Number 17, October 29, 1996.

'Not As Powerful As Many Might As First Believe'

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         S.H., apparently from Texas, recently wrote:
         "I just came across your article (on gunfire from the ATF helicopters at Waco). I must tell you I am dismayed. ... You are willing to allow for the honesty of the Davidians in every instance but allow for none from the ATF.
         "Is it your contention that the ATF went to Mt. Carmel with the purpose of shooting people; with the intent to kill those people?
         "In several places you refer to your personal knowledge of the people whom you have interviewed to arrive at your conclusions. You allude to their honesty and integrity. Let me do the same.
         "My father is an ATF agent. He was at Mt. Carmel. He fired his 9mm pistol and his HK-MP5 rifle (also 9mm and not of the penetrating power that many who are not familiar with the weapon might at first believe) from the ground.
         "He was aware of the plan to use the helicopters as a diversion. Helicopters, mind you, are quite capable of providing such a diversion simply by their presence. They make quite a bit of noise without the aid of weapons fire. The agents in the helicopters did have their weapons with them. They had their 9mm pistols.
         "If you really want a hell of a story, find somebody who can shoot through a window, let alone at a target in the window, much less on the other side of it, from inside a moving helicopter with a pistol. ... That would be a story! (Just so you won't think I am just full of hot air, I am a National Guardsman and somewhat familiar with such things. It isn't so easy with an M-16 either.)
         "Let me ask you; if you were going to a gunfight, if you were intending to engage in trading fire, would you wear a red baseball cap? I know an agent who went to Mt. Carmel that did. ...
         "The long and the short of it was that the ATF was there to serve an arrest warrant and to seize the illegal weapons. If the Davidians had not opened fire, if they had not sought to ambush federal agents, the ATF would have arrested two men, taken away some weapons that were illegal and the rest of the Davidians would still be there, worshiping just as they pleased. It's hard to serve a warrant when you can't even get to the front door."

# # #

I responded:

         Dear Mr. H. --
         I understand how the fact that your father was involved in the government homicides at Waco may make it hard for you to consider what happened there objectively.
         However, if you've had military service, I'm sure you understand the reluctance of any member of a tightly-knit unit to turn "snitch" and expose his fellow officers to prosecution for a capital crime, ... the ease with which it can be rationalized that "Maybe things went wrong, but we didn't start out meaning to do wrong. We/they were just following orders. You have to follow orders. Things happen, and it could have happened that way to anyone, it doesn't mean my buddies are bad. ..."
         Remember, both Director Higgins and Secretary Bentsen admitted to congressional committees and on television that these men could and should be charged with "wrongful homicide" if they lied about who fired first, and/or if they in fact fired indiscriminately into the building.
         Well, I'm sorry to ruin your day, young Mr. H. ... they did, and many of them have already admitted it under oath.
         You say the ATF agents were armed "only" with their 9mm pistols and H&K submachine guns. If I were caught in possession of a Heckler & Koch MP-5 submachine gun today, I'd be put in jail. TV newswomen would pout and scowl as this "fully-automatic destructive device" was displayed on a table which would also contain my kitchen butcher knives, the souvenir Zulu spear which my mother once sent me from her African vacation, and whatever cash I had on my person, as evidence of my obvious intent to stage some kind of assassination or major rebellion.
         One MP-5, Mr. H., not 76.
         Yet you imply the fact that they only carried such puny popguns proves the combat-clad ATF raiders, in their bulletproof vests and Kevlar army helmets, were caught completely unawares by the Davidian "ambush" as they peacefully walked by Mt. Carmel on their way to some kind of Sunday afternoon softball game.
         The hydroshock bullets the ATF employed that day are defined as "highly penetrating rounds" available in this country only to law enforcement special operations teams and the military. Although they could (and did) easily penetrate the windows and plywood walls at the church at Mount Carmel, they expand when they hit the human body, tearing out large areas of flesh, as opposed to passing through as would usually be the case with a fully-jacketed standard military round. In fact, use of such bullets in war may well be against the Geneva conventions.
         It's also worth noting that such bullets are actually bigger around before they expand than the 7.62mm bullets fired from an M-60 machine gun, the usual weapon of the Huey waist-gunners who combat veterans tell me were the source of the most accurate and destructive strafing fire in Vietnam ... despite your contention that no one can possibly hit anything from a hovering helicopter.
         At the Davidian trial, in answer to defense questioning, FBI agent James Cadigan said of the special hydroshock bullets in use by the ATF (and the ATF alone) that day, "They're designed to kill, disable, wound, destroy whatever they hit." (Trial transcript page 1235) Yet you tell us these pitiful little peashooters are so much weaker than what we might think ... sort of like the rubber bullets used in "crowd control," perhaps?
         Care to stand still while someone pumps four or five 9mm hydroshocks into you, Mr. H.? Tell you what -- we'll even let you hold up a sheet of normal construction plywood to stop the rounds. OK?

