As their standoff with a militant separatist group entered its third day, Texas authorities said Tuesday they remained optimistic a peaceful surrender would be arranged soon.
But with more than 80 people driven from their homes by the crisis, many angrily demanding that the state move immediately to drive the group out of its ramshackle citadel in the West Texas mountains, state officials were grappling with the questions of when or whether they should move to dislodge the militants, whose number the state estimated at 13 adults and no children.
If two words could summarize the lessons learned from deadly federal assaults on the Branch Davidians at Waco, Texas, and on a white separatist in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, it might well be these: Try patience.
Last year, authorities tried such an approach with the freemen, a separatist group in Montana. And after 81 days, the standoff ended with no one hurt and not a single shot fired.
“The government simply has to take its time here,” said Gerald Spence, the Wyoming lawyer who represented the Idaho separatist, Randy Weaver. “It doesn’t make any difference, whether they’re caught today or they surrender six months from now. To make martyrs out of these people would be ridiculous.”
But other experts cautioned Tuesday that patience was not without costs, measured in the displacement of homeowners, the troubling prospect that continued hands-off treatment might send the wrong message to other anti-government belligerents, and the enormous expense of keeping nearly 100 law enforcement officials ringed around the scene.
For the moment, there is wide agreement that the state should keep negotiating with the group, whose leader, Richard McLaren, argues that Texas was never legally annexed to the Union. State officials and a Houston defense lawyer who came to Fort Davis on Tuesday to talk to the group’s leader expressed considerable optimism that because lines of communication remained open, a peaceful surrender would come soon.
But McLaren showed few signs of easing up. “We’re in Bosnia right now,” he said Tuesday morning in a telephone interview from the group’s “embassy,” a trailer deep in the mountains where he is holed up.
“We’re in a war zone,” he said.
He said he might leave under one condition, though one that seems all but inconceivable: that he and his followers be granted full diplomatic immunity.
The state of Texas is an illegal entity, McLaren said, and he has no intention of going through its court system to resolve various charges against him and his followers.
And so the state was clearly continuing with preparations for a military-style action.
Two armored personnel carriers were brought in Tuesday, and the state’s 15-member SWAT team is on the scene.