The Dallas Morning News
DATE:03/16/93 BYLINE:Bill Marvel
KEEPING WATCH - Gawkers, profit-seekers, proselytizers flock to hill near cult compound
BELLMEAD, Texas -- They come to see and to sell, to protest and to proselytize. They come so they can tell their friends they were here and because the Lord told them to come.
In the absence of dramatic new developments, television has turned its eye elsewhere. But that has not kept away the curious, who cruise the roads east of here, trying to get a view of the compound at Mount Carmel, where Branch Davidian sect members have been holed up for 17 days.
Disasters and tragedies have always drawn crowds of curiosity seekers.
On July 21, 1861, Washington, D.C., residents rode out into the countryside near Manassas, Va., to witness what they felt certain was going to be a Union victory over Confederate forces at the Battle of Bull Run. They spread picnic lunches on the grass only to watch a rout, as Gen. Irvin McDowell's Union forces were defeated and driven back to Washington.
And in 1925, thousands filled a hillside outside Kentucky's Crystal Cave to watch and pray and eat hot dogs while rescuers struggled in vain to free the cave's discoverer, Floyd Collins, from a rockfall deep inside.
Here, the crowds gather on a hill overlooking the intersection of State Highway 340 and FM2491, where ATF and FBI authorities have set up a roadblock. Despite 40-degree temperatures and biting wind, and even though this is not the best vantage point, dozens of cars stop during the day as crowds scan the horizon with binoculars, shop for T-shirts or read the leaflets handed out by protesters.
"I've seen a lot of amazing things,' says Sue Mole, on her way from Mesquite to visit her parents in Hearne. "And this is one of them.'
She pauses to check out the T-shirts being sold out of a white Chevy van by Georgia Jenkins and her granddaughter Rhiannon Gardner.
They have driven all the way from Tulsa, Okla., and plan to stay as long as the crowds keep coming. "I've been wanting to do this, and I did it,' says Mrs. Jenkins, who occasionally drives a semi-tractor truck and has worked in the construction business in California.
Fits her to a T
She had the first 30 shirts printed in Tulsa but has since found a Waco supplier. Her $12 shirts and $2 bumper stickers bear what has become the unofficial slogan for the Mount Carmel standoff: "WACO -- We Ain't Coming Out.' Mrs. Jenkins also sells a "Wacko WACO Stand-off' T-shirt imprinted with a score card. She explains to buyers that they can use a laundry marker to keep track of casualties -- Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and Branch Davidians, men, women and children.
"It's an interesting hill,' Mrs. Jenkins says. "I sold my first shirt to an FBI agent. I've been here four days, and it's picking up. Hundreds have come by.
"If this gets bloody, I think this site will be good for 30 days.' John Zizelmann and his two daughers pull up, snow skis strapped to the top of their car. His daughters are on spring break from the University of Texas, and the trio is on its way to Breckenridge, Colo., says Mr. Zizelmann, who lives in Houston.
"We've been watching it on television,' he says, "so we decided to make a side trip.'
That there is little to be seen from the hill doesn't seem to bother the Zizelmanns. "We depend on CNN for the close views,' Mr. Zizelmann says. "We just wanted a shirt. My daughters plan to ski in it.'
Jim McBride, a New Jersey importer who has been in San Antonio on business, is also shopping for a shirt.
"I drove up because I just had to see this madness,' he says. "To be honest with you, it's insane. The more we perpetuate it, the longer he (sect leader David Koresh) stays.'
Peggy Lawlis and her mother, Edith Dulles Lawlis, were on their way from Dallas to visit relatives in the area when they came upon the scene. They had already been stopped at the checkpoint, where they talked somebody into snapping their picture with ATF agents. "Just to be somewhat silly,' explains Mrs. Lawlis.
"We were making jokes about selling T-shirts,' says her daughter, a student at The Hockaday School in Dallas. "And look, here we are.'
She selects a shirt, and her mother pays. "I want to be able to tell my friends I was in Waco,' Peggy says.
Meantime, a few yards away, rival T-shirt seller Bill Powers has arrived and is setting out boxes of shirts and gimme caps. Friends struggle in the wind to erect a tent and set up folding tables. At $12, Mr. Powers' shirts are competitively priced.
"I was out here last week, and there were people standing around, and I said to my sister, "Hey, Linda, this is a good place to sell T-shirts.' We went back that night and designed them.'
In addition to the popular "WACO -- We Ain't Coming Out' shirts, Mr. Powers is selling a T-shirt that says, "My parents went to Mount Carmel and all I got was this lousy AK-47.'
Nearby, Mr. Powers' partner in this business venture, David Mevis, has set up a booth and is firing up a charcoal grill to sell Koresh Burgers and Koresh Dogs for $2.
"I got a friend in there,' he says, indicating the distant compound, "and he wants to come out.'
