And Justice for All

When the world last heard from Robert Eaton Jr., he was being bundled into the back of a Denver squad car by a handful of uniformed officers. His crime? Mentioning Waco outside the federal courthouse Monday, just as the coverage of Tim McVeigh's conviction kicked into high gear.

The media that had been recording Eaton's words captured his abrupt departure from the scene. And after that, like so many stories--the raid on the Branch Davidian compound included--Eaton disappeared from the news.

Here's the rest of his far.
After checking Eaton out, the cops escorted him to his car and let him go, with the strong--and wise--admonition that he not rejoin the crowd outside the courthouse. "This is not the time or place for you to express your opinions," they told him.

And in fact, they were right, even if Eaton keeps complaining that his First Amendment rights were stifled. In the sad yet oddly celebratory setting of 19th and Stout streets after the McVeigh verdict came in, Eaton's words made him a marked man, as welcome as an ATF agent in Elohim City.

Not that Eaton has ever been to Elohim City, that mysterious militia stronghold that Stephen Jones was not allowed to discuss during McVeigh's defense. Or that Eaton has ever been a member of a militia, or even a Branch Davidian, for that matter. Unlike Ron Cole, the author of the lame Waco treatise Sinister Twilight, who was busted in Aurora last month on conspiracy and illegal-weapons charges, Eaton is not a self-styled patriot leader. (There are exactly three members of Cole's militia, the Colorado First Light Infantry group.) And unlike Cole, Eaton had never hung out by the federal courthouse where McVeigh was being tried.

Until Monday. Eaton, who moved back to Colorado in February after a year at Texas State Technical College in, yes, Waco, was driving downtown to get a part for his car, listening to people on the radio talking about McVeigh's conviction. "It made me sick," he remembers. "It was like a circus, everyone screaming for the death penalty." Everyone talking about everything but Waco, McVeigh's alleged inspiration for bombing the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City.

Nothing justifies what McVeigh did, Eaton says. But after living in Waco for a year, he still finds it hard to believe that no one ever talks about what happened down there. About the women killed, about the kids killed--more kids than were killed in the Oklahoma City bombing. Killed by the American government.

Four years ago, when the Waco standoff ended in that disastrous raid, Eaton was delivering pizza in Denver. He quit to travel around Europe and see more of the world--much more than he bargained for. "My eyes were really opened up when I left America," he says. Eaton was hitchhiking from Amsterdam when he met the woman who would ultimately become his wife. He followed her back home to what had been East Germany and worked for her father-in-law for a while before he decided what he really wanted to do was get some training in computer technology so he could have a marketable trade. That's when he thought about Texas State.

While studying computer networking administration in Waco, Eaton used to ride his mountain bike to the site of the Davidian compound, look out over the rows of trees that commemorate the 82 people who died there (that's counting two full-term fetuses, but not including four ATF agents) and visit the shack filled with photos and burned tricycles that serves as a museum. No one ever received the death penalty in connection with the raid there--except those who were burned alive inside the compound. "They didn't deserve the death penalty for staying in their house," Eaton says.

So he decided to go to the federal courthouse and remind people that there had never been any justice for the people who died at Waco.

It was a bad idea to start with. It got worse when Eaton shared his thoughts with the mother of a bombing victim. He insists he wasn't harassing her, as the Denver Post reported. "At the time," he writes in an explanatory e-mail, "I (surrounded by countless reporters) told the mother that I was sorry for the tragic situation that she was put through from the bombing, and was very happy that justice was finally served. I continued to ask her if she now wished that the victims of the Davidian compound could receive the same justice that was awarded to her. In addition, I made the statement to the reporters that justice should not favor federal employees above the common American who does not work for the government...They have shown many tragically sad pictures from the Oklahoma bombing, but America never got a chance to see the graphic detail of the mothers' and children's corpses pulled from the Davidian compound. There simply was never the exposure that existed in the Oklahoma bombing. Had there been, I'm sure that Americans would have demanded justice."

Perhaps, but on Monday they were too busy celebrating one just verdict to ponder the injustice that possesses Eaton. And not just Eaton, but many others who continue to push for the true story of what happened at Waco.

One of them is David Kopel, formerly with the Colorado Attorney General's office and now research director of the Independence Institute. The book he co-authored with Paul Blackman, No More Wacos: What's Wrong With Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It, has sold 12,000 copies since it was released just before the April 19, 1997, anniversary of Waco...and the Oklahoma City bombing. "Koresh was an evil character and a false messiah," Kopel says, "but you're not supposed to get killed for that." Or because of a "tax-enforcement violation"--in this case, he points out, the $200-per-piece tax on the 41 machine guns allegedly found in the smoldering ruins. Found, that is, alongside the bodies of Koresh's followers. "The victims at Waco were very photogenic," Kopel adds, even though the media doesn't show their pictures the way they do those of the people who died in Oklahoma City.

But then, that same media doesn't report that those who condemn the Waco raid do not make a hero of McVeigh, either. Kopel, who's studied the militia movement and gun-control issues for a decade, notes, "I've never heard one person say one good thing about McVeigh."

And you're not going to hear anything like that from Eaton, either (although attorney Jones will dredge up anything he can during the death-penalty portion of the case now under way). "What Timothy McVeigh did was very horrid, and he had no justification in the world for his actions--for there could never be justification for the crimes that he has created against humanity," Eaton says. "I feel that the jury made the right decision. As for the Davidians, I wish that a jury and the rest of America could bring them the same justice with such vigor. Do I feel that justice has been equal in the two cases? Definitely not. As an American, I wish that it was, though."

As an American, he is still miffed that he never got the chance to finish talking outside the courthouse. And more than a little worried that the feds might take the incomplete media accounts, add to them his time spent in East Germany and decide that Eaton is just the type to pose a threat. Monday night, after his name went out in news reports, he got some ugly phone calls. He wonders if next he will hear a knock at the door. But this isn't East Germany. This isn't even Waco. And so Eaton talks on.

"I don't like to think of myself as a political activist," he says. "But I don't like to think of myself as a sheep, either.

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Patricia Calhoun co-founded Westword in 1977; she’s been the editor ever since. She’s a regular on the weekly CPT12 roundtable Colorado Inside Out, played a real journalist in John Sayles’s Silver City, once interviewed President Bill Clinton while wearing flip-flops, and has been honored with numerous national awards for her columns and feature-writing.
Contact: Patricia Calhoun