Photo of the Day

This is the last photograph of Vicki Weaver before she was killed by an FBI sniper 22 Aug 1992 in the Ruby Ridge standoff. It was taken by USMS surveillance the morning of 21 Aug 1992 and was evidence at the subsequent trial.

Ruby Ridge Standoff

It’s been 25 years since the Ruby Ridge siege in North Idaho. Randy Weaver and his family faced off with federal agents in a shocking stand-off on a mountain top not far from Bonners Ferry.

The Ruby Ridge incident, happened in August 1992 in which Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents and U.S. marshals engaged in an 11-day standoff with self-proclaimed white separatist Randy Weaver, his family, and a friend named Kevin Harris in an isolated cabin on Ruby Ridge in Boundary county, Idaho.

The FBI surrounded Randy Weaver’s mountaintop cabin near Naples, Idaho, for  days following the shooting of a federal marshal. In the end, Weaver and a friend were shot and injured, and three people were dead, including Weaver’s wife, Vicki, his 14-year-old son, Sammy, and U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed during the siege. Moreover, the incident became a rallying cry for those who felt law enforcement had overstepped its bounds.

In the 1980s, the mountainous panhandle of northern Idaho became a magnet for people of all stripes. Government-haters, minority-haters, immigrant-haters, and modern culture-haters all found refuge in the sparsely populated ponderosa country. Idaho’s northernmost county, Boundary County, is a place where “a blurring continuum of home schoolers, Christian survivalists, apocalyptic, John Birchers, Posse Comitatus members, constitutionalists, tax protesters, Identity Christians, and neo-Nazis” could find both one another and “a ridge top on which to hide out and build a life.” One family that in 1983 found its way from the heartland of Iowa to an Idaho ridge top was the Randy and Vicki Weaver family. Before long, things just got out of hand–hopelessly and tragically out of hand.

Vicki Jordison and Randall (“Pete”) Weaver began dating in earnest in 1970. The self-reliant secretary for Sears Roebuck, was raised on a farm near Coalville, and the idealistic army private met in Fort Dodge almost every night during Weaver’s short leave from Fort Bragg. Randy and Vicki married in November 1971, after Weaver received an honorable discharge, and the couple moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Randy intended to enroll at the University of Northern Iowa and pursue a career in law enforcement. The job in law enforcement never happened. But Randy landed a well-paying job at a John Deere tractor factory in Waterloo and he and Vicki settled into a several-year- period of happy, and quite normal, domesticity. When their first child, Sara, was born in 1976, Vicki entered enthusiastically into motherhood.

In 1978, Vicki read a book that began what would be a long-term drift toward a Christianity-based apocalyptic view of the world. Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth applied his interpretation of the prophesies of the Old Testament to the events of current times and concluded that we were now in “the end time.” A nuclear holocaust and Armageddon were just around the corner, but the good news was that Jesus would return to Earth. Violence and pestilence soon would fall upon the planet, and Christians persecuted, in a terrible time called The Great Tribulation. Then there would be The Rapture, and true believers s elected by God to join him in Paradise. Vicki and Randy began to share with friends their plan of moving to a mountain top, as far as possible from false governments, desperate people, and hunters of good Christians like themselves. “We’ve been having this vision,” Vicki would say.

Vicki’s search for “the truth” led her into libraries and bookstores. She read and found significance in books such as Ayn’s Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, a novel warning of the dangers of an all-powerful state, and in the prophetic short stories of H. G. Wells, which dwelled on themes such as Armageddon and Judgment Day. She and Randy began meeting regularly with like-minded radical Christians at the Cedar Falls Sambo’s restaurant. Vicki poured over passages from her King James Bible, drawing lessons ranging from what to eat (no unclean meat such as pork or oysters) to how to prepare for the “end time.” In Matthew 24 she encountered the passage which reinforced her vision of their future: “Then let them which be in Judea flee into the mountains.

Vicki and Randy were slipping further and further away from mainstream life. They adopted a conspiratorial world view that linked Jews to the Illuminati, Masons, and the Trilateral Commission. Randy began sleeping in a flak jacket with a loaded gun under his pillow. In an interview with a reporter for a Waterloo paper, they said they planned to build a house in the woods with a defensible 300-yard “kill zone” around its perimeter. They became increasingly isolated, as their radical beliefs caused them to lose former friends. In 1983, the couple left Iowa for good, with Randy driving a moving van and Vicki following behind in a pickup truck, heading west to meet the end time in the mountains.