By early afternoon, it's dueling T-shirts as Rosaline Eastepp starts selling shirts out of the back of her car. The employee of Rockwell International in Greenville designed the shirts and had 1,000 printed in Fort Worth.
"God is telling you to buy this shirt,' she calls to passers-by.
But T-shirts and gimme caps and hot dogs are not the only things being sold on this hillside. Picketers have gathered at the roadside, waving signs at passing motorists: "ATF Kills Babies,' they proclaim, "David vs. Goliath.'
Larry Dodge, a postcard photographer from Helmsville, Mont., is handing out copies of something called the Jury Information Kit.
"These people are going to need a well-informed jury when they get out,' he says.
"Here the whole thing is based upon the premise that they were violating some kind of gun law. I'm not even sure there should be such a gun law. I see it as an infringement on the Second Amendment. I see the government as wrong, here.'
'A lot of hearsay'
Debbie Freidell, a Bedford homemaker and mother of four, might agree. "A lot of what's been said (about the cult) has been hearsay,' she says, as she gazes in the direction of the compound. "A lot of it has been what the government wants us to believe.
"I'm not here to gawk. I've been reading the Bible the last 13 days since this happened. I felt the Lord wanted me to be here.
"I think the T-shirt sellers are sick. It's the sickest thing.'
Mrs. Freidell says she is not a member of the sect. "I'm just a Christian. I talked with my minister, but he didn't feel the importance that I did. If these are the End Times, and these are the children of God, he may very well take his children up into heaven.'
If he does, the best public view will not be from this distant hilltop, but from Old Mexia Road, just off U.S. Highway 84 several miles to the northeast.
There, a smaller crowd has gathered a few hundred yards from another ATF checkpoint, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the big Abrams tanks as it moves around the compound, which is in plain view a mile and a half away.
There are students from nearby McLennan Community College in Bellmead, and reporters from Reuters and The Associated Press, and two nuns who have come out from Providence Hospital, where some of the wounded ATF officers were treated two weeks ago.
Not all the cars belong to curiosity seekers. Leaning against a car with Maine license plates, Alisa Shaw reads a well-thumbed copy of the Bible. Her father sits in the front seat reading a paperback book. "Leave me out of this,' he snaps at a reporter.
She, too, is reluctant to talk. She has friends inside the compound, she says. She was inside as recently as two months ago, when Mr. Koresh told her to leave. But she still believes.
Why? "It's all in this book,' she says.
Late afternoon, A.L. Dreyer, who owns the farm south of the road, drives out his long driveway to pick up his mail. Mr. Dreyer and his wife, who have farmed this ground since 1939, have ringside seats: Their farmhouse is a mile and a half from the compound. The view is so good, they have leased space in their tractor shed to NBC and Fox television crews. But that's enough, Mr. Dreyer says.
"Three people came down my driveway the other day, and I asked them where they were going. They said they were going to take some pictures. I said, "Oh no, you're not.' '
The protesters have shown up here, too. One of two lawyers who have been handing out anti-ATF literature ("ATF -- American Gestapo') put up an "ATF GO HOME' sign. But Sue Richardson, who lives just down the road from the Dreyers, tells them to remove it, and they do.
"I don't want that on my road,' she says. "It's disrespectful to the officers who were killed.'
A neighbor, Alton Boyett, and his daughter, Candice, have bicycled over to watch the watchers. He can't wait until everybody goes home, the Branch Davidians, the government, the sellers, the gawkers.
The other day he stopped after a haircut to check out the We-Ain't-Coming-Out gimme caps being sold down the road. But he skipped buying one, he says, because they struck him as being supportive of those in the compound.
Those are not his sentiments. "I'm for the ATF and FBI getting this over with as soon as possible,' he says.
"It's encroaching too much on our leisure activity,' he says, leaning on his bicycle. "We used to ride our motorbikes here. We used to fire guns on the weekends, target practicing.
"No one around here wants to fire a gun now.'
The Dallas Morning News
Officials use secrecy as siege tactic
WACO -- As the standoff outside the Branch Davidian compound drags on, federal prosecutors have become increasingly secretive.
They have rescheduled hearings, sometimes even holding them inside the McLennan County Jail instead of in the courthouse.
On Monday, a clerk for U.S. Magistrate Dennis Green said she could not release case numbers -- used by the court to identify the case -- for actions pending against some of the four cult members who have surrendered during the siege.
The clerk, who would not give her name, also refused to say when a hearing originally set Tuesday morning for Kathryn Schroeder, a cult member who left the compound Friday, had been rescheduled. A secretary for the magistrate referred questions to the U.S. attorney's office. A secretary for U.S. Attorney Ron Ederer said he was out of town and unavailable for questions.
However, Mrs. Schroeder's attorney, Scott Peterson of Waco, said the hearing was rescheduled for Tuesday at 3 p.m. He said he will oppose any government motion to close the hearing.
