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Man in Waco rubble image is not Biden’s ATF nominee

May 28, 2021 GMT

CLAIM: Photo shows President Joe Biden’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives posing in front of rubble after a fatal 1993 raid on a religious sect’s compound in Waco, Texas.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. David Chipman, Biden’s nominee for ATF director, is not the man in the photo, according to Chipman’s own testimony in a Senate confirmation hearing this week. An ATF spokesperson confirmed that Chipman was not the man pictured. ATF also clarified that Chipman arrived in Waco weeks after the raid and participated in the event “solely in a post-incident investigative review capacity.”

THE FACTS: In February 1993, ATF agents attempted to arrest the leader of a religious sect in Waco known as the Branch Davidians for stockpiling weapons. The agents were met with deadly gunfire and a 51-day standoff ensued. It ended in April of that year when the compound caught fire, killing at least 76 people inside.

This week, a photo of a man in camouflage pants in front of the smoldering debris spread widely on social media with claims it showed Biden’s pick for ATF director posing for a trophy picture at the scene.

“ATF Head nominee David Chipman was standing in a pile of rubble and charred corpses 28 years ago today,” read an April Facebook post from the Libertarian Party of Kentucky. “He and his fellow agents had just gassed and set ablaze a community killing 76 Americans including 27 children.”

False claims that Chipman played a key role in the fatal incident were also spread on Twitter this week by radio host Dana Loesch and former Maine Senator Eric Brakey, a Republican, who later deleted his post.

The photo does not show Chipman, who was an ATF agent at the time but was not involved in the raid or the fire, according to ATF Public Affairs Chief April Langwell.

The photo shows a man standing in front of rubble that was still smoldering, with smoky air visible in the background. That could not have been Chipman, who arrived in Waco weeks after the fire, according to Langwell.

“Mr. Chipman arrived in Waco, Texas, on May 2, 1993,” Langwell said. “His role in the Waco event was solely in a post-incident investigative review capacity.”

Chipman also cleared up the false claims himself when asked about the photo during a confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday.

“I was directed to report to Waco in May of 1993,” Chipman said. “That was in the month after the events at Waco had concluded. My role was to be assigned to a group of DOJ employees who were investigating the events there and one of the reasons I was selected is because I had no involvement in the actual case that was being examined.”

“With regards to a photo that I too have seen on the internet, this is not me,” Chipman added. “It is, in fact, a real photo that comes from the time of Waco. It has a stamp on it that showed that it was evidence. But during the course of the investigation I interviewed all of the ATF agents at Waco, and that is not an ATF agent.”


Associated Press writer Jude Joffe-Block contributed to this report.


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: