The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, fighting for its life in the face of criticism from conservatives and pro-gun activists, has suddenly reassigned 12 of its senior field managers.
Among those reassigned was Terence McArdle, the ATF’s longestserving special agent in charge after 13 years in Boston, who will be transferred to Miami, agency officials confirmed.
His successor will be Chris Nelson, who has been coping with armed militias in the West and supervised ATF agents at Ruby Ridge, the 1992 standoff at the Idaho home of white separatist Randy Weaver that left three dead. Nelson has been special agent in charge of the Seattle bureau for the past 5-1/2 years.
And the No. 3 manager in the agency, Charles R. Thomson, associate director for enforcement, has been demoted to running its Washington field office.
The moves, announced without warning by ATF Director John W. Magaw last Friday, added new turmoil to an agency that has been fighting low morale for a decade.
In addition to hearings into such cases as Waco and Ruby Ridge, a few members of Congress have called for abolishing the agency altogether.
ATF’s chief antagonist, the National Rifle Association, has tried to cut back the agency since the late 1960s, when it began enforcing stiffer gun-control laws.
Other law-enforcement sources said that Magaw, who took office after the 1993 Waco raid, ordered transfers for every top agent who had spent more than five years in a single post.”The biggest effect on the culture and operating style of a police agency is the chief, and the fastest way to get change is to replace the guy who’s name is at the top” of ATF’s field offices, Fyfe said.Because of funding restraints and the NRA’s access to leading members of Congress, ATF has had low budgets and often faced low morale. Then came Ruby Ridge. In 1991, ATF agents arrested Randy Weaver, an Idaho white supremacist, for illegally selling sawed-off shotguns. Weaver was released, but failed to go to court. In 1992, when US marshals tried to arrest him, US Marshal William Degan of Quincy, Mass. and Weaver’s 13-year-old son Samuel were killed. Later an FBI sniper killed Weaver’s wife Vicki.