About 20 people toting unloaded automatic and semi-automatic weapons rallied in Northcrest Saturday morning in support for the right to possess firearms.

Group members, who called themselves the Unorganized Militia, came from as far away as Ohio to attend the gathering, held on a patch of grass off Interstate 35 and Crest Drive.

The site is about two miles from the command post federal agents have set up at Texas State Technical School to coordinate their siege of the Branch Davidian cult at Mount Carmel.

Saturday’s meeting was organized last week by Indianapolis, Ind., lawyer Linda Thompson. It was the most recent of several public demonstrations by pro-gun and anti-government groups since the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms raided Mount Carmel to arrest cult leader Vernon Howell on charges of violating federal weapons laws.

Thompson said she expected 200 people to attend what was planned as a march.

After seeing the smaller crowd, group members decided instead to make speeches, elect officers and give the media a list of demands asked of the federal government regarding the 36-day Mount Carmel standoff.

Most of the people in the group carried semi-automatic assault rifles with their bolts pulled open and plastic rings threaded through them to prevent anyone from inserting a bullet and firing it.

Texas law permits most people to carry rifles and shotguns in public so long as they take no action to threaten a person or to breach the peace, according to McLennan County Assistant District Attorney Crawford Long.

“We’re sending a symbolic statement to the government that the militia is out there,” said Thompson, who wore a camouflage hat and jacket. “We are armed, we are law-abiding citizens, but we’re not going to have our homes broken into anymore and we’re not going to tolerate lawless government.”

Group members have requested that federal agents do several things, including:

  • Withdrawing the military tanks outside Mount Carmel, where Howell and his followers have been holed up since the Feb. 28 shootout.
  • Discontinuing their tactics of shining bright lights on Mount Carmel at night and blaring music from speakers.
  • Restoring telephone and utility services to the compound.

“We’ve also asked that at least one member of the unorganized militia be allowed to accompany anybody out of there when they do leave so that they’re not beaten up or shot,” said Thompson, who carried an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

When asked what the group would do if federal agents did not comply with their demands, Thompson said she didn’t know.

“We’ll have to think about it,” she said.

Thompson made clear that the group did not plan any kind of direct protest in front of the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents.

“I don’t think that would be good,” she said. “There’s no point in even trying to reason with people like that. If we were to have a confrontation it would be a bloody confrontation.”

David Troy, ATF’s chief of intelligence, said demonstrators like the unorganized militia are free to protest, but may not go beyond designated checkpoints.

“They call themselves the unorganized militia of the U.S., and based on our observations this morning, they are living up to that title,” he said. “I don’t think they prove a significant issue to anyone, and no, they will not be allowed past the checkpoint.”

Troy said group members may demonstrate within the law. He added, “If they go beyond that, the DPS will take whatever action necessary.”

Thompson speculated that the small showing was due in part to the weather and the taking down of signs at the site that publicized the demonstration. “We’ve also heard from people who were afraid to come because of the lawless activity of the feds,” she said.

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.