Don't mess with Texas

New evidence in the Waco firestorm may have been leaked as a result of a tiff between the FBI and the Texas Rangers.


Robert Bryce
September 27, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)

Over the past few three months, there have been almost daily news reports concerning new evidence that has emerged from the charred ruins of the Branch Davidians' compound in Waco, Texas. Much of the new information, including evidence that federal authorities used incendiary tear gas canisters during the final hours of the siege, has emerged because of a pending wrongful death lawsuit against the federal government, filed by family members of the Branch Davidians. But some of the new evidence has emerged as a result of ongoing friction between the Texas Rangers and federal law enforcement authorities, particularly the FBI.

Indeed, some of the most inflammatory statements that have been made in recent weeks about the discovery of the incendiary devices and sniper cartridges have come from James B. Francis Jr. -- chairman of the Texas Department of Public Safety commission that oversees the Rangers. In late July, Francis told the Dallas Morning News that the DOJ's years-long efforts to prevent the public from seeing the evidence was "in effect a cover-up. It is not intended to be, but in effect it is. It is a complete stonewall."

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Last month, after a former FBI agent told reporters that the FBI fired two
incendiary tear gas grenades into the Davidian compound on the final day of the siege, Francis told reporters that the revelation "goes a long way toward confirming why I say that some of the evidence that DPS has or had in its possession is problematical and needs to be evaluated by independent experts. A fair-minded person who looks at this evidence would see that there is a problem with some of the things that the federal government has said happened that day."

Dick J. Reavis, author of "The Ashes of Waco: An Investigation," one of the most thorough treatments of the siege and its aftermath, says the motivation for the DPS investigation and Francis' statements is clear. "I think the Rangers are trying to get even. It's the Rangers saying to the Feds, 'Fuck you guys,'" Reavis said.

Both the Rangers and the FBI are reluctant to discuss the friction between the law enforcement agencies, which stems from a territorial struggle during the confrontation at the Branch Davidian compound.
"There's nothing to it," said one FBI source. Mike Cox, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety, also refused to address the issue: "We work with the FBI every day all across the state of Texas. We are just responding to a subpoena from the House government oversight committee," Cox said.

Perhaps. But it's clear that over the past year or so, the Rangers have lost their patience with federal authorities. As the caretakers of 12 tons of evidence collected from the Branch Davidian site, the Rangers were caught between members of the public who wanted to look at the evidence and the Department of Justice, which apparently wanted to keep the evidence away from critical eyes. When members of the public asked to see the evidence, the DOJ told them the evidence was being held by the DPS. When those same people went to the DPS, they were told they had to get approval from the DOJ.

After years of being stuck in the middle, the DPS decided it wanted out. Francis asked U.S. District Judge Walter Smith of Waco, who is handling the lawsuit against the government, to take custody of the evidence. Smith agreed. But before the DPS turned over the evidence, it decided to do its own analysis of the materials it has held since April 19, 1993, when the standoff came to its fiery conclusion. The work also provided a forum in which it could take a few shots at the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and the DOJ.

The Rangers may be the most famous state law enforcement agency in the country. Formed in 1823, when Stephen F. Austin received permission from the Mexican government to employ a group of 10 volunteers to protect settlers on the Texas frontier, the group's first job was to monitor the movements of Indian tribes. Since that time, the group has obtained nearly mythic status. Now numbering about 100 officers, the Rangers -- whose uniform includes cowboy boots and cowboy hats -- are fiercely proud of their history and their law enforcement prowess. And it's no secret that they were unhappy with how they were treated by federal law enforcement officials during the Waco siege.

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In its 1996 report on the incident, the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight points out that the Rangers were kept out of negotiations with the Davidians -- even though, the report says, the Davidians "expressed their trust" in the Rangers. And it points to testimony by Ranger Capt. David A. Byrnes (now retired), who commanded the more than 30 Rangers who were stationed at Mount Carmel during the siege. According to the report, the Rangers "often had concerns about the conduct of the siege and attempted to express these concerns to [FBI tactical commander Jeffrey] Jamar. The Rangers were frustrated by a lack of communication with Jamar." Byrnes told the committee that
whenever he went to see Jamar, "the door was already closed to where Mr. Jamar was. Several times I waited a half hour, 45 minutes to see him and never saw him, and I finally quit going over there. We couldn't even get a phone call through. It was total lack of communication.''

In a recent interview, Byrnes denied ongoing friction between the two law enforcement agencies. "I don't think there's any kind of a feud. If there is, I'm not aware of it. Any time you are working on something of that magnitude, there will be differences of opinion," he said. But after talking further, Byrnes said many of the new disclosures are the result of the DOJ's efforts to prevent citizens from seeing the evidence. "What really happened is that [there was a] constant parade of people wanting to see the evidence and getting bounced back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball. I can see where DPS would think that it would make them look bad."

And while Byrnes said the two agencies are able to work together now, the first government report on the raid in Waco, done by the Department of Justice in 1993, also points to friction between the Rangers and the feds. The report says the Rangers felt that Jamar had "treated them rudely," that they were in a "hostile atmosphere" and that they had been "intentionally misled" by the FBI. Finally, the report says that while the Rangers would be able to "participate in future criminal cases with the FBI, hard feelings would linger."

Today, more than six years after the Branch Davidians met their fiery end, the hard feelings between the two agencies are still in evidence. And those feelings could lead to more embarrassing revelations about the FBI's conduct in Waco.

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Robert Bryce

Robert Bryce is the managing editor of Energy Tribune. His latest book is Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence."

MORE FROM Robert Bryce

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