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Sect under siege

04 August 2017


“Riveting”: in Waco: Surviving the apocalypse (Radio 4, weekdays), Cole Moreton tells the story of the 1993 Waco siege and its impact on survivors

“Riveting”: in Waco: Surviving the apocalypse (Radio 4, weekdays), Cole Moreton tells the story of the 1993 Waco siege and its impact on s...

“THIS is either going to go as smooth as silk, or it’s going to be a mess.” So predicted Bill Buford, an agent of the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Bureau (ATF) as he waited for the order to enter Mount Carmel, Waco, in Texas, in February 1992. Within the compound there were more than 100 men, women, and children, along with a substantial arsenal of automatic weapons and grenades. Suffice to say, it turned out a mess.

Waco: Surviving the apocalypse (Radio 4, weekdays), presented by the writer and broadcaster Cole Moreton, was riveting. A range of people contributed, including an FBI mediator, a journalist, and a member of the Mount Carmel community: it seemed to have every angle covered. Yet there are plenty of questions which will remain unanswered.

One that can reasonably be answered is why the raid was carried out when it was. By the time the agents of the ATF were ordered into the Waco compound, David Koresh and his Branch Davidians already knew that they were coming. The Bureau had made the schoolboy error of assuming that because these people believed in the imminent unlocking of the Seven Seals, they must also be stupid enough not to notice an obvious infiltrator in their midst. The element of surprise was lost, but the ATF made its move anyway.

Most gripping was the account given by Livingstone Fagan, now a charity worker living in London, then a follower of Koresh who had brought his wife, mother, and children to live on the site. From his and his comrades’ perspective, the apocalyptic end to the siege, with the compound consumed by flames and his wife and mother’s death, appears merely to have confirmed Fagan’s beliefs.

Ten years after Waco, a strategy, designed to neutralise radicalisation of the kind practised by the Branch Davidians, was developed. “Prevent” is a policy that affects almost everybody working in education, social care, and crime prevention.

In Understanding Prevent (Radio 4, Tuesday of last week), David Anderson QC explored the history, implementation, and controversies surrounding the strategy; and began with the case history of Marco, a boy brought up by a violently extremist right-wing father. As a young man, Marco was a member of the English Defence League, and, by his own admission, became interested “in things that go bang”. He was eventually enrolled on the deradicalisation programme “Channel”, and told us how it “rehumanised” him.

Notwithstanding the evident mistrust of some in the teaching profession, Anderson’s documentary suggested that Prevent — far from encouraging a culture of suspicion in the classroom — was actually enabling mature debate. Yet would you have the same opinion if you were one of the 7500 referrals made to Prevent in 2015-16 by the well-meaning and mistrustful?

It is not possible entirely to eradicate that heavy knock on the door.

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