Monday, March 28, 2011

You'll Have to Ask Janet Reno, I Don't Know Anything About That

If you have any doubts about the ability of the media to make or smother a story, you need look no further than the 1993 Waco invasion.  At the risk of sounding like a crazed conspiracy theorist along the lines of a 911 "truther," the evidence strongly suggests that the FBI, along with certain Army Delta Force personnel, set the Waco building ablaze, and shot anyone trying to escape.  That is, the government killed approximately 80 citizens (including 20 children!) for the crime of...well, that's unclear.  And this happened while CNN cameras rolled.  And no federal authorities were charged with wrongdoing.

Because of the high-profile nature of the Waco siege and the tireless efforts of certain documentary filmakers (notably Michael McNulty, who did the work behind the Academy-award nominated "Waco: Rules of Engagement"), the nauseating murders and astounding abuse of power which occurred at Waco have not been completely suppressed.  But it should be eye-opening, to say the least, for any American to think that what happened at Waco could be so misunderstood, and by design.  If you ask almost anyone their opinion of Waco and what happened, it's very likely that they think this was (a) a right-wing, white "cult" of some sort, involved in stockpiling  illegal weapons and some sort of child abuse, and (b) that the "cult" members burned down their own building, in an act of mass-suicide.  That is, if they know Waco from Jonestown.  Both of those claims are either demonstrably untrue (eg, guns owned by the group were legal, something like thirty of those killed at Waco were black, the FBI has now admitted to using pyrotechnic devices capable of starting a fire, and there were no allegations of child abuse that were part of the Waco invasion) or, viewed in the most favorable light possible, mere conjecture.  Yet, that remains the enduring public perception.
So, what is the point of this?  Why should you or I care about what happend to a bunch of Christian nutjobs in central Texas almost two decades ago?  It's that possibly the most important element of a free and healthy society- a watchdog media- is absent today.  In this instance, the media was unsympathetic to the Waco victims because a) the illegal acts committed by federal forces reflected poorly on a Democratic administration, and b) the victims were a self-selected group of religious zealots, and therefore not "normal" people like you or I (although hard to see how that logic applies to the twenty kids).

Waco is actually important in its own right, as its ramifications are stark and long-reach, including:
a) the Oklahoma City Bombing (American terrorist Timothy McVeigh's purported "retaliation" for the Waco invasion), which killed another 170 Americans
b) the death of White House Deputy Counsel Vince Foster (the subject of much conspiracy-theorizing in its own right, Foster's apparent suicide was, in this person's eyes, very likely the result of guilt and horror over his role as White House point person for the Waco invasion)
and c) continued corruption in the office of the Attorney General (Eric Holder is a holdover from the Reno era).

But the most important takeaway is, like the misleading justifications for the Iraq war, the nonexistent murder investiagion of Pat Tillman, and the supposed moon landing in 1969 (just kidding), no lie is too big to think the government wouldn't attempt.  We need a true, nonpartisan media force doing real journalism, and if that exists now I am unacquainted with it (it seems that educated people largely
get their news from sources that parrot their artificial world view (the NYT and Huffington Post if you're a liberal, the NY Post, Limbaugh and/or Breitbart if you're a conservative)). 

I'm not nearly as conspiratorial (or humorless!) as this initial post might suggest.  It's just that, to me, studying Waco encouraged a profound shift in the way I view government and the media.  It's hard to watch "Waco: Rules of Engagement" and feel much enthusiasm for "big government."  I don't know what the answer is (Ron Paul and the Libertarian Party?), I just know that my eyes are more fully open now.  And I guess that's a good thing.

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