The FBI’s Bungled Waco Siege: A Turning Point for Militias

The FBI's Bungled Waco Siege: A Turning Point for Militias

( – In 1993, one of the longest, most violent standoffs took place in Waco, Texas. A religious sect, the Branch Davidians, had holed up in a compound, where it was also allegedly stockpiling weapons. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), armed with a search warrant, raided the facility. Four officers lost their lives, and dozens more suffered injuries. The event led to nearly 1,000 federal authorities descending on the compound and a 51-day standoff, which generated a distrust of federal agencies and, according to one author, the rise of militias.

Throughout the standoff, federal officials applied psychological warfare, blasting chants, blaring lights at night to prevent the people inside from sleeping, and turning off the electricity to the compound. In the end, Janet Reno, the attorney general at the time, gave permission to use tear gas to draw out the occupants. It didn’t work. More than 75 people died.

Even former President Bill Clinton admitted years later that “it was a mistake and [he was] responsible,” according to the New York Post. The former leader said authorities should have waited out the Davidians. Clinton further elaborated on the seriousness of the situation, saying, “that’s not one of those you get an A for effort on.”

The Waco siege became the go-to incident from which future attackers drew inspiration, according to Kevin Cook, who authored “Waco Rising: David Koresh, the FBI, and the Birth of America’s Modern Militias.” He points to Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City bomber, who set off the explosive on April 19, 1995, two years from the date of the final stand at Waco. It turns out that he was present at the Waco standoff, selling stickers in support of the religious sect.

The Columbine shooters also planned to use the Waco anniversary to carry out their horrific crimes. Alex Jones, a far-right figure who has claimed multiple tragedies — including the Sandy Hook shooting, which took the lives of more than two dozen people — were the work of the government, brought the event more attention. He gave rise to the slogan, “No more Wacos,” and made a documentary that helped vilify Texas law enforcement.

Cook connects the Waco stand-off and the federal government’s bungling of the situation to the militias that exist in today’s society as well as the January 6 Capitol riot.

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