Remember Waco

The federal government's military assault of a religious residence near Waco, Texas, was one of the most egregious abuses of power ever witnessed in the United States.

On February 28, 1993, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms conducted a military assault of the living quarters of the Branch Davidians, a small Christian church once associated with the Seventh-Day Adventists. After a fifty-one-day siege, the Davidians' home burned, killing more than eighty men, women and children.

What happened?

ATF wanted to make an example of the Davidians.

ATF used some valid concerns to further their agenda of increasing their budget and disarming American citizens.

ATF used excessive force.

Instead of peacably serving a search warrant, the ATF lied in order to get military support, then attacked the Davidians with overwhelming firepower, leaving the Davidians no option but to defend themselves or be killed.

The FBI's siege confirmed Davidians' fears.

During the long siege, the FBI cut off utilities, blared recordings of rabbits being slaughtered, refused to allow family members to talk with the Davidians, and otherwise confirmed the Davidian's view that the federal government meant to kill them.

The federal government started the fire and made sure the Davidians died in it.

The FBI pumped an inflammable gas into a building lit with kerosene lanterns, then knocked down walls and blocked exits.

Government agencies covered up evidence of agents' wrongdoing.

The press were kept away from the scene; the building was immediately demolished; key evidence disappeared; several feet of topsoil was removed from the site.

Surviving Davidians were found innocent of murder.

Despite dirty tricks by the prosecution, a jury found that surviving Davidians acted in self-defense and were as such innocent of murder and conspiracy to murder. Six Davidians are appealing convictions on lesser charges.

The Waco tragedy stirred tremendous antigovernment sentiment.

Seeing federal agents abuse their authority with impunity, average Americans began to fear their government. Both the House and Senate held hearings on the Waco incident. Imprisoned Davidians appealed their sentences.

A small measure of justice was later served.

In 1999, the tide began turn against the federal government, as long-suppressed evidence came to light. In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the lengthy prison sentences given to the Davidians, who were resentenced and set free by 2007.

Federal agencies should be required to use local police for actual enforcement.

To reduce the situations that made Waco likely, federal police should be prohibited from carrying weapons, instead being confined to an investigative role, and relying on local law enforcement for searches and arrests.

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