Randall Claude “Randy” Weaver came into the world in 1948, one of four children born to Claude and Wilma Weaver, a farming couple from Villisca, Iowa. Deeply religious people, the Weavers moved among several Evangelical, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches, in search of a spiritual ‘home’ to fit with their faith.
Weaver dropped out of community college at age 20 and enlisted in the Army, stationed at Fort Bragg and serving three years before earning an honorable discharge.
A month after leaving the Army, Weaver married Victoria Jordison and soon enrolled at the University of Northern Iowa to study criminal justice. At the time, Weaver wanted to become an FBI agent, but the high cost of tuition put an end to that. Randy found work at a local John Deere factory while “Vicki” became first a secretary and later a homemaker, as the Weaver family grew.
Over time, the couple came to hold increasingly fundamentalist views, all the while becoming more and more distrustful of the government. Vicki came to believe that the Apocalypse, was imminent. The answer to the family’s survival lay in moving ‘off the grid’ and away from ‘corrupt civilization’.
In the early 1980s, the couple paid $5,000 cash plus a moving truck for a piece of property, and built a cabin on the remote Ruby Ridge in the north of Idaho.
In 1984, Randy Weaver had a falling out with neighboring Terry Kinnison, over a $3,000 land deal. Kinnison lost the ensuing lawsuit and was ordered to pay Weaver an additional $2,100 in court costs and damages. Kinnison took his vengeance in letters written to the FBI, Secret Service, and county sheriff, claiming that Weaver had threatened to kill Pope John Paul II, President Ronald Reagan, and Idaho governor John Evans.
Randy and Vicki Weaver were interviewed by FBI as well as Secret Service agents, and the County sheriff. Investigators were told that Weaver was a member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation and that he had a large gun collection in his cabin. Weaver denied the allegations, and no charges were filed.
There was no small amount of paranoia and mutual mistrust, in what came next. The Weavers filed an affidavit in 1985, claiming their enemies were plotting to provoke the FBI into killing them. The couple wrote a letter to President Reagan, claiming a threatening letter may have been sent to him, over a forged signature. No such letter ever materialized but, seven years later, prosecutors would cite the 1985 note as evidence of a Weaver family conspiracy against the government.
White supremacist Frank Kumnick was a member of the Aryan Nations, and target of an investigation by the federal bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Weaver attended his first meeting of the World Aryan Congress in 1986 where he met a confidential ATF informant, posing as a firearms dealer. In 1989, Weaver invited the informant to his home, to discuss forming a group to fight the “ZOG”, the “Zionist Occupation Government” of anti-Semitic and paranoid conspiracy theory.
ATF charged Weaver that same year, with selling its informant two sawed-off shotguns. The government offered to drop the charges in exchange for Weaver’s becoming an informant. Weaver declined, and ATF filed illegal weapons indictments, claiming the subject was a bank robber, with an extensive criminal record. Subsequent United States Senate investigation revealed that Weaver had no such criminal convictions, but Weaver was ensnared, by a government bureaucracy as unreasoningly suspicious, as himself.
Trial was set for February 20, 1991 and subsequently moved to February 21, due to a federal holiday. Weaver’s parole officer sent him a letter, erroneously stating that the new date was March 20. A bench warrant was issued when Weaver failed to show in court, for the February date.
Randy Weaver was now a “Fugitive from Justice”.
The U.S. Marshals Service agreed to put off execution of the warrant until after the March 20 date, but the U.S. Attorney’s Office called a grand jury, a week earlier. It’s been said that a grand jury could indict a ham sandwich and the adage proved true, particularly when the prosecution failed to reveal parole officer Richins’ letter, with the March 20 date.
The episode fed into the worst preconceptions, of both sides. Marshalls developed a “Threat Profile” on the Weaver family and an operational plan: “Operation Northern Exposure”. Weaver, more distrustful than ever, was convinced that if he lost at trial, the government would seize his land and take his four children leaving Vicki, homeless.
Marshalls attempted to negotiate over the following months, but Weaver refused to come out. Several people used as go-betweens, proved to be even more radical than the Weavers themselves. In a rare show of reason under the circumstances, Deputy Marshal Dave Hunt asked Bill Grider: “Why shouldn’t I just go up there … and talk to him?” Grider replied, “Let me put it to you this way. If I was sitting on my property and somebody with a gun comes to do me harm, then I’ll probably shoot him.”
On April 18, 1992, a helicopter carrying media figure Geraldo Rivera for the Now It Can Be Told television program was allegedly fired on, from the Weaver residence. Surveillance cameras then being installed by US Marshalls showed no such shots fired and Pilot Richard Weiss, denied the story. Even so, a lie gets around the world, before the truth can get its pants on. (Hat tip, Winston Churchill, for that bit of wisdom). The ‘shots fired narrative’ now became a media feeding frenzy. The federal government drew up ‘rules of engagement’.
On August 21, a six-man armed Recon team arrived to scout the property, for a suitable spot to ambush and arrest Randy Weaver. Deputy Art Roderick threw rocks at the cabin to see how the dogs would react. The cabin was at this time out of meat and, thinking the dog’s reaction may have been provoked by a game animal, Randy, a friend named Kevin Harris and Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel came out with rifles, to investigate. Vicki, Rachel, Sarah and baby Elisheba, remained in the cabin.
Marshalls retreated to a place out of sight of the cabin, while “Sammy” and Harris followed the dog ‘Striker’ into the woods. Later accounts disagree on who fired first but a firefight erupted, between Sammy, Harris, and the Marshall’s team. When it was over, the boy, the dog and Deputy US Marshall William “Billy” Degan, lay dead.
The standoff now spun out of control, with National Guard Armored personnel carriers, SWAT, State Police and FBI Hostage Rescue Teams, complete with snipers.
On August 22, Harris, Weaver and sixteen-year old daughter Sarah were entering a shed to visit the body of Weaver’s dead son, when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi fired from a position some 200 yards distant. The bullet tore into Weaver’s back and out his armpit. The three raced back to the cabin. Horiuchi’s second round entered the door as Harris dove for the opening, injuring him in the chest before striking Vicki in the face as she held baby Elisheba, in her arms.
Two days later, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson wrote the following memorandum, unaware that Vicki Weaver lay dead:
“Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting [of Degan]. He [Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.”
The siege of Ruby Ridge dragged on for ten days. Kevin Harris was brought out on a stretcher on August 30, along with Vicki’s body. Randy Weaver emerged the following day. Subsequent trials acquitted Harris of all wrongdoing and Weaver of all but his failure to appear in court, for which he received four months and a $10,000 fine.
Questions persist about the government’s ham-fisted approach at Ruby Ridge, and intensified after the Branch Davidian conflagration six months later in Waco Texas, involving many of the same agencies and federal officials.
In 1995, two reprobates carried out their own act of “revenge” on the government, blowing up a federal office building in Oklahoma City and killing 168 innocent people, injuring 680 others. Nineteen of the dead, were children.
Subsequent Senate hearings criticized Ruby Ridge “rules of engagement” as unconstitutional, the use of deadly force unwarranted, under the circumstances. Kevin Harris was awarded $380,000 damages for pain and suffering. Weaver was awarded $100,000 and his three daughters, $1 million each.
FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997, charges later dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity.
Deadly force procedures were brought about, intending to bring the government into line with Supreme Court precedent resulting in a kinder, gentler federal law enforcement apparatus. That was the idea.
You might want to ask Elian Gonzalez, how that worked out.