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What Reavis found in Waco G-man’s best friend: a thousa lapdogs with laptops. was a nd Stirring the Ashes A Reporter Examines the Revelation and the Conflagration at Mount Carmel BY BILL ADLER THE ASHES OF WACO: An Investigation By Dick J. Reavis New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995 320 pp., $24.00 T’S AN HOUR OR SO until “Show “, time” and an undercover cop named Robert Rodriguez has stage fright something fierce. He’s inside Mt. Carmel, the home of the messianic David Koresh and 80 or so of his Branch Davidian followers, and he’s thinking if he doesn’t get the fuck out fast, he’s toast. For about six weeks, Rodriguez \(who was known to Kowith the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, has been posing as a college student who recently took up residence across the road from Mt. Carmel. He’d dropped in from time to time, taken target practice with Mt. Carmel residents, and listened to Koresh’s Gospel teachings while gathering intelligence about Koresh’s alleged stash of illegal machine guns and drugmaking paraphernalia. A day earlier, the Waco Tribune-Herald had published the first of its seven-part “Sinful Messiah” series on Koresh. And now, as it neared nine o’clock on the last morning of February 1993, Rodriguez has brought over the newspaper’s second installment, ostensibly to show Koresh but in reality to affirm for his superiors that the raid could begin as plannedand as soon as Rodriguez could get himself back to the safe house. But he quickly learned that the ruse was upKoresh knew Rodriguez was a cop and he knew of the impending attack. “He turned and told me the ATF and the National Guard were coming,” Rodriguez later testified. Outside the remote compound, meanwhile, a platoon of federal agents prepared to assault the large wooden house. The agents sported enough combat gear, highpowered weaponry, helicopter support, and camera equipment for a sequel to The Wild Bunch. The raid plan, dubbed “Operation Showtime” by ATF field agents, called for Bill Adler is a freelance writer in Austin. agents to storm Mt. Carmel, arrest Koresh quickly and bloodlesslyand to capture the whole thing on videotape for ATF officials to present to Congress as evidence of the agency’s unsung but vital work. But as Robert Rodriguez thought he had made emphatically clear to his superiors, the veil of surprise necessary for a successful raid had been lifted: The Davidians were prepared to fight back. Rather than heed his warning, though, the supervising agents chose to plow ahead. The widely chronicled result, of course, was deadly. Instead of returning to Washington for its budget hearings two weeks later with a video trophy of its big-game conquest in the blackland prairie of central Texas, ATF camera operators captured only the grisly specter of four of its own and six sect members killed in the botched raid. In The Ashes of Waco, Dick J. Reavis orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the shoot-out, the 51-day standoff and the April 19, 1993 conflagration that took the lives of David Koresh and 75 of his followers: the clash of wills and egos; the self-deceiving illusions of both the government and the Davidians; the historical forces that brought them into conflict. Reavis went to Waco as a staff writer for the weekly Dallas Observer. What he found was a G-man’s best friend: a thousand lapdogs with laptops. The obedient press was eagerly gulping and disgorging the official version of events as served up daily by FBI briefers. The government’s explanation for the tragedy, Reavis writes in the introduction, was based on four easyto-swallow concepts: “TexasChild MolesterGun CultCrazies.” Reavis resolved to dig deeper, to go beyond the simplistic caricature and feckless name-calling that made for fine nightlynews fodder and insta-books. He understood that whatever may have happened at Waco would not and could not emerge fully without independent scrutiny. Reavis quit his job and went to work. He combed the Bible, studied the origins and writings of the Seventh Day Adventists and the Davidians, sought help from religious scholars for deciphering Koresh’s explanation of the Seven Seals of Revelationthe doctrine by which Koresh sought to prove that he was another Christ. The Seals, writes Reavis, are the key to understanding both Koresh’s grip on his followers and “why they behaved as they did when government troops assaulted them.” Reavis also sifted through the official record \(although much, shamefully, has yet released documents, including some 18,000 transcript pages of telephone conversations between Mt. Carmel residents and ATF/FBI negotiators. He interviewed survivors of the siege and fire, family members of the deceased and other Koresh followers who were not present at the time of the ATF assault. Reavis’s homework pays off. The book brims with enough evidence of federal bungling, misconduct, tyranny and cover-up to provide grist for every militia from Montana to Maine. The government’s decision to risk lives, to ignore warnings from its own agents, theologians and behaviorists is stunningly and infuriatingly stupid. Reavis’ thorough, angry and conscientious reporting seems to put the lie to other government claims: that there was no alternative to the raid, that the use of the military was justifiable for drug-enforcement reasons, that the CS tear gas the FBI used was non-pyrotechnic, that Mt. Cannel residents ignited the fatal fire. THESE INFORMED REBUTTALS are the strongest sections of the book. I’d like to have seen Reavis apply his considerable investigative skills more fully to the Davidians. The author might have cast a more critical eye toward Koresh; instead, the reader has to keep his eyes peeled to catch hurried references to Koresh’s often bizarre and sometimes criminal behavior. Reavis dismisses in a sentence allegations that the messiah abused children. He writes that Koresh was spanked as a child. “In working-class Texas households in those days children were spanked; they still are, and civilization doesn’t seem to 8 AUGUST 11, 1995