On This Day
April 19, 1993 – Waco, Texas: After a 51-day standoff with Texas law enforcement and federal agents, U.S. attorney general Janet Reno authorizes an assault on the compound of the Branch Davidians, which leaves 76 people dead, including Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 25 children.
The evolution of the Branch Dividians began with The Davidians, a sect of the Seventh-day Adventist Church that had parted in 1935 after church leaders rejected reforms demanded by the group. The group were first led by Victor Houteff, and later by his widow Florence under the name Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. Disappointed that a fire and brimstone apocalypse predicted by Florence in 1959 never materialized, Benjamin Rodin took control of the group’s compound, Mt. Carmel, and changed the group’s name to Branch Davidians. Rodin died in 1978 and was succeeded by his wife, Lois, who had an affair with new arrival Vernon Howell in 1981. When Lois died, Howell finally assumed control after prevailing in a power struggle with Lois’ son George.
Assuming Lois Rodin’s role as the spiritual leader of the Branch Davidians, Howell changed his name to David Koresh, a reference to both King David and the Hebrew name for Cyrus, “Koresh.” Shortly thereafter, Koresh began to draw attention with rumors that he had taken several “spiritual wives” as young as 12 years old as well as rumors that he and his group were sitting on a growing weapons illegal stockpile.
How and why did the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assaulting the Branch Davidians end up investigating the Branch Davidian compound? Acting off of reports from eyewitnesses who claimed to have seen illegal machine guns and gun parts on the compound, as well as a threat allegedly made by Koresh that he would outdo the violence of the LA riots, the ATF obtained a warrant to search the compound.
The standoff began on February 28 after four U.S. ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) agents were killed while attempting to enter the compound. Six Branch Davidians were killed that same day. The FBI then took control of the operation and, on April 19, 1993, attempted to end the standoff by storming the compound with tear gas, heavy weapons and armored vehicles. In all, 76 adults and 25 children died in the final siege.
Who ordered the siege at Waco? The U.S. federal government and attorney general Janet Reno drew considerable criticism about their handling of the standoff. Reno later admitted that she had authorized the final assault after receiving intelligence that militia groups were en route to either join Koresh or mount their own attack on the compound, as well as false reports of ongoing child abuse among those who remained in the compound. The reports of the illegal weapons in the Davidian stockpile as well as the claims that Koresh had made threats of violence, too, were deemed erroneous. Reno later took responsibility for the destruction at Waco.
The incident is a stain on the reputation of U.S. law enforcement. It has been said to have emboldened right-wing groups already distrustful of the government and perhaps encouraged more violence such as the Oklahoma City Bombing, which took place on April 19, 1995. As Americans, we are raised to believe that our rights protect us from the injustices inflicted upon the long-suffering populations of far away autocratic regimes, one-party dictatorships and extremist theocracies. Everything from the dubious claims used to obtain the original search warrant to the extreme force of the final raid smack of something from which Americans believe they have been spared: Tyranny.
Pictured Here: Attorney general Janet Reno who ordered the April 19, 1993 siege on David Koresh and the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas.