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Treasury’s report demonstrates the ATF’s handling of the raid mind-boggling piece of incompe that was a tence. Campaign Prelude The Republican Right and the NRA Target the Democrats and we all lose BY JAMES RIDGEWAY THE CONGRESSIONAL hearings into the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco mark the latest step in the Republican right’s effort to embarrass the Clinton administration. The short-term objective of the Waco hearings is to open up some political space for the right’s campaign to rescind last year’s ban on automatic weapons. To achieve this, the Republicans have chosen an easy target: the Treasury Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms. The Congressional hearings also play to the anarchist rightan emerging strain in the Republican rankswhich looks set to have a key role in the 1996 presidential race. Many of those who are drawn into the anarchist right are not only staunch gun lovers but also formed part of the key swing vote that sided with Ross Perot during the last election. This time, these voters are being wooed into the Republican fold. Whatever the political hay to be made out of Waco, the Treasury Department’s own report demonstrates that the ATF’s handling of the raid was a mind-boggling piece of incompetence. In late May 1992 Chief Deputy Sheriff Daniel Weyenberg of the McLennan County, Texas, Sheriff’s Department informed the ATF in Austin that certain people at the Branch Davidian compound, known locally as Mount Carmel, had been receiving suspicious UPS deliveries. These deliveries, according to Weyenberg, included shipments of firearms worth more than $10,000, grenade casings, and a substantial quantity of black powder that could be used to make explosives. The sheriff’s department had previously called the FBI with its concerns, but at the time, the feds were not actively pursuing an investigation. After seeking the advice of the U.S. Attorney’ s office, the ATF started making its own inquiries. Agent Davy Aguilera of the Austin office checked UPS delivery records and started interviewing arms dealers. The sheriffs office passed along more information, including one story from a confidential informant who claimed to have heard a firearms dealer bragging James Ridgeway is a reporter for the Vil lage Voice, where this story first appeared. about selling large numbers of AK-47s to Branch Davidian leader David Koresh. This was of special interest to the ATF because AK-47s are easily converted into machine guns. In addition, the sheriff’s office reported hearing automatic weapons fire coming from the compound at night. The ATF agent subsequently traced the sale of various conversion kitswhich can be used to turn semiautomatic weapons into automaticsto Koresh. On the basis of this information the ATF initiated its case. Soon there were more reports of activity within the compound. A neighbor who had served in an army artillery unit said he had heard “spurts” of gunfire coming from Mount Carmel, including .50-caliber and automatic weapons fire. Additionally, a deputy sheriff reported hearing a large explosion, accompanied by a cloud of gray smoke, at the compound . At this point Aguilera became concerned with another issue. In interviewing former cult members, he began to learn aspects of Davidian lifestylehow members had to surrender all their assets to Koresh, who considered himself to be the new Messiah, and how he had sex with all the female members of the cult, including young girls, and how he abused children. Aguilera also heard more stories about arms. There were reports of a hit list Koresh was putting together of former members he wanted to eliminate and accounts of Koresh watching violent movies as “training films” for “the war to come.” Among Aguilera’s sources was Marc Breault, a former cult member living in Australia, .who had already spoken with a reporter for the Waco Tribune-Herald about the repressive nature of the Branch Davidians, including Koresh’s abuse of children, warlike statements, and armaments. Hearing of the sexual abuse, Aguilera got in touch with an investigator for the Texas Department of Protective and Regulatory Services, which had been looking into Koresh independently but had come up with no hard evidence on which to base charges. Now, the ATF set about the process c getting search warrants and planning an en forcement action. It established an under” cover house near the compound, sendin an ATF agent underground. On the preteY of buying some equipment, the agent m\( Koresh and, becoming friendly with th cult leader, was invited to a Bible study an subsequently to shoot with him. In November 1992, the U.S. attorney re viewed the evidence and concluded ther was sufficient groLnds to issue a searc warrant. On December 4, ATF officers me to plan a tactical operation, trying to decid whether the best approach was to mount siege like the one staged against the whit supremacist Covenant, the Sword, and th Arm of the Lord in Arkansas, or to condu\( a swift raid on the compound, “dynamic entry” as the repcm calls it. The ATF put in a rer quest for Bradley armored vehi cies and asked the military fc equipment to aid in aerial re connaissance, but soon gave u on the idea of a siege becaus the geography offered little protection fror .50-caliber fire, and agents thought it couli turn into a long, involved operation thi would place the bureau under pressur from the public. Given Koresh’s apocalyr tic nature, they also feared the situatio might degenerate into a mass suicide. The best strategy, the ATF decided, wa a quick and decisive raid. Based on inter views with former members, agents wer confident they knew where the guns wer stored and believed they could sweep i and arrest people in the compound befor they could open fire. But the ATF already had a problemi had become involved with the press. Ai that fall, the Tribune-Herald had bee: preparing a series of articles on the Branc Davidians, focusing especially on thei lifestyle, sexual practices, and allege , abuse of children. By January 1993, th paper was preparing to print the article Although the ATF had been gathering it evidence and preparing its enforcement ac tivity in apparent secrecy, reporters for th , newspaper knew as far back as Octobe 1992, following a conversation with th, U.S. Attorney’s office, that the ATF wa investigating the Davidians. In December 1992, ATF Agent Aguiler asked one of his sources, who he knew ha\( 6 AUGUST 11, 1995