On a Sunday morning in late February 1993, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raid commenced near Waco Texas. The objective was to search the Branch Davidian Compound, named Mount Carmel, and arrest its leader, David Koresh, also known as Vernon Howell. The crisis began when ATF agents hid in covered horse trailers to surprise and cut off the Branch Davidians. They didn’t get far before a gunfight erupted. Koresh was the charismatic leader of the Branch Davidians, a religious offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, and suspected of firearms violations.
For some background regarding the ATF raid, as early as June 1992, the Austin, TX Office of the ATF opened a formal investigation into members of a religious group, known as the Branch Davidians. They were suspected of modifying weapons to enable automatic fire and of being in possession of illegal explosive devices. The ATF were tipped off when a UPS driver reported delivery of a box of grenade shells that had broken open.
The ATF infiltrated the Branch Davidians by posing as college students. Agents occupied a house across from the property to gather evidence. The undercover agents pretended to be interested in joining the group, and collected evidence from within Mt. Carmel. The evidence was used to receive an arrest warrant for Koresh, and a search warrant for the premises from a federal judge.
But who were the Branch Davidians?
The Branch Davidians were an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists. The Seventh Day Adventists include among their beliefs, a literal interpretation of the prophecies written in the Bible’s book of Revelation
David Koresh believed that he could open the Seven Seals as described in the Book of Revelation. Opening the Seven Seals brings about a series of plagues, woes, wars and cosmic calamities, resulting in a war in heaven involving St. Michael the Archangel and all the faithful angels in heaven against the Dragon, with his army of fallen angels.
Christ’s ultimate victory over Satan is prophesized. Christ rules on earth for a thousand years. Once the millenium is completed, the kingdom of heaven and earth are joined together.
I will describe the seven seals, to give us insight into the mindset of David Koresh and his followers. The book sealed with seven seals is described in chapter five of the book of Revelation.
A slain lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, takes the book, and opens the first seal. David Koresh believes that he is this lamb. People who believe that they are biblical figures are very dangerous.
When the first seal is opened, a man seated on a white horse appears. He wears a crown and carries a bow, goes forth to conquer territory and, presumably, to kill lots of people.
The second seal releases a rider of a red horse, with the power to take peace away from the Earth and make everyone war with each other. This rider wields a great sword.
The third rider sits astride a black horse, with a pair of balances in his hand, which are used in reference to merchants and how much wheat and barley are sold for a penny, or dinari (depending upon translation) meant to represent a day’s wage. Many people refer to this rider as a personification of Famine.
The forth horse is pale in color, and the rider’s name that sits on the horse is named Death, and Hell follows. Power is given to Death and Hell over a quarter of the earth to kill with the sword, and with hunger, and with death (not sure what killing with death is supposed to mean) and the power to kill by beasts of the earth (which sounds nasty).
So, by now, we are getting the strong impression that opening these seven seals are not good for humanity!
The fifth seal opens the martyrs that were slain for the faithfulness God. All the martyrs are given white robes and told to hang out until their fellowservents and brethren on earth are killed, as the martyrs were. Sounds like fun.
The sixth seal unlocks calamities of the physical world. A great earthquake takes place, the sun turns black and the moon red. The stars fall to earth (which although impossible, would of course completely destroy everything on earth, and the earth itself). Whoever narrated this story to John on the isle of Patmos did not understand Gravity, or chose to leave it out completely for some reason. As we know from Physics, stars will never fall to earth, it is the earth that will fall into a star, as our own star is 330,000 times the mass of earth! (never mind the mass of all of the stars!).
So, it should be becoming clear to any reasonable person that the reader should not take this writing literally. However, David Koresh and his followers were not reasonable people.
The seventh seal, when unlocked, triggers seven angels to be given seven trumpets. When each trumpet is sounded, something happens.
The first trumpet blown brings hail and fire, mingled with blood. A third of the trees are burned up, and all of the green grass!
The second trumpet causes a burning mountain of fire to be cast into the sea, and one third of the sea becomes blood. A very bad result, indeed because one third of sea life dies, and one third of ships are destroyed.
After the third trumpet is sounded, a star called wormwood falls to earth (I thought all the stars had already fallen!) and it contaminates a third of the rivers and mountains, making the water undrinkable. Wormwood is associated with bitterness, poison and death in the old testament.
