A huge ATF operation was launched 21 years ago with the transparent goal of garnering media attention — and the bureau got what it asked for, good and hard:
A raid that was planned for television effect was initiated with a rattle of suppressed fire as ATF agents killed the residents’ dogs: an Alaskan Malamute bitch and her four puppies. They didn’t kill them clean, and the agonized yelps of wounded dogs would continue for several minutes. That was the opening round; supposedly, it was written into the operations order, but nobody knows for sure, for as we’ll see, the operations order did not survive.
Then — according to all non-ATF witnesses — the ATF opened up on the building. Few had targets; they were just blazing away at windows and walls. Sometime in these mad minutes, some dog-loving agent put the crippled dogs out of their mewling agony. The ATF kept firing for two hours, until they were out of ammunition, then pulled back. Pulling back wasn’t the right term, really; they bugged out, undisciplined, and some of their men — particularly the dead and the wounded — were left behind by the fleeing agents. The wounded and bodies would be recovered when FBI negotiators established a truce with the apocalyptic cult inside, an extremist breakaway faction of the Seventh Day Adventists.
They cult, who called themselves Branch Davidians, had been stockpiling guns. ATF agents fabricated a nonexistent “confidential source” to say they were dealing drugs, to get helicopter and heavy-weapons support from the National Guard. (Later, the FBI would use the same tactic, a phony “confidential source,” to push the Attorney General’s child-abuse button, in order to get the second, firestorm raid greenlighted).
The cult members would almost all be killed in the later FBI raid, which involved destroying all egresses with armored vehicles, covering them with sniper fire, and launching incendiaries into the building. (Weren’t we just talking about Njal’s Saga in some other context? History repeats itself).
The surviving cultists, most of whom fled before the final holocaust, were tried for various crimes, in a courtroom in San Antonio; and while some charges stuck, all of the murder and conspiracy-to-murder charges ended in acquittal. The fact-finders, the jury, found that the killings of ATF agents were self-defense. That finding is infuriating to this day to the officers who were there in 1993.
That very day, senior ATF managers ordered the destruction of certain evidence, including all copies of the raid plan. Video shot by ATF videographers was destroyed; the ATF tried to seize and destroy video shot by media that they’d invited to the raid. (At least one cameraman palmed the exposed tape and gave ATF a blank one, which is the only reason any visual evidence of that raid survives).
Some people call ATF all kinds of names, stormtroopers, whatever, but that sentence, “No one was fired…” tells you the reality of it: bureaucracy, armed.