In April 1994, I got an assignment from The Nose magazine to do a piece on the first anniversary events commemorating the holocaust at Waco.
My friend Richard Mosley had just finished producing a documentary, Day 51: The True Story of Waco. When I told him about my assignment, he suggested I not wait for the anniversary, but come to Waco a week early and meet the surviving Branch Davidians at a private screening of Day 51.
So, one evening, I drove to Waco and the home of Dr. Dewey Millay, a doctor who had taken the Davidians under his wing following the destruction of their home. Several of them were living in house trailers on his property.
Dr. Millay was the first person Richard introduced me to when I drove up. We stood outside his house talking for a while. He told me how he had been under FBI surveillance for the previous year.
"They used to sit in a van down the road," he said, "just watching, 24 hours a day. I haven't seen them there lately, but sometimes I'll see them driving back and forth, or stopping by the gate to look in my mailbox. I used to get upset about it, but now I don't care anymore."
He talked about the public's misconceptions about the Davidians. Several of them had been patients of his, and he had always known them to be good, honest, peaceful people—not the fiendish cultists described by the government and mainstream media.
"They were good parents too," he said. "People are always asking why wouldn't they let their children go. Well, they did let some of the children go—and if people only knew what happened to those children, they wouldn't wonder why the Davidians wouldn't let more go."
He described how the children—already frightened to be away from their parents and in the hands of these government agents who had attacked their home—were herded by the BATF into a large room.
Each child was carrying a small bundle of clothes and one favorite toy. Also, on their shirts were pinned notes written by their mothers describing medical and other needs. The BATF agents would rip these notes from their shirts, wad them up, grab their bundles, and throw everything into one big pile in the center of the room—smashing the toys to pieces while the children watched.
Clive Doyle stepped out of one of the trailers, and I was introduced to him. Doyle had assumed leadership of the Davidians following David Koresh's death. He had lost several family members in the fire, and had himself been badly burned on the arms. He told me that the trauma of the experience had caused him to have gaps in his memory.
In all, there were about a dozen Davidians there that night. They had a lot of stories to tell.
One thing they talked about was their experience with ABC's 20/20. They had all been interviewed by a woman reporter for the program, and had told her many things—how the government agents started the fire, how people were shot by snipers as they ran out the back of the building, and much more.
The reporter was excited by these revelations. It was going to be a great segment, she said. She even called the Davidians the day before the broadcast to tell them to be sure to watch.
They did, only to discover that all their exciting revelations had been edited out of the interviews.
The reporter called them the next day to apologize. She had been as surprised as they, she said. It had been her producer's decision, not hers, to censor the segment.
So, the Davidians had great hopes for Day 51. At last, they were being given the opportunity to speak on camera uncensored.
We gathered in Dr. Millay's living room. I sat on the couch next to Sheila Martin, who had lost her husband and five children in the fire. Extra chairs were brought in, and the screening began.
Day 51 opens with video footage of the tanks tearing up the building, known as Mt. Carmel Center, in the pre-dawn hours of April 19, 1993—systematically ventilating the building in preparation for the inferno to come.
Then the film segues into interviews with the Davidians, as they describe the February 28 raid by the BATF that led to the siege—how the helicopters came that Sunday morning and began strafing the roof with gunfire, killing one elderly couple as they lay in bed.
The most provocative interview in the film is with Wally Kennett, a Davidian who was away during the raid and therefore not involved in the siege. Kennett makes the surprising statement that the BATF was not really looking for an illegal arsenal when they raided Mt. Carmel, but rather, for information stored on a computer.
It was well known among the Davidians that two of their number—Jeff Little and Wayne Martin (Sheila's husband) —had been conducting an "investigation" into illegal government activities, and storing their findings on a computer.
Kennett notes that the room the BATF agents were trying so desperately to enter when three of them were shot was the computer room. The gun shop was in an entirely different part of the building. (For that matter, most of the guns had been taken to Austin that morning to a gun show—a fact which the BATF acknowledges it was aware of when the raid was mounted.)
Both Martin and Little were killed in the final assault on April 19, so it is not known exactly what kind of information they had gathered.
Incidentally, I am interviewed in Day 51. This came about because I had heard an FBI spokesman label Waco "another Jonestown," and, since I knew Waco was not a mass suicide, my suspicions were aroused about Jonestown.
So I did some research and discovered that Rev. Jim Jones had extensive CIA connections, and that Jonestown was a CIA mind control operation. Also, the evidence shows that most of the persons who died at Jonestown did not voluntarily partake of the cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. Most were either forcibly injected with cyanide or shot.
So, yes, Waco was "another Jonestown"—though not in the sense the FBI would have us believe.