The fourth angel sounds their trumpet (not sure if they are male or female angels), and this causes the sun to be smitten by a third, the moon and stars likewise to be smitten, so that the light of day was reduced by (you guessed it) a third, and that there were less stars shining at night. (I am assuming that John of Patmos, the author, was not aware that the moon reflects the light of the sun, and does not generate light of its own).
The fifth angel’s trumpet causes a terrifying army to emerge from a bottomless pit, led by a horrible king. The way this unfolds is that a star falls from heaven, and the star is given a key that it uses to open the bottomless pit. I’m not sure what kind of star John is talking about here. But, once the pit is opened, a lot of smoke emanates from it that darkens the sky. Then comes a vast hoard of locusts that attacks anyone on earth who does not have the seal of God on their head. Only 144,000 people have the seal, 12,000 for each of the 12 tribes of Israel. That means a lot of us are going to be attacked by these locusts!
Now these are not ordinary locusts, which would be bad enough, these are terrifying locusts with the faces of men, lions teeth, hair of women, tails of scorpions and armored breastplates of iron. The locust are commanded by a king, who is, in fact, an angel of the pit whose name is A-bad’don.
Now, locusts are insects, and scorpions are arachnids. Lions, men and women are mammals. It is impossible for such a creature to exist. Just so we are clear.
The next trumpet, blown by an angel, is your standard run of the mill event that we are getting used to. Yes, we know its bad, and yes it releases four angels who were somehow bound to the river Euphrates, located in modern day Iraq. They slay, you guessed it, a third of humankind (how many people are left now? Someone else will have to do the math, but I guess you can keep chopping by a third for a long time).
For an unknown reason, these angels need to prepare for the oddly non-random time period of one year, one month, one day and one hour. I do not know the significance of these non-random numbers. A quick internet search reveals that no one else knows the significance either. These four angels have an army of two hundred thousand, thousand, which I think means two hundred million which would be a very large army.
Then an angel descends from heaven, clothed in a cloud with a rainbow on his head. His face is like the sun (gas and plasma, I assume, hahaha), and his feet like pillars of fire. John is told by this angel to eat a small book, or scroll, that tastes sweet, but is bitter in the stomach. A whole bunch of more bad things take place, that I won’t cover (otherwise we’ll be here all day). Essentially two witnesses are introduced that cannot be killed by humans. The pair have the power to smite the earth with plagues. Not very pleasant at all. These two witnesses eventually are killed by the beast that rises from the bottomless pit.
But after three and half days, the pair will be resurrected and they will ascend to heaven.
Then the seventh angel sounds his trumpet, and the kingdom of earth becomes the kingdom of Christ and he will rule for ever and ever. But first, a woman, Mary, with twelve stars above her head forming a crown, gave birth to a son. Satan is also there in the form of a red dragon, having seven heads, ten horns and seven crowns.
A war in heaven breaks out and it’s Michael and his angels, against the red dragon and his army. There is more in the book of Revelation, but you get the general idea.
David Koresh was preparing for the day that he will open the seven seals. He also believed that he was the lamb, descended from King David and Cyrus the Great, named Messiah in the old testament,
If you listened to my first podcast, Belief, you may note that I use science and facts to detect false beliefs. The beliefs taught in the book of Revelation are very dangerous if taken in a literal sense. No one should think that these are real events being described, as they are most likely impossible. Instead, they are metaphors or symbols to be used in teaching.
This will take us back to David Koresh. He was a very dangerous man that should have been avoided at all costs. Born Vernon Wayne Howell in 1959 to a teenage mother, and raised by his grandparents, Vernon dropped out of high school his Junior year and joined the Seventh Day Adventists. After being thrown out by the pastor, due to an illicit relationship with the pastor’s fifteen year old daughter, Vernon moved to Waco, Texas and joined the Branch Davidians in 1981.
By 1989, Vernon had become leader of the Branch Davidians. He proceeded to take over the group’s compound, known as Mt. Carmel. In order to prepare for the times prophesied, they built work areas, a gym, chapel, swimming pool, sleeping quarters and guard towers.
In 1990, Vernon Howell changed his name to David Koresh – after King David in the bible, and Cyrus the Great, whose name was pronounced as Koresh in ancient times. David Koresh began preaching that he could take “spirit wives” among women or girls of any age as chosen by god. He was allegedly taking wives as young as 11 years old.
