Waco Standoff

The Waco standoff, also known as the Waco siege, took place in 1993 in Texas. The incident developed over a period of 50 days and resulted in the deaths of 76 people.

On February 28, 1993, the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) arrived at a Branch Davidian sect ranch at Mount Carmel, near Waco. The ATF had a warrant to search the ranch but the Branch leader, 33-year-old David Koresh, refused to let the agents inside and gunfire lasting for a couple of hours ensued. Four agents and six Branch members were shot in the gun battle. When it became clear that Koresh would not let the agents execute the warrant, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) took over the case and started negotiations with Koresh.

Later that day, Koresh's religious teachings were broadcast on Dallas radio and he was interviewed on the telephone by CNN. President Clinton was briefed on the case, with the FBI keeping him up to date on developments. Negotiations continued the following day and 10 children were allowed to leave the premises. Koresh announced that he would surrender but made no moves to do so. In a goodwill gesture, he released 12 other children.

On March 2, Koresh claimed to have received a message from God, which instructed him to wait inside the ranch. A further number of military vehicles were deployed for safety purposes. Over the next few days Koresh continued to delay his surrender, explaining that he was settling matters with "his Father." On March 5, a nine-year-old girl left the ranch with a note from her mother saying that once all the children were out and safe, the adults would die. The FBI were concerned about the possibility of a mass suicide.

Negotiations continued without success and on March 12 the power supply for the ranch was cut off in an attempt to force the Davidians to leave. By March 21, several more members of the sect had left the compound but Koresh still claimed that God was telling him to wait inside. On April 9, Koresh sent a note to the FBI saying: "Heavens are calling you to judgment." After a careful analysis, FBI psychologists announced that they believed Koresh was psychotic and was unlikely to surrender.

Early on April 19, the FBI announced over a loudspeaker that a tear gas attack was about to begin and that all members of the sect were under arrest. Shortly afterwards, the military started spraying tear gas into the ranch. Two minutes later, the Davidians started shooting. The situation remained unchanged for the next few hours. The compound was too big and the winds too strong for the gas to cause the anticipated damage. Military vehicles started making holes in the compound walls to provide exits but no-one left the compound.

At noon three fires, thought to have been ignited deliberately, broke out simultaneously in the compound. Only nine people managed to escape the fire. The remaining Davidians, including more than 20 children aged one to eight, died of suffocation or were trapped by the collapsing building. Several hours later, FBI officials announced that Koresh was dead and the siege was over. According to official documents, the Branch Davidian leader was accused of sexual abuse, misconduct and illegal weapon possession. A huge stock of various weapons was found after the end of the standoff, including grenades, machine guns, submachine guns, rifles, pistols and gas masks.

Psychiatrist Bruce Perry, who took part in the negotiations and subsequently worked with the Davidian children, revealed shocking details of life behind the walls of the compound. Koresh was accused of punishing the children severely by food deprivation, overnight isolation, in addition to the physical abuse. The psychological state of the children was alarming as they had been raised in constant fear of the outside world, so being outside of the compound was extremely difficult for them as the majority were seriously traumatized.

In 1994, five Branch Davidian members were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and two of weapon charges. The sentences added up to 40 years in prison. The ATF and FBI actions during the standoff were severely criticized for not taking proper measures to prevent the tragic outcome. Different organizations have accused authorities for using CS gas, which may have aided the fire and for blocking possible exits from the compound with military vehicles.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The Branch Davidians of Waco: The History and Beliefs of An Apocalyptic Sect
Kenneth G. C. Newport.
Oxford University Press, 2006
How the Millennium Comes Violently: From Jonestown to Heaven's Gate
Catherine Wessinger.
Seven Bridges Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "1993-Branch Davidians"
Violence and New Religious Movements
James R. Lewis.
Oxford University Press, 2011
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Revisiting the Branch Davidian Mass Suicide Debate"
Cults, Religion, and Violence
David G. Bromley; J. Gordon Melton.
Cambridge University Press, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Mass Suicide and the Branch Davidians"
Controversial New Religions
James R. Lewis; Jesper Aagaard Petersen.
Oxford University Press, 2004
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 3 "Explaining Militarization at Waco"
New Religious Movements and Religious Liberty in America
Derek H. Davis; Barry Hankins.
Baylor University Press, 2003 (2nd edition)
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "A Critical Analysis of Evidentiary and Procedural Rulings in Branch Davidian Civil Case"
Holy Hatred: Religious Conflicts of the '90s
James A. Haught.
Prometheus Books, 1995
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 15 "Waco and the Branch Davidians"
The Separation of Church & State Defended: Selected Writings of James E. Wood, Jr.
Derek H. Davis; James E. Wood Jr.
J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies, 1995
Librarian’s tip: "The Branch Davidian Standoff: An American Tragedy" begins on p. 251
Apocalypse Observed: Religious Movements and Violence in North America, Europe, and Japan
John R. Hall; Philip D. Schuyler; Sylvaine Trinh.
Routledge, 2000
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 2 "From Jonestown to Waco"
Arguing the Apocalypse: A Theory of Millennial Rhetoric
Stephen D. O'Leary.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Epilogue "Waco and Beyond"
In the Cross Fire: A Political History of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms
William J. Vizzard.
Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "Preludes to Waco," Chap. 12 "Waco," and Chap. 13 "The Aftermath"
Theorizing the Standoff: Contingency in Action
Robin Wagner-Pacifici.
Cambridge University Press, 2000
Librarian’s tip: "Waco, 1993" begins on p. 34
A Community Response to the Branch Davidian Incident
Holgersson, James.
Public Management, Vol. 78, No. 7, July 1996
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