19 Years After Waco: The Anniversary of the April 19, 1993 End of the Seige of the Branch Davidian Compound

Waco Compound Burning

Today is the 19th anniversary of the end of the stand-off by the Branch Davidians outside of Waco, Texas. A siege of David Koresh’s compound had begun fifty days earlier on February 28, 1993 when four agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) were killed while serving a warrant. The deaths of Special Agents Todd McKeehan, Conway LeBleu, Robert Williams and Steve Willis resulted in a prolonged stand-off involving psychological operations tactics from the mission to capture Manuel Noriega in 1989. These included the playing of loud music, recordings of planes and chanting in addition to the use of spotlights to deprive the Branch Davidians of sleep. Unfortunately, these tactics and the introduction of armored fighting vehicles (AFVs), combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) and helicopters only played into Koresh’s apocalyptic worldview. Despite the surrender of a number of followers, a core cadre of armed men remained in the heavily fortified compound with their families. On April 19, 1993 the task force at Waco ordered a CEV to puncture a hole in a wall of the compound so that CS (riot control) gas could be introduced into the building. The Davidians opened fire, and more CS rounds were fired at the buildings. Around noon three fires broke out almost simultaneously at different locations and rapidly consumed the compound, trapping and killing 74 of Koresh’s followers.

To this day the debate continues as to what or who started the fires. It is the Government’s contention that they were deliberately set in a suicidal act by Koresh’s men, while supporters of the Branch Davidians maintain that the FBI and National Guard were using pyrotechnics which sparked the fire. Critics point to this, the psychological tactics used, and the employment of helicopters and tanks as evidence of the Government’s heavy handedness. “Waco” and the confrontation at Ruby Ridge a year earlier became rallying cries for right-wing extremists and the burgeoning militia movement, and Waco is significant as a motivation for Timothy McVeigh’s attack on the Federal Building in Oklahoma City exactly two years later.

The Homeland Security Digital Library maintain a selection of documents on the events of April 19, 1993 and the subsequent investigations. These cover “Waco” from a number of different perspectives. “Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas: February 28 to April 19, 1993” and “House Report No. 104-749: Investigation into the Activities of Federal Law Enforcement Agencies Toward the Branch Davidians” provide the official findings. FBI transcripts of negotiation with David Koresh are available at “FBI Vault: Waco, Branch Davidian Compound” . See also ” Branch Davidian Report, Texas Rangers” from the State of Texas.
Critical reports include: ” Can Soldiers be Peace Officers? The Waco Disaster and the Militarization of American Law Enforcement ” , ” Hypocritical War on Terrorism ” and ” No Confidence: An Unofficial Account of the Waco Incident ”

Article formerly posted at https://www.hsdl.org/blog/newpost/view/s_4524