‘It was the wrong choice’: Retired ATF agents question commander’s decision to raid Mt. Carmel; adamant Branch Davidians fired first
Sect planned to attack Waco McDonald’s, kill those who did not believe Koresh was Christ: agents
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - On Feb. 28, 1993, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tabaco and Firearms launched a raid at the Branch Davidian compound near the community of Elk, about 13 miles outside Waco.
They were attempting to serve a search and arrest warrant for the leader of the religious sect, David Koresh, for illegally stockpiling weapons.
During the ensuing gun battle, four ATF agents and six members of the Branch Davidians were killed.
The shootout led to a 51-day standoff that ended with the compound burning to the ground, claiming the lives of 76 Branch Davidians, including Koresh.
Robert White and Blake Boteler, two retired ATF agents who were there the day the standoff began, sat down with KWTX for an interview, eager to tell their side of the story after so many years of silence.
FULL INTERVIEW: PART 1
“As we stepped off the trailer it was a wall of lead,” said White, recalling his fellow agents knew the raid was a mistake as soon as the now famous horse trailers came to a stop outside the compound.
“We played into Koresh’s hand,” said White, “He said, ‘they’re gonna come for us,’ and that’s what happened.”
The deadly confrontation outside the Davidian compound was the biggest shootout in law enforcement history.
“The tactical commander made a choice, and it was the wrong choice, and it cost four agents and six Branch Davidians their lives,” the agents said.
The retired agents are not shy about putting blame squarely on the tactical commander who gave orders despite the fact that the Branch Davidians knew they were coming.
“I heard one agent, I don’t remember his name, saying, ‘if they know were coming, why are we going?’ We felt the same way,” the agents said.
FULL INTERVIEW: PART 2
White and Boteler said they are relieved to finally be able to tell their side of the story after years of what they say are misleading documentaries, movies and books that are often one-sided.
“We hope the truth gets out. The American people deserve to know the truth,” the agents said, admitting the misinformation often came from their own leaders.
“We know what happened the first few days, so it was disheartening to hear leaders from headquarters going up there saying things that were blatantly false. Things like we didn’t know we lost the element of surprise. We all knew it,” the agents said.
One question that will most likely bever be definitively answered is, who fired first?
“I know. I was there. I heard it from inside. People say, ‘you’re an ATF agent. Of course you’re gonna say that.’ But the media that was there told the Texas Rangers that the Branch Davidians fired first,” one of the agents recalled.
FULL INTERVIEW: PART 3
The agents told KWTX they have endured 30 years of being portrayed as being ruthless in pursuit of publicity because their agency needed a big win to get more funding from the government.
They said the raid was more than a search warrant looking for illegal weapons. It was about stopping an unstable and unpredictable cult leader.
“I’ve had people tell me, why didn’t you just leave them alone? They just had some guns.” Well, their plans were to hurt people and they were putting together a plan to go into Waco - the McDonald’s and bus station where there are a lot of people - and kill the non-believers who didn’t believe Koresh was Christ.”
While many have played off the plans as a simple test of loyalty among Koresh’s most trusted warriors, White asked, what if they were not?
“If you wait and see, and end up with a bunch of people killed, then who is wrong,” he asked.
Another question that often comes up: Why stage a big raid when Koresh could easily be arrested on one of his regular trips into Waco?
Boteler does not believe that would have solved the bigger problem. “Even if we arrested him in town, at Chelsea’s or something, we would still have to serve the search warrant because the evidence that was gonna convict David Koresh was still in the compound.
The agents said it did not take them long to figure out there were, indeed, illegal weapons in the compound.
“When we rolled up, we were hoping, ‘I hope they have machine guns and hand grenades,’ but as the trailer doors opened up, and they opened up with machine guns, we knew the warrant was good,” the agents said.
Ten people died that day. Some were just trying to their job. Others were just trying to worship their God.
Dozens more would die 51 days later, the fiery end that David Koresh had been preaching all along.
“It played out that way, but I think that it was gonna end that way whether it was Feb. 28, 1993 or later. It was just a matter of what set the powder keg off,” the agents said.
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