Waco: The Inside Story

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[This transcript is provided as a service of Journal Graphics. The WGBH Educational Foundation is not responsible for any errors or mischaracterizations in this transcript. JES]

FRONTLINE Show #1401

Air Date: October 17, 1995

[The following program contains graphic language. Viewer discretion is advised.]

Waco: The Inside Story

ANNOUNCER: Do you know what really happened at Waco? There is new evidence from wiretaps and FBI videotapes. Tonight, correspondent Peter Boyer investigates "Waco: The Inside Story.''

February 28th, 1993, Waco, Texas

PETER J. BOYER, FRONTLINE Correspondent: On that Sunday morning, as the ATF prepared its raid on the Branch Davidians and their stockpile of weapons, at its headquarters in Washington, the FBI was unaware of the gathering crisis in Waco that would soon consume the Bureau. They were focused on New York, where the World Trade Center had just been bombed.

DAVID BRINKLEY, ABC News: Somebody tried to blow up the World Trade Center_

1st REPORTER: Five dead, a thousand injured_

2nd REPORTER: The magnitude of the explosion_

3rd REPORTER: _the biggest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

DAVID BRINKLEY: Our guest today, William Sessions, director of the FBI.

WILLIAM SESSIONS, Former FBI Director: I was eating lunch when one of the agents notified me from the command center that there was this horrible event down in, they thought, Waco, Texas.

PETER J. BOYER: From the command center in Washington, word was flashed to FBI agents around the country.

JEFF JAMAR, FBI, Waco Commander: When I first heard about it, I was home in San Antonio, reading the Sunday morning paper. Our headquarters told us what had occurred with very, very sketchy detail.

BYRON SAGE, FBI, z: I was rattling around, getting my family ready to go to church, and the phone rings and Jeff Jamar advised me that I needed to proceed to Waco as soon as possible.

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI headed to Waco where the ATF raid had become the longest shootout in American law enforcement history.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Hello? Is this Wayne Martin? I hear gunfire! God, almighty!



DAVIDIAN: Tell them to pull back!


DAVIDIAN: Tell them to pull back!

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Are you returning fire, Wayne?

DAVIDIAN: Oh, shit!

DEPUTY SHERIFF: What's the matter?

PETER J. BOYER: The first FBI agents on the scene listened to frantic 911 calls between a deputy sheriff and one of the Davidians.

DAVIDIAN: [screams]


DAVIDIAN: If they don't back up, we're going to have to sweep them all!

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Just remain calm. We're going to get it worked out, okay?

PETER J. BOYER: The gunfight had lasted nearly an hour. ATF agents had been shot and were down. So were some of the Davidians, including their leader, David Koresh.

911 OPERATOR: 911.


911 OPERATOR: Yes?

DAVID KORESH: This is Dave Koresh.

911 OPERATOR: This is who, sir?

DAVID KORESH: David Koresh, Mount Carmel Center. We're being shot all up out here.

911 OPERATOR: Okay. Where are you?

DAVID KORESH: Where am I? I'm at Mount Carmel Center!

911 OPERATOR: Okay, hang on just a second.

DAVID KORESH: All right.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Yeah, this is Lynch [sp?].



DAVID KORESH: This is David Koresh_


DAVID KORESH: _the notorious. Why'd you go and do that for? You brought a bunch of guys out here and_

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI listened in amazement as Koresh, in the midst of a gun battle, began to preach from the Bible.

DAVID KORESH: There are seven seals.


DAVID KORESH: What reward did Christ receive in heaven? He received a book with seven seals. Now, in the prophecies_

DEPUTY SHERIFF: All right. Let me_ can I interrupt you for a minute?


DEPUTY SHERIFF: All right. We can talk theology, but right now_

DAVID KORESH: No, this is life.


DAVID KORESH: This is life and death.


DAVID KORESH: Now, you need to learn Deuteronomy 32.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Okay. But let me ask you this. The present situation_ one idea this morning is to take their injured troop out of your area. Can they come now without_

PETER J. BOYER: The ATF agents were outgunned and out of bullets. The Davidians had a 50-caliber cannon, machine guns and more than a million rounds of ammunition.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Okay, now, Wayne, they're moving the men now, so tell your people not to fire. Make sure everyone_

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI listened as a deputy sheriff pleaded for a ceasefire.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Please tell them now. Get the word to them. Don't let someone fire on them. All they're doing is removing the wounded people. Please emphasize that. Get to everybody. Don't let someone start firing.

911 OPERATOR: Hey, Lynch?


911 OPERATOR: Between you and me_


911 OPERATOR: Both of the guys on the roof are dead.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Both of them?

911 OPERATOR: Yeah.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: God, almighty! Shit!

Wayne, stay with them. Don't let them fire. We're complying with what you've asked. Don't let some person fire and get this started again. We've made too much progress to back up now, okay? Work with me, Wayne!

JIM CAVANAUGH, ATF Negotiator: It looked like a defeated army.

DEPUTY SHERIFF: Get the word to your troops. We've made too much progress to back up.

JIM CAVANAUGH: We were beaten. It's hard for the agents to accept that.

PETER J. BOYER: The ATF defeat was complete. Now Waco was the FBI's crisis. Lord knows we all think we know a lot about what happened at Waco. But five months ago, in the basement of a Texas law firm, we discovered the Waco files_ 7,000 government photographs, wiretaps and hundreds of hours of telephone negotiation tapes that had never been revealed to the public. Together they provide an extraordinary inside view of the FBI's 51-day stand-off at Waco and the fiery conclusion that killed 75 Branch Davidians. These files unlock the real story of the Waco stand-off, what was going on inside the minds of the men whose day-by-day decisions added up to disaster.

JEFF JAMAR: [press conference] My name is Jeff Jamar. I'm the special agent-in-charge of FBI operations here in Waco.

PETER J. BOYER: According to FBI procedure, major events like Waco are run by the highest-ranking local agent, in this case, Jeff Jamar from San Antonio.

JEFF JAMAR: [press conference] It's J-A-M-A-R. First name's Jeff.

