Twenty-five years ago, FBI tanks smashed into the ramshackle home of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. After the FBI collapsed much of the building atop the residents, a fire erupted and 76 corpses were dug out of the rubble. Unfortunately, the American political system and media have never faced the lessons from that tragic 1993 day.
Dont trust Congress to expose federal misconduct.
A few days after the conflagration, Reno was heartily praised at a Senate committee hearing and the media had made her a national hero. There was little or no sympathy on Capitol Hill for those who died during the final FBI assault. Rep. Jack Brooks (D-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, commented that the Davidians were horrible people. Despicable people. Burning to death was too good for them. If Republicans had not captured control of Congress in 1994, there would have been no substantive hearings on Waco.
Media favorites can perform rhetorical magic tricks.
When Attorney General Reno testified to the House Waco hearing on August 1, 1995, she was challenged on FBIs use of 54-ton tanks to assail the Davidians. Reno replied that the tanks were not military weapons... I mean, it was like a good rent-a-car." When Rep. Bill Zeliff (R-N.H.) challenged her, Reno hectored: I think it is important, Mr. Chairman, as you deal with this issue, not to make statements like that can cause the confusion. This is the high-toned D.C. version of the old saying: Who are you going to believe me or your lying eyes? Media coverage of Renos showdown with congressional Republicans ignored her rent-a-tank absurdity, instead praising her toughness and demeanor.
While the events at Waco alienated millions of Americans from the government, few if any lessons were learned in Washington. Waco should have taught the disastrous consequences of unleashing government agencies from the law and the Constitution. Unfortunately, 25 years later, controversies are raging as hot as ever about the power and prerogatives of federal law enforcement.