This article was originally posted to the Forget the Box news collective on the 31st of July.
I’ve been fascinated by the Siege at Waco and the Branch Davidians since I was an eight-year old and I watched the tragic events unfold nearly-live on CNN in 1993. Admittedly, I was not entirely aware of the grave implications of the raid, stand-off and siege back then as I am today, and Waco, in my eyes, is a catastrophe so epic it deserves to stay fresh in the minds of any concerned citizen living in a modern democratic nation. I think it would be too glib to call it an isolated event, and even if the threat from doomsday cults is generally a bit of a rarity, the lessons from the Waco Siege have broad implications, especially with regards to the responsibilities of modern media and the potential for State intervention therein.
At the end of the day you need to ask yourself the following question:
Can media and information be left in the hands of profit-driven corporations? The United Nations recently decreed that full free access to the Internet is a fundamental human right. And good timing too – the Obama Administration has been using free access to the Internet as a key tool for advancing the democratic agenda in countless Middle Eastern nations yearning to break free from oppressive and tyrannical dictatorships (apparently, the American government may have played a role in ensuring that social-networking and Internet access remained somewhat open during the Egyptian Revolution, despite Egyptian efforts to prevent this). Now, we’re also quite aware that the Americans, much like our own impudent thug of a federal government, have also been using the Internet, social-networking tools etc. against its own people and have also been waging a losing battle against Anonymous, Lulzsec and other revolutionary hacker collectives. Despite these half-hearted attempts at censorship, it seems to suggest that the world of privatized and corporate information may very well be on the way out, because democratized, free and reliable information is proving to be the new source of reliability for the youth of the First World. Very simply put – there is a large and growing segment of the population here in Canada, the US and various other nations across the globe that is no longer paying attention to corporate media because they have proven themselves unreliable. This same segment seems to value information free from corporate/political spin and private ownership, and I would hope that one day, as a result of this growing change in popular opinion, government will mandate that media and information can no longer be bought and sold, that humanity has a right to free, correct information, and that profit-driven journalism is anathema to the proper functioning of a liberal State.
Profit-driven, politically motivated media can be a killer, but we’re so used to having large corporations responsible for providing us with basic though vital information that we haven’t had much of an opportunity to consider what our options are. And if we have options today, they are options that essentially didn’t exist a mere eighteen years ago.
In 1993 a newly formed US government agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (attached to the Treasury Department and responsible for prosecuting in-country smuggling and stockpiling of the aforementioned controlled items) attempted to execute a search of the Davidian compound outside Waco, Texas. The Davidians were a non-mainstream splinter group loosely associated with the Seventh Day Adventist movement who took the Bible as the literal word of God. Their leader was a charismatic thirty-four year old Apocalyptic named David Koresh. Using the Books of Revelation and Isaiah as his guide, he instructed his congregation on the nature and identity of the Seven Seals, the seven signs leading to Judgement Day. This is not overly unique – there have been apocalypse/judgement day cults since the early days of the messianic religions. What made the Davidians a problem was their apparently massive collection of weapons and ammunition, not to mention the degree of self-sufficiency they had attained at their large agricultural compound. And so, the ATF was called upon to execute a search of the compound and to take any illegal weapons and ammunition found there, possibly also arresting any key members of the organization (the Davidians regularly sold guns at gun shows and ran their own catalogue as a means to support themselves – it was widely believed that the Davidians had illegally modified rifles to fire on full automatic, and that these weapons may be used by anti-government militias, or that the Davidians themselves were a potential threat to government, local or federal). Much like we saw in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected, Bill Clinton’s election also saw a sudden rise in Far-Right organizations and anti-government militias. A few years prior to the Siege at Waco, the ATF and FBI attempted to serve a warrant at the Ruby Ridge compound of Randy Weaver, a white supremacist. The result was a shoot-out leaving one federal agent dead as well as Weaver’s wife and son. The ATF was ‘attempting a comeback’ from the disastrous events at Ruby Ridge, and had spent a considerable amount of time and effort establishing a strong local media presence. As it happened, Koresh was identified as a possible serial sexual-abuser and pederast in an article entitled ‘Sinful Messiah’ by the local Waco newspaper about a week before the attempted search. Local media coverage was intense, and Koresh, an apocalyptic who believed in the ultimate showdown between good and evil to be the ultimate climax of his existence, was now very directly threatened by exactly the forces he and his people wanted nothing to do with – mass media and big government.
When it came time to execute the search, the ATF was unaware that the Davidians had a) been tipped-off to the coming ‘raid’ by none other than Koresh’s brother-in-law (who himself had been inadvertently warned by a reporter) and b) had been preparing for a direct attack on their compound as a precursor to Armageddon, in which they would be fighting Evil incarnate. Mere minutes before the ATF arrived at the Mount Carmel compound, FBI mole Richard Rodriguez was outed by Koresh in front of his congregation and told to leave so as not to be killed. Rodriguez, with his insider perspective warned the ATF against attempting to enter the compound, sensing the bloodbath that was about to ensue.
What happened next is history. About 80 Davidians and four ATF agents were killed in the raid, standoff and siege. Timothy McVeigh would bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City two years later as a revenge attack. And the anti-government, Christian Identity extremist movement was provided a further sense of justification, not to mention martyrs. Events like Waco, Oklahoma City, Utoya and the myriad of other recent Far-Right terrorist attacks have a common denominator – profit-driven corporate media acting irresponsibly. And this will continue to be the common denominator – a slick, sick machine that manipulates people to commit acts of extreme violence and then viciously attacks those who would dare call them out for their transgressions. Look at the Fox News apologists who claim innocence and over focus on the killer’s purported Christianity to buy themselves a way out of dealing with the real issues. Look at the puppets that deny the merits of gun control for kickbacks from the NRA. Consider the ad revenue generated by comparing the teenage victims of a massacre to Nazis.
This is a machine worth raging against.