The son of a Branch Davidian cult member claims the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has investigated and harassed him in an effort to silence his criticism of the agency.
But an ATF spokesman in Washington, D.C., doubts the man would be singled out for such action.
Mark Bunds, son of cult member Don Bunds and half-brother of former cult member Robyn Bunds, said the bureau’s actions were possibly at the request of his estranged father, who may be cooperating with federal authorities.
Other people interviewed by the Tribune-Herald support Bunds’ story that he was questioned by ATF about public statements.
“Paranoid ever since”
Bunds, who is critical of the ATF’s Feb. 28 raid that left four agents dead, said ATF agent Jack Barnett confiscated a collector’s gun from his car, searched him for a “wire,” “interrogated” him and told him to sign a document during a late-night March 9 interview.
“I’ve been paranoid ever since,” Bunds said. “I’ve been more afraid of them than Vernon’s hit list.
“I’ve been critical of ATF. A lot of people have been critical,” Bunds said. “My opinion is that the agents who went in there were very correct . . . but the administration was negligent.”
When contacted by phone last week, Barnett said little about this conversation with Bunds.
“You know I feel this way: It’s you all’s job to report the news, not make the news.”
But Barnett confirmed Bunds had signed a form pledging not to make false statements. When asked if Bunds was saying something he wasn’t supposed to be saying, Barnett said, “The way he was telling us, that’s true.”
During the interview, Bunds said, Barnett told him he could not stop him from talking to the media. But Barnett said Bunds was making “false statements” that could jeopardize the investigation and negotiations with the cult.
“He said it was a sensitive issue — men had died,” Bunds said, adding Barnett was “threatening” in his demeanor. “He didn’t want me to speak at all.”
Barnett pointed to an article in USA Today as an example of false statements, Bunds said. The article described Bunds as an ex-cult member, Bunds said, but it wasn’t a gross misrepresentation.
Bunds, 32, is head service technician for Thompson Appliance in Waco. He was a member of the Branch Davidians 16 years ago, long before cult leader Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, took over.
Barnett indicated to him he didn’t like how Bunds was describing former cult members, Bund said.
“He made it very clear he didn’t want me portraying a pretty picture of these people,” Bunds said. “ATF ‘screwed up and they know it. So they don’t want these people to be nice people.”
“If they make all these people monsters . . . it’s going to turn public opinion against all these people,” which Bunds says isn’t fair because not everyone in there is guilty.
Bunds also said the ATF agent had a “fat file” on him, and Barnett questioned him about the contents of three express mail packages from different media that he received in March. Barnett also questioned him about phone calls to the FBI about his father and to several news organizations.
“How did he know that?” Bunds asked, adding that he found the whole thing “very disturbing.”
David Holland, manager of Thompson Appliance and Bunds’ boss, said he received two calls and one visit from ATF agents March 9.
During the second call, Holland said, he asked the caller if he was with the ATF. The caller said he was and then asked if agents could meet with Holland about Bunds.
That afternoon, Holland said, two agents in ATF uniforms told him they weren’t trying to get Bunds in trouble, but he was talking “bad” about the ATF to the media and they needed to let him know he shouldn’t be saying those things because an investigation was under way.
“They did tell me this, that they were going to give him a paper” and tell him what is rights are, Holland said.
Holland said he doesn’t remember the names of the agents.
Bunds said the paper the agents were probably referring to was a form he signed saying he understands section 1001 of Title 18 of U.S. Code. Bunds said Barnett told him to sign it if Bunds understood the statement.
Among other things, the section says that if someone falsifies a material fact or lies in any matter within the jurisdiction of any U.S. agency, he will be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned up to five years, or both.
Told to keep quiet
Barnett also told Bunds he could get a court order to have Bunds held for obstruction of justice and arrange for further interviews with the FBI and Texas Rangers if he did not cooperate and keep quiet.
Bunds said he does not believe the code pertains to speaking with the media.
Jack Killorin, ATF spokesman in Washington, said Section 1001 is a law regarding giving false information to the government in a matter within its jurisdiction.
But Killorin added that people are responsible for what they say to the media.
“If I say something to you, I had best be willing to say the same thing in court,” Killorin said, giving an example. “All we ask of anybody is that they speak the truth.”
Killorin said that the form concerns giving false information to the government and has nothing to do with the media.
“If we chose to give those to people talking to the media we could paper Waco with them,” Killorin said of Section 1001.
“Why would he be the only one who got one?” Killorin asked.
Bunds said he thinks he was singled out because of his father, who he believes is working with authorities.
Killorin said he could not comment on whether Don Bunds is working with the agency.
The Washington Post reported on March 4 that Don Bunds had been arrested just before the Feb. 28 raid and was being held without bond on federal firearms violations.
But Jerry Singer, an ATF media spokesman working in Waco, said there was no arrest information on Don Bunds.
Trying to find father
Bunds said soon after the raid that he tried to find the condition of his father, who he thought was inside the Mount Carmel compound. Bunds said he heard the report of a 62-year-old man arrested just before the raid. His father is the same age, so he started making inquiries with local law enforcement.
He said he contacted Sgt. Malissa Sims at the Waco Police Department, who through the FBI was able to tell him his father was last reported to be at Kingsway Inn North.
Sims confirmed where his father was, but she said she would not have helped him if she had known Don Bunds did not want to talk to Mark, as she later learned.
At the motel, a switchboard operator confirmed this week that a man by the name of Don Bonds had checked out several weeks ago.
Bunds said when he contacted his father March 4 at the Kingsway Inn, his father would not talk to him.
Bunds said he was preparing to go on the Phil Donahue show that week, but his wife did not want him to leave town.
“Put the fear of God”
Karen Bunds said she talked to her father-in-law at the motel March 6 to ask him to stop her husband from going on the show. She said Don Bunds told her that he had been “working side by side with ATF for some time now” and that he would not go on the show.
Karen Bunds said she was concerned about all the interviews her husband was giving and wanted him to stay home. She said she was afraid because the standoff had not been settled.
Bunds said he was first contacted for an interview by ATF on March 7. He agreed because he thought they would give him more information about his father.
On March 9, Bunds got the call from Barnett to meet him at 8:15 p.m. at the U.S. Attorney’s office at University Tower.
Bunds said he met Barnett in the parking lot. He had to hand over a 1922 Browning .32 caliber collector’s gun with no clip or ammunition that was in his car after Barnett asked him to turn over any guns he might have. Barnett told him it was illegal to carry a gun in Texas.
After the meeting, Barnett called Waco police and turned Bunds’ gun over to them in the parking lot, Bunds said.
A Waco police report confirms that at 9:35 p.m. March 9, police responded to a call in the parking lot at University Tower for unlawfully carrying a weapon.
Waco Police Sgt Dennis Kidwell confirmed Barnett called police to turn over the gun after talking with Mark Bunds.
Kidwell said no charges were filed in the incident. Another police spokeswoman said the gun was taken for “safekeeping.”