A View From Behind the Walls at Waco
A Branch Davidian says not all the facts have come out on federal actions in Waco's deadly siege
WACO, TEXAS — GONE is the Branch Davidian compound known as Mount Carmel, where Clive Doyle lived on and off for 30 years. Dead are more than 80 fellow members (including Mr. Doyle's 19-year-old daughter) with whom he lived, worked, and worshiped.
But left behind here amid the rubble are many questions about the 51-day siege by federal law-enforcement agencies more than two years ago and why things got so out of hand.
After diving out of the Branch Davidians' burning chapel through a hole punched by a tank, Doyle spent a year in jail awaiting trial. Nine Branch Davidians received sentences of up to 40 years. Doyle was found innocent of all charges.
He and a dozen other adults and children are all that remain in Waco of those Branch Davidians who followed David Koresh and regarded him as ''a messiah.'' On Saturdays they meet at the two-bedroom apartment that Doyle shares with his mother to listen to tapes of Koresh's message.
Scars on his hands from the fire prevent Doyle from resuming work as a roofer. Now he performs data entry to earn his $340 a month rent. After work on a recent evening, Doyle told the Monitor what some of the Branch Davidians were doing and thinking during the 51-day siege that Congress is scrutinizing in hearings that began yesterday.
Unlike the rambling Mount Carmel edifice, Doyle's new home is cramped. He sits in his living room at a card table, where a lamp, telephone, and utility bills compete for space. Even his shirt pocket bulges with too many pens.
A naturalized immigrant, Doyle retains his native Australian accent and dry wit. But he also voices his convictions strongly and chooses his words carefully.
The United States government, Doyle says at one point, is ''controlled by the devil. I know a lot of people get offended by that.''
Yet Doyle will be testifying before a branch of that government, as the Republican-controlled Congress investigates the Waco operation and the Branch Davidians' version of events.
Doyle agrees the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms was duty-bound to investigate the Branch Davidians, based on claims the ATF was hearing about illegal weapons. But federal agents went about it the wrong way, he says.
''They lied to the government [about the existence of a drug lab] to get the helicopters,'' Doyle says. ''They came in there with guns drawn, shooting the dogs and what-have-you. The whole thing just turned sour. That was not the way to handle it.''
Koresh, Doyle says, had invited ATF agents to come inspect his weapons in 1992, after learning that they were showing an interest. The ATF declined.
''That wasn't what they wanted. They wanted a show to impress Congress.'' The ATF figured that ''a Christian group'' would be ''a pushover,'' Doyle says.
''It's not like everybody was walking around with a gun,'' Doyle says. ''We weren't an armed camp. We didn't go around just waiting for something to happen all the time.''
He says some Branch Davidians might have been carrying guns when the ATF arrived. Others may have had them in their rooms. But if the group had really been waiting in ambush, Doyle asks, how was it that ATF members were able to get on the roof?
''David was shot at the front door. Perry Jones was shot at the front door. Both of them were unarmed,'' Doyle says. Once provoked, the Branch Davidians responded quickly. ''You want us just to turn the other cheek or something, and let them just come in and take over.
''There were people that weren't willing to do that. They felt they had to defend themselves or defend the women and children,'' he says. ''I don't blame anybody [who did].''
Doyle will not name any Branch Davidian living or dead as shooting a gun. Nor will he say whether he himself picked up a gun during the raids.
''If we were some suicidal, kamikaze-type group that just wanted to go down in a blaze of glory and take as many with us as possible, we could have gunned a few more down,'' Doyle says. ''We could have shot all the ATF as they walked off [during a truce after the initial fight] on Feb. 28 - they were totally exposed then, if that was what we were all about. It wasn't, you see?''
''Everybody I know in there had a bag packed,'' Doyle says. ''In my mind, we're all coming out, probably women and children first.'' He stayed because he felt the others needed him inside to perform chores.
''[Koresh's deputy] Steve Schneider was going around every day saying, 'Do you want to go out today? Who wants to go out today? They want to know how many's coming out today.''' But he says that ''people backed off from cooperating'' as the government turned up the pressure.
Doyle says the group members were daily given more reasons to be fearful. On their radios they heard ''lies'' being told at the daily press briefings. Tanks piled their cars and even the children's go-carts into a crumpled heap.
Their fuel supply was dumped, causing group members to fear an explosion. Federal agents ''mooned'' them and lobbed ''flash-bang'' grenades at anyone venturing out, even at Schneider, the Branch Davidians' negotiator.
''Why is it that people can't try to see it from our point of view?'' Doyle asks. ''Would the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto have handed their kids over or would they have come out and surrendered to the Germans after the siege had been going on for weeks and weeks?''
The Branch Davidians expected God to deliver them, Doyle says. ''I believe in a God that can do miracles. But like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego tell the king of Babylon, 'Our God is well able to deliver us, but if he chooses not to, we're still not going to bow down.'''
Doyle doesn't know who started the fire. But as federal tanks burst through the front door into a hallway where cans of Coleman fuel had been stored, he heard people say, ''We better get the fuel.'' Doyle grabbed a couple of cans and moved them to the foot of the tower stairs, which a tank later knocked down.
He says allegations that the government had a ''flame-throwing tank'' are ''garbage.'' But he also wonders why none of the nine who escaped the fire exited the building through a door.
For his part, as Doyle and fellow Branch Davidian David Thibodeau stood looking through a smashed wall at the tanks and sniper nests outside, they wondered whether they would be killed if they emerged. That fear, plus an expectation that God would deliver them at last, may have caused some Branch Davidians to stay inside until too late, Doyle says.
Doyle says congressional investigators who talked with him recently seemed outraged over what they were learning from him and others about the government's ''crimes'' at Waco. He hopes those will be pursued by a special prosecutor.
Even by its own rules, the ATF should not have proceeded with the raid on Mount Carmel if the element of surprise was lost - as raid leaders had been told had happened. ''They should have called it off,'' he says. ATF agents also should not have been shooting at a building holding innocent women and children. He says a nursing mother was hit by an ATF bullet.
Nor should the ATF have fired randomly into the building. Doyle says Winston Blake was killed while eating in bed. Blake's bed was on the opposite side of the building from the ATF raiders. Bullet holes in plastic water tanks outside Blake's window showed that the shots could only have come from a helicopter, although authorities deny that any shots were fired from the three National Guard helicopters on loan to the ATF.
Doyle would also like an impartial investigation, saying the post-fire investigation and trial were conducted solely to convict Branch Davidians. For instance, were any ballistics tests conducted on ATF weapons to see if the ATF agents who died might have been killed by friendly fire? he asks.
''If the government was perfectly right in everything they did, and if we were as rotten as they try to make out,'' Doyle asks, ''why all the cover up? Why all the lying? Why all the suppression of evidence?''