Is Waco Still Relevant?
In February of 1993 on the heels of the social disaster of the LA riots, the US government became embroiled in a situation with a little known cult outside of Waco Texas.
Leading up to the event was a general shift in philosophies regarding how the government was to treat the common ownership of weapons by the general public and the formation of survivalist groups. Survivalism was gaining popularity as the post cold war era and racial tensions made the future more uncertain.
It was neither the first nor the last time the US government would use paramilitary police forces against an armed group, but it was the first time such an action was video taped for public view and the first time such an event went so wrong on such a large scale. A formidable but badly prepared paramilitary police assault met a determined defense in the form of a survivalist group.
As the events played out, many survivalists wondered if they would be similarly targeted or if government allegations of child exploitation, mind control and cult despotism on the part of Vernon Howell justified the actions, regardless of any criminal technicalities. At the root of this is the question whether or not survivalism is to be viewed as a dangerous and criminal culture by society at large. If you accept that paradigm, then you have to accept that society is made up of survivalists and non survivalists, thus beginning the "Us Vs Them" mindset.
The siege ended with an ultimate tactical victory on the part of the government, but so many questions remained unanswered. For survivalists, the ultimate question was "will I be next?". In classic military textbooks on terrorism, we find it defined as violent force used against someone for the purpose of influencing the opinion or politics of another. Many felt that the attack on the Branch Davidians was taped not to document a common law enforcement action, but to intimidate and threaten survivalists and gun owners at large.
As a consequence, we saw a reprisal attack on a federal building and the formation of several organizations that became loosely known as the Militias. Many militias were formerly survival groups, and involved people who had experienced both natural and man made disasters and who felt that preparation for armed conflict was necessary not only for the preservation of their freedoms, but for their survival.
The survivalist movement, which had been around since the beginning of the Cold War seemed to be a near perfect match for the blossoming militia movement. In the eyes of many, attacks on Randy Weaver and the Branch Davidians signaled the beginning of a new cold war and the drawing of first blood by the enemies of freedom.
The question then for survivalists in the 21st century almost ten years after the Waco siege "Is Waco still relevant?" With a Republican president in the US and a Canadian government now aware of the un enforceability of their new gun laws, is there any reality to the notion of unprovoked attacks on survivalists by government forces?
For the average European viewing the events, it seemed that the battle between lunatic gun nuts and brutally sadistic law enforcement was all but inevitably comical. Having suffered major wars almost regularly, they eagerly awaited for the conflict in America that has not happened. Instead, their own back yards in the Balkans only got worse.
Perhaps it is something of the mutual respect that armed cowboys have for each other that has kept America relatively at peace. Having survived the cold war with the old Soviet Union though constraint and diplomacy, the new cold war within the US and Canada seems equally survivable. That cold war becomes all the more survivable as the events in Waco in 1993 fade into memory and are not repeated. It was said by one militia leader that "we will go away when the government stops killing nursing mothers and burning churches". Perhaps a benefit of this new cold war has been a growing conscience on the part of those in power that they there is a limit out there somewhere, some human rights abuse that will bring out the wrath of an armed people.
The question for the survivalist is whether or not the existence of this new cold war defines the paradigm of survivalism. There were survivalists long before the events in Waco, and there are likely to be survivalists long after. As time goes on, Waco will never lose its relevance, but it will no longer be center stage in the game. Let us hope the disaster is never repeated.
In retrospect we can see how several things contributed to the disaster in Waco. For the Davidians, I see their biggest failure was in their isolation. They had no reliable way to communicate with the outside world once they had been put under siege, and those opportunities were foolishly squandered by Mr. Howell. In fairness, many of those opportunities were carefully limited by the FBI. One of the biggest lessons of the Waco siege is importance of communication and networking. That alone is probably the most important strategic lesson of the events there. You can have all the weapons and ammunition you can handle, but if you are isolated and hungry, you are screwed.