Apocalypses Theme

“All I smelled was rotten bodies,” Texas Ranger, Roy Coffman said
during his testimony at the murder and conspiracy trial of 11 Branch Davidians.

The dead were found in the rubble of the April 19 fire that destroyed the
compound, killing more than 75 Branch Davidians, including the sect’s leader,
David Koresh, and 17 children. Perhaps the worst case of the federal
government’s overreaching in American history, the 1993 Waco tragedy has caused
Americans to ask the question of how much military involvement will citizens
allow in their everyday lives before they lose their rights as individuals. In
February, 1993, 4 federal agents were killed in an assault on the compound of
the Branch Davidians, a cult group just outside of Waco, Texas. The Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the ATF), a unit of the Treasury Department
implemented the operation on the grounds that members of the Branch Davidians
possessed illegal firearms and explosives and committed physical and sexual
abuse, especially against children. Their goal was to arrest David Koresh, a
self-proclaimed apocalyptic prophet and the leader of the cult, and seize the
group’s weapons. After this disaster, in which about a half-dozen cult members
died and several federal agents were wounded, the ATF was replaced by the FBI,
whose reputation for professionalism promised a quick resolution of the conflict
and an end to the siege. It seemed as if America could breathe a sigh of relief.

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Negotiations began, and soon some of the Branch Davidians left the compound. Yet
the talks ultimately ended up breaking down and finally ended. All utilities
including water, electricity, and telephone were cut off. Davidians were then
bombarded with a psychological attack which included 24 hours of glaring from
high powered lamps that kept the compound lit all night, and 24 hours of blaring
music that included sounds ranging from Buddhist monks chanting to rabbits being
killed. This barrage was intended to weaken the will of those inside the
compound who were now largely cut off from contact with the outside world. On
April 19, the FBI, in what appears to have been a terrible decision, began
another assault. It included knocking holes in the outer walls of the compound’s
buildings with a tank and spraying tear gas into the interiors. Of course, the
FBI did not describe this as an assault, but as closing the periphery and
increasing the pressure on cult members to surrender. In particular, the FBI
hoped that the women would pack up and leave with their children–that their
maternal insticts would take over . Instead the compound went up in flames. Over
75 cult members were burnt alive in a blaze that the FBI says was started by
cult members. Some factors point to this being a mass suicide, yet surviving
Branch Davidians have said that the fires started when the assault on the walls
of the compound spilled fuel from kerosene lamps. Six years after the Waco siege
came to its violent end, citizens are angry and shocked about details just
recently unfolding concerning the raid that left more than 75 dead. Allegations
that military personnel were present and participated in the raid on the
Davidian compound raise serious questions about mingling of military and
civilian forces in direct violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which
forbids such deployment. Just one day after the siege ended in flaming terror,
President Clinton gave the American people a glimpse of what to expect from the
government. The government could not be responsible for, “the fact that a
bunch of fanatics decided to kill themselves,” he said. He then warned that
“there is, unfortunately, a rise in this sort of fanaticism across the
world. And we may have to confront this again.” The tragedy at Waco by no
means is the first or only example of violations of Posse Comitatus, but it does
prove the volatility that can result from mixing special- operations troops and
civilian law enforcement. Separation of civilian and military forces has long
been an American tradition but under the guise of the “war on drugs”
and “war on terrorism,” Congress in the last two decades has enacted
legislation allowing military intervention in civilian law enforcement, which
many believe violates the law. The distinction between military and civilian
forces can rarely be identified. Every law enforcement officer, office, agency
or department in the United States lives by the same use-of-force policy. Police
may use force only to the level necessary to neutralize a situation and may use
deadly force only to protect themselves or the lives of others. They are trained
to consider individual rights of the citizen, regardless of the severity of the
crime. On the other hand, the mission of the military is national security.

