Waco: The civil liberties industry failed

THE ARGUMENT

July 30, 1995|By Lloyd George Parry | Lloyd George Parry,Special to The Sun

Question: What's the difference between a Christian fundamentalist and a spotted owl?

MA Answer: It's a federal crime to kill and roast a spotted owl.

For a growing but still microscopic minority of Americans that exchange pretty well sums up the tragedy at Waco in which 76 men, women and children of the Branch Davidian sect suffered fiery deaths at the hands of the U.S. government.

Unlike spotted owls, redwood trees, or, for that matter, defense contractors and health care lobbyists, the Davidians were seen as belonging to no protected or politically influential class. Instead, as Bible-quoting fundamentalists, they were part of a marginal species whose God-centered existence and literal adherence to Scripture invite the scorn of mainstream secular society while affording comic relief to the intellectual elite.

Little wonder that a federal government that is, at best, religiously tone deaf could so easily dismiss Seventh Day Adventists living in anticipation of the Apocalypse as crazed, gun-toting cultists under the mind control of the redneck messiah, David Koresh.

How and why the government came to intervene in the affairs of the Davidians has raised serious and disturbing questions about the place of religion in the modern American state.

"Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America," by James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher (Berkeley: University of California Press. 252 pages. $24.95) and "The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation," by Dick Reavis (New York: Simon & Schuster. 320 pages. $24) address these questions and attempt to explain the dismaying process by which U.S. government convinced itself that the use of lethal force against a religious sect was justifiable and proper.

Of similar concern, during the entire 51-day siege, neither the news media nor the civil liberties industry seriously questioned the government's claim that the isolated Davidian community somehow posed a clear and present danger requiring armed intervention.

From the initial assault by the ATF to the FBI's fiery final solution, not a single influential voice challenged the government's version of events or spoke on behalf of the Waco sect.

That the Davidians fiercely defended their home was seen as proof positive that our government had properly confronted a dangerous and lawless element. And yet no one questioned whether the invasion was warranted in the first place or whether it was necessary to use force to end the siege.

In this regard, the Davidians were dispatched with less public outcry than that raised against the clubbing of baby seals. So the questions arise. Did the civil liberties industry exercise its right to remain silent because the Davidians were simply not trendy enough victims? What would the reaction of, say, Ed Asner and the ACLU have been if the FBI had wiped out a cell block of rioting convicts instead of 76 religious zealots?

The atrocity of the Oklahoma City bombing - on the anniversary of the Waco fire - revealed to a clueless news media the festering and deeply held resentments abroad in the land against a federal government that is perceived as having abandoned the very people it is supposed to serve.

Dusky legions

But don't be misled by the news media. This resentment is not limited to overweight, loony-tunes militias waddling through the boondocks as they prepare to repulse the dusky legions of Boutros Boutros-Ghali.

There are sane, rational, every-day Americans who view the assault on the Branch Davidian religious sect as further proof that the federal government does not represent them or their interests. Once part of "the silent majority," they see themselves as powerless, disenfranchised and besieged by a government that forces them through taxation to subsidize and promote that which is anathema.

They see a government that forbids prayer in school while using their money to publish photographs of their crucified Savior submerged in urine. They see a government that diverts millions of dollars from research on Alz-heimer's, heart disease and cancer to hasten the day when drug abusers can share needles and homosexuals can sodomize each other without fear of AIDS. They see a government that, in the name of affirmative action, punishes them for the color of their skin to atone in some incomprehensible fashion for the sins of long-dead slave traders. They see a government that willingly sacrifices rural America's jobs and way of life so that the kangaroo rat and other wildlife critters can grow and multiply according to the transcendental teachings of the Sierra Club.

And, when they ask why things have to be this way, they are told by the elites of the government and news media that they simply aren't smart enough to really understand the answers.

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