Fact Check

Hillary Clinton Was Responsible for the Waco Massacre?

Clinton was not in any position that would have given her authority to order or escalate the siege that ended with the deaths of 76 religious cult members in 1993.

Published Sep 14, 2016

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Hillary Clinton was responsible for the siege on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas, that ended with 76 civilian deaths.

As Hillary Clinton has risen to become one of the two people most likely to be the next president of the United States, so too have various legends and rumors implicating her in the deaths of everyone from Vince Foster to John F. Kennedy Jr. The latest rumor to crop up in 2016 is an accusation (which appears on conspiracy theory web sites under titles such as "WOMAN POWER: HILLARY CLINTON GAVE ORDER TO MURDER WACO BABIES" and "It Takes a Clinton to Murder a Village: Hillary Clinton Ordered Waco Massacre That Lead To The Death Of Woman And Children") holding that Hillary Clinton issued the order that resulted in the deaths of 76 religious cult members at the Branch Davidian compound in 1993.

When the FBI and other law enforcement agencies began their fateful 51-day standoff with a religious cult in Waco, Texas, known as the Branch Davidians on 28 February 1993, Bill Clinton had just taken office as President a month earlier. The Federal Bureau of Investigation was the lead agency on the issue, directing law enforcement operations during the standoff that started on a Sunday when agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) attempted to serve an arrest warrant on the group's leader, Vernon Howell (better known by an assumed name, David Koresh):

On February 28, 1993, at approximately 9:30 a.m. Central Time, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) came under heavy gunfire while attempting to execute an arrest warrant for Vernon Howell, otherwise known as David Koresh. The warrant authorized Koresh's arrest for federal firearms and explosives violations. An accompanying search warrant authorized the ATF agents to search the compound where Koresh and his followers, known as the Branch Davidians, lived near Waco, Texas. Four ATF agents were killed and sixteen were wounded during the shootout with the Branch Davidians on February 28. Additionally, a number of individuals inside the compound were killed and injured; however, the number killed by ATF gunfire cannot be precisely determined.

Within a few hours of the incident, and at the request of ATF officials, the FBI dispatched trained negotiators to the scene in Waco. By that afternoon, the FBI, in cooperation with the ATF and Department of Treasury officials, had also sent in advance units of its elite Hostage Rescue Team. The next day (March 1, 1993), also at the request of Treasury Department officials, the FBI became the lead agency responsible for resolving the standoff with the Branch Davidians.

The Branch Davidians, an offshoot of the Seventh Day Adventists, strongly believed that the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, and that the end of the world was approaching rapidly. The Davidians had armed themselves heavily in anticipation of an apocalyptic showdown with government agents, who they likened to the Babylonians and Assyrians of Biblical times. David Koresh had been the "prophet" or leader of the Davidians since 1987.

When the FBI assumed responsibility for resolving the standoff, it faced an unknown number of men, women, and children who had barricaded themselves in a large compound, and who refused to surrender. They were heavily armed with hundreds of weapons, including fully automatic machine guns and .50 caliber rifles, and with hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition. They had already demonstrated their willingness to use those weapons on February 28.

During the next 51 days, over 700 law enforcement personnel participated in the effort to end the standoff. Between 250 to 300 FBI personnel were present in Waco at any given time, along with hundreds of officers and agents from other federal, state, and local agencies.

The standoff finally ended on 19 April 1993, when the FBI attempted the expected non-lethal solution of introducing nonlethal tear gas into the compound and the Davidians responded by setting fire to the compound, culminating in a shootout with ATF agents:

Seven weeks after the standoff began, the Attorney General approved an FBI request to introduce nonlethal tear gas into the compound. The Attorney General based her decision on a number of factors, including the impasse in the negotiations, the extreme difficulty in maintaining a safe and secure perimeter around the compound, the risk of disease caused by deteriorating sanitary conditions in the compound, the remaining Davidians' refusal to leave any time in the foreseeable future, and the Davidians' ability to hold out for many more months, given their large stockpiles of food and water.

The Attorney General and her senior advisers, with input from the FBI and the U.S. military, reviewed several options before concluding that inserting tear gas was the only viable, non-lethal option. The plan was to insert gas periodically over a 48-hour period, to then withdraw, and then to wait as large numbers of people left the compound. The Attorney General approved the operation on Saturday, April 17, ordering that it be implemented beginning Monday, April 19.

On April 19, the FBI telephoned the compound at 5:59 a.m. to inform the Davidians that tear gas would be released into the compound, and to assure them that the FBI was not launching an assault. At 6:02 a.m., an FBI tank with an attached boom began inserting gas into the compound. The Davidians opened fire on the FBI's vehicle within two minutes.

At 12:07 p.m., the Davidians started simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound. This was established by a team of independent arson experts; by video shot from an aircraft utilizing Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR) technology; by observations of FBI agents who saw an individual appearing to light one of the fires; by statements from survivors admitting that the Davidians set the fires; and by [material redacted as required by statute]. The fires rapidly engulfed the compound in flames and smoke.

At approximately 12:25 p.m., the FBI agents closest to the compound heard what they described as "systematic" gunfire. Many agents believed at the time that those inside were killing themselves, killing each other, or both.

