Maybe it is to be expected that a religious group charged with breaking the law would allege religious persecution, or that critics of the government would say the same.

But the religion of the Branch Davidians is not even secondary to the criminal allegations being made against them by law enforcement and by former cult members. Religion is just confusing window dressing in this tragedy — baggy camouflage.

The weapons charges being pressed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms are just one of several serious allegations that have been made. Some people — people with only circumferential knowledge of the matter — want to say that what we have is simply a dispute involving the First Amendment (freedom of religion) and Second Amendment (freedom to bear arms.)

Far from it. Consider former cult members’ allegations that Vernon Howell, also known as David Koresh, had sex with girls as young as 12, possibly with their parents’ consent. Consider the allegation that he beat infants, that he arranged for sham marriages to circumvent immigration laws, that he compiled a “hit list” of former cult members, that he engaged in polygamy and sired many illegitimate children.

We haven’t even mentioned weapons yet.

Add illegal weapons to the allegations -explosives, machine guns and semiautomatic converted to automatics — and you have a dire situation, clearly meriting state, local and federal investigation.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms’ strategy may have been questionable but not its intent — and not the compelling threat to public safety to which ATF agents were responding. Indeed, the ATF could have arrested Howell away from the compound. But that doesn’t mean his followers would have reacted to a subsequent search warrant in any way other than how they did Feb. 28.

A surprising number of Americans are deluding themselves in their zeal to proclaim their own government the “Great Satan.” They should ask themselves who they expect to protect them from murderers, from child molesters, from terrorists.

Some people also are deceiving themselves when they say that the Branch Davidians were harming no one. They say that these people were at Mount Carmel by choice, each simply exercising freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Each of them, except the children.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part 2 appeared in print, the ATF raided the group's compound.

Read the Tribune-Herald’s account of the ATF raid on the Branch Davidian compound on Feb. 28, 1993. Four ATF agents and six in the compound were killed in the gunfight.

Read the daily news accounts of the 51-day siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Elk, which began Feb. 28 and lasted until April.

April 19 and beyond: FBI agents began inserting canisters of tear gas into the Branch Davidian compound in the early morning hours. By noon, it was on fire.

Federal officials left the compound site in late May 1993. As identifications of bodies continued, questions about the survivors, the compound and the cult itself began to emerge.

As the world began to take a critical look back at the events and legal proceedings continue, the ATF's bombshell report forces a shakeup at the top after the raid gone "tragically wrong."

In 1994, the surviving Davidians went on trial in San Antonio. Over six weeks, more than 140 witnesses testified, with the verdict coming just two days prior to the anniversary of the ATF raid.

The Rodenville shootout and the 1988 trial, the end of the world in 1959 and more stories from deep in the Trib archives.