Fanning the conspiracy flames

November 13, 1997|By Rowland Nethaway

WACO, TEXAS 22TC — WACO, TEXAS -- A growing number of Americans are more willing to believe that the government conspires against its citizens than admit that the government simply screws up a lot.

The government's incredibly botched attempt to serve a search warrant at David Koresh's Branch Davidian compound fueled this dangerous trend and became the twisted motive for the 168 bomb deaths in Oklahoma City.

Now a professionally produced documentary, ''Waco: The Rules Engagement,'' is fanning the flames that will spread anti-government paranoia.

Rave reviews

The documentary garnered rave reviews in January at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Since then, it has played at selected U.S. theaters where audiences often offer up boos, hisses and catcalls directed at Attorney General Janet Reno and various FBI or Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.

Now that the documentary is being released in video, I finally got a chance to see what has been offered to me time and again as proof that the government is at war with the American people.

I have been on the mailing lists -- both e-mail and snail mail -- of any number of anti-government conspiracy groups since the first few days of the 51-day government siege at Mount Carmel in 1993. I have received letters, photos, videos, books and more that attempt to show a government conspiracy to wipe out the Davidians and subjugate the American people.

At first, I was the darling of the conspiracy buffs when I criticized the ham-fisted tactics used by the government during the Mount Carmel raid and lengthy siege. I gathered more support from the same crowd when I wrote that government agents lied to the public.

But then I became an enemy to the anti-government conspiracy folks when I wrote that there is no evidence to prove that government did any more than bungle, lie and cover their rears, which is bad but not unusual.

Since its release earlier this year, ''Waco: The Rules of Engagement'' has been offered to me as ''objective'' proof that the government conspired to annihilate Koresh and his followers.

After viewing the documentary, I am confident in saying that it is not objective. That's not to say that the facts and details used in the documentary are wrong. It's just that they were carefully chosen and edited to lead viewers to the same conclusions held by the producers, William Gazecki and Dan Gifford.

The documentary skillfully makes light of Koresh's transgressions, including undeniable statutory rape of minor girls.

Guilty on both sides

This tragedy is not an either/or affair. Both sides were guilty. Koresh's actions were felonious. He needed to be brought to justice by local officials who could have picked him up any time, but not by a military-style assault by federal agents who were hell-bent for a public-relations coup.

The tragedy -- the deaths of four ATF agents and 82 Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel -- was made worse by the lies and cover-ups of government agents. Subsequently, the government refused to hold those at fault accountable for their actions.

There was fault on both sides. But the president, the attorney general and members of Congress failed to defuse this time bomb. Not even one government employee was fired, much less prosecuted, as a result of this avoidable tragedy.

Government apologists lay all the blame for the entire tragedy on Koresh. They get ''Waco: The Rules of Engagement'' and a growing anti-government conspiracy movement as a result.

Rowland Nethaway is senior editor of the Waco, Texas, Tribune-Herald.

Pub Date: 11/13/97

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