The Weaver family in 1989. Randy Weaver, wife Vicki and three children Sara, Rachel and Samuel. File photo – Associated Press.

This an aerial view of the cabin of Randy Weaver and his family on Ruby Ridge in North Idaho. Photo was taken March, 1992. Spokesman-Review photo/Shawn Jacobson

On September 6, 1983, Randy and Vicki found a rocky bluff about eight miles southwest of Bonner’s Ferry that was, according to Vicki, “just what the Lord showed” them their new home “would look like.” The hilltop was strewn with boulders, perfect for defending the property, and there was a spring with fresh water that could be tapped for their future cabin. They paid $7500 for fifteen acres and began making plans for a rough cabin.

Within a year of their arrival, the Weavers had made both friends and enemies. Randy befriended a number of locals who shared his racist and religious views, but those same views, as well as property disputes and his habit of constantly firing off bullets into the surrounding hillside set some other neighbors against him. One upset neighbour reported to the Boundary County sheriff that Randy had threatened to kill President Reagan and the governor of Idaho, and soon Weaver was the focus of unwelcome attention from federal law enforcement officials. Randy called the report of his alleged threat “a smear campaign” and sent a letter to the Secret Service agent who interviewed him demanding an apology.

In the mid-1980s, a racist right-wing movement based in northern Idaho and calling itself Aryan Nations became the focus of both FBI and BATF investigations. Members of an Aryan Nations splinter group called The Order embarked on a crime spree that included bank and armoured car robberies, counterfeiting, synagogue bombings, and two murders, including the killing of a popular Jewish radio talk show host in Denver, Alan Berg. Indictments and prosecutions followed, but bombings continued and the federal government were determined to find those responsible. When Randy Weaver showed up at the Aryan Nations Congress in Hayden Lake in July 1986, the fact was noticed by a BATF informant who was also in attendance at the gathering.

After his introduction at the World Aryan Congress, informant Kenneth Fadeley, using the alias “Gus Magisono,” met several times with Weaver over the next three years. In October 1989, after a conversation in which Randy foresaw an imminent war with the Soviet Union and complained for the umpteenth time about the “world going down the tubes,” the two men discussed a deal in which the hard-up Weaver would sell Fadeley sawed-off shotguns. (Fadeley claimed Weaver proposed the deal, while Randy insisted it was the other way around.) Two weeks later at a city park, Weaver presented Fadeley with two shotguns sawed five inches shorter than federal law allowed.

In June 1990, two ATF agents told Weaver they had solid evidence he violated federal gun laws–and then they offered him a deal. Become an informant on the Aryan Nations, the agents said, and the gun charge would be dropped. Weaver would have no part of it. “You can go to hell,” he said. Back at the cabin that night, Vicki composed a letter to “Aryan Nations & all our brethren of the Anglo Saxon race” warning them that ATF agents were looking for snitches. A warrant was issued for the arrest of Randy Weaver.

Knowing that Vicki had filed an affidavit with the Boundary County clerk giving “legal notice that we believe we may have to defend ourselves and our family from physical attacks on our lives” by the federal government, ATF agents were understandably reluctant to simply drive up the Weaver’s long dirt driveway and attempt an arrest there. Instead, they hit upon another plan. Posing as stranded motorists one January night after having been radioed by a neighbour that Randy was on his way down the mountain, three agents and the county sheriff surprised Weaver with an arrest at gunpoint. The next afternoon, at the federal building in Coeur d’Alene, a magistrate entered a not-guilty plea entered for Weaver and released him on an unsecured $10,000 bond. A court date was set for February 20, 1991 (although a letter to Weaver incorrectly stated the court date to be March 20).