When I told Richard about this research, he asked me to describe it on camera. That was my contribution to Day 51.
Day 51 ends with a montage of photos of all the Davidians who were killed. Sheila, sitting beside me, dabbed tears from her eyes as the photos of her children appeared on the screen. Others in the room wept.
Later, when the film was over, I stood outside talking to Wally Kennett. He reminisced about David Koresh:
"People say all kinds of things about him that aren't true. They say he was brainwashing us, they say he forced us to sit through hours of lectures to wear us down—but it wasn't like that at all. Everyone was free to leave at any time. But we didn't want to. David would be tired and wanting to go to bed, but we wouldn't let him. We'd beg him to keep talking. It was fascinating, all those things we used to talk about. David inspired us. And he was a lot of fun."
Wally told an interesting anecdote about Koresh: "One night after weâd been up late talking, we went outside and David looked up in the sky, and said, 'Look. It's the Merkabah.' We couldn't see it, but I wouldn't be surprised if he could. Or maybe he was just kidding."
The Merkabah figures prominently in Davidian theology. In Ezekial 1 and 10 it is described as the throne-chariot of God. Many have interpreted it as a UFO.
I said goodbye, told everyone I would see them the next week at the first anniversary events, then left. As I pulled out of the driveway, I looked for a van parked by the road. Luckily, I didn't see one. Didn't see the Merkabah either.
The following Saturday I returned to Waco for an all-day event called "The Day of Information." The press and public had been invited to visit the site of the fire and hear the facts about Waco from the Davidians and their supporters.
There were numerous booths set up to disseminate books, videos, and other items. I bought a commemorative gimme cap at the Davidians' booth.
Richard had set up a booth to promote Day 51. On display in his booth was a scale model of Mt. Carmel he had built. It had been used in the film for demonstration purposes. This model attracted a great deal of attention, in particular from a young boy who had lost several family members in the fire; he stared at it for a long time. Not far away was the real Mt. Carmel, or what was left of it: a big pile of weed-grown rubble, surrounded by a tall cyclone fence, with two uniformed guards sitting behind the fence in lawn chairs.
Jack Boulware, the editor of The Nose, showed up. He had decided to expand the magazine's Waco section and write his own piece in addition to mine. So he and his photographer had driven all the way from San Francisco for the event.
Jack and I walked around the grounds for a while. We explored the small building which had been used by the FBI snipers. The windows had been knocked out and sandbags were piled against the walls. Anti-Davidian obscenities, scrawled by the snipers, still remained on the wall.
As Jack and I were walking back to Richard's booth, we heard a commotion. Everyone was looking and pointing towards the north.
We turned, and saw three large Army helicopters flying low and circling the grounds. In a few minutes, they were gone.
More people were arriving now. Some were carrying signs with anti-gun control and anti-ATF slogans. One read: "The Black Booted, Black Suited, Black Helmeted, Machine-Gun Totin' ATF Gestapo Are Guilty of Killing Children and Holding Women Hostage."
There was a definite Texas theme to some of the signs, like the guy whose sandwich-board sign read "Remember the Alamo, Remember Mt. Carmel."
Another guy was strumming a guitar and singing (to the tune of "Davy Crockett"): "Davy, Davy Koresh, king of the wild compound . . ."
I hung around all day, sometimes listening to the speeches, but mostly talking to people. I met David Thibodeaux, who had been the drummer in Koresh's rock band, and Bonnie Haldeman, Koresh's youthful-looking mother.
At one point, I manned the Day 51 booth to give Richard a break, and while I was there, a man walked up and introduced himself as the minister of another Branch Davidian church in Waco.
I didn't know whether or not to believe him. Later, however, I learned there was indeed such a church, and he was who he said he was.
I have forgotten his name, but not what he told me. He leaned closer, dropped his voice, and said, "You know, don't you, that Koresh was working for the CIA?"
"Really. What was he doing for the CIA?"
"He was manufacturing biological weapons."
A few years later I heard this allegation again. In her Penthouse interview, Linda Thompson, producer of the documentary Waco: The Big Lie, said that there was a war going on between the CIA and FBI, and that the FBI, in alliance with the Mossad (Israel intelligence), had shut down Mt. Carmel, which was a CIA bio-weapons factory.
A similar allegation was made by attorney Paul Wilcher, who conducted a private investigation into Waco.
Wilcher claimed that sarin gas was being manufactured at Mt. Carmel. He described Koresh and his top lieutenants as "sleeper" agents under CIA mind control who had been programmed to stage a sarin gas attack in Oklahoma City (similar to the attack staged a few years later in a Tokyo subway by the Aum Supreme Truth cult). However, according to Wilcher, Koresh and the others woke up from their programming, and refused to carry out the attack—thus necessitating their elimination and the destruction of the factory.
