Robert Rodriguez has accepted that he’ll forever be linked with the ATF’s ill-fated raid of the Branch Davidian compound, but he rarely talks about the events that led to one of the biggest calamities in U.S. law enforcement history.
That’s perfectly understandable. Four ATF agents were killed and 20 were wounded on Feb. 28, 1993, when the ATF tried to serve a federal warrant to search the Branch Davidian compound for illegal firearms. Six members of the religious sect were killed or wounded.
The bloody firefight sparked a 51-day siege that ended when David Koresh, the leader of the sect, and more than 70 of his followers died in a fire that started when the FBI stormed the compound with tanks and fired tear gas into the buildings.
Rodriguez, who grew up in Falfurrias and has lived in San Antonio since 1993, infiltrated the Branch Davidian compound as an undercover agent after the ATF began an investigation into the alleged firearms violations.
Rodriguez went into the compound on the morning of the raid to assess the situation one more time before the ATF launched its raid. Much to his consternation, Rodriguez discovered that Koresh had been tipped off.
He left the compound under the guise that he was going into town to meet friends for breakfast, hurrying back to the ATF command post to warn raid supervisors that the agency had lost the element of surprise.
But Rodriguez’s warning went unheeded.
“I still think about that and it still bothers me,” Rodriguez said.
ATF officials went into spin control in the aftermath of the fiasco, some even suggesting that Rodriguez had not warned the raid supervisors that Koresh knew was what going down.
Rodriguez sued ATF officials, claiming they were trying to make him a scapegoat. He won the lawsuit and was awarded nearly $2.3 million in damages, but his career in law enforcement was over.
Rodriguez said he always comes to the same conclusion when he reflects on the disastrous consequences of the raid on the Branch Davidian compound and Koresh’s messianic rants.
“We fell right into the hands of Koresh and all those nuts,” Rodriguez said. “This is what he wanted, to make it appear that the government was going to kill his people. He wanted Armageddon. Our biggest mistake was that we made it so easy for him.”
While Rodriguez said the ATF made critical mistakes in Waco, he scoffs at claims that the government set the fires that turned the Branch Davidian compound into an inferno.
“Koresh and his people set those fires,” he said. “Don’t blame it on the government. Blame it on those fanatics.”