In addition to forced marriages, pedaphilia and rape, the Branch Davidians were suspected of modifying rifles to enable fully automatic fire, a federal weapons offense. In order to prepare for a raid on the Branch Davidian Compound and obtain training, the ATF falsely stated that they believed that the Branch Davidians were operating a meth lab. This enabled the ATF to free training provided by the military at Ft. Hood. Ft. Hood is the training ground for U.S. Army special forces.
Further trained in special forces tactics, but having learned little from the bungled reconnoiter at Ruby Ridge, ATF agents stormed the Branch Davidian complex on February 28th, 1993. A gunfight ensued, lasting ninety minutes. The ATF was outgunned and result of the fighting was four ATF agents killed, sixteen wounded. Six Branch Davidians were killed, with more wounded, including Koresh.
By 6 am the next morning, the compound was surrounded by almost 900 Law Enforcement Officers, including the FBI’s Hostage Response Team, or HRT.
Richard Rogers, who failed miserably in his leadership at Ruby Ridge, resulting in the killing of Vickie Weaver, was in charge of the elite HRT. It is inconceivable that such an incapable person remains in his post after already having led his team to kill an innocent person. This failure falls on the FBI leadership, including deputy director Larry Potts and FBI Director William Sessions. Richard Rogers should have been fired from his job at the FBI, and tried for murder. If anyone thinks that I am being unfair please send me a comment via my website, PaulKristoffer.com so that I may understand your argument.
The scene at Waco Texas had high exposure, as newly appointed Attorney General Janet Reno was personally aware of and involved in all of the actions taken at Waco Texas.
For context, the Attorney General is nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The AG leads the Department of Justice, and is the principal advisor to the President on legal matters. The attorney general is also a member of the Cabinet. As attorney general, Janet Reno would have final and complete authority over the FBI.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms was under the Department of the Treasury at the time of the Waco raid. Today, the ATF is under the Justice Department, a change made in 2003.
Getting back to the scene at Waco, the HRT team was focused on action, especially when a crime had been committed. The murder charges against the Branch Davidians were strong, based upon the killing of federal agents in the line of duty.
However, The HRT was at odds with the other teams onsite at Waco, especially the Hostage Negotiations Team. Richard Rogers was in charge of the HRT and continued his pattern from Ruby Ridge, by repeatedly overriding the site commander. Each team had different training and approaches that were often at odds with each other.
While negotiations were taking place, the HRT would take their own actions, such as cutting off electric power to the compound, playing loud music and demolishing vehicles. These actions were a result of incompetant leadership.
There were successes, however. Between February 28th and March 23rd, the Hostage Negotiations Team was able to successfully secure the release of 35 people, including 21 children. However, none of the remaining Branch Davidians left the residence between March 23 to April 18.
Janet Reno asserted that she believed reports of children being abused and beaten within the compound. An assertion that she could not validate, and later she backed away from. However, after weeks of failed negotiations with the Davidians, Attorney General Janet Reno signed off on a FBI assault plan on the compound, which included the use of CS gas. Why not wait? Janet Reno herself cannot give a compelling answer. Here is what she said to a congressional hearing in 1995:
What is CS gas, also known as tear gas? CS gas is a powerful nerve agent which is banned in warfare by the international Geneva Convention as a chemical weapon.
CS gas is not really a gas. It is composed of a solid compound that is turned into an aerosol, by a pyrotechnic charge or liquefied in a solvent. This is important to note, as the FBI plan centered on the idea of spraying CS liquid into the compound and launching pyrotechnic grenades into the Davidian’s wooden compound. The CS nerve agent is highly electrophilic, meaning that it attracts electrons, activating pain receptors.
CS causes coughing, increased mucous secretion, severe headaches, dizziness, shortness of breath, tightness of the chest, difficulty breathing, skin reactions, and excessive salivation. CS also affects the eyes, causing watering of the eyes, blinking, twitching, burning sensations, and visual problems.
This is what Janet Reno approved for use in a closed space, wooden structure, filled with innocent women and children that had already suffered sexual abuse.
I say this because the report issued by the Justice Department indicated that Janet Reno was fully aware of the risks, which would bring absolute terror and panic to the children and women held in the compound, let alone an absurdly high amount of risk to their lives.