Weaver never had any intention of returning for his court date. A letter written by Vicki to the U. S. Attorney for Idaho (addressed in the letter as the “Servant of the Queen of Babylon”) promised they “will not bow to your evil commandments…whether we live or whether we die.” When the February court date passed, with Randy as a no-show, a failure to appear warrant was issued for Weaver’s arrest and the case sent to the U. S. Marshal’s Service. In light of what became a constant stream of threatening letters to the federal government, Dave Hunt, deputy U. S. Marshal, reluctantly considered calling in Special Operations Group (SOG), an elite marshals force used for raids and difficult fugitive cases.

The Weaver household grew in 1991, with the delivery, in their birthing shed, of a baby girl they named Elisheba. The Weaver children now numbered four. In addition to Elisheba, there was Sara (age 15), Sammy (13), and Rachel (9). Kevin Harris, a teen with a troubled past who the Weavers had taken in, also spent months at a time in the Weaver cabin. The presence of children complicated the Marshal’s Service task, especially given Randy Weaver’s practice of sending his gun-toting children out in front of him to greet strangers.

By early 1992, the stand-off at Ruby Ridge attracted national notoriety. Press figures ranging from Geraldo Rivera to reporters for the Los Angeles Times requested interviews with the Weavers, but the only reporter they agreed to talk to wrote for a small weekly paper in Bonner’s Ferry. In the interview, Randy said the feds were more concerned about “shutting our mouths” than they were about shotguns. The Weavers claimed not to be Aryans or Nazis, just people who came to Idaho to “escape religious persecution.” But now, Vicki said, “there’s nowhere left to escape our lawless rulers.” The Weavers were making the federal government look weak and silly. Pressure mounted on the Marshal’s Service to do something.

A SOG surveillance team consisting of six marshals entered the Weaver property on August 21, 1992, with the intent of scouting out positions for an undercover plan to capture Weaver. At about 10:45 a.m., near the end of the operation, three marshals were moving back down the mountain to rejoin their other comrades. The Weaver’s yellow Lab, Striker, had caught a whiff and ran down the road to investigate, followed by Sammy Weaver and Kevin Harris. The dog closed in on the retreating three marshals, Arthur Roderick, Larry Cooper, and 15-year SOG veteran Billy Degan. Soon the dog had Cooper cornered. As Harris came up behind the dog, Cooper rose and shouted, “Back off! U.S. Marshal!” Seconds later, from behind a stump, Degan rose to his knee and shouted, “Freeze! U.S. Marshal!”

Then the shots began. Who shot who first remains a point of contention even today. The government story is that Harris wheeled and fired first, fatally wounding Billy Degan in the chest. Cooper responded by firing two three-round bursts at Harris, but missed him. Roderick, meanwhile, from his location further down the path, worried that the dog might give away the location of the other marshals. He fired and killed Striker. What the government stories cannot account for is how Sammy Weaver, Randy’s thirteen-year old son, ended up dead with a bullet in his back. According to the marshals, they had no clue Sammy had been killed until his body was discovered days later in the Weaver’s birthing shed. What is known is that when the machine guns were finally gathered up, to the great surprise of Cooper (who was certain Degan never fired), it was discovered that seven rounds were missing from Degan’s gun.

Kevin Harris later offered a different version of the events. He said that when Roderick shot his dog, Sammy Weaver yelled, “You killed my dog, you son of a bitch!” and began firing at the marshals, one of whom opened up on him with a barrage of bullets. Kevin claimed he fired at Degan only to protect Sammy, but it was too late.

Reports of a marshal dead on Ruby Ridge set off alarm bells in Washington, where FBI officials began plotting their next moves, which included revising the agency’s rules of engagement to allow agents to shoot to kill any adult at Ruby Ridge seen in the possession of a firearm–whether or not that adult was presently posing a risk of immediate death or bodily harm. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), including its most elite snipers, arrived in Idaho early the next morning. When briefed on their assignment at Ruby Ridge on August 22, snipers were told that if they observed an adult carrying a weapon, deadly force “can and should” be used to take them out.

The FBI had as of yet made no surrender demand when Sniper Len Horiuchi’s opportunity arose shortly after taking his position. Randy, Sara, and Kevin left the cabin to visit Sammy’s body in the birthing shed. As Randy reached for the shed door, a bullet tore through his arm. After the shot, the three ran back to the cabin. Vicki through open the door as her husband and eldest daughter, followed by Harris, dove in. Then another shot rang out. From inside the cabin, screams could be heard. What the HRT did not know, and what they would not find out for days, is that the second bullet from Horiuchi’s .308-caliber gun had ripped its way through Vicki Weaver’s brain and lodged in the arm of Kevin Harris. Three hours after the shooting, Harris, coughing up blood and in agony, begged Randy to finish him off. “Kevin, I can’t do that,” Randy replied.