Wilcher made these and other allegations in a long letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, then died under circumstances widely regarded as mysterious.
Whether or not there was a bio-weapons factory at Mt. Carmel is a question that may never be answered. It is, however, known that there was a methamphetamine factory on the premises at one time. According to the Davidians, this was under the leadership of George Roden. Roden left Waco in the 1980s after a power struggle with David Koresh. When Koresh took over, he and his followers destroyed the methamphetamine factory. They also found a large inventory of pornography, which they destroyed as well.
Later, Roden was charged with the murder of his roommate, and found innocent by reason of insanity. He was confined to a mental institution in Big Springs, Texas, but a few years later, escaped and traveled to the Israeli embassy in New York. There, he sought an Israeli visa, claiming he was Jewish and had some kind of connection with the Israeli government. He further claimed that PLO-trained hit men were trying to kill him. Roden was denied a visa. He created a disturbance, which lead to his arrest, and he was returned to the facility in Big Springs, where he later died.
Again and again, Israel is mentioned by Waco researchers. Some even believe the true origin of the Branch Davidians can be traced to Abraham Davidian, a Los Angeles-based Jewish Mob boss with deep connections to Israel. Los Angeles, they point out, was one of Koresh's frequent stops on his many travels. So was Israel.
It was in Israel, in fact, that he first became David Koresh. He arrived as Vernon Howell, but while in the country received a vision in which he was reborn David Koresh. As the book Why Waco? reports, Koresh continued to receive visions after returning to the U.S.
Were his visions the result of genuine spiritual experience? Or was he a con man? Was he psychotic, or under mind control? Mind control can certainly not be dismissed; we know the CIA spent years and a great deal of black budget money developing it, or at least trying.
Whatever the explanation for Koresh’s visions, they led him to go to Mt. Carmel, displace George Roden as leader, and transform the church into a thriving international community of followers that would eventually include Wayne Martin and Jeff Little.
It was known by the Davidians that Little had some kind of connection to the government. According to them, he was a computer expert who, before coming to Waco, had worked for the Yamaha Corporation on a secret project to modify a law enforcement software to contain a "trap door."
This sounds suspiciously like PROMIS, a law enforcement software developed by the firm INSLAW to help prosecutors track cases. INSLAW has alleged for years that that the Reagan Justice Department stole the software. It is also alleged that PROMIS was modified to contain a "trap door," then sold to various entities worldwide. The trap door would allow the U.S. to monitor all computer transactions made by users of the software. Reportedly, one of the purchasers of PROMIS was the Mossad.
In the article "Fostergate" by Jim Norman (written for Forbes, then killed at the last minute by Forbes board member Caspar Weinberger, only to be published later in Media Bypass), the late White House Special Council Vince Foster was for years a highly placed operative of the National Security Agency. In that capacity, he oversaw an NSA project to install PROMIS—"trap door" and all—in the banking industry.
Later, the story goes, Foster fell victim to his own project. A group of CIA renegades known as the Fifth Column, who had been working to expose government corruption, were using PROMIS to investigate the off-shore accounts of various officials. Foster's Swiss bank account came under their scrutiny.
His account supposedly contained money he had received for his role several years earlier in the October Surprise—the George Bush-Caspar Weinberger deal with the Iranians to delay the release of the hostages in the U.S. Embassy until after the 1980 presidential election so that Carter would lose. Israel is said to have mediated this deal with the Iranians. As payment, secret U.S. nuclear launch codes were transferred to Israel. Foster arranged the transfer—a treasonous act which the Fifth Column was about to make public.
Exposure would have been embarrassing to both the Clinton administration and Israel. Thus, Foster was targeted for death.
And yet, Foster's widow has stated that his death had something to do with the incident at Waco, which had occurred a few months before. In an Associated Press story, she said he felt responsible for Waco and killed himself out of guilt.
It is doubtful that Foster killed himself. Evidence at the crime scene (gun in the wrong hand, a body that had obviously been moved from another location, and so forth) is more consistent with murder. So, Mrs. Foster is probably wrong about that one. But what if there is a half-truth in her statement? What if the part about his death being related to Waco is true?
If so, it would suggest that maybe Martin and Little's investigation involved Foster. Maybe they were Fifth Column operatives.
These are just things I wonder about. I don't have the answers.
I also wonder about a story that circulated in Waco in the months after the fire. It was said that, during a campaign stop in Waco, Bill Clinton went to a barber shop. The barber was a Branch Davidian. No one knows what the barber and Clinton might have talked about, because the only other witnesses to this meeting were three Clinton bodyguards who were later killed in the raid on Mt. Carmel.