# # #

         Agent Sprague, when asked at trial and under oath to define the "threats" at which he shot that day, described a pair of hands at a window, a pair of arms, and curtains moving. He said he fired at all of them (trial transcripts, page 2241-2, and 2252-3.)
         Agent Timothy Gabourie admitted that since he was not wearing a helmet and didn't want to raise his head above the side of the truck behind which he was hiding, he drew his 9mm pistol and fired 25 to 30 shots into the building without looking. Agent Barbara Maxwell admitted under oath that agents were firing indiscriminately through walls and windows.
         But of course, it's not true that the 76 attacking agents were armed only with weapons shooting 9mm "handgun" rounds. BATF Chief of Special Operations Richard L. Garner admitted to a congressional committee that the attacking agents were also equipped with numerous .308 (7.62 NATO) caliber high-power sniper rifles, eight military-style AR-15 rifles (bottlenecked .223, as you know), and 12 large-gauge shotguns.
         At the trial, Texas Rangers testified that they collected more than 70 used shell casings in and around the undercover house, from which ATF snipers were firing into the building that day with their .308 rifles. That's more than 300 yards from the church full of mostly-unarmed victims.
         Yes, a good sniper can hit quite precisely with a scoped .308 rifle at 300 yards. But not through walls and curtains. Nor would any responsible "police" officer ever take such a shot, if he knew (as all the ATF agents knew) that there were also unarmed women and children in the building, possibly directly behind their shadowy, curtain-moving "targets."
         Yet they fired more than 70 rounds of .308 NATO.
         Do you consider the bottle-necked NATO .308 cartridge a round "not of the penetrating power that many who are not familiar with the weapon might at first believe," Mr. H.? I'll expand my offer. You stand 300 yards away from a marksman of my choice, holding up a piece of standard construction plywood -- the same stuff the walls at Mount Carmel were made of -- as a shield. We'll put 10 or 20 rounds of .308 NATO into the plywood, which you apparently believe will stop each and every round of the type fired by government marksmen at Waco. You'll be fine ... won't you?
         As for agents firing machine pistols from helicopters: They wouldn't need to be good shots to score kills inside a building containing dozens of people if they fired in enough random rounds through the roof, walls and windows.
         Given your familiarity with weapons, would you really fire a 9mm handgun loaded with any kind of live ammo at a target pinned up to the side of your own house, when your family members were inside, based on your confidence that 9mm rounds won't penetrate the walls of the average civilian dwelling?

