An FBI spokesman Friday compared Branch Davidian leader Vernon Howell’s latest offer to come out of Mount Carmel to one of the most famous scenes in comics history.
“It’s like the Peanuts cartoon — is Lucy going to pull that football out one more time? We get the impression that’s probably what’s going to happen,” Agent Bob Ricks told reporters at Friday’s press briefing.
Howell, also known as David Koresh, told attorney Dick DeGuerin and federal agents that he will leave the compound after completing a book-length manuscript on the Seven Seals. Those seals, from the Bible’s Book of Revelation, are central to the Branch Davidian apocalyptic theology.
Ricks made it plain, in remarks as much directed to those listening on the radio inside Mount Carmel as to reporters, that federal agents aren’t expecting great things from Howell’s latest promise.
“Is this just another lame excuse put out by Mr. Koresh to stall the proceedings? Based on his past track record, you would probably have to assume that was probably the case,” Ricks said.
Ricks ticked off three other times in the siege, which began Feb. 28 after a failed raid that left four federal agents and an estimated six cult members dead, when agents were certain that a resolution was imminent.
Once again, Ricks noted, “They refuse to be pinned down on any time certain when this will take place.”
“We have a situation where we’ll now see if he’s going to bat 0-4 — or do we trust him one more time?” Ricks said.
That much was typical from a briefing full of jabs at Howell and his followers. Ricks had barbs for Howell’s trustworthiness, his educational level, the marital status of one of his wives, and what the American public thinks of the Branch Davidian sect.
“I think if there is any reflection done by the American public, they are reviewed as odd-balls, people who are on a mission without a cause, if you will,” Ricks said. “I think his writings indicate he is concerned he is being made a spectacle of. The message is not getting out.”
Indeed, Ricks said, the epic task of writing down the meanings of the Seven Seals may be in response to that perception.
“I think they’ve lost any momentum they had. And that may be why he wants to document what he wants to document,” he said. “As you can see from the people around here, obviously the interest has greatly waned on what is going on inside that compound.”
So work continues on Howell’s magnum opus. Ricks said he was told Howell’s writings on the first seal alone were three days in the making and took up 28 to 30 hand-written pages prior to editing. That would bring the finished manuscript to more than 200 pages and would mean a completion date around May 4, he said.
He added that the task of writing the manuscript is only the beginning of putting it into final form. Steve Schneider, Howell’s right-hand man, will have to go through and edit the text.
“Mr. Koresh does not have anything more than a ninth-grade education, so he does not write very well. Everything will have to be rewritten,” Ricks said.
The amount of news coming out of the Mount Carmel standoff has dropped so much that federal agents have canceled Sunday’s press briefing with the blessing of reporters still here.
News organizations that came swarming down in the first days of the siege continued the process of pruning their Waco operations. Patches of prime real estate are opening up along the side of FM 2491, where reporters and technicians have been camped since early March. Television stations are cutting back on crews or pulling out altogether.
Meanwhile, the families of those inside the compound disputed FBI contentions that their messages to loved ones are being delivered.
Ricks told reporters that those messages are being delivered. In some cases he said, tapes provided by relatives are being played over loudspeakers to make sure the messages are getting through.
“Some of those are being quite effective,” Ricks said. “We’re doing a lot of things they say you should do in there — and that is maintain the ties they have with family messages.
“Very much so we want them tied into the real world,” Ricks said. “You’re still talking about a very hardened core group of people who are dedicated to David Koresh.”
Balenda Ganem, the mother of cult member David Thibodeau, has taken on the role of spokeswoman for several families. She said she has been told just the opposite — that the messages from families have not been delivered recently.
Letters and taped messages from families to loved ones have not been delivered for the past two weeks, she said.
“We would be really pleased to have confirmation that they were doing that,” she said.
Ganem also returned to a long-standing argument — that families should have a role in the negotiations.
Ganem said the families want to get to their loved ones to help them break their allegiance to Howell.
“The sooner they break from him, the better for authorities,” she said. “The families realize how delicate the situation is on both sides, and we’d like to do what we could.”
But Ricks said agents remain unconvinced that sending relatives in will help break the impasse.
“With 96 people in there and each with multiple family members, who would you let in and what would that accomplish?” he asked.
In court action Friday, U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. rejected an appeal of a magistrate’s detention order by cult member Kevin Whitecliff and ordered him held without bond.
Waco attorney Marlin Blackledge asked Smith to release Whitecliff, saying that besides the indictment against him, the government has produced no evidence to prove that the Honolulu resident, who has never been arrested, is a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Assistant U.S. Attorney John Convery, however, countered that with the serious nature of the charges against him comes the presumption that he is a flight risk and dangerous.
Whitecliff is charged with conspiracy to murder a federal officer and using a firearm to commit a felony.
Blackledge said the secretive way federal prosecutors are proceeding in light of the continuing standoff could prove soon to be an impediment to developing a defense. Many court documents and other evidence necessary for Whitecliff’s defense remain sealed, Blackledge said.
Smith has set a tentative trial date for Whitecliff in June.