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At p. Sage knew the small gesture was momentous. For the seven weeks, he and 51 other negotiators from various agencies had tried to persuade the Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and his more than one hundred followers to leave their home, a rambling, multilevel structure on a acre property ten miles east of Waco known as Mount Carmel. Now that building was engulfed in fire.

Evaluation of the handling of the branch davidian stand-off in waco, texas february 28 to april 19,

Nearly two months earlier, Sage had been the first FBI negotiator to arrive on the scene after a disastrous Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms raid left four federal agents and six Branch Davidians dead. Sage had begun the morning by instructing Koresh and his followers to exit their building, but no one inside had budged.

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Over the next few hours, he stood inside a small house that the FBI had dubbed Sierra One Alpha, just across the road from Mount Carmel, as tanklike combat engineering vehicles doused the Davidians with tear gas. Sage kept hoping to see the members of the group filing out toward the road. Instead, shortly after noon, flames began to shoot out of the building. After switching off the PA, Sage staggered across the road and walked toward the compound. But when the HRT members emerged, they were alone. Though 9 Branch Davidians had left the building during the fire, Koresh and 75 of his followers had remained inside to the end.


Many of them had perished from thermal burns and smoke inhalation. Some appeared to have died from blunt force trauma caused by the collapsing building. Autopsies would reveal that at least 20 of them, including Koresh, had either shot themselves or been shot by other members of the sect, likely as a way to avoid a fiery death. One three-year-old boy had been stabbed in the chest. Twenty-five of the dead were minors. That night, Sage drove back to his motel in Waco, took a scalding-hot shower, and crashed into bed.

A couple of hours later, he woke up to a knock at the door. He figured it was reporters asking for comment, and he walked across the room, shirtless and fuming. How can I resolve this without pushing them over the rail?

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Sheryl woke up at 5 a. For the next two and a half weeks, Sage stayed in Waco. Jamar had ordered him to help oversee the crime scene and to handle media inquiries, and he spent much of his time trying to explain to reporters how everything had gone so catastrophically wrong.

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In the decades that have followed, he has never really stopped. In January, Paramount Network launched a much-hyped, tepidly reviewed six-part miniseries titled Waco, that starred Taylor Kitsch as Koresh and was, improbably, the first Hollywood dramatization of the entire event. The members of the group had jobs in town, interacted frequently and freely with the outside world, and were multiethnic, multinational, and far better educated than stereotypes about a rural doomsday cult would suggest. Though Koresh was a high school dropout, two of his most trusted followers, Schneider and Wayne Martin, had taught comparative religion at the University of Hawaii and earned a Harvard law degree, respectively.

But Koresh had been controversial from early on.

Infully in charge, he fractured the group by preaching a new doctrine that obligated everyone to be celibate—except for Koresh and the married and unmarried women he chose to sleep with. His goal was to father 24 children, who he believed would sit on 24 heavenly thrones, as described in the Bible. The Davidians who remained with Koresh thought that he was the Lamb of God, the individual foretold in the Book of Revelation who will unlock the meaning of the Seven Seals and bring about the End Times.

These charges yielded fewbut inafter a UPS driver discovered inert grenade casings inside a damaged package bound for the Branch Davidians, the ATF opened an investigation into possible federal weapons violations.

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The church that was built on the grounds where the original Branch Davidian compound stood, photographed on February 28, Left: The church that was built on the grounds where the original Branch Davidian compound stood, photographed on February 28, Dozens of agents in full tactical gear piled into two cattle trailers that were driven to the front door of the Branch Davidian compound.

Their plan was to storm the building. Almost as soon as the ATF arrived, their plan fell apart. Koresh had been preaching about a biblical confrontation with unholy forces for years, and a news cameraman had accidentally tipped off the group to the fact that law enforcement was going to be paying them a visit. ATF commanders knew they had lost the element of surprise and continued with the raid anyway.

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Two minutes after the trailers arrived on the property, with guns drawn on both sides, a shootout erupted. A minute later, at a. In the immediate aftermath of the fire, few commentators imagined that Waco, despite its horrific ending, would provoke a lasting controversy. There seemed to be a clear consensus about the tragedy: the Branch Davidians had intentionally started the fire to enact a Jonestown-like mass suicide.

