TEXT ON SCREEN: February 28, 1993
ARCHIVAL (NBC, NIGHTLY NEWS, 2-28-93):GARRICK UTLEY: It happened outside Waco, Texas. A heavily armed compound. A religious cult.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 2-28-93):CONNIE CHUNG: Four law-enforcement agents are dead.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, Evening News, 2-28-93):VICKI MABREY: Federal Agents prepared for the worst in dealing with the Branch Davidians and cult leader David Koresh.
ARCHIVAL:FBI NEGOTIATOR: Exit the compound and keep your hands in the air.
MARK POTOK (SENIOR FELLOW, SOUTHERN POVERTY LAW CENTER): Huge numbers of Americans watched this play out on their television sets and the ending was incredibly horrifying.
NARRATION: The FBIs standoff with the Branch Davidians ended over twenty years ago. So why do these images continue to hold so much power today?
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, HANNITY, 4-12-14):SEAN HANNITY: Ill be honest, we saw what happened at Waco.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 4-14-14):JUAN WILLIAMS: I think you have to worry about Waco when people start showing up with guns and saying theyre willing to take on the federal government.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH (SONS OF LIBERTY MILITIA): A Waco can happen at any given time. But the outcome will be different this time, of that I can assure you.
ARCHIVAL (AT CLIVEN BUNDY SHOWDOWN):POLICE: Get Back! Get back, now!
NARRATION: Eleven months before the fire at Waco, the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms began watching the Davidian complex, Mount Carmel. A UPS driver was delivering a package.
DICK J. REAVIS (AUTHOR, THE ASHES OF WACO): And out of the box fell some of these hollowed out grenades. The people at Mount Carmel were buying all sorts of gun supplies, including kits to convert AR-15s to automatic fire.
NARRATION: Under federal law it was illegal to convert guns into fully automatic weapons. But for Davidians, the guns served a higher purpose.
DICK J. REAVIS: Life and death was not to Koreshs followers what it is to you and me. They thought that their eternal life was assured if they died defending the faith. They were fearless in that respect.
ARCHIVAL (WITLIFF KORESH BIBLE STUDY):DAVID KORESH: He will bring forth his judgment to light every morning, but the unjust knowCONGREGATION: No shame.
NARRATION: The Davidians were convinced that end times were imminent. It was the foundation of their faith since the 30s. And when Koresh took over in the 80s his followers believed that he was chosen to lead them through an apocalyptic battle, into Heaven.
To the ATF, stockpiling illegal weapons showed that the Davidians were a dangerous cult, led by a self-proclaimed Messiah.
ARCHIVAL (CBS NEWS):DAVID TROY (BUREAU OF ALCOHOL, TOBACCO, FIREARMS AND EXPLOSIVES): Thinks hes the lamb of God, when all he is a cheap thug who interprets the Bible through the barrel of a gun.
NARRATION: The ATF decided the way to get the guns without casualties was to take the Davidians by surprise. On the morning of February 28th, minutes before setting out on the raid, the ATF learned from an undercover agent that Koresh knew they were coming. They didnt turn back.
DICK J. REAVIS: The ATF did not understand that what the Davidians were going to see pulling up was the Army of Babylon.
ARCHIVAL (2-28-93):OPERATOR: 911, whats your emergency? WAYNE MARTIN: Yeah, there are 75 men around our building and theyre shooting at us at Mt. Carmel. Tell em that there are children and women in here and to call it off!LIEUTENANT LARRY LYNCH: I hear gunfire. Oh, shit.
CLIVE DOYLE (BRANCH DAVIDIAN): I heard this barrage of incoming bullets. I saw all the children laying on the floor in the hallway with the women kind of trying to cover them over.
NARRATION: Both sides say the other shot first. After an hour of intense shooting, the ATF ran out of ammunition. Koresh had taken a bullet in his side. Authorities pressed him for a ceasefire.
ARCHIVAL (NEGOTIATIONS BETWEEN AUTHORITIES AND DAVID KORESH):LIEUTENANT LARRY LYNCH: OK, David DAVID KORESH: Now theres a bunch of us dead, theres a bunch of you guys dead. Now, now thats your fault. Heres the deal. You pull your guys out, and I want to talk.
NARRATION: By the end of the day, four ATF agents and six Davidians were dead.
CLIVE DOYLE: Even when the agents all left we felt that they would be back that night and kill us.
