By PAUL J. WEBER
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Former President Donald Trump picking Waco, Texas, for the first rally of his 2024 campaign Saturday will put him in the middle of a big Republican state that has reliably delivered him big crowds.
It will also put him not far from the grassy prairie where a standoff in 1993 between U.S. law enforcement and Branch Davidians infamously resulted in the deaths of more than 80 members of the religious cult and four federal agents.
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the siege, which continues to hold deep symbolism and is still viewed by survivors of the compound as an act of unwarranted government intrusion.
Trump, who is facing the possibility of becoming the first president in U.S. history to be indicted, hasn’t nodded to Waco’s past since first announcing the rally last week. Campaign spokesman Steven Cheung said the decision to hold the event at Waco’s regional airport ideal was made because of the city being “centrally located and close” to some of Texas’ largest cities.
A closer look at Waco’s history:
Federal agents raided the compound about 10 miles east of Waco on Feb. 28, 1993. They were trying to arrest sect leader David Koresh for stockpiling illegal weapons, but Branch Davidian members had been tipped off about the raid and a shootout ensued. Four agents and six Davidians were killed that day, leading to what would become a 51-day standoff.
As the weeks dragged on, federal authorities said they were becoming increasingly worried about the Davidian children possibly being abused. Then on April 19, 1993, after an FBI negotiator shouted over a loudspeaker for Koresh to lead his people out and “be a messiah, not a destroyer,” military vehicles began ramming the buildings and spraying tear gas inside.
A few hours later, flames were seen spreading through the compound. Authorities said the Davidians died by suicide by setting the fire and shooting themselves. Survivors have denied there was a suicide pact, saying military vehicles knocked over lanterns and ignited the blaze.
Nearly a dozen Davidians went on trial; all were acquitted of murder and conspiracy to commit murder charges. But five were convicted of voluntary manslaughter and weapons charges, and three were convicted on weapons charges.
Today, a white chapel at Mount Carmel on the site of the former compound attracts visitors who are greeted by a wall of stones engraved with each victim’s names at the property entrance. In Waco, federal agents hold remembrances each year on the anniversary of the deadly raid, and Netflix released a new documentary about the siege that coincides with the 30th anniversary.
But for some far-right extremists and militia groups, the siege has become a touchstone over the decades, most notably the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that happened on the same day two years after the raid. A Virginia man charged with joining the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol allegedly told an undercover agent that his property could turn into “Waco 2.0″ while expressing concerns over new firearm regulations, according to a federal court filing.
TRUMP’S LEGAL TROUBLES
Trump is coming to Texas as New York prosecutors are wrapping up their probe into whether Trump engaged in an illegal hush money scheme involving a porn actress. Trump, who has denied any sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels, raised the specter on his social media site of “years of hatred, chaos and turmoil” if charges are brought.
He has long railed against federal law enforcement. When his Mar-a-Lago club was searched by the FBI last summer as part of an investigation into the possible mishandling of classified documents, he broke the news by declaring that his home was “currently under siege, raided, and occupied by a large group of FBI agents.”
The Houston Chronicle’s editorial board accused Trump of “stoking the fires of Waco” in a column published this week.
But there is no doubt Trump picked solidly Republican territory in Waco, where he won surrounding McClennan County by more than 20 points in 2020. The city includes Baylor University, the nation’s largest Baptist university, and is the headquarters of “Fixer Upper” stars Chip and Joanna Gaines’ home decorating empire.
City officials said this week they were ready for the rally.
“It’s a lot of eyes, national attention,” said Jonathan Cook, Waco’s director of parks and recreation.
Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.