A quarter-century later, 'dark theories' still hover over Waco siege

It was called Operation Trojan Horse, a raid by agents of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in search of what they said were illegal weapons being made by a religious sect outside Waco.

The gun battle that ensued left six members of the Branch Davidians — a breakaway Seventh Day Adventist sect — and four ATF agents dead and set the stage for a 51-day siege of a communal residence known as Mount Carmel. It would end on April 19, 1993, amid tanks and tear gas, in an inferno in which 76 people, including 21 children, perished.

Even as it was happening, it generated conspiracy theories about how and why such a show of government might — and military might at that — was brought to bear with such disastrous results.

Waco, as the tragic fiasco came to be known, introduced America to David Koresh, rocked the early days of the Clinton administration, made an indelible impression in Austin on an Anderson High School senior named Alex Jones and fanned the flames of the right-wing militia movement, setting Timothy McVeigh on the path to blowing up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the Mount Carmel fire as payback.

Whether the Waco siege was federal law enforcement run amok, a botched but well-intentioned effort to seize illegal weapons, or something in between is still a matter of fierce debate 25 years later.

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