# # #

         But, in fact, it's highly unlikely the firing from the helicopters was with 9mm H&Ks or sidearms -- it's far more likely, given the eyewitness testimony, that it was with fully-automatic M-16s or even M-60s. Since you seem to have such good contacts inside the agency, why don't you find out for us precisely what kind of weapon each agent fired from the helicopters (I'd love the names and current addresses and phone numbers, with the weapon fired by each); they won't tell us.
         In fact, they lied for months, contending the helicopters were "unarmed," before they finally admitted they carried loaded weapons with them. They called the newspaper and TV reporters who said they saw the choppers circling the building multiple times "liars," even though some of the videotape later proved those reporters were correct. Why lie about circling close to the buildings, if there's nothing else to hide?
         If you grab a weapon "just in case" you might have to shoot a bear at long range, would you choose a small-caliber handgun ... or the biggest thing available? What would have been the "biggest thing available" at the National Guard base from which these helicopters initially took off? Don't such helicopters have gun-door slings specifically designed to hold M-60 machine guns?
         You criticize those who are not willing to accept the truthfulness of the ATF at face value. Maybe that's because they've been shown to lie, over and over again.
         They lied about the suspected drug lab to acquire the helicopters, remember? It now turns out they lied when they said the helicopters were unarmed. They lied in the affidavit filed to obtain the search warrant. They invented lies after the fact about being there to "prevent child abuse" (a charge which had already been checked out and dismissed by the proper Texas state authorities -- and no responsibility of any federal agency, in any case). They lied about believing the Davidians had illegal 50-caliber machine guns.
         There were no 50-caliber machine guns. ATF commanders, who had told the press again and again on the first day that their men were pinned down by 50-caliber machine gun fire (which has a fairly distinctive sound, easy to tell from a semi-auto AR-15 firing .223, wouldn't you agree?), finally had to admit under oath at trial that the Davidians owned only two perfectly legal single-shot bolt-action 50-caliber rifles, and that none of their shells showed any firing pin impressions ... that they only "cooked off" in the final, fatal fire, two months later.

# # #

         Lies? Go do a little reading about the raid that crippled Air Force veteran Ken Ballew in Silver Spring, Maryland, and how ATF agents went outside after they shot this poor man in the head (a man running naked from his bath to the door of his apartment with an old black-powder pistol to defend his naked wife against unidentified armed intruders with no uniforms or badges), how ATF agents went outside to put on their insignia after the fact so they could lie about how they'd identified themselves to the Ballews.
         The ATF routinely and famously lies about how weapons they seize are "full-auto," altering them after seizure till they'll fire a two-round burst even if they then jam ... all that's required to meet their definition of an "illegal, fully-automatic machine gun."
         They're instructed to lie under oath at trial about their third-class tax and permit records being "100 percent accurate" (and dutifully do so, every time), when they know actual accuracy has only recently been improved, after considerable effort, from 50 to perhaps 70 percent. They lied to Randy Weaver, who had never committed any known crime, to entrap him in hopes of turning him into a snitch on an Idaho church. (Now there's an area we surely want the ATF meddling in ... racism at the pulpit.)
         The whole claim that the Waco raid was necessary in any way, is a lie. When BATF investigators Davy Aguilera and Jim Skinner visited local gun dealer Henry McMahon on July 20, 1992 to ask about David Koresh's gun purchases, McMahon called Koresh on the phone. Koresh said "If there's a problem, tell them to come out here. If they want to see my guns, they're more than welcome."
         Mr. McMahon walked back into the room where the ATF agents were waiting, carrying the cellular phone. "I've got him (the Rev. Koresh) on the phone," he said. "If you'd like to go out there and see those guns, you're more than welcome to." Growing quite agitated, Agent Aguilera responded, "No, no!" that the agents "didn't want to to do it that way."
         At the trial of the surviving victims in San Antonio, Judge Walter Smith allowed Mr. McMahon's business partner and friend, Karen Kilpatrick, who is not a Branch Davidian, and who witnessed this incident, to describe it under oath. When she got to the point where she waved her hands over her head and shook her head, in imitation of Agent Aguilera, the whole courtroom burst into laughter (trial transcript, page 4904.)
         At that point Judge Smith, no friend of the defense, who had previously stated he was "not going to allow the government to be put on trial here," refused to allow McMahon himself to take the stand.
         Next time: the myth of the "ambush."

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at The column is syndicated in the United States and Canada via Mountain Media Syndications, P.O. Box 4422, Las Vegas Nev. 89127.

A JUROR'S CREED: As an American juror, I will exercise my 1000 year old duty to arrive at a verdict, not just on the basis of the facts of a particular case or instructions I am given, but through my ability to reason, my knowledge of the Bill of Rights, and my individual conscience.
-- L. Neil Smith

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