Coming to terms (or not) with Waco
© 2001 WorldNetDaily.com
I took a trip to New York City this week to participate in several programs that will be aired later on the PBS "DebateDebate" program. It gave me a chance to visit fairly extensively with Mike McNulty, producer of the series of documentary films on Waco, for the first time in several years. He and I were on programs debating the unresolved legacies of Waco and Ruby Ridge, and on the current condition of the FBI, scheduled to air in September (check your local listings for a PBS station near you and all that).
Having taken the "no" position on the debate topic "Has the Government been held accountable for Waco and Ruby Ridge," Mike and I spent hours talking about why there has been so little accountability and only small – and not especially effectual – bursts of public outrage.
Some of the reasons seem obvious. Hardly anybody who does something morally reprehensible (except for a few sociopathic weirdoes) wants the actions publicized, let alone punished. And the reprehensible deeds for which government agents are predominantly responsible are – especially at Waco – so horrific that few Americans want to think about "their" government doing them, especially since it might suggest profoundly uncomfortable questions about how the character of that government has evolved. So they have no particular interest in learning about and confronting the evidence that Mike McNulty and a few others have assembled, despite resistance at every step of the way from government agencies that had physical control of the physical evidence.
The phenomenon was illustrated, I think, by the folks on the other side of the debate whom Warren Steibel (Bill Buckley's "Firing Line" producer for 30-plus years) was able to assemble to argue that it was time to move on and the FBI is a fine institution that might need a little fine tuning at most.
(No FBI officials or even former FBI agent or official participated, although several were invited. To my knowledge no such official has ever agreed to debate or discuss Ruby Ridge or Waco alongside anybody who really knows the facts and isn't peddling some kind of unlikely or outlandish conspiracy theory. With all due modesty, I know almost as much about Ruby Ridge as anybody who wasn't there at the time, and Mike McNulty probably knows more about Waco than anybody, including most of those who were there, and is a court-certified weapons expert to boot. Either of us would cut to ribbons a government official who tried to defend either Ruby Ridge or Waco, on the basis of hard evidence, sworn court testimony and personal inspection of the sites.)
So Warren assembled some nice, eminently decent, essentially conservative people, a lawyer with GOP political connections, a law professor and a former head of the police chiefs' association. It was obvious that they had not investigated the official government story from a skeptical and independent stance, though they had absorbed some of the information developed by people who had.
The lawyer was a friend of former Missouri Republican Sen. John Danforth, who was appointed a special counsel to look into Waco and issued a report last November. He simply couldn't imagine that the former solon would be capable of purposely and knowingly perpetrating a major falsehood. Danforth's report, you may remember, while critical of some of the government actions, concluded that he was 100-percent certain that no FBI member had fired rifle shots at Branch Davidians on April 18, 1993, when the Mt. Carmel religious community was burned to the ground, killing more than 80 Davidians.
So these unquestionably nice and thoroughly decent Americans, while acknowledging that some mistakes were made at Waco and it was all a terrible tragedy for which the government bears some modicum of responsibility, were able to say, I believe sincerely, that it's time to move on. There have been numerous official and unofficial investigations, congressional hearings, court proceedings, a couple of films and some books. The results are surely somewhat troubling, these people believe, but haven't provided a clear-cut case for indictable criminal offenses by government agents, or reason to believe any government agencies are fatally flawed as institutions. So let's vow to do better in the future and not dwell on the past.
Decent people are able to take on this attitude, in my view, in part because so many people still essentially accept as virtually uncontradicted the image the government sought to create to demonize the Branch Davidians. You can't expect the authorities to do nothing when people are converting large numbers of weapons into fully automatic mode, have large quantities of high explosives, may be abusing children and are actively preparing for a violent confrontation with the government, which they seek and welcome.
Those are among the allegations the government spread, with media cooperation, in the couple of days before and then after the initial "dynamic entry" raid in February. It happens that none of them is actually true (though some are still in the realm of unproven and possibly true). It is true, for example, that the Davidians had weapons parts with which they could have converted semi-automatic weapons to fully automatic, but whether they actually did so is another question. Even if such weapons had been found after the conflagration, it wouldn't have been known whether the conversion took place after the government-imposed siege had begun. But the evidence that wasn't destroyed by the fire was bulldozed afterward (and there is some evidence of gathering potentially troublesome material right away), so we might never know.