In Waco: The Big Lie, these three can be seen on videotape entering the window of the computer room. As soon as they are all inside, the BATF agent left on the roof sprays the wall with gunfire, killing them with "friendly" fire. Perhaps it was a mistake, but it has a deliberate look to it. Again, these are just things I wonder about.
I went back to Waco a few days later for the memorial service on April 19, the first anniversary of the fire.
Whereas the Day of Information had been larger and somewhat festive, this was a smaller event, and quieter—and, whereas the previous event had happened on a sunny day, today the skies were overcast, which heightened the somber mood.
Richard was there. He and I watched the memorial service for a while, then wandered away to walk around the fenced-off ruins of Mt. Carmel and talk.
After a while, a bell began to toll. We knew what this meant. It was now the exact minute when the fire had broken out a year earlier. Richard wanted to be by himself just then, so he went behind the burnt-out shell of a bus that had been destroyed by the BATF.
I stood on the other side of the bus, watching the ceremony in the distance. Here and there I saw American flags hung upside down—the symbol of a nation in distress. The bell kept tolling.
After a while, Richard rejoined me and we walked to the ceremony. I saw it was Bonnie Haldeman, Koresh’s mother, working the bell. On the speaker's stand, Clive Doyle was reading the names of each person killed at Waco. With each name, the bell tolled. Then a surviving family member would come forward and pick up a small white cross, carry it up the hill towards the rubble, and hang it on the fence. Sheila Martin carried five crosses.
This went on a long time, there were so many names, and it was so quiet, just the bell, the names being read, the sobbing of family members as they picked up their crosses, and the clicking of camera shutters by the press.
Then there was a rumbling in the east; it grew louder and louder. I looked up. No, it was not the Merkabah.
It was an enormous military plane, flying so low it drowned out all other sounds. The memorial service was suspended for a few minutes until it passed. I remembered the Army helicopters the week before circling the grounds. Was the government sending us a message?
I drove back to Austin, uneasy, thinking about all I had seen and heard at Waco—all I had learned about possible hidden motives behind the government’s attack on Mt. Carmel, and all of it so difficult to prove—and came to the conclusion that, while it may be interesting to explore such theories, going down those rabbit holes is ultimately an exercise that obscures the larger, not-so-hidden agenda behind Waco, and its true meaning.
Waco set a precedent. Using “illegal” guns as the pretext (coupled with the vague “threat” presented by a group of “religious nuts”), Waco conditioned the American people to accept such illegal police intrusions as normal, and sent the message that Posse Comitatus and the Bill of Rights can and should be set aside for the “greater good” of keeping us safe.
On the second anniversary of Waco, the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building took place, killing a great many people and destroying FBI and BATF files related to Waco. Later it became known that FBI and BATF agents were warned not to go into the office that day—a foreknowledge that has never been adequately explained.
Timothy McVeigh was charged with the Oklahoma City bombing. At his trial, the defense played Richard’s film Day 51, in an effort to show the jury how this inflammatory piece of propaganda (which McVeigh watched over and over, we are told) drove him to insanity, causing him to stage the bombing. McVeigh was found guilty and executed.
But McVeigh’s fate is not as important as the political effect of Oklahoma City …
In the aftermath of the bombing, Congress quickly passed the Anti-Crime and Terrorism Bill, which among other things greatly limited the Fourth Amendment. This bill also set the stage for the Patriot Act, passed by Congress several years later after the September 11 terror attacks. The Orwellian-named Patriot Act did even more damage to the Bill of Rights—damage that has been further compounded by the recently-signed National Defense Authorization Act which renders habeas corpus null and void.
And still more recently, following the school shooting at Newtown, Connecticut, President Obama signed 23 executive orders designed to curb “gun violence,” while also increasing the power of the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security. Among other things, we can expect a broadening of the DHS citizen spy program (“if you see something, say something”), as well as an increase in funds for school security (i.e., surveillance systems and more police, making public schools even more like prisons than they already are).
It is an all-too-familiar pattern: some terrible atrocity occurs, followed by repressive legislation designed to “keep us safe,” but which ultimately leads to the destruction of freedom in America.
And where did this trend start? At Waco …
I remember that day at the memorial service twenty years ago, that somber day with the flags upside down—the tolling of the bell, the sobbing, the military presence in the sky. I couldn’t foresee the Oklahoma City bombing, of course—or September 11, or all the police state legislation to follow—but I sensed something: a change, a turning point.
That day, I see now, was not only a memorial service for the Branch Davidians, but for America itself.