As the armed standoff between federal agents and religious cult members continues into the third week, the Tribune-Herald gains strength as a nationwide magnet for weird comments and suggestions.

God has called here several times. He wants us to connect him with his son holed up outside Waco. Figuring God doesn’t need the assistance of either AT&T or the Tribune-Herald, our switchboard operator politely refuses God, which must give her a strange feeling.

A great number of the calls, cards and letters we receive offer individual scriptural interpretations and suggestions to end the standoff that began Feb. 28 when a federal assault team waged a 45-minute pitched gunbattle with a self-anointed messiah and his heavily armed disciples.

Four federal agents were killed and 16 were wounded when Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents attempted to serve arrest and search warrants on the Branch Davidians’ Mount Carmel compound 10 miles east of Waco. Cult members also were killed and wounded. The siege continues.

Anti-government throng

My biggest surprise concerning this glut of commentary flooding into the newspaper continues to be the volume of vehement anti-government sentiment, which is overwhelming expressions of support for the federal agents. I have written about this phenomenon in earlier columns only to be rewarded with more anti-government calls and letters. Most of these people say they also would shoot armed federal agents who dared set foot on their property. Many feel so threatened that they’re ready to start an armed revolution against the federal government.

These people are not just from this area. They’re everywhere. Those who bother me the most sound educated, articulate and reasonable. I expected reaction from red-neck mouth-breathers. I got it. But it’s the mass of well-spoken ones who give me the willies. They’ve given up on the federal government. It’s no longer their government.

For the paranoid crowd, the government now belongs to the bankers, the internationalists, the liberals, the socialists, the mass media, the intellectuals, the Zionists, the minorities, the atheists, the free-traders, the Federalists, the environmentalists, the gun-control nuts, the paper money advocates, and any number of other subversive groups.

Allegiance to militia

Other anti-government callers philosophically oppose federal government. Many feel there should be a national militia to protect citizens from foreign aggression and perhaps some form of local law enforcement, such as a sheriff. That’s it. Everything goes as long as no one bothers anyone else.

A friend tells me this line of thinking is a logical extension of the American concept of rugged individualism, which has its roots in the American Revolution, the Constitution and in today’s culture. America’s emphasis on individual liberties is an international anomaly that often causes cultural clashes in foreign relations as well as within our own nation.

Early American settlers fought a war to overthrown restrictive controls of King George. Early Texas settlers fought a war to overthrow the restrictive controls of the Mexican government.

As a matter of fact, an anti-government writer from Indiana points out the similarities of the situation at Mount Carmel to a group of strong-minded individuals who in 1836 gathered in a mission in San Antonio to resist an assault by federal troops. The Alamo is embedded in the soul of all native Texans. So Texans, of all people, the writer said, should understand the feelings of the Branch Davidians who resisted the armed assault of federal agents.

I’m sorry, but this native Texan doesn’t accept the comparison.

Rowland Nethaway’s column appears Wednesday and Fridays.


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.