I once met David Koresh at the big Market Hall gun show in Dallas. I recall a friendly longhaired guy with a table full of black rifles who seemed a bit weird. In retrospect that was fairly surreal.
I’m not justifying the Branch Davidians’ theology, their peculiar social habits, or their actions in the face of a full-on government assault replete with armored vehicles. It has been alleged that Koresh was a pedophile polygamist who amassed an arsenal of illegally converted machineguns. All that may be true. However, undeniably bad things invariably happen when the full fury of the United States government is unleashed upon American citizens for violating ever-shifting firearms laws.
Gun control is in the news these days because gun control is forever in the news. After decades of uncomfortably dancing around the issue, a serious candidate for the Democratic nomination for President has finally come out and said what we all knew all along.
“Hell, yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47.”
While that makes a great left-wing talking point, I wonder if they’ve really thought that one through. A certain statistically significant percentage of the American gun-owning population is not going to just queue up and hand over their black rifles. Sadly, it seems we have actually trod this blood-soaked ground before.
A Flawed Messiah
Vernon Wayne Howell was born in 1959 to a 14-year-old single mother named Bonnie Sue Clark. Howell’s father, Bobby Wayne Howell, abandoned Bonnie Sue for another teenager before Vernon was born. Bonnie Sue subsequently shacked up with a violent alcoholic.
Bonnie Sue abandoned the child to his maternal grandmother when he was four. An unpopular kid, Vernon proceeded through school in special education classes secondary to severe dyslexia. At age 22 he fathered his first child with an underage 15-year-old girl.
Here the tale gets monumentally strange. Vernon spent a little time in church and claimed to have the gift of prophecy. He gravitated toward an eccentric offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists called the Branch Davidians based outside Waco, Texas.
Vernon assimilated into this curious little band and eventually found himself in a power struggle for leadership. George Roden, the son of the organization’s dead founder Benjamin, vied with Vernon for control. George and Vernon challenged each other to a raise-the-dead contest, winner take all. Neither contender successfully revived the actual dead woman Roden dug up for their exercise. Their conflict subsequently devolved into an exchange of gunfire.
George Roden was wounded and remanded to an insane asylum. Howell was charged with attempted murder, but his legal journey ended in a mistrial. With George safely institutionalized, Vernon and his followers paid the back taxes and took control of the sect’s Mount Carmel headquarters. They subsequently discovered Roden’s abandoned meth lab and reported it to the police.
In 1990 Vernon Howell formally petitioned to change his name to David Koresh. Koresh was a reference to the ancient Persian King, Cyrus the Great, who freed the Jews from Babylonian captivity some 2,500 years ago. The David bit turned on his disputable claim of direct lineage to the Biblical King David. Koresh claimed he was, “professing himself to be the spiritual descendant of King David, a messianic figure carrying out a divinely commissioned errand.” Wow.
We’ll Skip a Bit at This Point….
Koresh and his merry mob had a serious weakness for ordnance. There were allegations of child abuse and polygamy, but none of that prompted an armed government response or even a serious investigation. It was the guns that put the government in play.
A UPS driver reported that one of many packages he delivered to the compound had broken open, exposing grenade casings and black powder. When Koresh found out about the investigation he invited the ATF out to the compound to inspect his guns. They declined.
Koresh had mail-ordered quite a lot of M16 parts. The ATF obtained a search warrant on the premise that the Davidians were in “constructive possession” of potential automatic weapons in violation of the oddly titled Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. This oxymoronic piece of legislation outlawed the manufacture of automatic weapons for sale to civilians. Prior to that time building machineguns was perfectly legal so long as the rules were followed.
The government apparently falsely alleged that Koresh was operating a meth lab. This drug nexus allowed the BATF to requisition military assets. However, the Army Special Forces commander upon whom the request fell was not impressed, so the ATF received only training space along with medical and communication equipment.
