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Workers Vanguard No. 1132

20 April 2018

Waco 1993

Government Mass Murder

“This is not an assault.” Twenty-five years ago, that was the lie blaring over government loudspeakers as the FBI and the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) carried out its plan to obliterate the Branch Davidians, an integrated group that formed as a breakaway from the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Orchestrated and overseen at the highest levels of the Clinton administration, the 19 April 1993 assault outside Waco, Texas, engulfed the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel commune in an inferno that killed over 80 people, including some two dozen children.

The sole “crime” of religious leader David Koresh and his followers was being an obscure religious sect that insisted on being able to practice its faith and bear arms—two rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution. In executing the attack, the armed agents of the ruling class intended to send a message to all: defiance of authority will be met with death. And of those who managed to make it out alive, nine were railroaded to prison on various trumped-up charges.

The government tried to justify mass murder by selling the lie that Branch Davidians were hell-bent on mass suicide and had started the deadly fire themselves. A massive cover-up and web of falsehoods were spun through subsequent “investigations” and whitewashing reports. But mountains of video footage and witness testimony, including by the few survivors, showed that the truly deranged actors were the FBI and ATF—overseen by Attorney General Janet Reno and President Bill Clinton—who went in guns blazing against a small fringe group that wanted nothing more than to be left alone.

On that infamous morning, combat tanks rammed and wrecked the walls of the Branch Davidians’ complex, drenching the interior with lethal and flammable CS gas (the same used by the U.S. military in Vietnam), while trapping its inhabitants inside and preventing entry to firefighters and medical personnel. For over seven weeks prior to the April 19 offensive, Koresh and his supporters had been under siege by an array of heavily armed police forces while the Feds “negotiated.”

Part of the state’s barbaric tactics was engaging in psychological warfare: high-intensity floodlights blazed into the complex all night, while huge loudspeakers played Nancy Sinatra songs, Tibetan monks chanting, and the squeals of rabbits being slaughtered. Water and electricity were cut off as well as contact with the outside world. The Branch Davidians relied on unfurling makeshift banners to communicate to the world, including, “F.B.I. broke negotiations. We want press” and “Rodney King—We Understand.”

The drive behind the siege was to exact revenge for a failed February 28 assault during which ATF agents and National Guard helicopters surrounded Mount Carmel to arrest Koresh on false charges of possessing illegal weapons. During the raid, four federal agents and six Davidians were killed and several wounded, including Koresh, who was shot. Like just about any God-fearing resident of Texas who would blow someone away for trying to break down their door, the Branch Davidians exercised their right to defend themselves against the ATF assault.

The Waco massacre was the bloody signature of the Clinton years, just as for the Reagan years it was the 1985 massacre of MOVE: a mostly black back-to-nature commune known for denouncing “the system” and promoting armed self-defense. Alongside the ATF and FBI, the Philadelphia cops bombed MOVE’s home, killing eleven members, including five children, and burning down an entire black neighborhood. The carnage in both cases was preceded by media campaigns slandering the group under siege as a violent “cult” and was followed by the government punishing the few survivors. In fact, all three members of the Treasury department inquiry that whitewashed the Waco atrocity had been involved in the execution or cover-up of the MOVE massacre.

Immediately after Mount Carmel was burned to the ground, the Spartacist League organized protest demonstrations in several cities. We picketed federal government offices with signs including, “We Will Not Forget: MOVE Massacre, Desert Slaughter in Iraq, Waco Holocaust.” From the outset of the state’s vendetta, our defense of the Branch Davidians was unambiguous. In a protest letter to Clinton early in the siege, the Partisan Defense Committee—a legal and social defense organization associated with the SL—demanded that all troops, tanks, police and federal agents be removed from the area and pointed out: “We think you would do well to take the advice of the newly elected President Lincoln, who when asked what he proposed to do about the polygamous Mormons replied, ‘I propose to let them alone’.”

Reno’s twisted rationale for killing the children was to “save” them from Koresh, who was demonized as a gun-crazed, sadistic polygamist and child abuser. In a letter to the PDC by Bob Buck, a West Virginia steel worker railroaded to prison for defending his union during a bitter 1991-92 strike, he rightly noted: “They were so damned concerned for the children they unleashed an armed assault on the house they lived in and filled it full of bullet holes...gassed them, and ultimately burned them to death. Ain’t America great. I’m glad Mrs. Reno isn’t concerned about me.”

