Washington — Federal officials closely monitored the four-day standoff Wednesday amid fears that the situation could end in “a Jonestown possibility” like the mass suicide in Guyana 15 years ago.
Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen said in an interview that he and President Clinton discussed the standoff late Sunday and agreed to proceed cautiously with the deployment of federal law enforcement officials so as not to “spook” the cult leaders or further endanger the lives of scores of members holed up on a compound outside Waco.
“We were sharing the concern that we would be in the defensive mode at that point. We were concerned particularly about the women and children,” Bentsen said. “We were always concerned about a Jonestown possibility.”
In 1978, more than 900 followers of religious cultist Jim Jones died after abiding by his commandment to drink a deadly potion at the Peoples Temple in Jonestown, Guyana.
Bentsen, a former Texas senator whose department oversees the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, praised ATF agents for their efforts. He said allegations that the agents had botched a Sunday raid would be reviewed “when all this is through.”
“You always go in when you have a major operation like that and evaluate it after the fact, as to its effectiveness,” Bentsen said.
“There was incredible bravery on the part of a number of ATF people,” Bentsen said. “We’ve had marvelous cooperation between the FBI and ATF. We’re in full communication. I think the ATF is still carrying a good part of the negotiations.”
Bentsen declined to discuss the details of those negotiations.