On Sunday morning February 28, 1993, a convoy of civilian vehicles containing a large number of heavily armed BATF agents approached the compound. They called the mission Operation Showtime. A local TV reporter notified in advance asked a letter carrier for directions. Unbeknownst to the feds, the mailman was Koresh’s brother-in-law. Any element of surprise was irretrievably lost.
Both sides claimed the other fired first. The firefight dragged on for two hours and only ended when the BATF assault teams ran out of ammunition. When the dust cleared four BATF agents were dead and another sixteen were wounded. Five Davidians died, two of whom were killed by their peers after having been badly wounded. Another Davidian was shot dead trying to re-enter the compound after the initial raid.
The FBI took over the operation, and for the next 51 days, the eyes of the world were on Mount Carmel. Nine M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicles along with five M728 Combat Engineer Vehicles and a pair of M1 Abrams Main Battle Tanks were requisitioned from nearby Fort Hood. They flattened the compound’s outbuildings in short order.
Attorney General Janet Reno made the case to President Clinton to assault the compound with armored vehicles and tear gas. She claimed that the Davidians were beating babies, the FBI Hostage Rescue Team was tired, and that the siege was costing a cool million dollars per week. The baby-beating thing was not necessarily true, but, no matter, on April 19 the government deployed their gas.
Somewhere along the way a fire started. Conspiracy theories abound concerning the details, none of which really matter. 76 Davidians died including 28 children. It was horrible by any conceivable metric. Two weeks later the site was conveniently bulldozed.
The charred wreckage of the compound ultimately produced 305 Davidian firearms, mostly AR15 and AK47 variants. There were also multiple shotguns, revolvers, and pistols. There were a total of 46 automatic weapons discovered among the debris, 22 of which were converted AR15s.
Twenty selective-fire AK rifles along with a pair of full-auto HK SP89’s and two converted M11/Nine’s were documented.
Another pair of stripped full auto AR lowers and 39 AR15 drop-in auto sears were recovered. There were also another 88 unmolested AR15 lowers.
There were countless magazines, 100 hollow M21 practice grenades, 200 inert M231 rifle grenades, chemical warfare gear, and night vision imaging systems found in the rubble. The final report included fifteen sound suppressors, several Kevlar helmets, and body armor. The Treasury Department report included 21 suppressors, but it was later determined that spent government tear gas casings had been erroneously counted as silencers.
Nobody disputes that the Branch Davidians were weird. However, they maintained surprisingly good relations with their neighbors. Being weird isn’t an adequate impetus to be burned to death even in Beto’s America.
The allegations of underage marriage and child abuse were rightfully disconcerting, but that isn’t what brought out the armored vehicles. Investigating child abuse is more a social worker thing than something involving hundreds of tactical officers with automatic weapons. Prior to the raid, the argument could be made that nobody innocent had been physically hurt. It really all came down to the guns.
I have any number of dear friends who are currently active members of the BATF. They are without exception committed patriots who view their mission to protect the public while respecting individual rights as a holy thing. The BATF rank and file is not currently the problem. The entity ultimately responsible for all this death and chaos was the US Congress. Seven years prior to the Waco raid these same guns would have been legal to build and possess.
We stand on the edge of a precipice peering into the darkness. There are as many as 20 million black rifles in private hands in America. If only .1% of those gun owners refuse to surrender their arms peacefully we are looking at the potential for thousands of Waco massacres.
Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris, and those like them need to count the cost. This is not Australia, New Zealand, or the UK. We Americans don’t have a terribly good track record of peacefully rolling over when the government tries to take our stuff.
The Davidians were undeniably unbalanced. However, when our elected officials make sparkly new gun control laws some poor slobs are going to have to enforce them. I pray more sensible heads prevail.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
Weapons of Mass Destruction are nukes and chemical warfare agents. Machineguns are really just good tools to help you run out of ammunition quickly. The unjustified stigma attached to these typically forbidden tools is driven by the media and remains quite powerful.