Apr 18, 2007

Waco, Virginia Tech and Violence

As we mourn the violence of the deadliest mass shooting by one individual in US history, it’s worth pausing to note the grim anniversary of another tragedy.

Tomorrow, April 19, marks the fourteenth anniversary of the killing of 76 Branch Davidians at Waco, including 21 children, after the deadly FBI assault on their church and home.

I remember it well.

In April 1993, I had written a letter of encouragement to Attorney General Janet Reno, urging her to stand tall in the shower of condemnation following the FBI attack and lethal fire.

I felt little good will toward the religious-minded in general, even less so for those benighted whackos from Texas, as I believed the Branch Davidians to be.
But after further investigation, the Waco attack demonstrated that a bias against the religious-minded among us can be as blinding and deafening as any religious dogma.

And Waco reminds us that violence, the abdication of humanity, is something that we as individuals and a society must work to prevent, at least by employing it as a last resort.

The lies and propaganda justifying the deadly violence at Waco have been well-documented and exposed. See the following:

- David Thibodeau. "A Place Called Waco" (BBS, 1999), lauded by Howard Zinn as "An extraordinary account of one of the most shameful episodes in recent American history."

- James Tabor and Eugene Gallagher. "Why Waco? Cults and the Battle for Religious Freedom in America" (UC Press, 1995), described by Ramsey Clark as "a critically important book"

- the Grammy-winning, Oscar-nominated documentary "Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997)"

In Waco: The Rules of Engagement, a powerful segment presents Sheriff Jack Harwell of McLennan County (Waco), Texas, as he speaks of his dealings with the Branch Davidians in a southern drawl, near tears.

"They were all good people. They had different beliefs than others, different beliefs than I have, maybe different beliefs than you have in their way of life. … But basically they were good people. I was around them quite a lot. ... I liked them," said the sympathetic sheriff.

Human beings are likeable entities, so whether they be Branch Davidians, Iraqis, or somebody different from you and me, let’s honor the dead at Virginia Tech, Waco, and other tragedies by thinking anew about ways of preventing violence and promoting peace among the living.

Perhaps we could put in a little extra effort to stop the US occupation of Iraq where the Iraqis experience several Virginia Tech-like massacres a day.

- This is an edited version of a previously published piece, Clinton, Reno and Waco, Remember What They've Done, that appeared in Counterpunch, June 5, 2003.

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