BYRON SAGE: Jeff is a very dynamic commander. He has a very domineering management style. He's a big man. His_ he commands a significant presence. And if somebody that_ if he walks into the presence of somebody that has not dealt with him before, he can be very intimidating.

JEFF JAMAR: [press conference] We responded with necessary personnel and equipment. The one thing that we bring to it, what the FBI brings to something like that, is all of our resources. Our Hostage Rescue Team shows up with the backing of 10,000 FBI agents and everything that comes with that and all the_ all of our laboratory, all of our resources. And I could_ whatever I needed there, I knew I could get.

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI sends its elite tactical specialists, the Hostage Rescue Team, known as the HRT. By instinct and training, they are inclined toward action.

R.J. CRAIG, FBI, Hostage Rescue Team: Now, a crime's been committed, and I'm talking the murder charges, and you've got to do something about it. You cannot just let those people sit.

PETER J. BOYER: Sometimes known as "Ninjas,'' the HRT's job will be to surround and secure the compound and, if necessary, use force to go in and get the Davidians. They take up positions about 300 yards from the compound. Five and a half miles away, another very different FBI team sets up shop in an airplane hangar. Their orientation is not action, but talk. They are negotiators whose job is to build trust with the Davidians and convince them to come out.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL III, FRONTLINE Consultant, Former FBI Analyst: It's like being in a submarine where you don't have access to the periscope, a windowless room where your only perception of reality is by what you hear.

PETER J. BOYER: The files show the negotiators quickly discovered there were 46 children inside the compound, 46 innocent bystanders and potential shields in the event of a break-out. And so they first thing they do is try to convince Koresh to let the children go.

JIM CAVANAUGH: David, how can we resolve this? I mean, how can we save these children and women and_

DAVID KORESH: Just give me the coverage.

JIM CAVANAUGH: Okay. I'm going to get your scripture message to the radio station right away.

PETER J. BOYER: The negotiators begin to bargain with Koresh. They offer him air time to broadcast his message on the radio in exchange for kids. He agrees to send two children out every time his two-minute sermonette is read on the air.

JIM CAVANAUGH: You give me your word?

DAVID KORESH: Hey, buddy, I gave you my word.

JIM CAVANAUGH: Okay, buddy, I trust you. So we're going to get this message played on the radio. And one of the agents said, "We can't do that. We don't do that. How can we do that?'' And I remember saying to him, "Look, we're going to read the Bible from cover to cover on the radio if he'll send out one child_ one child. That's what we'll do.'' Now, you got to give me word for word what you want it to say. Slow, now. I got to write it.

DAVID KORESH: Okay. My God, who sits on the throne_

JIM CAVANAUGH: "My God, who sits on the throne_

DAVID KORESH: _in heaven_

BYRON SAGE: It was electric. The first few kids that came out, each one of these kids were brought back into the negotiation cell at the FBI command post. Some of these little_ little critters would be brought up and set on the negotiators' knees as we called back into the compound and they were put on the phone with their parents and allowed to speak to David or whoever. And these were precious kids.

CATHY: Hi. How you doing?

CHILD: Fine.

PETER J. BOYER: As the children are released, they call their parents back inside Mount Carmel.

CATHY: Are they treating you good?

CHILD: Yeah.

CATHY: Okay. Remember what I said. God sits on the throne.

CHILD: Yeah.

MARK: Cyrus, I went in that tank. Did you see it? One of them big, old tank-like things?

CYRUS: Yes. Were you kind of nervous?

MARK: No. It was bumpy. That was the only thing.

PETER J. BOYER: Over the next 24 hours, 18 children are released. MARK: And the guys were nice.

PETER J. BOYER: Negotiations seemed to be progressing, but the FBI, familiar with bank robbers and political terrorists, is confounded by Koresh.

BYRON SAGE, FBI, Chief Waco Negotiator: There had been some question, "Are we dealing with a delusional personality or are we dealing with a con man? Does this guy think he's Jesus Christ or is he just a con man who's using religion to deceive all the_the rest of the people inside?''

PETER J. BOYER: Negotiators decide to deal with Koresh as if he believes he's the Messiah.

JIM CAVANAUGH: I'm going to give you something to think about.

DAVID KORESH: All right.

JIM CAVANAUGH: If I was able to get, I mean, a major, major broadcast of your word out_

PETER J. BOYER: Giving Koresh local radio time had won the release of some kids. Building on that, the FBI offers Koresh a nationwide audience if everyone comes out.

STEVE SCHNEIDER, Branch Davidian: _possibility maybe a Ted Koppel or something?

JIM CAVANAUGH: I mean something dynamic.


JIM CAVANAUGH: You know, Ted Koppel_ I mean, who's watching that? I mean, we need to watch_ to get it to the people who are religious.

BYRON SAGE: I reached out for the Christian Broadcasting Network, where we could facilitate not only national exposure, but also a religious exposure that we thought we would get, you know, twice the impact with_ with Koresh. But if we were going to facilitate it, we needed to have guarantees.

DAVID KORESH: Okay, so what do you want me to say?

JIM CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let me read it to you again.

DAVID KORESH: All right.

JIM CAVANAUGH: "I agree''_


JIM CAVANAUGH: _"that upon the broadcasting of this tape''_

DAVID KORESH: _that upon the broadcasting of this tape_
[CBN broadcast] _to come out peacefully with all the people immediately. My name is Dave Koresh and I'm speaking to you from Mount Carmel Center. The first thing that I would like to introduce_

JEFF JAMAR: We worked out a surrender plan in minute detail. And that's what you want. See, you want a plan, you want a surrender plan because you put that in their heads.

BYRON SAGE: If they can visualize _ and you actually use those words_ "Can you picture this? Can you_ can you visualize_ okay, you're going to come out the front door. You're going to turn left''_

JIM CAVANAUGH: _and then the four men, the other children and the women_

CLIVE DOYLE, Branch Davidian: Everybody I know had their bags packed. We all figured David was coming out and there was a lot of crying and prayer and that kind of stuff going on. It took quite a long time for everybody in there to squeeze through the crowd and give him a hug.

