Andrew Maykuth Online
The Philadelphia Inquirer
April 13, 1993
No news is only news in lengthy Waco vigil
The cult siege is a bit like watching paint dry.

WACO, Texas - Each day the story changes. But it's always the same.

David Koresh is not coming out. He's still waiting for a sign from God.

The feds are not going in. They're waiting for Koresh.

Some days, authorities say they are hopeful that Koresh, who claims to be Jesus Christ, is close to finding some religious, personal or humanitarian reason to lead his heavily armed flock from their compound on a treeless knoll east of Waco.

Other days, that hope turns to frustration as yet again, nothing happens. A group of Philadelphia-based federal agents has nicknamed one of its checkpoints Camp Boredom.

It's been like this for more than six weeks. At a cost of at least $1 million a week.

Take yesterday, when FBI agents said Koresh had sent out the second letter in three days that he said God had dictated to him. The letter said federal agents would be "devoured by fire" - or destroyed by other means - if they did not listen to Koresh.

The note, received Saturday, cautioned officials not to hurt Koresh.

Negotiators initially thought the letters might be the long-sought messages from God that would bring an end to the standoff.

"When you have a letter from God, to me, that's a pretty big event," FBI spokesman Bob Ricks said yesterday.

But their hopes were dashed when Koresh's chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, told them that members of Koresh's cult, the Branch Davidians, have been awaiting God's message in the form of a natural disaster, such as an earthquake, to smite their enemies.

Such as that mild tremor that shook South Texas last week?

The cult members, after initially expressing excitement when agents told them about the earthquake, concluded that it wasn't the divine message they sought because it was too far away and failed to scatter the agents ringing their compound.

FBI agents now are trying to coax the cultists by saying they should try to destroy their enemies in court.

Once all the talk and wishful thinking is stripped away, all the authorities can do is wait and attempt to harass the cultists.

They buzz the building with helicopters and tanks, shine lights into the compound, and play loud music and noises all night long, trying to spook cult members into surrendering.

There is no indication any of this psychological warfare is having any effect on members of the Branch Davidian cult.

Cult members who have left the compound and appeared in court were smiling, unrepentant and almost euphoric. FBI officials described them as "zombie-like" in their complete subservience to the 33-year-old Koresh.

It seems that Koresh is toying with the FBI by repeatedly breaking promises and by giving conflicting signs that he is either considering surrender or desires a cataclysmic confrontation with authorities to fulfill his doomsday prophesies.

"I think he thoroughly enjoys this process," said Ricks, one of the FBI spokesmen who provides daily updates on the latest omens, signs, and prognostications that emanate from the compound.

The cult members have refused to budge since the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms stormed the compound on Feb. 28 to search for illegal weapons. Four ATF agents were killed and 16 wounded. Koresh claims that six cult members were killed.

The FBI, which is handling the talks with the cult, says it won't attempt to storm the compound again as long as hope remains for a negotiated settlement - and as long as children remain inside. Koresh has said that 17 of the 96 people inside are children.

Expectations soar or sink in Waco after the FBI's morning news briefing, which is broadcast live on local radio and television stations. Part of the intended audience is Koresh and his followers, who listen in to hear how the FBI portrays their side of the story.

Authorities are waiting to see if Koresh follows through on hints from his lawyer that he will leave at the end of the Branch Davidian's Passover, which concludes either today or tomorrow - cult members have been unclear on the precise dates.

"If it doesn't happen, we're going to have to regroup," said Ricks. "And we'll exercise whatever measures we can take. There are weapons in our arsenal."

Patience, it seems, is the government's greatest weapon. Given the stated prohibition against another assault and the ineffectiveness of the lights and music, patience really may be the only weapon.

For the hundreds of agents ringing the compound there are few breaks in the tedium. No cult members have left the compound in three weeks. The big excitement lately was when a zealot drawn to Koresh broke through the lines and into the compound.

"You lose track of days here," said Lester D. Martz, the assistant special agent in charge of the ATF's office in Philadelphia.

Martz and 15 Philadelphia agents are among the officers who wear full battlefield fatigues and spend 12-hour shifts patrolling the perimeter of the restricted zone that encircles the compound for several miles. Most of their time is spent at roadblocks, the largest of which they call Camp Boredom.

Negotiators speak to Koresh and his lieutenant over a telephone wire connecting the compound with the FBI command post, which is about a half-mile from the compound.

When cult members refuse to answer the phone, FBI agents deliver their messages by shouting at Koresh through the loudspeakers, which they have positioned within 200 feet of the compound.

Although the compound has a well, the water is drawn with an electrical pump. The cult is believed to have several electrical generators, but limited amounts of fuel.

As evidence that the cult may be conserving water, FBI Agent Dick Swensen said that the cult members who left the compound were dehydrated and drank "huge amounts" of water.

The cult members eat military rations that Koresh stockpiled in anticipation of a doomsday confrontation.

When tanks drive near the compound, cult members hold the children up in the windows. "Are they using the kids as shields?" said Swensen. "Or just having the kids look at the neat tanks driving by?"

When Koresh's attorney arrived for discussions, the cult members defiantly retrieved a motorcycle outside the compound - presumably to use its engine or its gasoline.

The FBI responded by removing most of the vehicles from the yard, and in the process, crushing several vehicles with the tanks.

Last week, cult members made several brief, unauthorized forays outside the compound to get rainwater and firewood. The FBI scared the adventurers back inside by setting off flares and percussion grenades.

Over the weekend, the FBI stringed razor-sharp concertina wire around the compound - ostensibly to control the cult members when they surrender, but also to prevent more adventures.

Outside the compound, the siege has taken on a sense of permanence.

Vendors selling souvenir T-shirts from Lookout Hill - a promontory five miles from the compound that is about as close as the public gets to Koresh - have taken to advertising their products on the radio.

Television news crews have created their own village, called Satellite City, a hodgepodge of mobile homes and tents in a pasture along a farm road two miles from the compound.

Satellite City has portable toilets, trash collection service, a Salvation Army cafe, Easter Sunday church services and a mayor - a camera operator for a Texas television station.

To while away the hours, television crews have acquired a growing library of movies on videotape - including a substantial number of pornographic films.

All that Satellite City lacks is news.

Information is limited to events that reporters can observe through 24,000mm lenses mounted on TV cameras, which are perched on scaffolding and trained at the compound.

Some days, nothing moves.

Six days after this report was published, the FBI assaulted the Branch Davidian compound. home page   
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