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Revisiting Waco and other wackos

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Granted, you don’t have to be a right-wing maniac to have a deep-seated – and generally healthy – suspicion of Our Federal Government, not to mention certain of its occasional members, such as G. Gordon Liddy, Spiro Agnew, Newt Gingrich and the Clintons. But I have to admit I was slow to sign on to the idea that the religious nuts who died at Waco in 1993 were martyrs murdered by our tyrannical state octopus.

First of all, cults give me the creeps. David Koresh was a hypnotic pervert of a familiar kind (Rasputin, Jim Jones), who used God to justify his power-mad egomania and serial molesting of barely pubescent girls. It still seems highly likely that those who happily signed on to be his slaves set the fire that burned most of them to death.

Yet now it does seem that, once again, those spending our tax dollars haven’t told us the full truth. I recently watched Michael McNulty’s grim and gripping documentary, Waco – Terms of Engagement (now available at video stores). Though a bit soft on Koresh, the film makes a devastating, disturbing case against the government’s story:

l The fiery death of the cultists came, remember, on April 19, seven weeks after a botched initial raid by agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms left four agents and six Branch Davidians dead. Terms of Engagement makes it seem quite likely that the raid was largely a publicity stunt with an eye to fast-approaching congressional appropriations for ATF, then as now under fire.

l The agency seems to have bullheadedly gone ahead with the raid even after it knew, or should have known, that leaks had informed the Davidians of what they were going to do, and so the crucial element of surprise had been lost.

l There seems to be evidence that FBI and other forces may have, despite denials, fired on the cultists during their last hours. Tapes also show one occasion during which agents clearly tried to lie to Koresh about whether helicopters swooping over the property were armed; caught in the lie, they clumsily make excuses.

Nor did there seem any good reason, other than frustration and impatience, for the government to assault the compound when it did. Even if it had not been for the 80-odd Davidians who died fairly horribly (17 of whom were kids) the result fueled anti-government hysteria and right-wing conspiracy theorists like nothing else. The event probably fueled the growth of the militias more than is commonly understood, and two years later (to the day!) a militia member, Timmy McVeigh, detonated his fertilizer bomb in Oklahoma City, killing 169 and probably, someday, himself. All this heated up again last month when it was finally disclosed that, well, yup, the government did, after all, fire flammable tear gas canisters that could have started the fire, and there was indeed a cover-up. Either the FBI, or its parent, the Justice Department, removed a page revealing this from the report it sent congressional investigators in 1995.

The outcry has included calls for Attorney General Janet Reno’s ouster; Reno instead named a retired Republican senator to head one more special investigation.

What in fact should happen next? Certainly, at a bare minimum, whoever was responsible for the cover-up should be fired and, if possible, prosecuted.

How about Reno herself? Unless she was the victim of a fiendishly clever plot, it is hard to escape the conclusion that she owes the nation her resignation, too. Granted, she was very new on the job when Waco started, and again, it needs to be remembered that Koresh was a scary nut who had lied at least once about his willingness to surrender.

Yet she is still ultimately responsible, and when the assault was launched, she stupidly left the command post to give a speech in Baltimore, her rationale at the time being that she didn’t want to give the impression that a crisis was under way!

Sorry. It is also an open secret (to anyone who has seen her) that she now suffers from an advanced case of Parkinson’s disease; speculation about her effectiveness has been rampant for months. Leave-taking for medical reasons would seem an easy out. Unfortunately, she seems determined to cling to power in true Clintonian fashion, and so this long, unhappy saga seems bound to continue.

Prediction I: For the first time, it seems possible the fading Al Gore could be in serious trouble, thanks to the heavy embrace of Clinton fatigue, and his own bad judgment at employing a known sleaze like Tony Coelho in his campaign.

Yet have Bill Bradley enthusiasts paused to consider: Nominating a Northern liberal, recent history teaches, means the Democrats write off the entire South, in which case they are behind about 170 to 3 in the Electoral College before the campaign even starts. Lotsa luck hitting enough three-pointers to overcome that.

Prediction II: New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, recently seen braying loudly against an avant-garde art exhibit, will, nevertheless, defeat Hillary Rodham-still-Clinton with ease for the U.S. Senate next year. New York is normally overwhelmingly Democratic. But everyone in the nation is mortally sick of "them" – the Clintons, and their baggage. They want to change the channel, and electing Hillary would mean six years more of "all that stuff" – cattle futures, Whitewater and Bill’s peter follies. No. Please, no.

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