In the months that followed, the story faded from the front s. But among a vocal minority, the siege still loomed large.

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Gun rights advocates, anti-government libertarians, and members of what would soon become the militia movement refused to let Waco go, seeing it as the sinister escalation of an increasingly aggressive war by the government against its own people. FBI snipers had fatally shot some thirty sect members as they tried to escape. The documentaries also captured the mood of the times.

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On April 19,the second anniversary of the fire, McVeigh parked a Ryder truck filled with 4, pounds of explosives in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in downtown Oklahoma City, and lit two fuses. The bomb killed people, 19 of them children.

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Why, many asked, had the ATF used such an overwhelming display of paramilitary force to serve search and arrest warrants? These and other questions began to trouble the public. On June 1, Congress scheduled long-delayed hearings.

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Edgar Hoover still led the bureau. Sage had been a negotiator sinceand in he underwent advanced training to a new elite unit called the Critical Incident Negotiation Team. Spent a lot of time in the Andes, camped out, working off radios, trying to get people out of the grasp of all those left-wing guerrilla movements. Of the hundreds of federal, state, and local law enforcement officials who took part in the siege, he has been by far the most visible, rarely declining an interview request.

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Afterward, the already polarized public debate only became more intense. Kennedy assassination obsessives have long been familiar with. Allard concluded that sporadic flashes seen on the FLIR tape were gunfire, giving credence to the speculation—long held on the far right and vigorously denied by the government—that FBI snipers had fired into the building. These claims were extrapolations from ambiguous pieces of evidence, but they gained mainstream acceptance in a way that theories advanced in earlier Waco films never had.

Inside a locker full of government evidence in Austin, he discovered a shell casing for a pyrotechnic tear gas round. McNulty began sounding the alarm: If the government had lied about such a crucial detail, did that mean that agents had started the fire and then covered it up? That same month, a Time magazine poll found that 61 percent of respondents believed that federal law enforcement had started the fire.

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As Waco once again became a prime-time news story, Sage, now retired, went to work as a vigorous defender of the FBI. Sage believed that, in the years after the fire, the government had been too slow to discredit conspiracy theories and respond to allegations that its agents had acted improperly. Now he saw it as his role to help lead a counterattack.

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While Danforth took to task several Justice Department officials for covering up what they knew about the pyrotechnic rounds, his report broadly exonerated the government. The pyrotechnic rounds, Danforth found, had been shot, as the government had claimed, into a construction pit earlier in the day.

They focus instead on the history and beliefs of the Branch Davidians and the mutual distrust and lack of understanding between the feds and the sect. Sage knows by now that nothing he says will make the allegations go away. Inafter reading the script for a planned Hollywood version of the Waco story that McNulty was involved with, Sage loudly and publicly decried the project for inaccuracies, a stance that pushed the Texas Film Commission to deny the filmmakers tax incentives.

It was never produced. Sage was serving as a judge, and he spent one of his days there observing and coaching four young cops from the Richardson Police Department. The mock hostage scenario confronting Sage and the officers was straight out of a blockbuster: six Sinaloa Cartel—affiliated gunmen had stormed a shelter for migrant women and children in Hidalgo County and taken 29 hostages; they were now demanding everything from the release of police-confiscated drugs to the delivery of a school bus, in which they hoped to return to Mexico.

As the four cops scrambled to respond, Sage was clearly enjoying himself, a gruff, streetwise old-timer in his element. The statement just about summed up Sage, a hard-ass by nature who has come to a more broad-minded view of the world. And when he offered some tips on the mindful use of language in the negotiation craft, he sounded more like a couples therapist than a career lawman. When one of the cops gave Carlos an ultimatum, Sage prodded him. Be careful about closing any doors. They try to garner the best deal for themselves—unless their name is David Koresh.

When host Charlie Gibson screened footage of the final minutes of the siege for them, Sage avoided looking at the screen.

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He maintains that the outcome at Waco was unavoidable. In his mind, Koresh was a charismatic con man who effectively ordered the murder of four ATF agents, lied repeatedly to the FBI, then chose to set fire to his building and kill everyone inside rather than face prison.

Whose decision was it?

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