Negotiation efforts for a surrender continued for days as angry right-wing protesters gathered near Ruby Ridge. Skinheads, looking for action, flocked in from as far away as Las Vegas and Portland. Some of the negotiation efforts, inspired by the belief that Vicki was still alive and was the key to a peaceful resolution of the stand-off, backfired miserably. Notably, for example, there was the suggestion by a negotiator on the third day, “Good morning, Mrs Weaver. We had pancakes this morning. And what did you have for breakfast? Why don’t you send the children out for some pancakes, Mrs Weaver.” The Weavers interpreted the pancakes idea as just a cruel joke. Expecting to die at any time in a hail or bullets or a firestorm, Kevin and Randy composed a six-page letter offering their side of the confrontation.

There was finally a breakthrough in the long stand-off on August 28, when Randy agreed to speak with Bo Gritz, a former Green Beret and proponent of right-wing views who was then running for president of the United States on the Populist Party ticket. Gritz and two other friends of Randy succeeded on August 30 in convincing the injured Harris to surrender and receive medical treatment. The Weavers surrendered the next day following word from Gritz that famed defense attorney Gerry Spence had readily agreed to represent Weaver in his trial. Bo Gritz, meanwhile, had a new campaign issue. He told supporters at Ruby Ridge: “There’s a bureaucrat up here that’s guilty. Somebody is going to be brought to justice. I believe we’re gonna find some fat bureaucrat who authorized this to go down.” The FBI’s top agent at Ruby Ridge, Gene Glenn, said of the events on the mountain: “We are very sorry….There are no winners in a situation with all this sadness.”

An August 23, 1992, photo of Randy Weaver supporters at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho.

Weaver and Harris were charged with a host of crimes, including murder, conspiracy, and assault. An Idaho jury acquitted Harris of all charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for the original firearms charge.

At the trial that followed, Weaver’s defense attorney, Gerry Spence, rested his case without calling any witnesses for the defense, instead seeking to convince the jury through cross-examination aimed at discrediting government evidence and witnesses. Weaver was ultimately acquitted of all charges except missing his original court date and violating his bail conditions, for which he was sentenced to 18 months and fined $10,000; credited with time served, Weaver spent an additional 4 months in prison. Kevin Harris was defended by attorney David Niven and was acquitted of all charges. Kevin Harris was later indicted for the first-degree murder of DUSM Bill Degan on August 21, 1997, but the charge was dismissed on grounds of double jeopardy because he had been acquitted in the federal criminal trial on the same charge in 1993.

Defense counsels for Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris alleged throughout their 1993 trial that agents of the ATF, USMS, and FBI were themselves guilty of serious wrongdoing, leading the Department of Justice (DOJ) to create the Ruby Ridge Task Force (RRTF), which delivered a 542-page report on June 10, 1994, to the DOJ Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).

Questions persisted about Ruby Ridge and the subsequent Waco siege, which involved the same agencies and many of the same officials. The Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information held fourteen days of hearings, ending on October 19, 1995. The hearings were broadcast on CSPAN and confirmed many of the questions raised by the DOJ OPR Report. Both the internal 1994 Ruby Ridge Task Force Report and the public 1995 Senate subcommittee report on Ruby Ridge criticized the rules of engagement as unconstitutional. A 1995 GAO report on use of force by federal law enforcement agencies would be composed, and report: “In October 1995, Treasury and Justice adopted use of deadly force policies to standardize the various policies their component agencies had adopted over the years.” The major change was the requirement of a reasonable belief of an “imminent” danger of death or serious physical injury, which brought all federal LEA deadly force policies in line with the U.S. Supreme Court rulings Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 18 (1985) and Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386 (1989) that applied to state and local law enforcement agencies.

