The Truth About Waco – An Eyewitness Account

Hello, my name is David Thibodeaux. I was one of only nine survivors of Waco – 74 men, women and children died – and I’ve devoted the last few years to understanding what happened. Here is how I ended up in Waco, and the truth about what really happened there:
Back in 1990 I had been drumming in a local rock band. I needed some new sticks, and on the way to a gig stopped in at the music store. Seeing the sticks in my hand, two strangers introduced themselves and asked if I was in a band. The two were Koresh and Steve Schneider. Schneider gave me his card and I handed it back. The backside was full of Bible verses. “You guys are a Christian band,” I said, uninterested. But after some small talk, I took the card back, and a few days later gave him a call. Over the next few weeks I hung out with Koresh and some other musicians in his band. I got to know David and was somewhat impressed. Having never paid much attention to the Bible, I was astonished to find that it actually did have some relevance to my life.
That fall I went to Waco to play music and meet the larger community. The people at Mount Carmel were extremely involved in knowing and learning the Bible. People have made it seem as if Mount Carmel came out of nowhere. In fact, Koresh was the third leader of a community that spun off from the Seventh Day Adventists in the 1930s. They had been living outside of Waco since 1933. The people around Koresh came from many backgrounds. One irony of Waco is that right-wing extremists and racists look to Mount Carmel as a beacon. If they realized that so many of us were black, Asian and Latino, and that we despised their hateful politics and anger, they would probably feel betrayed. We weren’t political at all – just Bible students.
We had a “live and let live” attitude that had allowed us to get along well with our neighbors for over 60 years. We certainly weren’t as isolated as people seem to think. We shopped in town, worked in the community, and our band played weekend gigs in Waco nightclubs. I worked as a bartender in Waco and I doubt a single customer would tell you that I stood out in any way.
Many have suggested that Koresh was a Jim Jones-like madman. He wasn’t. He had no plans for mass suicide. In contrast to Jones, Koresh allowed members to leave at any time, and many of them did, even during the siege. But many stayed, too, not because we had to, but because we wanted to. We felt the FBI and ATF had been dishonest from the start.
Few Americans realize that on February 28, 1993 when ATF agents in National Guard helicopters zoomed in on Mount Carmel Center, they did so with guns blazing. The initial raid, in which four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed, was a publicity stunt for the 20/20 television show, who were there to document it. ATF employees would later admit the underlying charges were “a complete fabrication.” Everyone knew David Koresh hated drugs. Charges that we were assembling an arsenal of weapons to be used against the government were equally off-base. We had nothing to hide. In fact, weeks before the raid, Koresh offered the ATF the opportunity to come out to Mount Carmel and inspect the building and every single weapon we had. They refused.
The most disturbing allegation was that we were engaging in child abuse there. The children of Mount Carmel were treasured, and they were a vital part of our small society. Occasionally kids were paddled for misbehaving, but the strict rule was they could never be paddled in anger. The parents did the paddling themselves. Our kids were happy, healthy, and well cared for. The biggest lie, though, is the government’s claim that we set the building fire ourselves, to commit suicide.
On the April morning when the FBI finally made its move, we had been under siege for 51 days.
It was the coldest spring in Texas history that year. The FBI had cut off our power, so we had to heat the building with kerosene lamps. It was kerosene from these lamps and the storage canisters, spilled as a result of collapsing walls and FBI munitions fire, that is cited as evidence that we doused Mount Carmel with an intent of burning it. The 400 rounds of CS gas that the FBI shot into Mount Carmel was mixed with methylene chloride, which is flammable and can explode. The United States and 130 other countries signed the Chemical Weapons Convention banning the use of CS gas in war. Apparently there is no prohibition against its use against American citizens. The amount of gas the FBI shot into Mount Carmel was twice the density considered life threatening to an adult and even more dangerous for little children.
I never heard any discussion of suicide or starting fires. If we wanted to kill ourselves, we would not have waited 51 cold, hungry, scary days to do it.  It remains hard for me to clearly remember what happened after the tanks made their move. Walls collapsed, the building shook, gas billowed in and the air was full of terrible sounds: the hiss of gas, the shattering of windows, the bang of exploding rockets, the raw squeal of tank tracks. There were screams of children and the gasps and sobs of those who could not protect themselves from the noxious CS. This continued for hours. Inside, the notion of leaving seemed insane; with tanks smashing through your walls and rockets smashing through the windows, our very human reaction was not to walk out into a hail of death, but to find a safe corner and pray. As the tanks rolled in and began smashing holes in the building and spraying gas into the building, the FBI loudspeakers blared, “This is not an assault! This is not an assault!” It was a very surreal and personal apocalypse.
Around noon I heard someone yell, “Fire!” I thought first of the women and children, whom I had been separated from. I tried desperately to make my way to them, but it was impossible: rubble blocked off passageways, and the fire was spreading quickly. I dropped to my knees to pray, and the wall next to me erupted in flame. I smelled my singed hair and screamed. Community member Derek Lovelock, who had ended up in the same place as me, ran through a hole in the wall and I followed. Moments later, the building exploded.
In the years since the fire, I’ve tried desperately to find out what really happened. What I’ve discovered is disturbing. There is convincing evidence that the FBI did more than just create the conditions for a deadly inferno. The disclosures about the use of pyrotechnic weapons and incendiary flares show that they might have actually sparked the blaze. A Defense Department document says that members of a US Army Delta Force unit were present at the siege. The military is barred by law from domestic police work.  Infrared images taken from surveillance planes indicate that the FBI was – despite its denials – firing shots into the building and shooting at Branch Davidians who tried to flee. There are photographs that show one of the metal double-doors at the entrance riddled with bullet indentations that could only have come from shooters outside Mount Carmel.
Tapes of the negotiations between the FBI and Koresh catch government agents lying about details big and small, as if they wanted the discussions to fail, and wanted only an excuse to attack.
There are other questions: Why did the FBI call the local hospital hours before the fire and ask how many beds were available in its burn unit? Why did it not allow firefighters in? What did the FBI negotiator mean when he threateningly said we “should buy some fire insurance”? Why did the FBI not allow anyone access to the crime scene, despite their promise to the Texas Rangers that they would be allowed to inspect first? Why did they ever raid the compound to begin with, since no charges from the original warrant were ever filed or substantiated?
I often wonder why I survived the blaze. Perhaps it was to be some sort of a witness.
Federal agents conducted a police raid that wasn’t necessary based on charges that would never stand up in any US court. They refused to negotiate in good faith, played horrible sounds of animals being slaughtered for weeks, and finally set our home on fire.
These actions caused 74 innocent Texans to die horrific deaths. They also inspired a number of extremists – people like Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.
Every April I remember what happened at Waco and pray to God that it will never happen again. This is why our military should never be involved in police work, and why our police should not be further militarized by drones and combat training.  (DAVID THIBODEAUX)

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