Trump Stirring Deep Waters With Plan To Hold His First Campaign Rally at Waco

Controversy over the government raid on Branch Davidian compound echoes 30 years later.

AP/Susan Weems, file
Flames engulf the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, on April 19, 1993. AP/Susan Weems, file

President Trump, awash in legal troubles and facing a looming arrest, will be holding his first 2024 campaign rally Saturday in a city laden with symbolism of government overreach: Waco, Texas.

Waco in 1993 was the site of a deadly siege of a compound crowded with members of a heavily armed, apocalyptic Christian sect called the Branch Davidians. The 51-day standoff with authorities — broadcast to the nation — ended with the compound engulfed in flames, in which 76 persons perished, including children and the Davidians’ leader, David Koresh.

Mr. Trump’s rally will be held at the Waco Regional Airport. There is no mention in the campaign press release of the significance of Waco, though it is unlikely to be lost on Mr. Trump’s base. Among the far right, as well as libertarians, Waco has come to symbolize excessive government intrusion, the dangers of militarized law enforcement, and an attack on Second Amendment rights and religious freedom even for dissenters.

“It is undisputed that Texas is Trump Country,” the Trump campaign’s press release for the event states, citing recent polling from a right-of-center pollster, CWS Research. It shows Mr. Trump beating Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, in the Lone Star State. 

Mr. Trump is “a masterful manipulator of the media, and it’s going to get the attention he wants,” the chairwoman of the Free State Project, Carla Gericke, tells the Sun. The Free State Project is part of a movement to create a libertarian homeland in New Hampshire. “It’s a giant f— you to the deep state,” Ms. Gericke says.

Mr. Trump is framing his own legal woes in a similar vein: as a persecution by “deep state” Democrats bent on preventing the former president from holding elected office again. Over the weekend, Mr. Trump claimed on his Truth Social platform that he expected to be arrested Tuesday by the “corrupt and highly political Manhattan District Attorney.” He called for protests to “take our nation back.”

Mr. Trump has not yet been arrested. He faces potential criminal charges in New York over his role in the hush money payment to a porn star, Stormy Daniels, during the 2016 campaign. Mr. Trump may also face criminal charges in Georgia over his alleged attempts to interfere with the results of the 2020 election.

The former president is also at the center of an investigation by the  federal justice department over his role in the violence on January 6, 2021, and for the alleged mishandling of classified documents that resulted in the pre-dawn raid of Mar-a-Lago in August.

“He’s using our platform, as tragic as it is, to attach himself to victimhood,” an adherent of the Branch Davidian teachings who lives near the Mount Carmel Center, Ron Goins, tells the Sun. Mr. Goins moved to the area five years after the siege. He was caretaker to one of the survivors, Clive Doyle, until Doyle’s death in June.

Others, though, welcome Mr. Trump. “I believe Trump chose Waco as his first stop because he is wanting to make a statement and address the government deep-state overreach,” a Branch Davidian pastor, Charlie Pace, tells the Sun. Mr. Pace manages the memorial park at the Mount Carmel site. 

Another supporter of survivors — there is a small group of them who live near the former compound — tells the Sun via Facebook that he appreciates Mr. Trump’s visit. “God is sending him here for a reason and the timing is just perfect,” Rodger Frego writes. 

Despite congressional investigations and numerous books and documentaries, the facts of the Waco siege are disputed. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms is widely criticized for not arresting Koresh while he was outside the compound, potentially sparing the lives of his followers.

The question of who fired the first shots when agents did try to apprehend Koresh — the ATF or the Branch Davidians — is unsettled, as is the question of whose actions led to the fire that engulfed the compound.  

Critics of Mr. Trump contend the Waco rally will fan the flames of far-right violence. NBC News’s presidential historian, Michael Beschloss, tweeted, “So Trump is planning his first campaign rally for Waco on the thirtieth anniversary of the siege where a cult leader challenged the authority of the federal government and threatened violence.”

The New York Sun

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