Time: Mon Sep 22 12:28:25 1997
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Date: Mon, 22 Sep 1997 12:16:14 -0700
To: (Recipient list suppressed)
From: Paul Andrew Mitchell [address in tool bar]
Subject: SLS: Roger Ebert on Waco film (fwd)

>*Jus Dare*
>Roger Ebert on Waco film
>*Jus Dare*
>Roger Ebert on Waco film
>WACO: THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT / *** 1/2 (Not rated)
>September 19, 1997
>A documentary directed and edited by William Gazecki. Running time: 135
>minutes. No MPAA rating (scenes of violence and corpses; unsuitable for
>younger viewers).
>Like many news-drenched Americans, I paid only casual attention to the
>standoff at Waco, Texas, between the Branch Davidians and two agencies of
>the federal government. I came away with the vague impression that the
>``cult,'' as it was always styled, was a group of gun-toting crackpots, that
>they killed several U.S. agents, refused to negotiate and finally shot
>themselves and burned down their ``compound'' after the feds tried to end
>the siege peacefully with tear gas.
>Watching William Gazecki's remarkable documentary ``Waco: The Rules of
>Engagement,'' I am more inclined to use the words ``religion'' than
>``cult,'' and ``church center'' than ``compound.'' Yes, the Branch Davidians
>had some strange beliefs, but no weirder than those held by many other
>religions. And it is pretty clear, on the basis of this film, that the
>original raid was staged as a publicity stunt, and the final raid was a
>government riot--a tragedy caused by uniformed boys with toys.
>Of course I am aware that ``Waco'' argues its point of view, and that there
>is no doubt another case to be made. What is remarkable, watching the film,
>is to realize that the federal case has not been made. Evidence has been
>``lost,'' files and reports have ``disappeared,'' tapes have been returned
>blank, participants have not testified and the ``crime scene,'' as a Texas
>Ranger indignantly testifies, was not preserved for investigation, but razed
>to the ground by the FBI--presumably to destroy evidence.
>The film is persuasive because:
>1. It presents testimony from both sides, and shies away from cheap shots.
>We feel we are seeing a fair attempt to deal with facts.
>2. Those who attack the government are not simply lawyers for the Branch
>Davidians or muckraking authors (although they are represented) but also
>solid middle-American types like the county sheriff, the district Texas
>Rangers, the FBI photographer on the scene, and the man who developed and
>patented some of the equipment used by the FBI itself to film devastating
>footage that appears to show its agents firing into the buildings--even
>though the FBI insists it did not fire a single shot.
>3. The eyes of the witnesses. We all have built-in truth detectors, and
>although it is certainly possible for us to be deceived, there is a human
>instinct that is hard to fool. Those who argue against the government in
>this film seem to be telling the truth, and their eyes seem to reflect inner
>visions of what they believe happened, or saw happen. Most of the government
>defenders, including an FBI spokesman and Attorney General Janet Reno, seem
>to be following rehearsed scripts and repeating cant phrases. Reno comes
>across particularly badly: Either she was misled by the FBI and her aides,
>or she was completely out of touch with what was happening.
>If the film is to be believed, the Branch Davidians were a harmless if
>controversial group of religious zealots, their beliefs stretching back many
>decades, who were singled out for attention by the Bureau of Alcohol,
>Tobacco and Firearms for offenses, real or contrived, involving the
>possession of firearms--which is far from illegal in Texas. The ATF hoped by
>raiding the group to repair its tarnished image. And when four of its
>agents, and several Davidians, were killed in a misguided raid, they played
>cover-up and turned the case over to the FBI, which mishandled it even more
>What is clear, no matter which side you believe, is that during the final
>deadly FBI raid on the buildings, a toxic and flammable gas was pumped into
>the compound even though women and children were inside. ``Tear gas'' sounds
>innocent, but this type of gas could undergo a chemical transformation into
>cyanide, and there is a pitiful shot of an 8-year-old child's body bent
>double, backward, by the muscular contractions caused by cyanide.
>What comes through strongly is the sense that the attackers were ``boys with
>toys.'' The film says many of the troops were thrilled to get their hands on
>real tanks. Some of the law-enforcement types were itching to ``stop
>standing around.'' One SWAT team member boasts he is ``honed to kill.''
>Nancy Sinatra's ``These Boots Are Made for Walking'' was blasted over
>loudspeakers to deprive those inside of sleep (the memory of that
>harebrained operation must still fill the agents with shame).
>When the time came, on April 19, 1993, the agents were apparently ready to
>rock 'n' roll. Heat-sensitive films taken by the FBI and interpreted by
>experts seem to show FBI agents firing into the compound, firing on an
>escape route after the fires were started, and deliberately operating on the
>side of the compound hidden from the view of the press. No evidence is
>presented that those inside started fires or shot themselves. Although many
>dead Davidians were indeed found with gunshot wounds, all of the bullets and
>other evidence has been impounded by the FBI.
>Whatever happened at Waco, these facts remain: It is not against the law to
>hold irregular religious beliefs. It is not illegal to hold and trade
>firearms. It is legal to defend your own home against armed assault, if that
>assault is illegal. It is impossible to see this film without reflecting
>that the federal government, from the top down, treated the Branch Davidians
>as if those rights did not apply.
>Copyright c Chicago-Sun-Times Inc.
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Paul Andrew Mitchell                 : Counselor at Law, federal witness
B.A., Political Science, UCLA;  M.S., Public Administration, U.C. Irvine

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