In fact, the year before the raid, Child Protective Services investigated and found no evidence of abuse at Mount Carmel. Children evacuated during the siege were interviewed by social workers, who found them to be “healthy, happy, well adjusted, well educated.” After the raid, Reno herself admitted that the lurid stories of “ongoing child abuse” were “inaccurate.” Breaking through the government’s brazen lies, which the liberals dutifully echoed, we remarked: “Child abuse, guns, cultism—these are all cynical pretexts which have nothing to do with what happened on the morning of 19 April 1993. An authoritarian religious commune is not how most of us would choose to live our lives, but it’s none of the state’s business” (“Waco and the White House: First the Massacre, Now the Lies,” WV No. 575, 7 May 1993).

As Dick Reavis, author of The Ashes of Waco, repeatedly pointed out, the bulk of the ATF’s search warrant was about child abuse and statutory rape, even though the agency’s jurisdiction is over guns, not sexual offenses. In terms of those gun charges, the Branch Davidians had nothing to hide and Koresh had previously even invited the ATF to go inside and inspect his weapons! At least one of the Branch Davidians was a licensed federal firearms dealer, and the group operated a retail gun business, attending gun shows and storing inventory in order to secure an income from secondhand firearms upgrades.

What lay at the core of the government’s crusade was the push for stricter restraints on the right to bear arms, an opening shot for the newly elected “tough on crime” Clinton administration. The essence of gun control is this: the rulers are determined to maintain a monopoly of violence for themselves and their state, while deciding who are the “good” gun owners vs. the “bad.” It’s a way to leave the poor, minorities and working people defenseless and enforce conformity and submission. Waco proves that the U.S. government will go to any length to disarm the population, even if it has to kill them.

The Truth Behind the Lies

The recent six-part miniseries Waco on the Paramount Network is a compelling and honest portrayal of the Branch Davidians during the 51-day siege. Waco survivor David Thibodeau was instrumental in bringing much of the story to life based on his book, Waco: A Survivor’s Story, and acted as one of the show’s consultants. The series illustrates how those living in Mount Carmel were multiracial and multinational, representing people from all over the world who agreed on Koresh’s spiritual interpretation of the Bible. As the effective documentary footage in Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997) also shows, the Branch Davidians were not the sociopaths painted by the press; they were simply devout individuals who, like many others, believed in a prophet—theirs happened to be David Koresh.

In one scene in the miniseries, a Dallas radio host, Ron Engelman (who was a lonely voice of support in the media during the actual siege) interviews a professor who aptly points out that the word “cult” is a way to denigrate somebody else’s tightly knit religious group: “The early Christians, by our definition, belonged to a cult.” Koresh’s followers were hardly brainwashed or coerced. His second-in-command, Steve Schneider, had been working toward a doctorate degree in theology. Another top aide was Wayne Martin, one of the earliest black men to graduate from Harvard Law School. Martin and four of his children were all burned alive in the government’s attack.

The Waco miniseries opens with the events at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, which transpired six months before the February raid. There, under “shoot on sight” orders, the Feds carried out a murderous operation against the family of white-supremacist Randy Weaver. Of concern was not that Weaver was a fascist, but rather that he had sold two sawed-off shotguns to an ATF informer in a sting operation. The ATF, as well as other federal agencies, was involved in the shootout on Weaver’s property, where both his 14-year-old son and his wife were killed.

In the wake of the botched Ruby Ridge operation, the ATF hoped to reap a publicity bonanza from a successful raid against the Branch Davidians. The capitalist state, which requires force to maintain its power over the population, brooks no challenge to its authority. A fanatical FBI commander in the miniseries captured this, pointing out that there are 5,000 people to every member of law enforcement: “You know how we keep order with those odds? Because they believe we’re more powerful than we are. We project strength and the people believe in that strength.” The Waco series, while sympathetically exposing the truth behind the siege and massacre, fails to place blame for the attack where it belongs: at the pinnacle of power in Washington, D.C.

Shamefully, most of the reformist left alibied the Democratic Party administration by either turning a blind eye to the atrocity or joining in retelling the government’s fabrications. While it “condemned” the “government-orchestrated massacre,” the International Socialist Organization (ISO) avoided the question of gun control and implied that the Branch Davidians brought the slaughter on themselves by depicting them as an “armed religious cult” that “would consider either mass suicide or taking a final stand as its options for ending the siege” (Socialist Worker, May 1993). To this day, the ISO paints the group as right-wing extremists.

The flames that consumed a racially integrated group of over 80 men, women and children in Waco illuminate once again the basic truth that the capitalist state is the enemy of the working class and oppressed. As communists committed to the fight for socialist revolution to eradicate this oppressive capitalist system, we intend to sear the government bombings and mass murder of MOVE and the Branch Davidians into the memory of the working class.


Workers Vanguard No. 1132

WV 1132

20 April 2018


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