The remains of 75 individuals (50 adults and 25 children under age 15) were recovered in the ruins of the compound. At least 17 of those individuals died of gunshot wounds, including several children. Another child was stabbed to death. In addition to the 75 persons who died during the April 19 fire, five other bodies, all with gunshot wounds, also were recovered. Those five bodies were of the Davidians presumably killed during the February 28 shootout with the ATF. Some of those five bodies showed evidence of having been shot from inside the compound. At least one of those five bodies showed evidence of suicide.

So how could Hillary Clinton have been responsible for this bloody event? The only answers come from fringe conspiracy sites, who improbably claim that she — despite having no authority over the Department of Justice or any other law enforcement agency in her position as First Lady — was even more improbably running the Waco operation and issued an order for the final assault on the compound to Attorney General Reno through Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster ... something apparently known only to Linda Tripp, a former U.S. civil servant White House employee:

Appearing on CNN’s Larry King Live, fmr. White House aide Linda Tripp suggested that Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster — at Mrs. Clinton’s direction — transmitted the order to move on the Branch Davidian compound, which culminated in a military style attack.

“Give me a reason not to do this,” Janet Reno is said to have begged aides shortly before orders were issued in the final assault — during which 85 Branch Davidians were burned alive.

Tripp’s allegations lend weight to charges made previously by Special Forces expert and Waco investigator, Steve Barry — who claimed Hillary Clinton set up a special “crisis center” in the White House to deal with Waco.

The typical narrative of this conspiracy scenario bizarrely maintains that Hillary Clinton held enough sway to issue the order for an assault on the Waco compound because White House counsel Vince Foster was her "longtime boyfriend" and "sexual partner," while Associate Attorney General Webster ("Webb") Hubbell was the real biological father of Clinton's daughter Chelsea. This scenario even more bizarrely claims that Clinton's putative motivation for issuing the order was that she was disgruntled over the Branch Davidian issue's hogging all the headlines while she was working to craft a healthcare reform package:

Hillary was the one who ordered the FUBAR final assault on the holed-up Branch Davidians in Waco on April 19th, 1993.

Hillary was putting pressure on Vince Foster (her longtime boyfriend, sexual partner and emotional husband) and Webb Hubbell who was the #3 guy at Justice Department, to have a forceful resolution to the Waco standoff. Webb Hubbell is also probably the father of Chelsea, not Bill Clinton.

One big reason Hillary placed Hubbell in the #3 spot at the Justice Department was so that he would not have to go through a Senate confirmation hearing where the ugly and probably true details about Hubbell being the biological father of Chelsea might be revealed in this process.

Mrs Clinton grew more and more impatient as the Waco stand-off came to dominate the headlines. Hillary wanted to get so-called "heath care reform" done, and Waco was taking all the headlines in spring.

The Department of Justice (DoJ) oversees the FBI, and the attorney general heads the DoJ. At the time of the Waco incident the attorney general was Janet Reno, who — after consulting with the President and FBI officials — gave the final approval for the assault on the compound (although the FBI maintained a great deal of leverage as the lead agency on the ground). A detailed Justice Department report described numerous FBI and Justice Department officials involved in the decision-making process that led up to the end of the siege — but made not a single mention of Hillary Clinton or Vince Foster:

From the time the standoff at the Branch Davidian compound began on February 28, the principal headquarters responsibility in Washington for planning and decision-making lay with the Terrorism and Violent Crimes Section of the Justice Department's Criminal Division (TVCS/CRM) and the Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section (VCMOS) of the FBI's Criminal Investigative Division (CID). As the Chief of the TVCS/CRM, James S. Reynolds was substantially involved, as were both Deputy Chief Mary Incontro and section attorney John Lancaster. John C. Keeney was the Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division during the crisis, and Deputy Assistant Attorney General (DAAG) Mark Richard oversaw the activities of TVCS/CRM. AG Reno relied a great deal on DAAG Richard during the latter days of the crisis. The primary headquarters responsibility for decision-making throughout the crisis at the FBI lay with Director Sessions, Deputy Director Clarke, and Associate Deputy Director Gow.

The Attorney General believes she was adequately informed and that the FBI was forthcoming. She was impressed with the quality and timeliness of responses to her questions or to her requests for additional information. When she asked the FBI to seek input from the military, she was impressed that the FBI arranged a face-to-face briefing within two days. The FBI did not try to "railroad" her. Instead, they were respectful and seemed genuinely appreciative of the hard questions she posed. She did not believe that anyone at the FBI deliberately played up the issue of child abuse. In any event, that was only one of the many factors she considered in deciding to approve the tear-gas plan. The FBI kept an open mind, and no one ever suggested to her that they knew best or that they knew it all.

While the operation involved hundreds of law enforcement officers from numerous local, state and federal agencies, and its aftermath resulted in multiple investigations by both the government and news media, we found no credible evidence that one of the people involved in the multitude of decisions that were made concerning the standoff was Hillary Clinton.


Department of Justice. "Report to the Deputy Attorney General on the Events at Waco, Texas."   Updated 15 September 2014.

Boyer, Peter J. "The Children of Waco."   The New Yorker. 15 May 1995.

Bethania Palma is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who has been working in the news industry since 2006.

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