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David Thibodeau on events at Waco and the official findings

August 2, 2000
Posted at: 9:30 p.m. EDT

David Thibodeau, a resident of the Branch Davidians' Mount Carmel compound just outside Waco, Texas, was one of nine survivors of a 51-day siege that ended with the April 19, 1993 fire that killed an estimated 80 people, including 17 children. Thibodeau, is the co-author of "A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story."

Thibodeau joined the chat to discuss his version of events and the findings by an independent investigator, and more recently, former Senator John Danforth that David Koresh and other Branch Davidians were entirely responsible for the disaster.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining our discussion, David Thibodeau, and welcome.

David Thibodeau: Thank you, and great to be here.

Chat Moderator: How did you get involved with David Koresh and the Mount Carmel community?

David Thibodeau: I met David Koresh at a guitar center in Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. And he was there with Steven Snyder, who was his business manager, if you will. They asked me to play one of the electronic drum sets and apparently liked what they heard.

After about six months of getting to know them, I was invited out to Waco to learn David Koresh's biblical teachings. Then I became a member.

Chat Moderator: Do you accept any part of the conclusions of the official investigation?

David Thibodeau: Only the parts that talk about the FBI and the Justice Department's attorneys lying to Congress. Yeah, that I accept. There are certain parts that I accept on the other side, but it has definitely not been fair or balanced. My belief is that former Senator Danforth was put in charge of the independent investigation, for a reason, to do a very specific job that the attorney general wanted done.

And I believe he fulfilled that, by justifying the government's actions and drawing the conclusions that this administration simply had to have drawn. I would like to point out that in the recent civil trails of Waco our attorneys had six days to put on their case. The government attorneys had 11 days, and federal judge Walter Smith allowed none of our experts to testify for the jury. I remember sitting in the courtroom stunned at the lack of justice that I was witnessing in this so-called free land.

Question from Wyla: David, do you think any of the survivors who weren't killed on Feb. 28 will file ATTEMPTED murder charges against the ATF, and if NOT, why not?

David Thibodeau: I don't know. Most of the survivors are much older, and after seven years of being demonized and seeing such an incredible lack of justice, my feeling is that the fight is gone.

When you absorb yourself for seven years, trying to get the truth out to people like I have, and you've told the truth, and Justice department officials call you liar, and FBI agents call you a liar on national television, it's very hard to continue on and lead any kind of normal productive life. There's post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and all the other variables that come with fighting something this massive against a political power like the United States government.

However, if I could find an attorney that wasn't afraid to take on the government and the court systems on my terms, then I might be willing to jump into the ring.

Question from Marko: Did the government explain why they did not try to arrest Koresh on one of his many trips into town before the siege began?

David Thibodeau: They tried to. The government said that David Koresh never left Mount Carmel. He was a recluse. That he never left the building. However, he jogged in front of their undercover house everyday for two weeks, and several business owners from the community of Waco came forward and said they had seen him in their establishments a week before the raid.

The ATF undercover agent Robert Rodriguez even shot his firearms with David Koresh and handed David his AR15 to shoot at a tin can. And yet, this is the man that they felt was crazy and capable of trying to take down the American government.

Question from Sharp: Had you ever been to "The Mag Bag?"

David Thibodeau: Yes, I have. It was approximately two miles away from Mount Carmel, and it was basically a building that was used to refurbish cars. And the government went into the Mag Bag a couple days into the siege.

They called the owner of the Mag Bag and told them that they were going to break it down to gain access to the building for evidence. The owner said, "I'm on my way down. I'll bring the keys." And by the time he got there, a tank had driven through the building. And they found their evidence -- four shotgun shells.

Question from WacoTragedyNews: David, even though they have essentially cleared the government of any wrongdoing, is it not true that some of the pyrotechnic devices that were found had debris imbedded in them? Wouldn't this mean they had indeed passed through the structure of your home?

David Thibodeau: In the new film that's been released, "Waco: a New Revelation" -- that was made by the same investigator that did, "Waco: The Rules Of Engagement"-- there are pictures of those pyrotechnic devices that were found, and they actually show the debris that was taken out of them. And it is debris that's consistent with the structure of the building, indicating that a couple of 40-millimeter pyrotechnic devices did actually pass through the building.

Question from Sharp: What is the name of the man that brought the lathe to the Mag Bag?

David Thibodeau: I believe he's referring to Donald Bunds, but I'm not aware of a lathe ever being in the Mag Bag.

Question from SCA: Why didn't you or Koresh surrender to officials?

David Thibodeau: Well, I'll do my best. That is a long answer, and it has to do with David Koresh always working with law enforcement, inviting the ATF undercover agent on his property on nine separate occasions.

