Early in the morning on April 19, 1993, the FBI sent in tanks to doze the walls of the massive Mount Carmel compound in Waco, Tex. It was a drastic measure to force Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his people to surrender and face justice after a 51-day standoff that had begun with an illegal weapons investigation and the shooting deaths of six Davidians and four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
The Feds had attempted to get Koresh’s followers to surrender in the days and weeks prior with little success.
So the FBI — who already looked bad after two followers of Koresh snuck through police lines to join the Davidians — began lobbying for approval to use more forceful tactics to take control of the situation.
“When this event started to dominate the news … the pressure escalated on the FBI to end this thing. It made the Clinton administration look terrible, it made the FBI look silly,” Kevin Cook, author of “Waco Rising: David Koresh, the FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias,” out Tuesday, told The Post. So the Feds pressured then-new Attorney General Janet Reno to allow them to use tear gas — “a tear gas that wasn’t allowed in warfare and she did.”
By the end of the day 76 people — more than 20 of them children — were dead, making it “the deadliest day in FBI history,” Cook said.
In the new book, he explores the how the government’s faulty tactics and departmental pressures led to the fatalities — and how Waco became a rallying call for domestic terrorists and mass shooters.
“The final tear gas attack backfired. The Davidians saw this as the apocalypse unfolding just like David Koresh had told them it would,” Cook said. “They stayed inside and 76 of them died.”
Falling walls from the tanks actually killed some Davidians. The remainder were trapped inside by a raging fire, the origin of which remains unclear.
Cook thinks that it was ignited by Koresh’s disciples.
“I can tell you what I believe after a good deal of study. The tear gas did not start the fire,” the author said.
“The fire didn’t start until noon. This is six hours after the initial movement of the combat vehicles that inserted the tear gas. The FBI had smuggled listening devices into the compound and there were voices saying, ‘light the fire.’ One of Koresh’s followers said ‘we don’t light it until they come in. Isn’t that right?’”
Several of those who stayed inside did not burn to death either, according to the writer.
“Many others killed each other or themselves in what they considered mercy killings. Children were shot by some of the adults … there was one child who was stabbed by someone inside,” Cook said, adding that “they had been instructed that a baptism of fire may lead directly to the kingdom of heaven.”
Koresh had such a hold on the Davidians that he convinced husbands in the Mount Carmel Center that it was his divine right to sleep with their wives or to groom their pre-teen daughters to wed, per the author.
Instead of talking the people down, in many ways, the bureau’s aggressive tactics only fed into the fanatic mentality, Cook said.
“They put loudspeakers outside and played the sounds of animals being butchered. They blared Nancy Sinatra’s ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking’ to try to get them to walk out,” he said, adding that gongs, Gregorian chants, telephones ringing and messages that Koresh was misleading the Davidians were also blared by the feds — often as a sleep deprivation tactic.
“It became psychological warfare,” he said. “These Davidians were quite religious and attempted not to swear or anything like that. They were very upset that some of the law enforcement agents surrounding them were mooning them … [Agents] were also trashing their property and smashing their cars outside to get the message across that they were not fooling around.”
Even then-President Bill Clinton has since admitted a miscarriage of tactics from the government forces.
“I will always regret that,” Clinton said in a 2005 address at Hofstra University that’s excerpted in the book. “We should have waited them out … It was a mistake and I’m responsible. And that’s not one of those you get an A for effort on.”
Not only did the mishandling of Waco cause many deaths, but it also flared a dark movement in United States that still burns today, Cook said.
One of the people who who came and sold bumper stickers in support of the Davidians during the standoff was Timothy McVeigh, who admired Koresh.
He deliberately carried out the Oklahoma City bombings on the two-year anniversary of Waco in 1995 as an act of “revenge,” according to Cook.
Cook added, “It’s worth noting that the Columbine shooters in 1999 were first going to use the anniversary of Waco, which was also of course, the anniversary of Oklahoma City.”
And he said, “in 2000, Alex Jones made Waco a cause and documentary … he would shout ‘no more Wacos’ as he made his name as a media figure in Texas with the idea that the government had killed the Davidians at Waco. That all leads fairly directly to the rise of today’s militias and definitely played a role in January 6th.”