February 28 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Waco Siege which ultimately led to one of the most brutal acts of domestic state repression and mass murder in US history.
FBI agents, backed by “observers” from the US Army’s secret Delta Force commando unit, attacked the house occupied by the followers of the religious sect after a 51-day siege. The combat-equipped agents used tanks to punch holes into the structure and then pump in tear gas. A fire that quickly swept through the compound killed most of victims, but a number were shot to death when they fled the burning building.
While the Clinton administration’s Justice Department claimed that the deaths were the result of a “mass suicide” and that the Branch Davidians had set the fire themselves, survivors of the massacre denied this, blaming the federal assault force for the killings. The tanks, they said, had crushed propane and fuel containers, which were then ignited by tear gas grenades fired by federal agents into the compound.
Federal authorities, led by Attorney General Janet Reno, repeatedly denied that any pyrotechnic devices were used in the siege that could have caused the fatal conflagration. More than six years after the massacre, however, the FBI was forced to admit that it had indeed used explosive munitions capable of starting the fire.
82 Davidians were killed, including 26 people ages 18 and under and 16 under the age of 10.