The warrant the BATF cobbled together to justify the initial raid was so full of hearsay and unconfirmed rumors as to be legally untenable, as several legal experts argued well before the final fire in April. But those unconfirmed rumors and allegations were the first most Americans heard about the Branch Davidians, and they are still rooted in many minds, although many of the people who believe them are probably not sure from what source they first heard them.
However high the esteem in which Jack Danforth is held by friends and colleagues – and I have no reason to disbelieve that in most aspects of his life he is a thoroughly decent human being – his report is seriously flawed and so misleading as to amount to a deception. Tim Lynch of the Cato Institute has done an excellent critique that should serve as a dissuasive to those tempted to accept the Danforth report as authoritative. The more you know, the more persuasive Lynch's critique is.
Jack Danforth's report is also coming under fire due to the emerging evidence that the tests conducted to figure out what a Forward Looking Infrared Radar device in an aircraft circling the scene (as there was at Waco) would "see" if guns were fired. Mike McNulty's most recent film, "The F.L.I.R. Project," presents a powerful case that certain flashes on the FLIR tape taken at Waco were muzzle flashes from gunfire from FBI or other government agents.
It has now become extremely likely that the "recreation" of the FLIR tape done for the Danforth commission at Fort Hood was done in such a way as to make it feasible for the Danforth report to conclude that the flashes were not muzzle flashes from FBI rifles at all, but reflections of the sun from debris on the ground – but that the conditions at Waco were not duplicated precisely or even closely, in a couple of important ways.
The Associated Press has reported that the "recreaters" used standard military rifles with 20-inch barrels rather than the modified rifles with 14-inch barrels most of the personnel at Waco used. A longer barrel contains more of the muzzle flash, so that what is visible outside the barrel is of shorter length and duration than would be the case with a shorter barrel.
And as Jon Dougherty has reported for WorldNetDaily, the recreaters actually wet down the ground before the test. True, it had rained the night before at Waco, but the next day was hot, sunny and windy. Between those factors and the dozens of military vehicles moving around, considerable quantities of dust were stirred up during the actual Waco assault – more than was apparently in evidence during the re-enactment. Dust in the air reduces the ability of debris to cast reflections a FLIR device could detect and magnifies the reflectivity of muzzle flashes, if any.
Were these variances from the conditions at Waco done purposely or carelessly during the reenactment? I don't know. But congressional staffers have asked Mr. McNulty and his associates to prepare a detailed critique of the reenactment, which they are now doing. That report might serve as the basis for further congressional hearings this fall.
The issue still resonates with some of us because there's no getting around the fact that more than 80 human beings – about 40 percent of them black and two-thirds who would be classified as "minorities" by our relentless people classifiers (another fact our worthy adversaries on the "let's move on" side simply didn't know) – died after the government assault on Mount Carmel. Was the government responsible for those deaths or did the residents do it to themselves? The government took the latter position from the beginning and resisted releasing any evidence that might contradict the most convenient story.
But it has come out, gradually and painfully, that, yes, the government loaded the place with a CS "tear gas" that is not normally used even in combat, that the government did use incendiary devices, that the government put high explosives on the "bunker," setting off an explosion that reduced children inside to unrecognizable pulp. There is credible but perhaps not absolutely conclusive evidence that government agents fired rifle shots, and the denials in the Danforth report don't hold up under close scrutiny.
How to resolve the apparent contradictions in various versions? One way Americans try to decide such matters – although it isn't always a perfect method – is to file charges, allow competent adversarial attorneys to do their best persuading on the basis of a maximum amount of the evidence available, and let a jury decide. Juries make mistakes, but this process at least gets most of the relevant information into the public domain in a fairly systematic way.
Well, charges were filed against some of the surviving Davidians, but none have been filed against any of the government agents. No serious disciplinary action, of a scale appropriate to the magnitude of the deaths of more than 80 people who have never been charged with any crime, have been taken.
Sorry, but if we value the idea of government accountability to the people, of seeking the truth without fear or favor, of identifying problems accurately and facing them honestly, we can't move on just yet.
Get armed with the facts. The "The F.L.I.R. Project" offers evidence federal agents fired on Davidians in Waco.
"Waco: A New Revelation" details why the final shoot-out happened when it did, and why.
"Waco: Rules of Engagement" is the Emmy-award-winning video that started it all by telling survivors' stories.
All three videos are available in the WorldNetDaily online store.
Alan Bock is author of "Ambush at Ruby Ridge" and "Waiting to Inhale: The Politics of Medical Marijuana." Senior editorial writer and columnist at the Orange County Register, he is also a contributing editor at Liberty magazine.
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