September 1, 2001
Government Conduct at Waco, Ruby Ridge Still Haunt the US
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Try as they might, the bureaucrats and politicians just cant seem to bury their actions at Waco and Ruby Ridge. No matter how much they try to cover things up, the issues keep coming back into public attention.
Back in 1994and through 1997, I was one of those representing the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) supporters in a broad-based, grassroots political coalition trying to focus media and government attention on a long list of civil liberties abuses by government law enforcement agencies. Those agencies included the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF), the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
In the Winter of 1993-94, the coalition that included organizations traditionally identified as on the political left and right joined in sending a letter to then- President Bill Clinton asking for a review of some 10 specific cases involving government abuse. The deadly raid, siege and final flaming assault on the Branch Davidian community at Waco, TX, and the bizarre shootout, siege and killings at the Weaver family property at Ruby Ridge, ID, were two of those cases.
There was no response from the White House until, after prodding, a lawyer from the Justice Department met with representatives of the coalition, claiming our concerns were under review.
Within months, the ATF and FBI, under the supervision of the DOJ, conducted internal investigations of the 1992 Ruby Ridge and 1993 Waco tragedies, but the subsequent reports clearly indicated that a whitewash was in progress. In the Ruby Ridge case, some FBI officials were castigated for writing and then attempting to cover up the rules of engagement that lead to the death Vicki Weaver as she stood holding an infant child in the doorway of the family home.
After control of both houses of Congress shifted to the Republicans in the 1994 elections, committees of the House and Senate held investigative hearings on both the Waco and Ruby Ridge incidents, but not before the murder of 189 more Americans in the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Murrah federal office building in Oklahoma City.
Early on, the Oklahoma City bombing was linked to the Waco incident. Tim McVeigh, who was caught, tried, convicted and executed, made it plain that his action was a retaliatory strike against the government which was not only responsible for what happened at Waco, but did nothing to admit its responsibility or take steps to insure it would never happen again.
The 10 cases cited in the original coalition letter involved a host of violations of civil liberties as set forth in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Many Americans were growing increasingly uneasy about the militarization of federal law enforcement. At the same time, they were also becoming more concerned about the threat of terrorism, which was heightened by the bombings at the World Trade Center in New York City and in Oklahoma City.
Anti-terrorism legislation that further threatened civil libertiesintended to codify some of the illegal actions of governmentwas under consideration in Congress and supporters of that legislation attempted to link the militia movement, the bombings and the gun rights movement in such a fashion as to defuse much of the opposition to the bill.
A fund-raising letter written months earlier by Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the NRA, which referred to some government agents as jack-booted thugs, was suddenly dragged out to put gunowners on the defensive.
Anyone who explored the motive behind the Oklahoma City bombing was characterized as an anti-government nut.
During the trial of the surviving Davidians and of McVeigh, the governments excesses at Waco were never honestly explored. And because the congressional hearings became a political contest between Republicans attacking Clinton and Democrats defending him, they ended up being a big waste of time and money. The fact that government agents were running wild under both Republican and Democrat administrations was ignored.
Years have passed. Videos and documentary films have been made about Waco. Many books have been written. The government paid the Weavers $3.1 million in the Ruby Ridge case, but never admitted any guilt. Kevin Harris has been paid to settle his claims connected with Ruby Ridge. The government has also settled with cash claims in at least two of the other cases cited in the original letter to Clinton.
The federal judges sentencing of the convicted Davidians has been overturned. The Clinton-Gore Administration has left the White House. Janet Reno is no longer the attorney general. McVeigh has been executed. But still the Waco and Ruby Ridge cases continue to make headlines.
There has been wholesale exposure of FBI bungling in a whole host of cases.
Now, with the retirement of Louis Freeh as FBI director and a new attorney general, new disclosures are leaking out. One of these is detailed on Page 1 of this issue. It details the revelation that Reno refused to approve a censure of Freeh for his handling of the Waco case.
Leading Democrats who once defended the government and its agentsSens. Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Charles Schumer of New Yorkare expressing surprise and concern regarding the management of the FBI. History is often ironic.
On Aug. 9 the Washington Post reported that the DOJs inspector general has opened an investigation of alleged retaliation by senior FBI officials against agents who uncovered flaws in the bureaus handling of the Ruby Ridge, ID, siege, and its aftermath.
McVeigh and Waco
As The Post was breaking its story, the London Times filed a report from New York City that was based on an article by novelist and essayist Gore Vidal in the September 2001 issue of Vanity Fair. The Times report indicated that Vidals lengthy article cast McVeigh as a hero.
Vidal had become an unlikely soulmate of McVeigh, according to The Times, because of an earlier article he had written about Waco. McVeigh wrote to Vidal and a correspondence developed to the point that McVeigh invited the man of letters to his execution. However, Vidal, who has been living in Ravenna, Italy, was not able to get to Indiana when the execution date was changed.
In the extremely long essay I read in the glitzy, upscale, liberal Vanity Fair, Vidal quotes from the McVeigh letters, and brings up once again the connection between the Oklahoma City bombing and Waco.
Vidal revisits the entire handling of the McVeigh trial, the governments refusal to pursue identified witnesses and possible other co-conspirators except Michael Fortier and Terry Nichols, and the DOJs attempt to manage the trial and the media to keep it disconnected from Waco.
Vidal brings up a lot of new issues and explores again the fascistic tendencies of contemporary government bureaucracies. He also talks about the unsettling and conflicting attitudes of Americans afraid of government but willing to give up their freedoms to that government, in exchange for more security.
There are some key questions which he does not explore fully. The principle one is: why is our government being driven in the directions it has been taking? But even so, Vidals essay in a magazine that reaches an influential demographic, is further evidence that the Waco and Ruby Ridge cases just will not go away until they are fully explained.
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