This editorial was in the Arizona of 8/22. It was written by William P. Cheshire, Senior E
This editorial was in the Arizona of 8/22. It was written by
William P. Cheshire, Senior Editorial Columnist.
LOOKING BEYOND THE WACO SMOKE
An anonymous tipster sent me a videotape the other day
describing in startling detail the government's shootout, siege
and ultimate destruction - possibly deliberate - of the Branch
Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas.
The tape is the production of Linda D. Thompson, an
Indianapolis lawyer who traveled to Waco to protest the
government's initial assault on the compound, which left four
agents dead, and now devotes most of her time to investigating
how 80 or so people died 50 days later when the place was
According to agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol,
Tobacco, and Firearms, the followers of guru David Koresh set
fire to their own building when it was stormed by tanks and a
small army of heavily armed governments agents. But the
videotape, assembled from the government's own film, clearly
shows one of the tanks crashing into the building, then backing
out again, fire belching from its turret.
This received virtually no publicity because the media were
kept under wraps. On a story of this magnitude, reporters and
cameramen normally would have been on the scene providing first-
hand coverage. But in this instance the press acquiesced in
Search and arrest warrants were sealed, and when government
agents settled down for what was to be a seven-week siege, the
press was allowed to get no closer than two miles from the Branch
As the tanks rolled and the feds broke out their grenades and
submachine guns for the final assault on April 19, reporters and
cameramen gathered behind distant roadblocks, waiting for
government handouts. Miles away the compound was being burned to the ground.
A school board can't meet in secret without the media going
ballistic, Thompson says, but here the government conducted a
massive armored assault on civilians, unencumbered by witnesses.
"I'm very discouraged that reporters weren't being more
aggressive in Waco," Phil Record, ombudsman for the Fort Worth
Star-Telegram, told Mark Holmberg of the Rutherford Institute in
Charlottesville, VA. "If there had been a few neutral eyes up
there, I would feel much better about it".
Thompson is more blunt. "Reporters sucked up everything the
ATF and FBI told them," she says. "They're a bunch of weenies
and sheep. None of them had the guts to ask challenging
questions or the intelligence to ask constitutional questions."
FLAME THROWER IDENTIFIED
I reached Thompson by phone at the American Justice
Federation, a civil liberties group she operates. She now has
identified the tank seen backing out of the Branch Davidian
building, she told me.
"It was an M67A1 tank manufactured by Chrysler," she said.
This tank, equipped with a flamethrower, is no longer in service
and, according to Thompson, had to be taken from "the graveyard"
for the Waco assignment. The clear implication is that the
government deliberately set fire to the Branch Davidian compound,
killing some 17 children and 69 adults.
I asked how she found out about the M67A1, a little-know
weapon to which even Jane's Armour and Artillery gives only brief
mention. "The driver who drove it from Fort Hood called me," she said.
At the end of the Waco madness, President Clinton said the
Branch Davidians had "burned themselves up" - and allegation
that, in the light of Linda Thompson's allegations, Congress
needs to investigate.
Already, The Washington Post reports, the Waco embarrassment
has prompted a major reshuffle at the ATF. Some officials may be
forced to retire, the Post says, and the chief of the
intelligence division could be denied "future promotions."
Such punishments seem hardly proportionate.
As a consequence of the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles,
two police officers were tried for the assault and acquitted,
then tried again for civil rights violations and sentenced to two
and a half years in the federal penitentiary.
How is it that federal agents responsible for the death of
more than 80 men, women and children may be permitted to retire
or even to keep their present jobs?
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