NARRATION: By the next morning, the FBI took command and continued negotiations. Within 24 hours, 14 children came out of Mt. Carmel and so had allegations that Koresh had taken multiple wives, some of whom were underage.
ARCHIVAL (ABC, 3-3-93):NEWS REPORT: Koreshs followers would do just about anything he would ask.
NARRATION: And Koresh refused to come out, as he made clear to negotiators through videos.
ARCHIVAL (DAVIDIAN HOME VIDEO, 3-9-93):DAVID KORESH: And bringing these tanks and stuff around here, I tell you whatno one is going to hurt me or my family.
NARRATION: On March 9th, with temperatures dropping to 20 degrees, the on-scene commander raised the stakes and cut electricity to Mt. Carmel. The FBI flooded the buildings with light and blasted them with sounds like dentist drills, Tibetan chants, and the screaming of rabbits being slaughtered.
DICK J. REAVIS: And naturally, it stiffened their resistance.
CIVE DOYLE: You wonder whether some of these people have any religious convictions. Because they would understand how far a true Christian is willing to go for what he believes if hes deeply committed. What we came to learn under David was that God asks his messengers to do some weird stuff.
ARCHIVAL (DAVIDIAN HOME VIDEO, 3-9-93):STEVE SCHNEIDER: So no one is holding you here against your will?BRANCH DAVIDIAN MEMBER: No one would be holding anyone here against their will.
NARRATION: With around 80 people still inside Mt. Carmel, the FBI decided to force an end to the siege by driving everybody out with military-grade tear gas. On April 19th, the 51st day of the siege, the tear gassing began.
ARCHIVAL(4-19-93):FBI: This is not an assault. We are not entering the building.
DICK J. REAVIS: The Davidians had gas masks, but of course the FBI knew that there are no gas masks for children.
ARCHIVAL(4-19-93):BRANCH DAVIDIAN MEMBER: Everybody grab your masks! Everybody grab your masks!BRANCH DAVIDIAN MEMBER: Theyre coming in. Theyre breaking the building down!
NARRATION: After six hours of intense tear gassing, smoke was spotted in a second-story window. Within minutes, the whole building was ablaze.
CLIVE DOYLE: Everything in there just went pitch black.
ARCHIVAL (4-19-93):FBI: Dont lose control of this, David. Lead your people out, David. Be a messiah, not a destroyer.
CLIVE DOYLE: About the only thing that made me move was hearing the people screaming. Then when I got arrested, and they had me laying down, looking at the building burning, I thought, my god, nobodys going to get out.
NARRATION: Clive Doyles 18-year old daughter, Shari, was still inside.
CLIVE DOYLE: They tell me that she had a bullet wound in her. Ive come to the acceptance that if she had asked somebody to put her out of her misery, Id accept that.
NARRATION: 75 people died that day at Mount Carmel. Five children and 12 adults, including David Koresh, were shot dead by fellow Davidians. Independent arson investigators concluded the Davidians deliberately started the fire. No one has ever fully explained why.
MARK POTOK: It looked pretty brutal. On the far right in this country, Waco was the convincing last straw that the government had in fact become a murderous tyranny.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH: My reaction to Waco was horror. It was the defining moment, I think, of the late twentieth century in terms of the relationship between the citizen and the government.
NARRATION: Vanderboegh saw Waco as part of a long-standing pattern of Federal aggression, particularly when it came to guns most notoriously an arrest gone wrong at Ruby Ridge, Idaho. There was also an assault weapons ban on the horizon.
MARK POTOK: Guns were seen as the instrument which guaranteed the freedom of liberty-loving Americans.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH: Waco proved to us that citizen disarmament was coming. It scared the crap out of us. And it mobilized us.
NARRATION: After Waco, reports showed militias rising up. By 1995 there were almost 450 of them, spread across the country.
ARCHIVAL (NBC):REPORTER: This is the Michigan militia, a group of ordinary citizens who have taken up arms against the federal government.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH: Do we serve the government? Or does the government serve us? These kinds of fundamental questions hardly ever get settled without violence.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 4-19-95):NEWS REPORT: We got a hot flash, get em back!
NARRATION: Two years after Waco, a young Gulf War veteran set off a bomb at a federal office building in Oklahoma City.
ARCHIVAL (AP, 4-19-95):NEWS REPORT: About a third of the building has been blown away.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 4-19-95):CONNIE CHUNG: It is apparently the single deadliest terror attack on US soil ever.
