Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

David Koresh: Millennial Violence

The FBI Arrives

The first few days following the failed ATF raid, the government assembled a crisis management team to talk with the cornered Branch Davidians.  In their "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas," compiled in October that year, the FBI described their crisis management program for handling situations like this. Acting quickly, they determined what resources would be needed and selected people for a team. That meant negotiators, tactical personnel, support people, local law enforcement, consultants, and liaisons with the media.  Special Agent-in-Charge Jeffrey Jamar took over, raising the hackles of the ATF, who later said they had never asked for help. By 5 o'clock p.m. on the second day, the FBI had a full command center operating, which they had set up in a hangar at a former air force base about a mile from the Branch Davidian compound. From the first day to the last, the place was abuzz with activity.

The Critical Incident Negotiation Team supervised the negotiations, using a team leader, an agent on the phone talking with someone inside the compound, secondary negotiators who handled that person's suggestions, and people to prepare the reports for the end of each day. These were kept in envelopes for anyone to read who might need information quickly.

The initial communications had occurred between ATF Special Agent James Cavanaugh and David Koresh, but then Lt. Larry Lynch of the Waco Police Department took over, speaking mostly with Steve Schneider and Wayne Martin, Koresh's trusted lieutenants. Schneider was a disaffected Seventh Day Adventist evangelist and Martin was an attorney. After the cult's messages to the media, the phone lines were rerouted from the compound so that anyone inside who dialed out would only get an FBI negotiator on the other end. During the second day, three negotiators kept up unceasing contact with 15 different members of Koresh's group, but that soon changed to contact with mostly Schneider or Koresh.

Outside, the job of the Hostage Rescue Team was to control the perimeter around the compound, for which they used different types of intimidating tanks. Christopher Whitcomb describes what it was like to be there, and he makes it clear that while the negotiators were trying to settle things peacefully, the HRT were ready for action. It was clear that the FBI's own people were working at odds with each other, and many of them knew it throughout the siege. Yet each side believed it was right: Negotiators insisted that tactical behavior only fulfilled Koresh's prophecy and strengthened his resolve, while the HRT people, with their pro-military mindset, believed that encroaching on his territory intimidated him and weakened him in the eyes of his flock.

Koresh informed the FBI that he'd been hit by two bullets, one through the hip and the other through his left wrist. He refused medical assistance. However, he did release ten more children that day, including a baby. The FBI believed there was hope that he might eventually give up, although a psychological consultant was convinced that Koresh himself would never surrender.  God was not going to prison.

Then things got ugly. When Koresh realized he couldn't dial out to anyone except the FBI, he threatened more violence and hung out banners for requests for the media. Even so, he repeatedly assured anyone who asked that he had no plans for suicide. He promised to let everyone out if his message was played for the whole nation. As a show of good faith, he sent out a few more children.

Also as a show of good faith, the FBI made arrangements for the broadcast on March 2, while U. S. Marshals prepared to take people into custody. Then they awaited the hour-long tape that Koresh was making. It arrived at 8:00 a.m., along with the release of two more children and two adults.

As several Christian radio stations broadcast Koresh's speech, negotiators worked out the surrender logistics. Koresh was to come out first, carried on the stretcher. Then Schneider was to send someone out every two minutes. Vehicles were put in place to pick them up.

That afternoon, Koresh assured negotiators that the plan was proceeding. He just wanted to lead his people in prayer.

Then at 6:00, he said that God had instructed him to wait. There would be no surrender that day. Thereafter, all he offered were Bible readings and statements of resistance.

According to the FBI report, they learned that things were not as they had seemed. Even as Koresh had denied ideas about suicide, he had actually formed a rather insidious plan.  According to one of his own followers, Koresh believed he was about to die so he'd instructed his group in what they were to do once he expired. They were to carry him outside on a stretcher and then fire on the agents so they would kill and then be killed.  Some of them were given hand grenades, and allegedly Koresh had instructed them to stand together in small groups and pull the pins. That way they could take as many of "the Beast" with them as possible. Everyone was to die. 

But then Koresh had a change of heart—perhaps because he was not dying, after all. After talking about meeting in the next world, the Davidians gathered to pray and to wait for further instructions. Koresh then advised them that they should not emerge at that time, because he had sinned by indulging in whiskey and prohibited food. That would effectively eliminate their salvation. 

The standoff continued.


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