Nowhere written within the 500+ page FBI assault plan was a fire protection plan, even though agents noted upon how flammable the building appeared to be. I wonder at the incredible stupidity of the agents in charge, who were planning to use pyrotechnic grenades.
The FBI should have considered bringing civilian hostage negotiators into the conversation, to bring the situation to a close, as had been done in Ruby Ridge.
On the morning of April 19, 1993, at 6:00am the assault on the compound began with CS gas being sprayed into the compound via booms delivered by armoured vehicles. These vehicles look just like tanks. The fact that these vehicles were unarmed, was likely lost on the Branch Davidians who had been preparing for the Apocalypse, and here it was.
At 6:07 am, Richard Rogers ordered the HRT to fire over 400 pyrotechnic canisters into the complex with grenade launchers. Did Janet Reno read the part of the plan about grenade launchers? I think any reasonable person would stop the plan right there, and search for alternatives than firing grenade launchers into a wooden building filled with women and children, who had committed no crime, and were themselves, victims.
As noted earlier, to call CS gas grenades canisters is a polite metaphor. These were pyrotechnic charges packed with dangerous nerve agents, banned by the Geneva Convention. During this time, the Branch Davidians responded with gunfire.
The conclusions of Justice Department review of the events dated April 19, 1993 indicated that the Branch Davidians started the fire that eventually consumed them, and may have, in fact, shot people attempting to leave the fire. However this account is disputed as the FBI used incendiary canisters that certainly could have ignited the fire. The report further concludes that the FBI acted with extraordinary restraint and great professionalism. Really? What would have been the outcome had the FBI not acted with great restraint and professionalism. Probably the same, meaning that the pat on the back received from the Justice Department report is a sham. Federal agencies should first and foremost protect the lives of the innocent – including children and abused women. If that goal is not achieved, then nothing else matters.
Ultimately seventy five Davidians died during the FBI assault, twenty-five of which were children. Only nine people had escaped. David Koresh, and others, had suffered gunshot wounds to their heads, possibly self inflicted. Most of the women and children were huddled in an underground bunker. Some died of smoke inhalation, but other children were shot, and at least one child was stabbed to death. This unspeakable horror was triggered by the FBI assault that morning.
Janet Reno claimed accountability for the event, but was defiant and unrepentant in her testimony to congressional committees investigating the event. She stood by every decision that had been made, and pointed her finger directly at David Koresh.
Since David Koresh was clearly mentally unstable, and believed in the literal meaning of the book of Revelation, and further, believed that he actually played a role in the scenes described by John, Ms. Reno ought to have reconsidered the terrible plan and adopted a different approach.
Congress, and Ms. Reno, failed to understand the public’s anger at the federal authorities that caused the disaster. Federal authorities should have acted to de-escalate the situation. Instead, the FBI ensured that complete destruction would occur by attacking the compound using tanks, chemical weapons and indiscriminate grenade attacks using military launchers.
A Justice Department report dated April 19, 1993, issued less than two months after the siege began, concluded that the Branch Davidians started the fire that destroyed the compound, and possibly shot children and people that may have attempted to escape. Further, the report found that David Koresh suffered a gun shot wound to the head, that was likely self-inflicted. The report concluded that the deaths of the Branch Davidians were not due to the gas attack plan, or the negotiation strategy. The report clarified that the FBI did not shoot into the compound during the entire 51 day standoff. The main conclusion of the report was that David Koresh had orchestrated the events to bring about the apocalypse as prophesied in the book of Revelation. This statement was intended to somehow ameliorate the blame from the FBI, as though the organization played no role in the deaths of the Branch Davidians.
The actions taken by the ATF and FBI were not illegal, but irresponsible and neglectful. The lives of innocent people were lost in the final assault on the compound, who were convicted of no crime. Law Enforcement needs to be able to do their job, but the lives of innocent people must take precedence.
The civil rights of the innocent people were stripped away and their lives lost.
Janet Reno knew, or should have known, that the plan she approved would put the lives of children in jeopardy. It was the wrong plan and pre-mature. If not for the pressure of HRT leader Richard Rogers, there was no reason to assault the compound on April 19th.
The Holy Bible, King James Version
Justice Department Reports:
THIRTEENTH REPORT, by the COMMITTEE ON GOVERNMENT REFORM AND OVERSIGHT prepared in conjunction with the COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY together with additional and dissenting views dated, August 2, 1996