when set off. I’ve watched them start grass fires and fires inside of training buildings. Anyone that gave the order to put tear gas canisters inside of living quarters absolutely knew the risk of fire was high and did it anyway.

    End of the day observations; If handled calmly, there may have never been a firefight or barricade issue. Even after the barricades went up, what was the urgency to enter the compound? If they had not fired on the marshals and simply refused to come out, was the charges of illegal firearms worth raiding this compound? How about parking some feds outside the compound and taking them into custody when they got tired of being cooped up?

    Just like Ruby Ridge, this event was based on very low level charges and only became an issue because some feds were told ‘no’.

    • The feds went to Waco with the intention of taking scalps. No other reason.

      As you pointed out there were ample chances to take him into custody off the compound.

      This is the same group that busted into a closet in body armor and (I think, it’s been a minute) semi automatics take take custody of Elian Gonzales.

    • Child abuse was reported plus members were not allowed to leave, kidnaping, just another case of people taking the law into they’er own hands using religion as an excuse.

      • None of those accusations came out until after the feds burned up those people. Funny timing huh.

  7. “Koresh had several “spiritual wives” and some were as young as 12 or 13.” He was just ahead of his time according to the United Nations:
    Moreover, sexual conduct involving persons below the domestically prescribed
    minimum age of consent to sex may be consensual in fact, if not in law. In this
    context, the enforcement of criminal law should reflect the rights and capacity of
    persons under 18 years of age to make decisions about engaging in consensual
    sexual conduct and their right to be heard in matters concerning them. Pursuant to
    their evolving capacities and progressive autonomy, persons under 18 years of age
    should participate in decisions affecting them, with due regard to their age, maturity
    and best interests, and with specific attention to non-discrimination guarantee.”

  8. “Many government officials have said that someone inside the compound started the fire, and that the law enforcement agencies were not to blame for the apocalypse that followed inside the walls.”
    It wasn’t the Feds fault the place wasn’t up to code. Just remember that if there’s a possibility you might get raided.

    • And the government never covers its butt…

      Remember your position when it’s your door kicked down by paramilitary government troops.

  9. There had to be some other reason for the attack, not just guns. Maybe someone was afraid of what might be revealed, some dark secret. Why are those murdering FBI and BATF agents still running loose? If any of us did what they did, we would be imprisoned for the rest of our lives. That door needs to be dug up and reexamined. That corporation isn’t “our government”. The government of, by and for the people was never reconstructed after the “Civil War”. How much more do we support them with taxes to kill innocent people? We are just as guilty as they are because we pay for their criminal evil acts, killing children, etc.

    • They weren’t exactly innocent. Brainwashed, naive maybe but innocent no. They shot federal agents and that brought down the wrath. The adult males were raping young girls. Rather than allow all the kids to go free, they went around and shot them in the head first. They had unregistered automatic weapons. Just a crazy cult full of mad people. Might be best to get your facts straight next time.

      • They shot feds when the feds raided them. Maybe you can stop for a moment and ask why the feds were there in the first place? The original ‘warrant’ was because they were ‘stockpiling weapons’. That is NOT breaking a law. The accusations of rape were not public until AFTER the raid. Where did you see that they had ‘unregistered automatic weapons’? From the feds? From the guys that just burned 82 people in a fire? Those guys?

        Crazy is not illegal.

          • Just because the soles of my shoes don’t face the sky whenever the feds show up, that makes me a bad guy, is that right?

        • You have your chain of events confused. The warrant was because they had illegal automatic weapons. I’m pretty sure there isn’t a law in Texas limiting the number of weapons that you can own. The feds knew what was going on inside those walls more than you know. Didn’t you get the phone call from the FBI explaining all of their motives? I think the rest of us did.

          • You’re the one that claims you know what firearms we have in our houses. Maybe you’re the one that told the feds to raid Waco? lol

  10. On a positive note, the fed’s put it into all the raping going on in there and position of illegal firearms. The people couldn’t get out even if they wanted to because the Messiah went around popping them all in the head with a ammo round so they couldn’t run. The world is better off with one less freak. The innocent people whose lives were lost decided their own fate long before the incursion.

  11. Greg, The rape charges were not the feds business, in FACT the rape allegations had in FACT been investigated and dismissed by the highly respected Texas Rangers. The FACT is, and will never go away, that the U.S. government murdered those people. They burned to death 13 innocent children for a damn photo op. Federal law enforcement are terrorists, FACT.

  12. Greg sure is easy, as long as it’s “crazy” who’s skin is in the game. Interesting to see all the talking points as to why the Texas Rangers just couldn’t bring illegal activity to justice. A great example as to why states should maintain the independence they have from federal overreach.

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