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Patience Prevails In Texas Standoff

But critics say separatists got off too easy

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The quick and bloodless resolution of a standoff with separatists in Texas marks the best example yet of a new law-enforcement attitude: In dealing with fringe groups, be firm but friendly; bring in heavy guns but be reluctant to use them. And improvise where necessary.

Texas lawmen used this approach in six days of see-saw negotiations. And on Saturday, "Republic of Texas" leader Richard McClaren and three followers quietly walked away from the makeshift mountain compound they had sworn to protect with their lives. Two other group members fled on foot.

It was a jubilant moment for Texas authorities. They had quickly ended the standoff without firing a shot - and they did so with minimal FBI help. Also, Mr. McLaren isn't likely to be a martyr to Americans who reject the government's authority.

But the more-deliberate, studied approach has its critics, especially among hardboiled Texans.

"All this proves is that we're a bunch of patsies," says Malcom Tweedy, proprietor of the Stone Village Motel in Fort Davis. "The lesson is that you can pull off a lot of stunts before [police] will crack down on you."

But Texas Gov. George W. Bush said: "The message ought to be very clear to people that you're free to think any way you want to think, but you better not arm up and hurt ... citizens."

Recalling botched efforts to detain similar groups at Waco, Texas, and Ruby Ridge, Idaho, officials were likely wary of confronting Republic members.

According to Jerrold Post, professor of political psychology at George Washington University, authorities erred in previous cases by adopting an aggressive stance that validated the groups' fantasies of persecution.

After Waco, he says, the FBI began a "soul searching" and reformulated its crisis-response strategy. Today, Dr. Post says, law-enforcement relies more on behavioral science than brute force.

Until now, he continues, the best example of this approach was last year's 81-day standoff with the Montana Freemen, in which the FBI waited patiently as the group's resolve collapsed.


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