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Tuesday, June 2, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Michelle Malkin

Waco And Wenatchee: Real-Life Horror Movies

Times Editorial Columnist

AFTER waiting in line for 40 minutes, I joined throngs of Seattle International Film Festival fans this weekend to watch an Oscar-nominated flick. Heart-pounding displays of pyrotechnics, tanks, and armed helicopters roared on the screen. Audience members gasped at mangled bodies and hissed at jack-booted villains.

But this was no ordinary Saturday afternoon matinee. It was a special showing of the exhaustive documentary, "Waco: The Rules of Engagement."

My blood is still roiling, my mind reeling, from this movie. With grisly detail, executive producers Dan and Amy Clifford (with direction by Tacoma-born William Gazecki) debunk government deceptions about the 1993 standoff at the Waco, Texas, home of David Koresh and his Branch Davidian followers. The documentary's unmistakable conclusion: Our federal law-enforcement agencies presided over an abominable destruction of human life.

The Cliffords and Gazecki are not members of any right-wing militia, mind you. In fact, their bona fides as members of the cultural mainstream are solid. Dan Clifford is a veteran journalist who reported for CNN and PBS; his wife was a staffer on the TV show "A Current Affair"; Gazecki is an Emmy Award-winning sound mixer for TV dramas and movies. So what compelled them to buck the comforts of establishment and sift through Waco's smoldering ashes?

Dan Clifford, who attended the Seattle screening, explained after the show: "There's a New McCarthyist culture in the media that stigmatizes people who ask unpopular questions. But you don't have to belong to a conspiracy network to challenge authority. We just wanted to find the whole truth, rather than be mouthpieces for official government sources."

The movie-makers' most damning piece of evidence - infrared footage of the FBI siege that suggests government personnel fired automatic weapons into a burning building where women and children were trapped - is no fictional product of Hollywood wizardry. It comes from videotapes shot by the FBI's nighttime surveillance team. The tapes show bright flashes of light bursting near military tanks at the perimeter of the raging Waco inferno.

Two independent analysts - one a ranking physicist who supervised the U.S. Army's Night Vision Lab - conclude that those flashes could only be interpreted as blasts from automatic weapons shot into the building and possibly at people trying to escape the fire. The FBI explains bullet-ridden corpses by blaming Branch Davidians for shooting each other.

The documentary discloses 911 calls and home videos of Branch Davidian members that portray articulate, intelligent - and yes, sympathetic - people under siege. The warped body of an 8-year-old child shows the toxic havoc wrought by six hours of continuous FBI gassing into the Branch Davidians' home. The feds used a chemical warfare agent that contracts muscles so violently it snapped the child's limbs like broken popsicle sticks.

The shredded, charred body of an adult appears to have been crushed beneath the treads of a tank, which U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno defends in congressional testimony as a "non-assault" vehicle akin to "a good rental car."

More shameful pictures and sounds: FBI agents flexing their muscles, bragging that they're "honed to kill." A Davidian pleading with negotiators to keep vulgar soldiers from mooning children in the windows. The incessant blaring of Nancy Sinatra's "These Boots Were Made for Walking" over loudspeakers - designed to deprive Koresh of sleep. (No, the feds did not hand out earplugs for the 75 other men, women, and children who were also inside.)

And then there's this image, which made me ashamed to be a journalist: reporters clowning around in a kick line on the outskirts of the Branch Davidians' estate while 21 children under the age 14 huddled inside awaiting their death sentence.

The children, the children. This was all supposed to be about protecting the kids from their extremist parents. But widely claimed evidence of child abuse was never documented. The entire crime scene was immolated. The feds not only "misplaced" crucial forensic evidence such as a local coroner's records, but also the Davidians' bullet-ridden front door. Seventy-six citizens are dead. Yet, the myths of FBI-as-white-knights-in-Waco and Reno-as-children's-savior live.

"These child-abuse allegations remind me very much of what's happening here in Wenatchee in your state. If you want to ruin someone's life, just call him a child abuser," Dan Gifford said.

His wife agrees. In a phone interview she noted, "There's a witch-hunt mentality that seems to have taken over in both cases." The ingredients are eerily similar: spurious allegations of child molestation; law enforcement run amok; bipartisan political complicity; members of the media who stopped reading the Bill of Rights after the First Amendment; victims whose socioeconomic status and religious beliefs made them vulnerable to government abuses.

The mind and heart of any freedom-loving witness to these tragedies - real-life horror picture shows like Waco and Wenatchee - cannot long remain still. A vigorous defense of liberty and justice demands that we put away the popcorn and get out of the dark.

More information about "Waco: The Rules of Engagement" can be found on the Internet at http://www.waco93.com

Michelle Malkin's column appears Tuesday on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is: malkin1@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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