General overview of the 1993 events at Mount Carmel
Matthew D. Wittmer
Last updated March 2016
Six miles east of central Waco, Texas lies 77 acres of land that is owned by the General Association of the Branch Davidian Seventh-day Adventists. I refer to this land on this webpage as the “Mount Carmel” property because that is what the residents of that land have called it for years. On that land, there have been several buildings constructed since 1957 or possibly even 1945. The property is also referenced as ‘New Mount Carmel’ because the original Waco Davidian’s property (under Victor Houteff’s leadership) was in south central Waco city proper from 1930 to the mid 1950s. That property, no is often called ‘old Mount Carmel.’ Streets and only a few buildings remain there from that original Davidian establishment in the 1930s.
Those who built and lived in the residential complex in 1990 at New Mount Carmel with David Koresh became the focus of worldwide attention in 1993 when they were raided by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF or BATF) on February 28th. The ATF is an agency in the Treasury Department.
The February 28th, 1993 raid (later determined by many sources to have been conducted for publicity to gain positive press coverage for the ATF for the then upcoming budget appropriation hearings that then threatened to cut funding for the ATF) utilized significant gunfire from ATF agents that was directed straight into the building. The gunfire resulted in the killing of several Mount Carmel residents that morning. Four ATF agents were also killed from gunfire that day. A few Mount Carmel residents testified they fired back at ATF agents that morning in self-defense to protect themselves from the excessive gunfire and explosives from the ATF. It was later determined at the criminal jury trial in San Antonio jury that the ATF agents in this raid had used excessive force in the raid.
After this initial ATF raid, the FBI positioned themselves as negotiators and law enforcement on the Mount Carmel property. The FBI blocked off public access to the property and coordinated with various other law and military agencies during the siege. Many residents inside exited the residence. Other residents refused to leave Mount Carmel for a variety of reasons. A primary reason community members remained inside was that they did not trust the FBI and the situation in general due to conflicting actions and information being reported by various media and government agencies. Heavily biased pro-government media coverage claimed residents had murdered or ambushed the ATF agents the morning of the raid. The FBI’s tactical Hostage Rescue Team unit would also do things tactically on the property in opposition to the negotiator agreements with the residents inside, causing distrust. The community also faced the threat of loosing their property if they left their building then, as a lengthy trial meant moving off the property and moving off the property would have broken residential agreement the group committed to in 1988 (see Chart A on this website, end note c43) that they would occupy the property for five consecutive years. On April 19th, 1993 American armored personnel carriers demolished major sections of the building at Mount Carmel with residents inside. The building caught fire around noon that day and burnt completely to the ground. The remains of over 79 residents were recovered from the site, which included over twenty children. The FBI justified their tank demolition, as well as their simultaneous gassing of the people inside (both actions jeopardized the lives of children and infants inside) as a tactical decision to force the parents inside into removing their children from those dangers that the destruction and gas presented. Instead, the people congregated and held their ground.
While the government’s official ruling since the day of the fire has been that the residents of Mount Carmel set the final fire in an act of mass suicide, the eleven Mount Carmel survivors that were accused of murder and conspiracy to murder federal agents were each found not guilty in the 1994 San Antonio criminal jury trial. Judge Walter Smith changed the jury’s findings on a technicality after the jury’s finding though; Smith commuted the jury’s not guilty verdicts to guilty for seven of the eleven defendants who were found guilty of a smaller weapons charge. The jury expressed outrage as this resulted in forty year to life sentences for survivors who the jury believed and had found not guilty of the crime of murder or conspiracy to commit murder of federal agents.
A significant degree of the public conscious continues to be grossly misinformed of the complexity of these events. There was the initial ATF raid, the events during the siege, the criminal trial details, the civil trial information, the re-examination of the case by Special Counsel in 2000, as well as the history of Davidian and Branch Davidian movements on the Mount Carmel property – many times all of these issues are lumped into one, summary of mass suicide. This is largely because widespread awareness about the group’s theology, history, and the survivors’ perspectives have not been made as equally accessible for public consumption or saturation as has the government’s perspective of this group during and following the siege. The government perspective has also been fanned by mainstream media sources ever since as well, further slanting public understanding. The FBI perspective of the siege continues to dominate the documented coverage since that time. In the effort to encapsulate the events and aftermath, press coverage and documentaries frequently oversimplify the case. This simplification often cradled the notion that the people inside Mount Carmel were a strange religious and abusive cult. I created this web page to help provide information about this community from a less sensational point of view to share information about what I have observed and found about the survivors and property over the years.