JIM CAVANAUGH: Hey, can you check on the status? Where's David?

SCOTT: They're actually saying a prayer for him right now.

JIM CAVANAUGH: We need them to get out the door right now.

SCOTT: Yeah. Okay. I'll tell them right now.


BYRON SAGE: The buses were ready to go to pick these people up. The resources were in place to get medical attention to those that had been injured, to_ everything.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Jim? Steve here.


STEVE SCHNEIDER: We're right now going to put him on the stretcher.

PETER J. BOYER: Steve Schneider is David Koresh's chief aide.

BYRON SAGE: At one point in time, we're talking to Steve Schneider and Steve says, "The kids are all lined up. They've got their coats on. They've got their_ some of them had little lunch pails and Teddy bears and they're at the front door and they're ready to go.'' And we said, "Steve, we're ready. Let's_ let's do this.''

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Okay, I just talked to him. He's been going through a lot of anguish and what the guy just went through, I've never seen anything like it before. But he wanted me to remind you to read Psalms Chapter 2 and then he wanted me to read to you Revelation 18_

JIM CAVANAUGH: Steve, but what does this_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Did you ever read the story of Christ when he hung on the cross, where he actually_ perspiration of drops of blood because of the anguish?


STEVE SCHNEIDER: Can I just read Revelation 18 to you?

JIM CAVANAUGH: In just a minute, Steve. STEVE SCHNEIDER: Everything's ready to go right now, but all of a sudden he's started praying.

JIM CAVANAUGH: He gave us his word that_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I know that. I'm aware of that.

JIM CAVANAUGH: _that after the message was played_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Yes, but what if there is a higher power than you and I that speaks to an individual? What do you do? That's the question.


STEVE SCHNEIDER: This is why I said be aware of who you're dealing with.

JIM CAVANAUGH: Just remember that David told the world_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I understand that.

JIM CAVANAUGH: _that he was coming out.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Can I read Revelation 18 to you?

JIM CAVANAUGH: Steve, I want him to come out.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I_ I understand that.

JIM CAVANAUGH: When does he plan to come out?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: He said his God says that he is to wait.

JIM CAVANAUGH: How long? How long does he_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I_ I_ look, I know in this world, you don't believe that there is a supernatural power that speaks audibly to a person.

JIM CAVANAUGH: No. Is David a man of his word?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: He always has been.

JIM CAVANAUGH: What does trust mean to you?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Exactly what it means to you.

JIM CAVANAUGH: I got commanders and they are losing trust in me.

BYRON SAGE: His God has told him to wait and I was devastated and I was embarrassed. I was_ I now have to go in and tell the on-scene commander and other commanders that we've been thoroughly and completely duped.

JEFF JAMAR: God told him to wait. Okay. Well, now, where are we? We're_ now we have to get a perimeter. They're not coming out, so we had to get control. We had to get a perimeter and we had to get our people in place safely. That's what led to our appearance of greater control. We built, you know, fake sniper positions. You know, wasn't anybody there, but it looked like there was.

PETER J. BOYER: To be sure, there are real snipers in position.

BARRY HIGGINBOTHAM, FBI, HRT Sniper: We are the negotiators' eyes. They don't get to see his sentries cleaning their weapons up in the windows watching us. And when the person's cleaning their weapons and stacking their ammunition and we're watching that, we're relaying that back. We know that they're not getting ready to come out on a bus and give up.

PETER J. BOYER: The Hostage Rescue Team already doubts the Davidians can be talked out of the compound. So here is Jeff Jamar's dilemma: His tactical guys want to show force. His negotiators worry that showing force will only undermine the fragile trust they're building with Koresh.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I heard some crunching or something. I looked out the window and I see one of your tanks ran over the guard shack. I thought that was pretty cute.

HENRY: What now?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: The tank just ran it over.

HENRY: You're kidding.


HENRY: I know they've been ordered not to go in there. We need to start tightening the pressure down on those inside. The more uncomfortable we make them inside, the more apt they are to try to negotiate better.

CLINTON VAN ZANDT, FBI, Chief Negotiations Coordinator: You can't deal with a cohesive group like it's a group of bank robbers because the things you could do to bank robbers and make them come out simply drives the Davidians together. I mean, if you look at the core of a nuclear bomb and it's this tightly packed ball of uranium, and what makes that so powerful is that it's so tightly packed_ the Davidians were tightly packed and all we did was compress it even more and made it more volatile.

DAVID KORESH: You want to_ you want to_ you want to go knuckles to knuckles now. You want to have it all out, right?

JIM CAVANAUGH: No, no, no.

PETER J. BOYER: Koresh is furious.

DAVID KORESH: You lied. You have always been lying.

PETER J. BOYER: This is what the negotiators feared. The divide between the HRT and the negotiators widens.

DAVID KORESH: You're saying peace, but you are lying. Oh, yeah, you're acting lamb-like. You're saying peace, but_

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: If you ask a Hostage Rescue Team guy what he thinks of the negotiators, they would see them as a bunch of pussies. The negotiators might look at these guys as something a little disturbed, in the sense that these guys, you know, want to get up in the morning and want to, you know, breach a door and want to, you know, drive a tank and, you know, there's something kind of a little unusual about a person who_ who gets some sort of a charge out of wanting to do those kinds of things.

BYRON SAGE: On occasions, I_ I made a number of trips up to the tactical sites located right out in front of the compound. There was one time when_ when there was a notation on_ on one of the portable outhouses up front that said, "Sage is a Davidian,'' obviously written by one of the tactical guys.

JIM CAVANAUGH: Yeah. I don't_ I don't know. I was in a position where we had_ we didn't have an outhouse.

JAMES McGEE, FBI, HRT Special Agent: That would be very symbolic of the frustration. There was a high level of frustration.

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: There was this tremendous chasm between negotiators and the tactical team. I mean, just, you know, the body_ if you could see the body language, it would have been closed up, head to the side, like this.

