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No More Wacos: What's Wrong With Federal Law…

No More Wacos: What's Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It

by David B. Kopel

Other authors: Paul H. Blackman (Author)

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My reaction to reading this book in 1998.

Apart from an exploration of the theology of the Branch Davidians (more completely covered in Dick Reavis’ The Ashes of Waco), this is the most complete treatment I’ve come across (though there are a couple of books I haven’t read on the subject) about Waco. Just as thoroughly as he covered the gun control issues in his The Cowboy, the Mountie, and the Samurai, lawyer Kopel (Blackman is a criminologist who works as a researcher for the National Rifle Association and his writing editorials under a pen name was unjustly the subject of criticism by gun control advocates and defenders of the government actions at Waco) shows, in detail, how Waco and Ruby Ridge are not atypical results of federal law enforcement – just highly publicized confluences of much that is wrong with federal law enforcement.

The authors point out a scary picture of a federal government enforcing an ever increasing roster of federal laws with increasing arbitrariness, increasing militarism, and increasing violence to the generally accepted rule of law. Their solutions are plentiful (some legal, some symbolic): repealing many federal criminal laws, stop the rubber stamping of search warrants, eliminate the legal abomination of forfeiture laws, and prohibit police hiding behind ninja mass and using military hardware and range from basic ones like repealing many federal criminal laws to tightening exclusionary laws of evidence. They also call for the cessation of declaring symbolic war on things.

In regard to the particulars of Waco, the authors seem a little hard on Vernon Wayne Howell aka David Koresh. Despite the findings of the state of Texas, they think Koresh was guilty of child abuse. While Reavis argued that parental consent may have absolved Koresh of statutory rape in Texas, Kopel and Blackman think he was guilty. And, while acknowledging that many of Koresh beliefs (like sexual intercourse with young girls) had a Biblical basis, they regard Koresh as a manipulative sociopath with mental problems (e.g. those divine voices he heard). However, they still see the government behaving illegally, with too much force, and needlessly involving all the Davidians. They present a convincing case that not only was increased funding and publicity a motive for the Waco raid but also an attempt at rehabilitation after late 1992 BATF scandals. They present even more evidence for a BATF coverup than the 1995 House hearings. (Though they only mention in passing a missing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms videotape of the raid, they don’t specifically address the absurd excuse the BATF gave at the 1995 hearings: that the large number of cell phones somehow caused the tape to spontaneously eject from the vcr without recording anything. At least that’s how I remember it.) They have also reversed my opinion from the hearings that CS gas was justifiably used. They present compelling evidence that it may have directly killed people at Waco (the autopsies were badly handled) to say nothing of a fire hazard. They present many possibilities for the fire breaking out. They also detail more examples of FBI misbehavior at Waco apart from the militaristic antics of the Hostage Rescue Unit (a paramilitary unit originally created to rescue hostages in foreign countries and kill their captors) such as withholding surveillance tapes of the final assault and looting Mount Carmel. (Withholding information by law enforcement agencies is, as the authors state, utterly unconscionable. I would say it is justified only in espionage matters.).

Many irregularities at the trial of the Branch Davidians are noted. It is also by no means proved that they were illegally making automatic weapons. The book has a synopsis of the negotiation tapes which were interesting. I was interested to learn that Steve Schneider didn’t personally like Koresh but followed him (including giving his wife to Koresh for sex which galled him somewhat since he sometimes denied it) since he thought he was God’s spokesman however imperfect. As expected, the book has a very complete of bibliography of books, court and hearing records, articles, documentaries, tapes, and web sites.

Kopel and Blackman rightly point out the fiasco of the House Hearings on Waco. The Democrats crossly – and successfully – diverted attention away from government misbehavior and to David Koresh and false charges of NRA misbehavior. But they also point out, correctly, that the Republicans seemed less interested in government misbehavior than embarrassing the Clinton administration. I agree with them that holding high level officials like Bill Clinton, Janet Reno, and Lloyd Bentsen responsible for Waco (or even Ron Noble of the BATF) is not justified. However, the coverup these figures (with the exception of Bensen) in was criminal. I’m doubtful that a special prosecutor will ever be appointed for the affair though the authors give a specific list of criminal charges one would investigate. The authors also note that the misbehavior of federal law enforcement did not start under Clinton (violent federal law enforcement started in the 1980s -- Ruby Ridge was under George Bush after all). It just hasn’t gotten any worse.

A very good book and reference for a troubling episode in American history.. ( )
  RandyStafford | Sep 7, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David B. Kopelprimary authorall editionscalculated
Blackman, Paul H.Authorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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