A FBI spokesman said Sunday that officials are keeping legal documents and proceedings secret as part of their negotiation strategy.
Federal officials say they believe that publicity is a key goal of sect leader David Koresh, so they are trying to limit and control news coverage and the cult's public image until he surrenders.
Asked to explain the increasing secrecy, FBI Agent Bob Ricks said Sunday: "We are still trying to contain the situation. We don't want unnecessary publicity. . . . And we are not going to give people a public forum to go ahead and hold press conferences when they come out of the compound.'
Also on Monday, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. denied attorneys' access to Mr. Koresh and his chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying the cult members will not have any legal rights while they remain holed up in a heavily armed compound.
The ruling came on motions filed by Houston lawyers Dick DeGuerin and Jack B. Zimmerman, who had wanted to be allowed access to Mr. Koresh and Mr. Schneider, respectively.
Mr. DeGuerin, who has been hired by Mr. Koresh's mother, Bonnie Haldeman, said late Monday that he would appeal the ruling to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. Mr. Zimmerman, who has been hired by Mr. Schneider's sister, said he would wait to comment on further legal action until he saw Judge Smith's order.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
The Dallas Morning News
FBI officials are starting to boost pressure on cult negotiators refuse to discuss religion
WACO -- FBI officials said Monday that their negotiators are ratcheting up pressure on the be-sieged Branch Davidian cult, refusing to discuss the group's religion or anything not directly aimed at ending the 16-day standoff.
Cult members answered the hard-line FBI negotiating tack Sunday with a banner calling for the news media and using a flashlight to send late-night Morse code signals reading: "SOS. SOS. SOS. SOS. FBI broke negotiations. We want negotiations from press.'
FBI Special Agent Richard Swenson said negotiators have not broken off talks but began refusing Sunday to participate in the lengthy "Bible studies' and religious talks that have dominated their discussions with cult leader David Koresh and Steve Schneider, his chief lieutenant.
"For long, long periods, we listened -- literally for hours and hours,' he said. "It was not leading to anything. . . . And frankly, we're not here to be converted. We're here to get this thing resolved peacefully.'
The Branch Davidian compound about 10 miles east of Waco has been surrounded by federal officers since a raid by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on Feb. 28 ended in a firefight with four agents and an undetermined number of cult members killed. Since then, 21 children and four adults have left the compound.
Agent Swenson said Monday that agents were not in regular contact with the compound last weekend, confining the compound's communications Sunday to telephone calls from Mc-Lennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell and two calls from former cult members who surrendered to authorities Friday.
One of those cult members, Oliver Gyarfas, talked briefly to Mr. Koresh, marking the first conversation the group's leader has had with anyone outside the compound since Friday night, the FBI agent said.
"We've had people at the phones 24 hours a day. They know how to reach us, and we're ready and willing to talk,' Agent Swenson said.
He confirmed Monday that the heavily besieged compound has been without electricity since Friday -- another move he said was designed to "try to get this thing moving off the dime.'
But he said large banks of high-intensity lights switched on at the compound Sunday night were a "purely defensive' response to frequent provocations such as sightings of armed cult members peering from windows and aiming guns at federal agents.
Some federal law enforcement officials have indicated privately that the trailer-mounted lights are another tactic used to "tighten the screws' on cult members, an attempt to disrupt sleep patterns and other normal activities. Lights and loud music have been part of the psychological gambits employed by federal authorities to end other prolonged standoffs.
Agent Swenson said, however, that the lights were installed chiefly in front of the sect's buildings to protect the federal perimeter that lies 250 yards outside the compound.
"We're hoping to make less of a target to people in the compound,' he said. "We just don't want them seeing us back there.'
He said cult members have not complained about the lights, and can block or cover windows to maintain darkness in the compound's interior.
As the talks drag on, officials have gotten no encouraging signals that any other cult members are considering surrender. Agent Swenson said Mr. Koresh's lieutenant, Mr. Schneider, has told federal officials that two men and a woman who expressed a desire to leave last week have since changed their minds.
Although Kathryn Schroeder and Mr. Gyarfas, the two Branch Davidians who surrendered Friday, told cult followers they were being treated well and pleaded for a peaceful end to the standoff, Agent Swenson said, their talks Sunday with Mr. Schneider and Mr. Koresh did not appear to have much effect.
"But I still believe it will be helpful in the long run,' he said. Another federal law enforcement official who asked not to be named said the cult may seriously seek an end to the siege after it sees how Mrs. Schroeder and Mr. Gyarfas are treated in federal court hearings.
"I still think those two may be a test,' the official said.
Monday, aircraft occasionally could be seen flying in the drizzly, gray sky near the compound, and authorities moved a sandblaster and vacuum truck in the direction of the Branch Davidian buildings.
Agent Swenson said he did not know what the new equipment might be used for, but he said aircraft periodically patrol the area "just to make sure that no one goes into the compound and no one comes out.'