Clint Van Zandt

Inside Media: Facing Down Evil

September 27, 2008

Guest: Clint Van Zandt

As the FBI's former chief hostage negotiator, Clint Van Zandt has been involved in plenty of tense situations, from international hostage incidents to prison riots. But it was one infamous case in U.S. history that will live with him forever.

"I have relived Waco a thousand times," Van Zandt said.

During the 51-day siege in 1993 at the Branch Davidian religious compound, Van Zandt said he personally negotiated with the cult's leader, David Koresh, at one point discussing their very different interpretations of the Bible.

"It was like Bible study with David Koresh, if you can imagine that," Van Zandt said.

The FBI received a "bad rap" following the raid of the compound that left 80 Davidians dead, "partly because we deserved it and partly because the media didn't understand what we did," Van Zandt said. He noted that the FBI made 850 contacts with the Branch Davidians pleading with them to surrender.

In a position paper he wrote before the April 19 raid, Van Zandt disagreed with the FBI strategy to tear-gas the compound in hopes of driving the Davidians out.

"I said if we continue this line, we're going to see the Branch Davidians blow this place up, burn it to the ground, everybody is going to die and they're going to blame it on the FBI," he said. "And a week later, I watched that happen."

He added: "As much as I hold the FBI … responsible, I know it was the Davidians that lit the match that set those building on fire."

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