The surviving members of the Weaver family filed a wrongful death suit for $200 million. In an out-of-court settlement in August 1995, the federal government awarded Randy Weaver $100,000 and his three daughters $1 million each. The government did not admit any wrongdoing in the deaths of Sammy and Vicki. On the condition of anonymity, a DOJ official told the Washington Post that he believed the Weavers probably would have won the full amount if the case had gone to trial.

The incident along with the Waco siege ultimately became the motive of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, which resulted in the mass murder of 168 people in terrorist “retaliation” for the federal government’s handling of both incidents.

An inquiry by the Justice Department criticized the FBI for failing to gather sufficient intelligence and for not ordering the residents of the cabin to surrender before engaging them in a fire fight. It also concluded that Horiuchi’s second shot was unconstitutional because Harris and Weaver were running for cover and could not be considered imminent threats. The inquiry further alleged that Horiuchi unnecessarily endangered others by firing at the door of the cabin. The agent was later acquitted of manslaughter charges brought by prosecutors in Boundary county, Idaho.

FBI HRT sniper Lon Horiuchi was indicted for manslaughter in 1997 by the Boundary County, Idaho, prosecutor just before the statute of limitations for the crime of manslaughter expired, but the trial was removed to federal court and quickly dismissed on grounds of sovereign immunity. The decision to dismiss the charges was reversed by an en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit, which held that enough uncertainty about the facts of the case existed for Horiuchi to stand trial on state manslaughter charges. Ultimately, the then-sitting Boundary County Prosecutor, Brett Benson, who had defeated Woodbury in the 2000 election, decided to drop the charges because he felt it was unlikely the state could prove the case and too much time had passed. Yagman, the special prosecutor, responded that he “could not disagree more with this decision than I do.”

Randy and Sara Weaver wrote a 1998 paperback book, The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge, about the incident (the appendix of the book is a reprint of the 1995 Report on the U.S. Senate Ruby Ridge Hearing).

The attorney for Kevin Harris pressed Harris’s civil suit for damages, although federal officials vowed they would never pay someone who had killed a U.S. Marshal. In September 2000, after persistent appeals, Harris was awarded a $380,000 settlement from the government.

The Weaver family, including Randy, later moved to Kalispell, Montana, where Sara and the other two Weaver daughters are employed. After becoming a born again Christian, Sara Weaver said in 2012 that she had forgiven the federal agents who killed her mother and brother

Timeline

Jan. 17, 1991: Randy Weaver is arrested by Boundary County Sheriff Bruce Whittaker and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms for possessing a sawed-off shotgun. He is taken to Coeur d’Alene where, the next day, he is released because he has no prior criminal record.

Feb. 22, 1991: Weaver fails to show up for his trial in Moscow, Idaho, and a bench warrant is issued. Federal authorities say he and his family are heavily armed and holed up in his cabin, so surveillance is begun but no arrest is attempted.

Aug. 21, 1992: Six federal marshals conducting surveillance on Randy Weaver’s cabin encounter the fugitive, his 14-year-old son Samuel and Kevin Harris. A gunbattle ensues and U.S. Deputy Marshal William Degan of Boston and Samuel Weaver are killed.

In the cabin are Weaver, his wife, Vicki, three daughters and Harris Samuel’s body is cleaned and moved to an outbuilding.

Aug. 22, 1992: More than 100 state and federal authorities, equipped with helicopters and armored personnel carriers, pour into the woods, putting a perimeter around the cabin. More personnel arrive later.

A protest line is set up near the roadblock by Weaver supporters.

Aug. 22, 1992: Late in the day, Vicki Weaver is killed and Randy Weaver and Harris are wounded by an FBI sniper.

Aug. 23, 1992: As FBI agents move closer to the Weaver cabin during the night, they discover Samuel Weaver’s body in an outbuilding.

Aug. 25, 1992: Five skinheads are arrested on a nearby road, apparently while attempting to reach Weaver’s cabin. The vehicle is loaded with weapons.

Aug. 28, 1992: By nightfall, authorities accept Bo Gritz’s offer to talk with Weaver. He is driven in an armoured vehicle to an area near the cabin, where he uses a bullhorn to talk with Weaver.

Aug. 31, 1992: Weaver and his daughters leave the cabin with Gritz. Weaver is arrested airlifted to Boise, treated at St. Luke’s Hospital and taken to the Ada County Jail.

 


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