He invited the ATF to come in and check the yellow registration sheets on all his firearms that were bought and sold legally. They declined, and chose to attack us in militaristic style and fashion. Most religious groups believe that they will be persecuted for their religion. That belief goes hand in hand with the Bible.

So, once David Koresh was attacked and blood was shed, the people inside not only mistrusted this government, but also believed they were being persecuted for their beliefs. Stewart Wright, who is a professor, wrote a paper called "Anatomy of a Government Massacre: Abuses of Hostage Protocols During The Waco Standoff," and he found 16 violations of the hostage rescue teams FBI's tactical component of the FBI. He found that they violated their own protocol on 16 occasions.

If they had followed their rules, which basically break down to no bloodshed, to no killing, I believe that everyone would have come out. What it seems the tactical commanders did was follow the express guidelines that would have assured no one came out of the building.

In other words, every time there was a trust between the people inside and the FBI negotiators, the tactical commanders undermined that trust, helping to build the psychological reality that it was us against the world and that the FBI didn't actually want us to come out.

Question from Arrgy: Does that mean you believe that Koresh intended to be a martyr, and do you view him as such?

David Thibodeau: I don't, per say. I think that David Koresh was more rational than people want to give him credit for. I think that, from a scriptural message that he held, he felt he was to be a martyr. But I also feel, from a very human side, I personally saw him do everything in his power to avoid this confrontation.

He knew the sheriff of Waco, Jack Harwell, and had worked with him in the past. There was an FBI negotiator early on that Koresh liked, and through their negotiations, several people did come out.

Again, it appeared to us, whenever things were working, whenever there was a harmony, the tactical commanders would take action and destroy that harmony. The FBI's own psychologist said don't use force, or do anything aggressive; that will just convince Koresh and his people, that his message is true. Back away from the building.

And the FBI chose not to follow their own psychologist's advice.

Question from Hi: David what were you people thinking when you fired upon the ATF?

David Thibodeau: Well, personally, I can only speak from my experience. I was in the cafeteria, and when David Koresh went to the door. [Editorial note: Due to technical difficulties, this portion of transmission was lost] ... was nobody do anything stupid. We want to talk to these people and work it out.

He went to the door, and I'd say about thirty seconds later, it seemed like all hell broke loose. All the people I spoke to, who were at the front door, all said that Koresh opened the door, held his hand out, and said stop there's women and children here.

The door flew back in David's hand from the velocity of a bullet hitting it, and that's when he slammed the door and fell back. The first thing the ATF agents did was to shoot our dogs that were penned up in an area next to the door.

These are all incredible acts of aggression that will cause a lot of people to react and defend themselves. In other words, you don't stick your hand down a rabbit hole because you want to pet the bunny. If that rabbit has young rabbits, then that rabbit will protect those rabbits and bite you.

The ATF should had taken David up on his initial offer to peacefully come in the building and check the firearms, but they didn't want that. They wanted a dynamic enter-militaristic style raid, when there didn't need to be one.

Question from Jb: Do you think that in time, David Koresh will be viewed, historically, as a lunatic, a victim, a martyr or something more?

David Thibodeau: I think it will be a great tragedy. David Koresh is not viewed as a lunatic, because he wasn't. David Koresh was human in every sense of the word, but he had a teaching or, I should say, he was given a wisdom that I believe was out of this world.

And I think that when some of the incarcerated Davidians get out of jail -- for example, Livingston Fagen, who in my estimation is far more scripturally brilliant than I -- and will able to clarify David's message in future writings, then I think more people will see David Koresh as something more than what they've esteemed him to be.

Chat Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts for our audience?

David Thibodeau: My final thought is this: Being an objective person who has tried to keep an open mind to all issues, I do believe mistakes were made on both sides.

However, I believe that the aggression of our federal government and their capacity towards violence has been turned around, to make some of the best people, most trustworthy people and humble people that I have ever known, into being demons. This is wrong.

And I think, as time goes by, in light of the Danforth committee's results, and in light of the trials in Waco, Texas, that this is not going to go away. If the government truly wants this issue to go away, then they need to level with the American people. I am convinced they will never do that.

And it's that kind of arrogance that's going to cause greater problems in the future. And that is a shame on our nation. That is a shame on our constitution. And I hope that in the future, we learn from this lesson to not be so judgmental and, especially, to question everything that the government tells you is a fact.

Chat Moderator: Thank you for joining us, David Thibodeau.

David Thibodeau: Thank you for having me.

David Thibodeau joined Law Chat from Texas via telephone. CNN.com provided a typist for him. The above is an edited transcript of the chat.



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