PETER J. BOYER: By day seven, with no new progress, Koresh won't come to the phone even when the FBI offers something the Davidians desperately need_ milk for the children.

FBI NEGOTIATOR: We told David that if two of the children come out, six gallons of milk go in. It's as simple as that.

BRANCH DAVIDIAN: He said as soon as the children come out, six gallons of milk come in.


BRANCH DAVIDIAN: Well, he said, "Kiss my ass.''

FBI NEGOTIATOR: Well, I kind of expected something like that from him.

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI is running a time-honored law enforcement ploy. Koresh now sees them as the bad cop. To play the role of good cop, they bring in the local sheriff.

JACK HARWELL, Sheriff, McLennan County, TX: What I was told, that he was not coming to the phone to talk to them and I was asked to get on the phone and see if I could get him to the phone. I'm not a negotiator or skilled person. All I know to do is sit down and talk some horse sense.

DAVID KORESH: Well, here's the thing, Mr. Harwell. What they're saying now is that they want four more kids before they send us the milk.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: Well, would that help, to get the milk out there to you?

DAVID KORESH: It'll definitely help the babies.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: All right. I'll work that out. Now, I wanted to set here and talk from my heart to you and make you know_

PETER J. BOYER: Finally the milk is delivered.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: We're concerned about you all and we care for you.

PETER J. BOYER: No children are released.

DAVID KORESH: God's told me to wait.

PETER J. BOYER: It's not a total loss. The FBI also sends in tiny listening devices, bugs buried inside the milk cartons and their styrofoam containers.

DAVID KORESH: [surveillance tape] Rachel!


DAVID KORESH: Keep those children under control. They won't be singing that today.

JEFF JAMAR: It was very chancy. You would send them in and you didn't know where it would end up. There was one instance where it ran for a long time and, in fact, it was very effective. It was in a room where Koresh was.

DAVID KORESH: [surveillance tape] Let me send some guys up there and blow their heads off.

R.J. CRAIG: The first couple days belong to the negotiators and you got to give them their shot to do it. But the longer the tactical people wait, the less chance they have of being successful. Time is on the favor of the people inside.

JEFF JAMAR: There's the 10-day rule. Usually, these things are over in 10 days, okay, if you think about it. You think about all these crises, not many last past 10 days.

PETER J. BOYER: And so on the 10th day, special agent-in-charge Jamar turns off the electricity inside the compound.

JEFF JAMAR: That night it was going to be 20 degrees and the thought process was if we're going to be cold in the dark, let them be cold in the dark, too.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Well, when I heard that the electricity was cut off, I thought, "Forget these guys. Forget it.''

BYRON SAGE: The down side was significant. It could set us back days in our ability to continue to negotiate a reasonable settlement.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I'll be honest with you, John. I'm not even interested in anything you've got to say today.

PETER J. BOYER: But again, Koresh stops talking and the next day Jamar orders the electricity turned back on.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: Koresh is in control and here the FBI go in to take control and they can't do anything except piss the guy off. So what do you do?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: [home video] This is David Koresh_ Steve Schneider filming. The date today is_March__4:30 in the afternoon.

PETER J. BOYER: What Jeff Jamar does is tilt back toward his negotiators. They want Koresh to make a home movie.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: [home video] David, anything you'd like to say?

DAVID KORESH: We just thought we'd kind of break the ice and allow people to see just exactly, you know, what kind of people we have here. I'd like to start off, first of all, with my oldest son. His name is Cyrus. Come sit over here, son.

BYRON SAGE: We sent the camera in to try to get intelligence out.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] How old are you?

BYRON SAGE: We wanted to see, first of all, how the kids were faring.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] Say hello to everybody.

BYRON SAGE: We also wanted to determine, by this time, whether or not the kids had clean hair. If they have clean hair, are they worried about water? No.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] Have faith in God?

BYRON SAGE: So there was a lot of intelligence-gathering effort there.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] You want to wave to all your friends out there that's been taken to the people on the outside? Yeah, this is our little girl, Pages.

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: I sat there for hours and looked at the tapes of David Koresh and these kids that sat on his lap. I wanted to know Koresh, but I also got to know the kids. And I knew the potential for danger for those children if we went tactical.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] Show them Daddy's face.

BYRON SAGE: David milked that for all it's worth. That's a prime example of_ we sent this in to acquire something. He sent it out to obtain something. We sent it in to acquire intelligence. He sent it out to manipulate us. And we both obtained our objective.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] What would you like to do today?

STAR: Go on the swings.

DAVID KORESH: Go on the swings? Wave!

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: I saw the ability for Koresh to use the children. I mean, I saw psychological warfare on his part by using that videotape.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] Poppy's waving. You love Daddy?

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: And I saw the just total innocence of children. I saw_ I saw David Koresh and the other Davidians just totally abdicating their responsibility as parents. I don't think there's any higher call and I think they abdicated that responsibility to the children and I think that's a real shame.

DAVID KORESH: [home video] Okay, so here's your little grandbaby, Isabel. She's happy. How much do you love me? How much?

Hi, Jim.

CYRUS: Hi, Jim.

DAVID KORESH: Hello, John.

CYRUS: Hello, John.


CYRUS: Gary.

DAVID KORESH: Can you say your ABCs?

1st CHILD: [singing] ABCDEFG

2nd CHILD:[singing] HIJKLMNOP

1st CHILD: [singing] QRSTUV-- Now I know my ABCs, Won't you come and sing with me?

DAVID KORESH: Why don't you come and sing with me? Maybe they'll come and sing with us some day. I love you, Myna.

PETER J. BOYER: Stymied on the ground in Waco, the FBI was also enduring unprecedented tumult at the top. Its director, William Sessions, was under siege, battling charges of ethical impropriety and an open insurrection from his senior staff. Things were no more settled at the Justice Department, which oversees the FBI. President Clinton had already lost his first two nominees for attorney general.

