University To Create Online Exhibit On Branch Davidian Siege
The Wittliff Collections at Texas State University in San Marcos has received a $20,000 grant to create an online exhibit about the 1993 shootout and standoff at the Branch Davidian compound outside of Waco.
The grant was awarded by the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services through the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s TexTreasures grant program, the university said.
The exhibit will be created based on the primary source materials journalist Dick J. Reavis, collected while writing “The Ashes of Waco,” which was published in 1995.
Reavis donated his papers to the Wittliff’s Southwestern Writers Collection and his archive opened for research in 2006, the university said.
Among the items that will be made available are recordings of negotiations between the Branch Davidians and FBI agents, videos recorded by the federal government during the siege, Branch Davidian Bible studies dating back to the 1970s and correspondence between Reavis and surviving Branch Davidians.
The standoff at Mount Carmel started on Feb. 28, 1993 after Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents launched a massive raid on the compound that left four agents and six Davidians dead.
The shootout stunned the ATF and the FBI moved quickly to take over operations.
It was in charge during the 51-day standoff that captured the attention of the world.
At one point, there were as many as 1,000 media representatives assembled along a rural McLennan County Farm to Market Road in an area that became known as Satellite City.
Analysts later said the intense media scrutiny of the government’s handling of the standoff may have contributed to the FBI’s decision to use tear gas in an attempt to break the impasse.
FBI agents in armored vehicles pumped tear gas into the compound in an assault that began early in the morning on April 19, 1993.
Just after noon, fingers of flame began to shoot from one end of the compound.
A strong wind fanned the flames, which quickly engulfed the poorly constructed wood frame building.
As many as 80 died in the fire, including women and children.
The Ashes of Waco
The scene outside Waco, Texas, on February 28, 1993 – when dozens of federal law enforcement agents in full combat gear stormed the Branch Davidian compound – could have been cast in England before the Quakers and Pilgrims fled to America, or in the colonies at Salem, or in the new Republic during the nineteenth century, when descendants of the Quakers and Pilgrims turned their suspicions on the early Mormons. The elements that these very American crusades had in common were, on one hand, a group of people with beliefs incomprehensible to the majority of the population, and on the other, police agencies whose operatives could not distinguish custom from law, idiosyncrasy from threat. The line between churches, which Americans believe should be protected from government interference, and cults, which most Americans hold in disdain, has nothing to do with the Constitution-the First Amendment in theory shields both-and everything to do with the prejudices of a nation that has grown fearful of the diversity that made it unique. The residents of Mt. Carmel were instantly convicted of sin and lawbreaking by the kind of gossip that unites remote hamlets and electronic villages alike.
This is the story the daily press didn’t give us, the definitive book about what happened at Mt. Carmel, near Waco, Texas, examined from both sides-the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and the FBI on one hand, and David Koresh and his followers on the other. Dick J. Reavis points out that the government had little reason to investigate Koresh and even less to raid the compound at Mt. Carmel. The government lied to the public about most of what happened – about who fired the first shots, about drug allegations, about child abuse. The FBI was duplicitous and negligent in gassing Mt. Cannel – and that alone could have started the fire that killed seventy-six people.
The press only made things worse. The feds said that Koresh and his cult held dangerous beliefs as well as dangerous guns, and the press passed on the charge without criticism or independent judgment. Its stories set up a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy in which the accusation – heresy – both predicted and justified the sect’s demise, as if every Jeremiah were a Jim Jones, every Mt. Carmel inevitably a Jonestown.
Drawing on interviews with survivors of Koresh’s movement (which dates back to 1935, long before Koresh was born), on published accounts, on trial transcripts, on esoteric religious tracts and audiotapes that tell us who Koresh was and why people followed him, and most of all on secret documents that the government has not released to the public yet, Reavis has uncovered the real story from beginning to end, including the trial that followed. It is a story about the very American, nineteenth-century roots of Koresh’s theology, and it includes previously unpublished biographical details. Reavis quotes from Koresh himself at great length to create an extraordinary portrait of a movement, an assault, and an avoidable tragedy. –This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Sep. 8, 2008 News Summary