David Chipman, U.S. President Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF), began his Senate confirmation hearing on May 26, 2021, which triggered an avalanche of partisan disinformation on the internet. Some social media users and news outlets posted a picture of a man wearing camouflage pants and holding a gun while standing among the burned ruins of the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 along with the false claim that the person in the photograph was Chipman.
The Branch Davidians, a closed religious sect, were the target of a federal government-led siege and raid that ended in April 1993 with a massive fire that killed dozens of civilians inside the compound, including 25 children.
The British tabloid Daily Mail published the photograph in April 2021 along with a caption reading, “Pictured is a young Chipman, who worked as an ATF agent for 25 years, posing in the aftermath of the Waco siege where 76 Brand [sic] Davidian members and five ATF agents died.”
Former Maine state Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican, posted the picture on Twitter along with a caption that read, in part, “We all remember David Chimpan’s ‘time in central Texas.’”
Chipman did work for the ATF for 25 years, retiring in 2012, but he was not part of the federal government’s disastrous siege on the Branch Davidians, an event that caused widespread outrage and also became a rallying cry for anti-government extremists.
Chipman addressed false claims that he was the man in the photograph during his confirmation hearing: The video was posted by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Twitter:
ATF is critical to helping confront our nation’s gun violence epidemic, yet some on the political fringe are seemingly trying to sink Mr. Chipman’s nomination, including peddling baseless claims about his role in Waco, TX.
WATCH David Chipman clarify the truth: pic.twitter.com/sg0rzeYS3I
— Senate Judiciary Committee (@JudiciaryDems) May 26, 2021
When asked to address the photograph by Senate Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin, Chipman responded that not only did the photograph not feature him, it did not show any ATF agent:
First, I was directed to report to Waco in May of 1993. That was in the month after the events at Waco had concluded. My role was to be assigned to a group of DOJ [Department of Justice] 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. 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.
We have reached out to the U.S. Department of Justice asking for more information about the man in the photograph and will update this story when we receive a response.