JANET RENO, Attorney General: I, Janet Reno, will well and faithfully perform the duties of the office of_

PETER J. BOYER: On the 13th day of the Waco stand-off, his third choice was sworn in. Janet Reno was a stranger to Washington, a stranger to the city's bureaucratic intrigue. She was effectively alone at the Justice Department she now ran and her first day on the job she inherited both Waco and the FBI's leadership crisis.

OLIVER 'BUCK' REVELL, FBI, Former Associate Deputy Director: She had no confidence in Director Sessions. She felt that he should avoid embarrassing the president by stepping aside. So it was difficult. She treated him with respect, but at the same time, she wanted him to go away. And he wouldn't go away and that just added to the difficulties of the moment.

PETER J. BOYER: Back in Waco, nothing new.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: There's a lot of down time in these situations where we would sit over coffee and go, "Jesus Christ!'' You know, "goddamn!" This is just''_ you know, "Where is this going?''

FBI NEGOTIATOR: How's the food holding up?

STEVE SCHNEIDER: The food's okay. There's no pizza yet.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: The Davidians were well-equipped, well-prepared_ plenty to eat.

FBI NEGOTIATOR: We had pizza the other night.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: The FBI personnel, the food that we had was basically Domino's pizza.

FBI NEGOTIATOR: We saved two pieces, but you never came out.

FARRIS ROOKSTOOL: In essence, the hostage negotiation personnel became hostage to the Davidian stand-off.

PETER J. BOYER: On the forward line, the Ninjas are restless.

R.J. CRAIG: You're a teacher and you've got a kid that's misbehaving, how many times you going to tell that kid to stop it before you take another tack? And we just_ we asked and we asked and we asked and they just wouldn't come out, so sooner or later, you have to do something.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: If you people would back off and leave these people just have a day or two, at_at least some time to think about what's going on, you might see some different choices.


STEVE SCHNEIDER: But these kind of tactics_ they've shown their asses to us. They've flipped us the finger. The things that they're doing causes these people to want to stay in here all the more.

2nd FBI NEGOTIATOR: [videotape] Sometimes our big bosses don't always understand what's going on, in terms of our conversations with you.

PETER J. BOYER: In their isolated post, negotiators are desperate. Hoping to reestablish a link with Koresh, they make their own family album video.

3rd FBI NEGOTIATOR: [videotape] Gary mentioned that we're all family men. I'm proud of my family. I can tell from the tapes and conversation with you all that you're_ you're proud of them, as well. That's not just rhetoric. I mean, we can show you pictures.

4th FBI NEGOTIATOR: I have a picture here of my son. You know, look at the picture. He certainly is his father's son.

2nd FBI NEGOTIATOR: I have a family, too, and these other gentlemen who have talked to you, they have families.

PETER J. BOYER: More than 20 different negotiators have tried and failed to talk the Davidians out. So Jamar again calls on the only negotiator who seems able to get through to Koresh.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: Let me ask you, David, man to man, what can we do right this minute to get things moving so we can get this thing maybe resolved today?

DAVID KORESH: Well, you can tell these agents that, as an American citizen, somebody has stepped on my property and there's going to be some butt whupped over this_

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: You'd have to do it.

DAVID KORESH: _either my butt or it's going to be their butt.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: What can I do? You tell me because I'm just an old dumb country sheriff, in a lot of ways.

DAVID KORESH: If you all had called us up and said you had a warrant for us, I'd have met you in town.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: David, I've laid awake thinking about that and, really, I'd like to set down and just talk face to face with you. I wanted to meet with Vernon, but he was injured and couldn't come out of the compound and I_I wasn't permitted to go into the compound.

BYRON SAGE: We decided to try to do something that, as a negotiation instructor, I teach that you only do as a last resort, and that is to orchestrate a face-to-face negotiation. Am I nervous? Sure. I am_ I'm very nervous. We know that this is a dangerous situation. If anyone inside that compound had elected to take his own action, then I'm dead, Jack's dead, and we have another 28th of February. We pulled down the driveway. I'm looking out the port, wondering when it's going to stop, if we're going to go up and knock at the door. And we're beyond halfway down the driveway when the Bradley finally stops.

BYRON SAGE: Wayne, this is Byron Sage.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: We talked to you Sunday night. We appreciate_ I stepped out of the back of the tank and went out 15, 20 yards to meet them.

BYRON SAGE: I'm wired for sound. I've got microphones, tape recorders, everything taped to my body and I'm wearing my son's blue Nike jacket because it's the biggest jacket I could get. So I step out from behind the protection of that Bradley and it's the longest step I've ever taken.

PETER J. BOYER: The HRT is watching and ready.

BARRY HIGGINBOTHAM: I'm covering them with my weapon and we're saying, "Well, this would be almost one of the ideal times to take out some of the leadership if we just grab them.

R.J. CRAIG: Snatch them because they were, I don't know, 10 yards from the back of that Bradley and just to jump out and grab them and drag them in and handcuff them and "You're under arrest.'' That's it. Simple as that. But one of the supervisors from the team in that lead track, he says, "No, you can't do that,'' so_

DAVIDIAN: We go by a document here, the Bible.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: They had not met Byron Sage and to just walk out and say, "We trust you. We know you've got guns in there, but I'm going to walk out here where anyone wants to shoot me, they can do it''_ you're walking out here where if anyone wants to shoot you, they can do it, because we walked right out and with no protection. And if we can trust each other to do that, why can't we trust each other to go on and resolve this thing?

BYRON SAGE: Steve seemed to be very genuine, very matter-of-fact, good eye contact. Wayne was very nervous. He was dressed in a three-piece suit, kind of dancing from foot to foot. And there's a point where Wayne says, "He doesn't know what_ what the United States stands for or whether or not the Constitution's been suspended'' or whatever. And I told them very matter-of-factly, I said, "There are two documents that I would give my life for.'' One is the Constitution and one is the Bible and I would give my life to defend both of them. That's why I'm standing here in plain sight of_ And I'm looking Steve dead in the eye. I think that meant a great deal to him. I think that_ that from that point, he said, "I believe you.''

