Texas siege spawns'Waco wackos'

April 03, 1993|By Patrick McGuire | Patrick McGuire,Staff Writer

WACO -- Woody Lambert's motto is right there on his ball cap: "It's never too late to have a happy childhood." At 75, the retired jack-of-all-trades, decked in denim from his cowboy boots to his sun ripened face, looks as content as a boy with a new pony.

He's standing on a small hill near his house about 10 miles northeast of this central Texas city of 100,000, handing his binoculars to a school teacher from San Antonio.

She, like so many of the more than 5,000 people who have borrowed Mr. Lambert's field glasses in the last 34 days, was lured off the nearby interstate highway out of morbid curiosity. Like them, it now turns her into part of the circus of the absurd that, along with the FBI and seemingly every television reporter in America, has taken over a corner of this town as well as a substantial chunk of the American psyche.

It has all the fascination and horror of a car wreck at a speedway.

Here on her spring vacation, the blond teacher hopes for a glimpse of David Koresh, the guitar-playing, Bible-quoting fanatic who has held out against an army of federal agents almost three times as long as the defenders of the sacred Alamo.

"This is national news," she breathes excitedly to Mr. Lambert. "I was heading to Dallas and was too close not to come by."

"See those two white dots?" asks Mr. Lambert as the school teacher focuses on a slope about 6 miles across a stretch of scrub brush and plowed fields. "Those are satellite dishes. Now look to your right. That's the compound. You can see their flag with the Star of David."

Mr. Lambert is hoping that the "Guinness Book of World Records" will want to enshrine him for allowing more people to view a stationary object through binoculars than any other human being on the planet.

Odd assortment of tourists

At the moment, though, as the teacher zeros in, he is shaking his head at the odd assortment of tourists and locals who have pulled off the road to buy any of the dozen variety of sleazy, quickly cranked-out tee shirts from vendors who materialized on this little hill almost the moment the shooting stopped on Feb. 28.

Four agents of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Bureau were killed that day and 16 others were wounded as they raided the headquarters of Branch Davidian sect leader David Koresh, in search of an illegal firearms cache.

An unknown number of casualties were sustained among the members of the sect and about 90 of them -- including at least 16 children -- are still holed up in their heavily fortified compound on that far slope, known as Mount Carmel.

Among the spectators waiting for the free use of Mr. Lambert's binoculars are four men in dark suits, visitors at a conference at nearby Baylor University, the largest Baptist institution in the world, as they like to remind you around here.

A few yards away, a separate group of women, in town for a convention and dressed in heels and bright dresses, flip casually through the T-shirt racks.

Among the best sellers are slogans such as "It ain't easy being Jesus," and "We Ain't Coming Out" or the particularly dreadful shirt that bears a "Waco WACKO" score card," for counting the dead so far.

In the middle of the hill, a barefooted young man known only as Jethro sits in the dust, talking to himself.

He claims to be on a mission from God, says a skeptical Mr. Lambert. Puts him in mind of the very nice woman a few days ago who arrived on the scene shouldering a full-sized cross, followed by two dogs pulling a cart load of belongings.

"They claim to be Jesus, they claim to be prophets," sighs Mr. Lambert. "You wouldn't believe what they claim." At this point he stares out toward the two white dots on the far slope. "They've got good marbles, they just don't keep them together."

From his vantage point, Mr. Lambert can also see the main roadway leading into the Branch Davidian compound, blocked off by heavily armed ATF agents who allow only the press to pass.

But about 4 miles down that two-lane farm road, the press finds itself in a situation much like Mr. Lambert's -- facing another armed checkpoint beyond which they cannot pass and left with only a slightly better view of those white dots than the teacher from San Antonio.

The media, however, so outnumbers the tee-shirt vendors and their steady drove of customers, that the Salvation Army -- despite some complaints from its members that they shouldn't be assisting the news media -- has sent in a mobile kitchen to feed the hundreds of television, radio and newspaper people who have flocked here from all over the world.

"Why not?" asks Salvation Army volunteer Jay Waller. "You've got hundreds of people stuck out here in the middle of nowhere. This is as much a disaster as anything else we deal with."

Even battle-hardened network television producers who have been in Somalia and the Persian Gulf, marvel at the vast armada of satellite trucks and mobile news units parked along this barren stretch of countryside as far as the eye can see.

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