When federal agents finally outwit or dislodge cult leader David Koresh and his deadly flock from their religious compound outside Waco, government officials have promised a thorough investigation into the botched Feb. 28 raid.

Ridiculous, claim government critics. Once again, it’s the government investigating the government. There may be a few scapegoats thrown to the public, but the government will never find itself guilty of any significant wrongdoing, say the critics of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms assault on the heavily fortified compound. Four ATF agents and an unknown number of cult members died in the 45-minute Sunday morning shootout.

Anti-government critics continue to flood the Tribune-Herald with advice and comments. They note that the last time the government investigated the ATF following another highly publicized bungled raid, no agents were punished and the organization was elevated to bureau status despite calls for its breakup.

Actually, when you stop to think about it, who can take action against the government other than the government? A private citizen has no more power to act against the government than the government is willing to extend to him.

The judicial system, which is a branch of government, is supposed to act as a check against the other two branches of government. But what would happen if the courts failed to act as a check? What would happen if the legislative or the executive branches decided to ignore the courts? As I recall, Andrew Jackson once said of a Supreme Court decision he didn’t like, “Mr. [Chief Justice Oliver Wendell] Holmes has made his decision. Now let’s see him enforce it.”

System built on trust

The entire system is built on trust. We trust that our incomparable military will continue to obey our elected civilians. We trust our elected politicians to act in our best interests. We trust our courts, our government agencies and our public servants to spend our tax dollars wisely and to perform their duties responsibly. When trust goes, so does the glue that holds our government and our society together.

To my astonishment, the ATF’s Feb. 28 raid and the subsequent government siege have opened my eyes to the fact a great many Americans have already lost trust in their government. Particularly the federal law enforcement agencies.

Well regulated government

Many Americans feel our forefathers gave us the right to keep and bear arms as a safeguard against government usurpation of individual rights. Perhaps that was the intent in late 1700’s, but I think a well-regulated government is more important to America’s survival than a well armed citizenry. I prefer my government based on citizen involvement, government responsibility and trust, rather than armed mutual distrust.

To that end, it is imperative that citizens insist the government officials never resort to official lies. Government officials who lie to the public — even when they consider it is for a good reason — delude themselves and weaken the republic. Trust keeps the world’s oldest democracy from turning into another Somalia.

Many people have questioned ATF claims that an armed assault was the best way to serve arrest and search warrants for illegal weapons. After saying for weeks that drugs had nothing to do with the raid, critics now question ATF’s recent revelation of a possible cult methamphetamine lab, which justified use of state military equipment.

Many Americans distrust government so much they see lies and conspiracies everywhere, overlooking the serious criminal allegations leveled at Koresh, also known as Vernon Howell, and his cult.

Trust keeps our democracy together, not guns. We must constantly demand that government officials are scrupulously open and honest with the citizens they serve.

Rowland Nethaway’s column appears Wednesdays and Fridays.

Read the Tribune-Herald's 7-part investigative series on the inner workings of the Branch Davidians. Hours after Part Two 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.

Read the accounts of 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.