Last September we reported, according to news video of the last day of the Branch Davidian siege provided by Indianapolis attorney Linda Thompson, that it appeared one of the tanks spouted flames from the muzzle of its cannon as it moved in and out of a building at Mt. Carmel, apparently setting the complex ablaze. Unfortunately, the video we received from Ms. Thompson was not an original and had been edited to only show certain scenes. Subsequently, the California Organization for Public Safety (COPS), a private watchdog group, obtained the original CBS footage as well as footage from other sources covering much more of the final moments of the siege. It released its version late last year.

Although both versions show what appear to be flames coming from the cannon of a tank backing out of a building, the COPS video continues for a crucial 1.5 minutes and clearly shows that what at first appears to be flames is a piece of shiny building material, triangular in shape, reflecting sunlight. As the camera pans back to the hole created by the tank, there is no smoke or other evidence of fire. In a separate frame, a similar piece of material falls to the ground as another tank pulls away from a different section of wall.

It is not clear whether Linda Thompson had sufficient footage from her source to see the entire event. Her misinterpretation may have been an honest mistake. She disputes the COPS version alleging that COPS is a government front and its video part of a conspiracy to cover up the truth. At this point, there is no evidence to support her allegations. The FBI and officials at Ft. Hood were unable to provide an adequate explanation for the scene, but that may have been more a result of bewilderment than of a coverup. Nevertheless, the COPS version successfully refutes the "flamethrower tank" theory propounded by Linda Thompson and others.

The same video, while exonerating the FBI from the charge of using flame throwing tanks to torch the Davidian complex, shows that their men may have inadvertently started the first fire at Mt. Carmel by causing the collapse of the gymnasium roof. The FBI's report to the Attorney General admits that several Branch Davidians — 30 or so including women and children — suffered "blunt trauma injuries" as the gymnasium roof fell upon them. The news footage shows tanks knocking down the walls of the gymnasium thereby causing the roof to collapse. The FBI's photo from Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) published in the Justice Department's report indicates an intense heat signature coming from the rubble of the collapsed gymnasium some 8 minutes before the FBI contends the fire started in another part of the complex. Subsequent FLIR photos show an expanding infrared plume spreading from the original source. Since the FBI had turned off all power to Mt. Carmel weeks earlier, it is reasonable to assume that collapsing portions of the gymnasium walls and roof overturned kerosene lanterns, gas stoves, and other fuel carrying appliances used by the Davidians for heating, lighting, and cooking.

Even after the trial of 11 surviving Branch Davidians, there is still no clear indication of who started the fires which consumed the Mt. Carmel center on April 19. The Thompson and COPS videos do not answer that question. They do, however, provide a clearer view of what happened. They also serve as a warning to those who presume to know more than the facts dictate, or who read their own prejudices into events. The truth will eventually manifest and damage their credibility.

But to exonerate the FBI in one instance is not to exonerate it in another. Its conduct of the siege makes Santa Ana's investment of the Alamo in 1836 appear honorable. Santa Ana's band serenaded the Alamo defenders with lively, stirring music only in the evenings. The FBI kept the Branch Davidians awake many nights with the cries of dying rabbits, dentists' drills, and other disturbing noises. When he sounded the "Deguello," Santa Ana made his intentions clear. It was surrender or die. The FBI often misled the Branch Davidians, their attorney Dick DeGuerin, and the press as to its intentions. On April 19, its spokesman told the besieged Davidians via loudspeakers that "This is not an assault" as tanks crashed through the walls of their complex. Santa Ana spared the women, children, and servants. He didn't bum down the Alamo. Almost half of those who perished at Mt. Carmel were women and children. Americans then and now consider Santa Ana's Texas campaign barbaric. What does that make the FBI's Mt. Carmel siege?

Next issue we will bring some final comments on the Branch Davidian jury, plus some other related news items.

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