Sunday, March 30, 2014

Malcolm Gladwell on David Koresh and the Siege at Waco

As one would expect, Malcolm Gladwell does an excellent job of telling the inside story of the 1993 FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.

He focuses on cult leader David Koresh himself and the way the FBI handled the negotiations. As you know, the negotiations failed and the compound was incinerated, killing scores of people, among them many children.

Given his limited focus one understands why Gladwell ignores the larger context of the Waco holocaust, but still, one is struck by what is missing from the story.

It feels like the dog that didn’t bark.

If you had not known it beforehand, you would not know, from reading the article, who was running the American executive branch at the time. The name of Bill Clinton does not appear anywhere in the story. Neither does that of the attorney general who was ostensibly in charge: Janet Reno. Nor does Gladwell mention the name of the deputy White House counsel at the time, one Vince Foster, former law partner of Hillary Clinton. You recall that Foster killed himself a few months after Waco.

After all, the siege dragged out for weeks. To imagine that top administration officials were not involved is to blind oneself to the obvious.

And yet, Gladwell may be more subtle than we imagine. He convincingly knocks down one of the pillars of the standard media narrative.
From the beginning the media has placed the blame squarely on David Koresh. It painted him as a fanatic who wanted to die in a blaze of glory.

Gladwell points out that that was not the case. And he adds that the FBI negotiators manifested a high level of incompetence.

Undoubtedly, he does not have the true story about the inner workings of the Clinton administration. Yet, in omitting the larger context he has pointed us to the higher-ups who were surely pulling the strings.

If the American press had been more diligent and less corrupt the events at Waco would have been investigated. They might even have become a signature event in the Clinton administration. A full investigation might even have shown that future presidential candidate Hillary Clinton might have been personally involved.

Let’s give Gladwell the benefit of the doubt and say that, by emphasizing how badly the FBI handled the situation, he is inviting us to speculate about who was in charge of the agencies that were handling the crisis.


Anonymous said...

The press continues to act as though its preferred political party only owns its successes, never its (remarkably) long list of failures.

What difference, at this point, does it make?


Dennis said...

One Texas Ranger would have solved any problem with Koresh and we would not have had the spectacle of the ATF acting like a SWAT team, beginning the debacle that ensued. The FBI only exacerbated the problem and eventually killed a large number of people inside that compound.
Koresh went into Waco on a regular basis and could have been picked up on one of those outings.
This is one of the reasons it bothers me to see the ATF, police departments et al get combat oriented equipment and training. It almost always leads to them using it in situations that one officer could have effectively handled. These people wound up being like kids with new toys that they just have to try out.
The Clinton administration was also responsible for Ruby Ridge who kept harassing Weaver to saw off the barrel of a shotgun so they could force him to work as an informant. The FBI cared little for the fact that their sniper shot through a door in which he had NO idea who was behind it and killed both Weaver's wife and child. This notwithstanding they had already killed his son and dog prior to that,
Everyone should be concern about the amount of ammunition the federal government is providing to agencies like the EPA, et al. Also one might want to wonder about the callousness demonstrated by the ATF, FBI, EPA, IRS et al towards American citizens.
I will admit that Waco and Ruby Ridge was the beginning of my wondering about the intensions of a government I had been a part. This started with the Clintons, Obama has only enlarged it and a Hillary would complete the separation of the government from its citizens.

Sam L. said...

The media complicity (with Democrats) will never end.

I wish it would, but I have no hope for ti.

Lastango said...

Waco was an act of state terror, and an early warning sign of how an increasingly militarized Police Nation intends to SWAT dissent.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the desire for the shame and blame narrative, or at least I don't understand why it improves outcomes to bash failed leadership when the important thing ought to be understand how bad decisions are made, and so everyone can do better next time.

If the purpose of an article is to enlighten us about the psychology of fanatical death cults and their interpretations of perceived unjust authority and how to protect lives while confronting insane people with guns, then it is appropriate to point of failed decisions, and speculate on possible better outcomes and what tools are available towards that, in context of the possible abuse of such tools, all that seems good and valid.

The NSA's power for example, might suggest a "positive tool" - if they can spy on all communications within a sieged complex, and gain information on the perceptions of those inside, that might have improved the outcomes, but perhaps also opens up abusive ease-dropping on law-abiding citizens who are not a danger to themselves or others.

So in naming names 20 years later, seems to me to be entirely about political rage machine that doesn't care about what happened, only who's to blame, and how much mud we can stick to get others to see our point of view.

But of course the most important value of holding your rivals or friends of your rivals under a constant stream of hate is to distract the world from the incompetence of your esteemed leaders, like sleepy Reagan's contra affair, or W's Iraq weapons of mass destruction delusion, and Abu Ghraib prison torture and humiliations of people who we actually prefer not hate us.

Maybe the Media is biased, but the important thing it seems to me is for everyone to see their own hypocrisy of self-righteous judgment and concern that someone somewhere hasn't been blamed widely and deeply enough to kill themselves in shame like a good loser is supposed to do in the political world.

And back to the NSA, while we're still waiting for Clinton and Reno to get their due punishment, the NSA is secretly planning its next phase of secret controls that will make sure no future makes bad decisions based on insufficient information, and then all the bad guys can be caught and exposed, except the bad guys looking for the bad guys in our name I guess.

Happy scapegoating! It makes a person feel good and proud to be a human being.

Stuart Schneiderman said...

If it's important to know how bad decisions were made, why isn't it important to look at the people who made them?

Dennis said...

Those who fail to learn from history are bound to repeat its mistakes. Especially given that the people who made these mistakes are still politically active and in many cases still think and believe as they did before.
A "What difference does it make?" attitude only leads to aberrant ideas being committed over and over again. One cannot ignore the history that challenges their own beliefs and only have an interest in the history that fits their narrative.
Pejoratives, name calling and invective only serve to weaken one's argumentation and position and serves to demonstrate an intellectual incuriousness.