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Byron, I can honestly tell you I believe everything you've said. I'm going to do all I can to go back and relay everything that you've said and the manner you have.

JEFF JAMAR: Byron felt he reached Steve. He really felt that there was a connection there. They agreed to meet again. What I believe_ and this is one instance where the microphone that we had inside was in Koresh's room when they returned to report their version of what went on.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: [surveillance tape] Byron, I liked_ man, what a person. I liked his personality. I believe he was 100 percent sincere. I saw his concern in his face and eyes. I really_ you know, I believe what he's trying to do_

JEFF JAMAR: I believe Koresh picked up something there that maybe that Steve_ I don't think he was very worried about Wayne Martin. I think he might have been concerned about Steve, so he didn't permit another face-to-face.

PETER J. BOYER: Koresh vetoes any more face-to-face meetings. Jamar answers that setback by allowing the HRT to begin blasting noise and music into the compound. Once again, the negotiators are unaware of the HRT's tactics.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Hello, John? I can't even keep a straight face here!


STEVE SCHNEIDER: Your friends are playing some unique music here.

DAVID KORESH: You've not been privileged to hear this fine selection of music?

FBI NEGOTIATOR: No. No. What is it?

DAVID KORESH: It goes like this. It goes_ [imitates sound] This weird sound_

PETER J. BOYER: Koresh fights back, aiming his own speakers at the FBI in a weird, all-night battle of the bands.

R.J. CRAIG: He had his little band in there and, all of a sudden, he starts playing and we were 200-plus yards away and we had to yell at each other to hear. It was_ and it went on for several hours, this concert, rock concert. Just showing us that his speakers were more powerful than ours.





STEVE SCHNEIDER: It looks pretty sure now that Oliver's going to be coming out.

FBI NEGOTIATOR: That's wonderful.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Kevin_ that looks pretty sure, also.

PETER J. BOYER: On March 21st, a surprise: Some more Davidians come out.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Kathy, she will be coming out in the morning.

BYRON SAGE: On the 21st, we got seven people out_ very significant, from a negotiation standpoint. That's the most significant number of people that we had come out.

PETER J. BOYER: But for Jeff Jamar, seven is not enough.

1st DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] Oh! Oh, no!

2nd DAVIDIAN: They're going to do in...

3rd DAVIDIAN: All the cars are going now.

PETER J. BOYER: He ratchets it up, ordering the HRT tanks to clear away the Davidians' cars and motorcycles.

4th DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] How can they do that? That's evidence! Look at all the bullet holes.

CLIVE DOYLE: You know, you just get to the point where you_ "To heck with them'' sort of thing. You_ you just don't believe that_ anything they say.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Here we are, working with you and thinking we're getting somewhere and, bingo! I mean, you know, we were on a roll. Just things were starting to pick up and_ bang!

BYRON SAGE: The decision was in direct contradiction to the negotiation efforts. Was that a mistake? Timing-wise, from a negotiation standpoint, I think it was an abysmal mistake.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: David said, "Isn't it true every time we've complied with you people, something like this comes up?''

FBI NEGOTIATOR: I talked to David, you know, and he said that the_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Well, he just told me now, just right now. He says no one's coming out.




PETER J. BOYER: The Davidian exodus from the compound stopped late in the day on March 21st. Sage continues to press for a negotiated end, but privately his anger and pessimism about the negotiations and David Koresh are growing.

BYRON SAGE: Although David Koresh said, "These people can come out at any time. They can_ they're free to leave at any time,'' he had them_ remember, he had them completely and totally convinced, deceived, that he was their Messiah. And for them to come out, they had to go through what he called an "exit interview,'' which meant that you or I, before we were allowed to come out, had to go up and talk to David. And David would say, "You're free to go, but you need to realize that if you leave, you're leaving your eternal salvation here and you're going out to the beast. But that's your decision. You're free to go.'' Now, how many people are going to run out the door? Obviously, very few.

PETER J. BOYER: Sage and the negotiators had been playing Koresh's game, granting that his Messianic claims were sincere. Exasperated now, Sage decides to find out once and for all whether Koresh really believes he's Christ.

BYRON SAGE: _because you went back on your word.

DAVID KORESH: That is a lie!

BYRON SAGE: That is not a lie.

DAVID KORESH: That is a lie!

BYRON SAGE: That is absolute_

DAVID KORESH: As you will find out_

BYRON SAGE: _fact.

DAVID KORESH: _in the judgment.

BYRON SAGE: You know as well as I do that your challenge to open these seven seals_ it's garbage. It's a false hope and you know that.

DAVID KORESH: No, it's not.

BYRON SAGE: So you are now claiming clearly and simply that you are the Christ.

DAVID KORESH: That's where you remain ignorant! If you are standing_


DAVID KORESH: _right at the door, looking it in the face_

BYRON SAGE: David, my own personal commitment, my own personal faith, my own salvation_you are not in a position to attack_
And I tell him that I am absolutely confident in my salvation and he's not in a position to challenge it. Now, if anyone was in a position to try to challenge my faith as a Christian, it would be someone that perceives himself to be Christ. He does not assume that posture. From that point forward, it is absolutely patently clear in my mind what we're dealing with. This guy is not delusional. He is not a Messianic complex. He does not buy off on his own con.

PETER J. BOYER: The siege has gone on now for 23 days, 23 days of two competing solutions: talk and action. Jamar, the agent-in-charge, has signed on for action. He makes it clear to Sage that his mind is made up. Byron Sage, the most visible negotiator, then recommends in writing an escalation of tactical measures, including tear gas.

MIKE KIRK: You signed on.

BYRON SAGE: Absolutely. I mean, this is kind of a radical departure for a negotiation team to recommend tear-gassing, but we're now what, 20, 23 days into a siege. Haven't had a child out since the 5th of March.

