Unraveling Waco

Apr 162003
Authors: Dominic Weilminster

Brad Borst knows that his mother died after being shot in the back, but the who and why components of information are missing. The place of her death will reside forever in infamy, but for Borst the facts about Waco, Texas, continue to remain hidden.

Borst, 29, is one of many who continue to sift through evidence of the massacre at Mount Carmel, the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, searching for the truth behind the blunder that resulted from the longest standoff in American law enforcement history.

“Over the past 10 years, I have pushed it to the side, but I do think you should confront your fears,” Borst said. “What I am doing right now will help me move on.”

Pushed by the interest and encouragement of his wife, Borst is rallying for congressional support for another investigation into the events at Waco in 1993. He has sent a letter to Congress expressing the need for the facts of Waco to be revealed. His effort has been recognized by Colorado Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell and Sen. Wayne Allard. Congresswoman Marilyn Musgrave has been working most closely with Borst and has created a tentative plan to present to Congress.

Borst, who is now a police officer, lived with his mother and the Davidians for a portion of his childhood before leaving at age 18. He said he had no desire to stay and, as he was only a child, Borst said he had little knowledge of the religious actions of the organization during his time there.

He does remember his mother well, however. According to her son, Mary Jean Borst was a quiet but friendly woman who was once a secretary in the FBI before coming to Mt. Carmel where she lived a communal life sharing chores, education and religion with other people living at the Davidian complex.

“She was a very good mother; she couldn’t have loved her kids more,” said Borst who, only a year after his own departure from Waco, lived through his mother’s death during the day of FBI offensive intervention on April 17, 1993.

“My mother was shot in the back,” Borst said. “Now, that’s not a suicide, but the FBI claimed that no shots were fired.”

An investigation in 1999, instigated by the Citizen Organization for Public Safety (COPS), however, disproved the FBI’s claim and furthered investigations and a documentary entitled “Waco: New Revelations.” In 1999, during the COPS investigation, FBI admitted to a number of allegations that had originally been kept secret. But for Borst, who doesn’t know how his mother could have been shot from behind, more explanation is needed.

“I don’t blame every agent out there,” Borst said. “But these things just don’t happen by accident, there was willful action.”

Federal law enforcement involvement in Waco was going badly from its start. An attempt at inspection of Mt. Carmel following a perceived weapons violation led to the largest shootout in law enforcement history. On Feb. 28, 1993 the Federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency (ATF), using what Borst calls “excessive force” approached the Branch Davidian compound with 76 agents and three Black Hawk helicopters.

While the question is still debated about who fired the first shot, the result was a massive exchange of gunfire and an ATF force retreat. During the incursion, ATF forces killed at least one unarmed Davidian and Davidians shot several federal agents.

The violence was in stark contrast to the weapons inspection conducted in 1992 of Mt. Caramel by the McLennan county sheriff, Jack Harwell, which proceeded without conflict

“The ATF came storming in looking for a fight,” said Borst, contrasting the approaches of the ATF and the late Sheriff Harwell. According to Borst, the approach of the ATF led to the shooting.

Following the blown ATF mission, the FBI decided to take action in Waco. Two separate forces were brought in, a negotiating team and an elite tactical force — the FBI also admitted to involving the military’s Delta Force, but refuses to acknowledge they had a role beyond observation. As with the ATF mission, the FBI force had its flaws. For much of the standoff that ensued between FBI agents and Davidians, an internal rift surfaced within the FBI forces.

“There was this tremendous chasm between negotiators and the hostage rescue team,” said FBI negotiator Clinton Van Zandt during an interview on the PBS Frontline’s “Waco: The Inside Story.”

Negotiators seemed to be working too slowly for the action-oriented tactical forces and many times, besides professional differences; this led to a lack of cooperation and even confusion during the mission. At one point, on the same day that negotiators were making headway and people were being released from the compound, the tactical forces shut-off electricity to the compound, undermining the negotiators work.

“If you’re a teacher and you got a kid who’s misbehaving, how many times are you going to tell the kid to stop it before you take another attack,” FBI agent and hostage rescue team member R.J. Craig told PBS referring to the HRT’s outlook on the Waco situation.

For people like Brad Borst, however, the tactical team’s sentiment is not shared, nor was their urgency.

“I don’t know how many children the negotiators were able to get out, but they were obviously more effective,” Borst said. “And, there is a the question of what harm were these people to themselves or anyone else.”

In a sudden change of heart negotiators decided to go along with tactical force recommendations to physically raid the complex. The rift between FBI groups would eventually close as the standoff drew on and, as Jeff Jamar the FBI commander for the Waco situation told PBS, “It’s the ten-day rule; standoffs don’t usually last for more than 10 days.”

“I think (the FBI) just got tired of waiting,” said Borst.

After convincing Attorney General Janet Reno that there was reason enough to go in — mostly the fact that it was possible that Davidian leader David Koresh was beating children — the FBI decided to take action.

On April 19, 1993, the FBI infiltrated Mt. Caramel with Bradley Armored Vehicles and began pumping tear-gas into the building in an attempt to flush out its inhabitants.

The gassing lasted for six hours and no one was leaving.

In fact, rather than leave, it was discovered that a number of Davidians began to light their complex on fire.

Recalling his anguish as he watched the FBI’s plan fail, negotiator Clinton Van Zandt told PBS, “We saw the whole thing blowing up in our face and I saw those kids dying.”

The building that was Mt. Carmel had been referred to by HRT member Barry Higginbotham as “a tinder-box” and was soon completely engulfed in flames. Between tear gas, flames and gunfire, less than five Davidians were able to make it out alive.

The scene took over a week to cool off enough to allow for the investigation that revealed a surprising amount of people dying of gunshot wounds including three children and Mary Jean Borst. The confusion and tragedy that resulted during the FBI’s raid had been simplified by officials as “a mass suicide,” but as the years have passed, a larger pool of evidence is pointing at a much more complicated puzzle.

It is a puzzle that Brad Borst is turning to Congress to solve once and for all. According to Borst, blame can, and should, be placed on David Koresh, but the FBI is no more innocent.

“The one important point to all of this is that these people had a strange religion, they had strange beliefs, but regardless of what they believed, they didn’t deserve to die,” said Borst, who is currently writing a book on Waco and operates a Web site on the matter at www.wacofacts.com.

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