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The ATF is a branch of Federal Law Enforcement that operates under the Department of the Treasury, whereas the FBI operates under the Department of Justice. They have exactly the same nationwide law enforcement authority as duly sworn federal agencies. The ATF lately has generally done the "biker gang" investigations of late because they have more experience in that particular field, (see William Queen's yawnfest "Under and Alone") as well as often find large numbers of what they claim to be stolen firearms during such investigations.





Federal Law Enforcement is used in cases such as these because many of the more serious alleged charges fall under Federal Law, known as United States Code or the USC. This would include the racketeering, kidnapping, and witness tampering charges. However, you are correct in asserting that the local "cops" would handle the theft and other more minor charges.
 

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They were there because of a long running investigation they had done on the Branch Davidians throughout the 80's who financed their cult and compound construction through selling stolen or illegal (machine guns, sawed off shotguns, silencers) firearms. Anecdotally, I remember being at a gun show in the late 80's and they were very openly moving what I'd deem "gray market" stuff to anybody who'd listen.





The child abuse charges were filed locally with the Sheriff there, who investigated the charges and found that while they were true (girls as young as 12 had "married" Koresh), he had no non-cult witnesses to corroborate the evidence of such in court and suspended the investigation.





The abuse charges were only later used by the Feds to support their flimsy/overly macho reasoning for invading the place. The guns were all on the compound which was completely surrounded, so they posed no real threat and the assets from the illegal deals were frozen in the bank. The correct course of action would have simply been to wait them out, collect the evidence, and go to court. Unfortunately that wasn't "tough" enough for the roid-crazed Rambo wannabes on site down there.
 

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The drug thing was always nebulous. Undoubtedly Koresh was a VORACIOUS meth user, and there were rumblings he had brewed batches of meth for funding also, but I personally doubt this was the case. By the time the BD's got to Texas, they didn't seem to want the contact with the outside world that trafficking drugs would require. And AFAIK, there were no open DEA or local cases linking meth to the BD's.





Another reason they had to bulldoze it was because they'd pumped in so much CS gas it had dried and crystalized, and was in danger of blowing onto other people's property, harming livestock and drinking water, etc. If you look at the way the dozers were used, they resembled a (crude) Superfund cleanup from the '70s.
 

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Maybe you are the one that should do a little more research on firearms law. You're way off.

At that time a Federal Firearms License meant he could legally transfer standard manufacture guns to qualified buyers. It did not mean that he could posess or sell Class III weapons such as sawed off shotguns or machine guns. That requires a separate license for simple POSSESSION. To sell or transfer Class III weapons at that time, both the buyer and seller both had to have CLASS III licenses and the transfer had to be reported to the Federal government, added to the NFA registry and then they require ATF tax stamps be issued and retained for each weapon that changes hands. The transfer must also be approved by at least one local law enforcement agency. Koresh wasn't even close to doing this.

But don't just take my word for it, read all about CLASS III regulation here . You may also cross reference Mr. Birdwell's USC references here .

While Koresh may not have been in current possession of any unregistered CLASS III weapons, his previous documentable history and evidence collected during the course of the investigation allowed the judge to grant the search warrant based on PROBABLE CAUSE, which is within the tenants of the CONSTITUTION. Search warrants aren't issued based upon what you KNOW is there, they are exploratory in nature based upon what you believe could POTENTIALLY be there. PBS did an independent documentary that asked the questions Congress were afraid too, which can be viewed online here which is the probably the most demonstrative explanation of these aspects of the preliminary case.

Whether you agree with the laws that were enforced here or not isn't really in question, I'm certainly not going to argue their worth. Nor will I argue that the outcome of the government's actions at Waco was anything less than tragic. But the original investigation was righteous per both the letter and contextual intent of the USC.
 

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I'm not sure if the ATF or National Guard started the fire, but it's probably safe to just say feds. Both the "flash bang" grenades and the CS canisters themselves (where used) can cause sparks and fire during ignition, particularly when mixed with the dry desert winds of Waco and already voluminous amounts of crystalizing CS gas in the air.





As far as being lethal towards children, you're absolutely correct. Their respiration systems simply can't move enough oxygen in and out to safely survive CS exposure. However, in the amounts used that day, CS was probably close to or actually lethal to any unmasked person, child or adult.





As to question number two, the search and arrest warrants hadn't been completed the last time he was in town. Remember, there were two raids on the compound. The first resulted in the gunfight that followed the initial attempts to serve the warrants, which drove back the smallish contingency of ATF agents. Then the standoff ensued. Then the combined Federal force became tired of loosing face in front of their peers and in the press and just went in anyway.
 
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