PETER J. BOYER: The HRT are ready with a plan. It's simple, aggressive and quick. Under the cover of darkness they would take the compound with Bradley tanks and gas. The Davidians, overwhelmed, would come out. They are ready to act, but first the plan must be approved by Washington.
The record shows that using tanks and gas on a compound still holding 25 children was a tough sell to this attorney general. As a local prosecutor, Janet Reno had built a reputation as a zealous child advocate. And on Monday, April, 12th, she said no to the gas plan.
The FBI didn't relent. They came back at the attorney general. "The plan's too aggressive,'' she said. Then they'll water it down. She worried the Davidians might use the children as shields. If they did, the FBI promised to back off. Most of all, she worried that the gas would permanently damage the children. A military expert assured her the gas was safe.
For five days the FBI tried to eliminate her objections. After the Waco fire, Reno would say again and again that she authorized the gas plan because children were being abused.

JANET RENO: [ABC News "Nightline''] We had had reports that they had been sexually abused, that babies had actually been beaten. I asked when I first heard that for them to verify it and, again, that was the report that was brought back.

PETER J. BOYER: When she said, "I was told that babies were being beaten and I said, 'What do you mean? Babies are being picked up and beaten?' 'Yes,' I was told, 'babies were being beaten' ''_

WILLIAM SESSIONS: Then she will have to say who told her that. Certainly, I did not.

PETER J. BOYER: She says she doesn't remember.

WILLIAM SESSIONS: Well, if it was impressive_ something that impressed her tremendously, then she's responsible for what she heard.

PETER J. BOYER: But FBI documents uncovered by FRONTLINE confirm that as the Bureau was pressuring Reno to approve the gas plan, someone in the FBI told her that children were being abused at Waco. But the FBI knew that children were not being beaten during the stand-off. [interviewing] At the time, what she said was, "I was told that babies were being beaten.'' She told me that she was told that. Web Hubbel told me that he heard her being told that. Did you tell her that?


PETER J. BOYER: It is still not known who had told Reno about the child abuse, but on Friday, April 16th, she changed her mind and approved the gas plan. The FBI is ready, but will the Davidians play the role the FBI has scripted for them? When the gas goes in, will they come out?

FBI NEGOTIATOR: _referring to the suicide situation_

DAVID KORESH: You think I'm going to walk out here and nail myself up against a wall or something?

FBI NEGOTIATOR: Are you thinking about taking your own life?

DAVID KORESH: Never, ever, never. Let's call it an unpardonable sin because_

FBI NEGOTIATOR: You're not going to commit suicide?

DAVID KORESH: No, no, no, no, no, no. Never.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: These are people that have a super love for life, have a respect for life_

BYRON SAGE: When we asked Koresh if they would consider suicide, the response was survival-oriented, was long-term in nature.

PETER J. BOYER: But there were warnings.

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: I did everything I could to alert people to what I thought was Koresh's plan and how I thought we were being sucked in or pulled right into a snare that he had set for us. And I said, "You_you don't understand. This guy is not coming out. And if we continue the way we're doing, everybody's going to die inside that compound.''

DAVID KORESH: Behold, the Lord will come with fire. And the chariots will be with flaming torches.
_the rebukes of flames of fire_

PETER J. BOYER: When the Davidians spoke of death, they often talked about fire.

STEVE SCHNEIDER: Don't burn the building down or whatever you_

DAVID KORESH: Don't burn our building down.

FBI NEGOTIATOR: Do you have any way of fighting fire in there? Do you have any fire extinguishers or_

STEVE SCHNEIDER: I think there might be one.

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI knows that Mount Carmel is a fire trap.

BARRY HIGGINBOTHAM: Part of our job was to call back the descriptions of each section of the building and it was very shoddily put together. It was just thrown up. And sometimes we would even see inside through an open door or window and see that there might be hay or straw stacked in hallways. There was clothing laying here and there. And this place, it was indeed a tinderbox.

PETER J. BOYER: Yet, incredibly, the FBI has not developed a fire protection plan for when they gas the compound. Nowhere in the 568-page assault plan submitted to and signed by Janet Reno is there a fire plan. The FBI isn't worried about a fire and they're not ready to fight one. It is Sunday night, April 18th. The assault is scheduled for early the next morning. The Davidians have no idea what's coming.

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: My thoughts, as I fell into a troubled sleep that night_ I didn't think the gas would bring them out. I feared for a mass suicide and I just saw the whole thing blowing up in our face and those kids dying.

JEFF JAMAR: It's really interesting the way my mind works. It's_ it's_ it was not that I'm_ I'm hyped or anything. It was just, "Now's the time to do this. Let's get started.'' It was still dark when we started and it would be light soon, so we could see, but it was dark, so they couldn't see us.

BYRON SAGE: I go up to what we call Sierra One Alpha, which is right across the street from the compound. And at 5:59, I place a call into the compound. My heart's in my throat. I'm hoping that this is going to be, you know, okay. "Hey, we've had enough. We're coming out.'' Steve?


BYRON SAGE: This is Byron Sage. We're in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building.

1st DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] Everybody grab your masks! Everybody grab your masks!

JEFF JAMAR: We knew they had gas masks.

2nd DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] I need a gas mask. I need a gas mask!

JEFF JAMAR: We knew they had plenty of automatic weapons.

BYRON SAGE: I began to hear the shots early and that first tracked vehicle that had the tear gas looked like it was lit with sparklers, it was taking so many rounds bouncing off of it.

PETER J. BOYER: The FBI had told Attorney General Reno they planned to slowly insert the CS gas over a period of 48 hours, forcing the Davidians out. But the gunfire meant the Davidians were not coming out and the rules of engagement allowed the FBI to now dramatically escalate the operation. They will use all their gas in two hours.

1st DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] You got a mask up there?

2nd DAVIDIAN: There's no more. Whoa!

CLINTON VAN ZANDT: On the overhears, you can still hear people talking, so I knew they didn't have gas masks on, so I knew the gas wasn't driving them out of that compound.

PETER J. BOYER: Early that morning, the weather service had issued a wind advisory for Waco. It had gone unheeded by the FBI and now the 31-mile-an-hour gusts were blowing the gas right out of the building. So the HRT now pushes the tanks deeper into the building, trying to corral the Davidians. They expect the women and children to make a run for a school bus buried in one corner of the compound.