MARK POTOK: Just as Waco set off the militia movement in general, it also set off a set of ideas in the mind of one particular man, Timothy McVeigh.
NARRATION: McVeigh, who wasnt a member of a militia, but was inspired by the rhetoric, timed the attack to coincide with the second anniversary of the fire at Waco.
MARK POTOK: Tim McVeigh actually went to Waco.
ARCHIVAL (CBS, EVENING NEWS, 4-19-96):SCOTT PELLEY: The man in the background sitting on the car is Tim McVeigh.
MARK POTOK: McVeigh murdered 168 people including 19 small children as a direct retaliatory attack on the government for Waco.
ARCHIVAL (C-SPAN, 4-19-95):BILL CLINTON: It was an act of cowardice and it was evil.
NARRATION: Vanderboegh condemns the bombing and says it hurt the movement. After Oklahoma City, law enforcement cracked down on militias. By 1999, they had almost disappeared. But Waco endured as the ultimate symbol of government overreach. Initially talk radio and VHS tapes fueled the rhetoric.
ARCHIVAL (DAY 51):A surreal cosmic struggle between good and evil, freedom and slavery, free will and tyranny.
NARRATION: And then the message spread onto the internet.
ARCHIVAL (MUSIC VIDEO, FALL OF CYRUS):SINGING: April 19th, 93, a congregation under siege.
NARRATION: And since Barack Obamas election, theres been a record surge of radical anti-government groups.
MARK POTOK: I remember talking to ranking law enforcement officials who said, All that is needed for real carnage to happen out there is another Waco, a spark, something that will light the movement on fire, bring it back to life in the same scary way that it came to life in the mid-1990s.”
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, HANNITY, 4-12-14):SEAN HANNITY: This is a Fox News alert. Tensions are flaring in the standoff between Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and the federal government.
NARRATION: In 2014, protesters tried to block the Bureau of Land Management from executing a warrant to seize the herd of rancher Cliven Bundy who for 20 years had refused to pay to graze his cattle on public lands. When amateur video of the confrontation went viral, reaction was swift.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, 4-14-14):REPORTER: Self-described patriots and hundreds of armed militia members began streaming into Bunkerville, Nevada.
ARCHIVAL (FOX NEWS, HANNITY, 4-12-14):SEAN HANNITY: Ill be honest, we saw what happened at Waco. When you said, Cliven, this is going to be a range warwhat do you mean by that?CLIVEN BUNDY: Were going to do whatever it takes.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH: We didnt even have to agree with the Bundys, but we had to be there to be between them and the predatory federal government that seemed intent on doing to them what it did to the Davidians.
ARCHIVAL (KLAS, 4-14-14):FEDERAL AGENT: No gun pointing!
NARRATION: With an armed crowd bearing down, law enforcement made a tactical decision to withdraw, allowing Bundy to take back his herd.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH:They did the right thing. They didnt try to enforce their will upon another set of Davidians.
MARK POTOK: The bottom line about the Bundy standoff is that a large number of people in the militia movement pointed scoped, semi-automatic weapons at the heads of law-enforcement officials, and ultimately forced them to back down. It made people feel that you could win against the federal government and you needed to do it with a gun.
NARRATION: Today, Bundy still grazes his cattle on public lands, while owing the federal government more than a million dollars. Meanwhile, extensive fear about government aggression persists. Recently, the governor of Texas called on his state guard to monitor a military exercise called Jade Helm 15 after a conspiracy theory claimed it was cover for a federal invasion.
ARCHIVAL (CNN, 5-5-15):NEWS REPORT: The governor says he wants to make sure Texans constitutional rights, private property rights, and civil liberties will not be infringed.
NARRATION: Vanderboegh doesnt worry about Jade Helm, but he continues to believe the threat of an over reaching government must be fought.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH (IN A SPEECH): This is dangerous ground truly dangerous ground.
NARRATION: On his blog and in speeches, he urges his followers to break gun laws and dares law enforcement to do something about it.
MIKE VANDERBOEGH: There will be no more free Wacos. Whoever starts down this road should understand that if they understand nothing else.
NARRATION: In the remains of Mount Carmel, theres not much evidence of the suffering that took place here in 1993.
CLIVE DOYLE: People verbalize their anger at the government or at law enforcement or at the system, or whatever they want to call it. Now, everything is likened to us Is this going to be another Waco? I appreciate their support and their sympathy, but you listen to what theyre saying, and some of them scare me.