A terrible, senseless and needless tragedy occurred twenty years ago today when the federal government of these United States used military force – including tanks – against American citizens on American soil. These citizens did not represent an imminent threat to national security, nor were they actively engaged in armed insurrection. The April 19 attack on the compound was to end a standoff which started with a disastrous February 28 raid on the compound.
During the invasion of the compound, a fire was started and quickly engulfed the entire compound – producing a spectacular explosion when it reached an especially dangerous area of the compound. In all, 76 members of the Branch Davidian cult – including 21 children – lost their lives that day because the federal government was not willing to wait any longer and decided to invade the compound with overwhelming force.
People should not live in fear of their government, but it is understandable that many people are afraid due to the excessive militarization of law enforcement. Too often, fighting crime is treated like fighting a war, with a military mentality, military tactics and military weapons. This disturbing trend preceded the Waco massacre, but Waco remains the most egregious example of this excessive use of force.
Twenty years later, our message to our government must be clear: This will not be tolerated. The use of military force on civilians must never happen again. The federal government must respect civil liberties and exercise the restraint that is appropriate for dealing with our citizens. Never again.