Soldiers are trained to use deadly force on an enemy. Whatever term is applied,
the fact remains that United States troops are participating in civilian
law-enforcement activities inside the United States. Often the outcome is
frightening and, as in the case of the raid on the Branch Davidians, can be
disastrous. “It’s a slippery slope,” GOP Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia
warned recently, toward the militarization of civilian law enforcement. There
isn’t a more fundamental issue in our society than keeping civilian law
enforcement separate from military. The line was completely blurred at Waco, and
because Posse Comitatus has never been prosecuted, this will be one of the most
important areas of the upcoming hearings in Waco.” Right wing Conservatives
such as the Christian Coalition and members of the NRA agree with Liberals on a
rare occasion that the government did more than just overstep its bounds in the
Waco siege but murdered over 75 people for reasons yet to be concretely
established. They believe that the more the military begins to intervene in
every day life the faster people’s individual right’s are removed. These rights
are included in these amendments which bear particular importance to this issue:
1st Amendment (freedom of Speech); 2nd Amendment (right to Bear Arms); 10th
Amendment (all powers not delegated to the United States are reserved to the
states or to the people); and the 14th ( no man can be deprived of life,
liberty, or property without due process). The Clinton Administration and most
other lawmakers tend to lean more towards the middle and to agree with the
government on the issue of the Waco siege. Their philosophy: the government is
always right. Secretary of the Treasury Robert Rubin was quoted in a 1995
article in The New Republic as painting the critics of the government’s action’s
as “opponent’s of law enforcement.” “I fear some may try to use
(the waco) hearings,” he wrote, “to serve another agenda: to erode
public support for federal firearms laws…by undermining public confidence in
the men and women who enforce those laws.” Member of the Clinton
Administration, Attorney General Janet Reno, took full responsibility for the
operation and it’s disastrous outcome. According to Attorney David B. Kopel and
Criminologist Paul H. Blackman, authors of No More Wacos…, the day after Reno
made this statement she received a call from the president who told her,
“That-a-girl,” to show his support. Perhaps she did her best in
approving what now appears to be a senseless assault. “It is a reminder
that you try to make the best judgment and you take the consequences,” Reno
was quoted in a 1994 New York Times article, “you accept responsibility and
you move ahead, trying always to figure out what you can do better,”
{Subcommittees in the investigation into the activities of federal law
enforcement agencies found Reno’s decision to approve the FBI’s plan to end the
Waco standoff on April 19, 1993 “premature, wrong, and highly
irresponsible.” The subcommittees also sighted her negligence in
authorizing the assault to proceed. According to them, Reno knew or should have
known that the plan to end the standoff would endanger the lives of the
Davidians inside the residence, including the children. She was also aware or
should have been aware that there was a risk to the FBI agents, society as a
whole, or to the Davidians from continuing this standoff and at the possibility
of a peaceful resolution continued to exist. The attorney general knew or should
have known that the reasons cited for ending the standoff on April 19 lacked
merit. The negotiations had not reached impasse. The FBI Hostage Rescue Team did
not need to stand down for rest and retraining for at least 2 more weeks after
April 19, and if and when it did stand down FBI and local law enforcement SWAT
teams could have been brought in to maintain the perimeter. And while physical
and sexual abuse of minors had occurred, there was no basis to conclude that
minors were being subjected to any greater risk of sexual abuse during the
stand-off than prior to February 28. The final assault put the children at the
greatest risk.} There is no doubt that law enforcement is a noble and necessary
element to government, but at Waco the Clinton Administration acted coarsely,
thoughtlessly and lethally, and then refused to consider critically what it had
done. A perfect example of this callousness is reflected in Attorney General
Janet Reno’s decision use C.S. gas (tear gas) for forty-eight hours despite the
presence of babies who cannot be protected by the masks. According to Alan Stone
a professor of law and psychiatry at Harvard Law School, the attorney general
maintained that she had been assured that the gas would not cause permanent harm
to the babies, but medical literature contains convincing evidence of the life
threatening risk. The overreaching of government and military in the Waco siege
resulted in a situation comparable to those of Nazi germany during World war II,
and it is clear that in order for America to remain a free society our country
must do everything in its power to prevent events such as thus from ever
happening again.

1. “Agents of Apocalypse.” Editorial. Commonweal 7 May 1993: 3. 2.

“Apocalypse Now.” Editorial. New Republic 21 Aug. 1995: 7. 3.

Associated Press. “Agents Dismissed in Raid on Sect Say They Were Blamed
Unfairly.” New York Times 13 Nov. 1994: 38. 4. “Clinton & Co.:
Koresh’s Children.” Editorial. The Nation 23 May 1994: 689. 5. Hamm, Mark
S. Apocalypse in Oklahoma: Waco and Ruby Ridge Revenged. Boston: Northeastern
University Press, 1997. 6. “A Jury Judges Waco.” Editorial. New York
Times 1 Mar. 1994: 22. 7. Kopel, David B. and Paul H. Blackman. No More Wacos:
What’s Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It. Amherst: Prometheus
Books, 1997. 8. “The Land of the Free.” Editorial. The Economist 21
Dec. 1996: 29-32. 9. O’meara, Kelly Patricia. “Deadly Force and Individual
Rights.” Insight on the News 8 Nov. 1999: 14-15. 10. “Prosecution
Completes Case Against 11 Koresh Followers.” New York Times 16 Feb. 1994:
17. 11. Reavis, Dick J. The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation. New York: Simon
; Schuster, 1995. 12. “Redoubled Standards?” Editorial. National
Review 1 Nov. 1993: 16. 13. Shafer, Richard. “Terrorism and the Media: From
the Iran Hostage Crisis to the Oklahoma City Bombing.” Journalism and Mass
Communication Quarterly Autumn 1996: 770-72. 14. Stone, Alan. “Burned by
Waco.” Editorial. The Nation 28 Aug. 1995: 188. 15. “Team U.S.A.”
Editorial. The Nation 1 Nov. 1993: 483. 16. “Texas Officer Recalls Horror
in Rubble of Cult Compound.” New York Times 14 Jan. 1994: 24. 17. Verhovek,
Sam Howe. “Murder Case Against 11 Cult Members Goes to Jury.” New York
Times 24 Feb. 1994: 14. 18. Verhovek, Sam Howe. “Texas Sect Trial Spurs
Scrutiny of Government.” New York Times 10 Jan. 1994: 10. 19. “Waco
Inferno Remembered by Davidians.” New York Times 18 Apr. 1994: 10. 20.

“The War in Waco.” Editorial. The Nation 10 May 1993: 615. 21.

“With Morbid Ideals.” Editorial. National Review 15 May 1995: 18. 22.

Zesch, Lindy. “Hate Wave.” Editorial. American Theater July 1995: 3.

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