R.J. CRAIG: Our theory was to get gas in that area that leads to the underground bus to deny them getting in there and to get into that hallway and then gas that hallway first off so they wouldn't run in and down and get in the bus and be even, you know, more defensible position than they already are.

PETER J. BOYER: The women and children end up in a bunker underneath the tower where the weapons and ammunition are stored. Overhead, the FBI's infrared radar gives the clearest view of how the fire broke out almost simultaneously in three separate sections of the compound.

BYRON SAGE: The time to come out is now. If you can't see your way through, walk towards the sound of the speakers. David, don't do this to your people.
During the course of the morning, we had given them specific instructions. With the fire, it becomes a plea and continues to a very pointed plea towards the end of what ultimately was a half hour of just anguish.
Don't do this to your people.
I had to physically turn around, away from the monitor, to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to_to broadcast to those people because it_ we had_ not a person had come out up until this time.

CLIVE DOYLE: We were waiting on some direction from God and what do we do now, you know? And even Wayne Martin, he kind of had his back against the wall and just slid down into a sitting position. We says, "Wayne, what do you think we ought to do,'' you know? And he says, "I guess we just wait on God.'' And the next thing we knew, we were just surrounded and, as I say, smoke and heat and flames.

JEFF JAMAR: My first thought was that he's burning the crime scene and I expected people to come out. If that place is on fire, they're coming out of there. I mean, we expected it instantly. And then when they didn't, it was just horror. I mean, it was just a feeling of absolute horror. And_and I think almost everyone there had the same reaction.

Sheriff JACK HARWELL: We're all there in the command post and you could see the_ the expressions on everyone's face that they_ they couldn't see anyone coming out and there was_ someone made the statement, "Why aren't they coming out? Where are the kids?'' And_ excuse me!

PETER J. BOYER: Only 9 of the 84 Davidians would escape the flames.

CLIVE DOYLE: At some point, I just made a dive and landed on the sheetrock and just kind of slithered out head first over it. And I kind of looked over my shoulder and I'd just come through this hole and I looked back and this hole was just a mass of flames, you know? And I go, "My God, I'm the only one that got out.'' I couldn't believe it, you know? And I'm thinking the other guys don't even have a chance.

BYRON SAGE: Nobody was coming out. It was unbelievable. So the only thought was that they had to have gotten to the bus and now they're in there. And we immediately started to clear that area of the burning debris to get into the bus.

PETER J. BOYER: Six minutes into the fire, the fire department is called. But fearing they might be shot, Jamar holds them at the perimeter.

JEFF JAMAR: I remember saying to them, "They're not getting in till we're sure it's safe.'' And that took several minutes. Once the fire trucks were in, the hope was to get over to the bus area and see where the children were. And that was the rush, to see if there were survivors in that_ primarily children, in that bus.

BYRON SAGE: HRT had made an effort to gain access to the bus, the buried bus. At about 12:30, I walked over to the site, in shock, basically. And the first thing I ask is, "Where are the kids?'' Nowhere.

MIKE KIRK: What do you mean, "nowhere''?

BYRON SAGE: They had not come out. They had been consumed.

PETER J. BOYER: It took a week for the compound to cool down enough to permit a close examination of the physical evidence. Expert testimony at the Congressional hearings seemed to prove the Davidians lit the fires.

1st DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] Start the fire?

2nd DAVIDIAN: Got some fuel around here?

3rd DAVIDIAN: Right here.

PETER BOYER: The audio bug tapes from the morning of the fire were the critical evidence.

4th DAVIDIAN: [surveillance tape] Did you pour it yet?

5th DAVIDIAN: Huh?

4th DAVIDIAN: Did you pour it yet?

5th DAVIDIAN: I haven't yet.

6th DAVIDIAN: David said pour it, right?

5th DAVIDIAN: Did he? Do you want it poured?

6th DAVIDIAN: Come on. Let's pour it.

5th DAVIDIAN: Do you want it poured already?

7th DAVIDIAN: We want some fuel.

5th DAVIDIAN: I've got some here.

8th DAVIDIAN: We should have gotten some more hay in here.

9th DAVIDIAN: I know.

PETER J. BOYER: And how did the Davidians die? Was Waco a mass suicide? The medical answers are mixed.

Dr. NIZAM PEERWANI, County Medical Examiner: David Koresh died of a gunshot wound. He had a single gunshot wound to his forehead. Schneider had a single gunshot wound of his mouth, of his upper palate. Altogether, there were 20 people who died as a result of gunshot wounds that particular day. Some 27 additional bodies were buried deep within the bunker. These were co-mingled bodies and all of these were women and children. They were huddled together, some of them. They were covered with blankets. Some of them had face masks. And most of them had died as a result of smoke inhalation or suffocation, but there were at least three kids who had been shot to death and one was stabbed to death.

PETER J. BOYER: There is no escaping the judgment that Waco was a monumental failure for the FBI. It seems unbelievable now that the FBI would choose to send tanks and tear gas into a building full of children, but they had never encountered anyone like David Koresh. He resisted their talk. He laughed at their tactics. And finally, he lured them to a course whose obvious dangers they could not see. Perhaps the FBI's greatest failure was that they let him write the final act.

ANNOUNCER: If you wish to purchase a home video of this program, stay tuned for more information at the end of the broadcast. And to learn more about Waco, visit FRONTLINE at the PBS home page at the address on your screen. [] You'll find an interactive on-line supplement to "Waco: The Inside Story.'' We'll let you see more of the Waco file, more about the key participants in the stand-off, and you can hear more of the taped conversations between the Davidians and the negotiators. And don't forget to tell us what you think. 

Off the net, you can also give us your feedback by fax at (617) 254-0243 or by mail at Dear FRONTLINE: 125 Western Avenue, Boston, Massachusetts, 02134.


the jihadist signature image
The Jihadist
Designated a terrorist by the United States, the powerful Syrian militant Abu Mohammad al-Jolani now seeks a new relationship with the West.
June 1, 2021