August 21, 1992: The Ruby Ridge Incident


WHAT HAPPENED?


To be honest, I knew just about nothing about Ruby Ridge before I started writing this, except that it is often likened to Waco in terms of government overstepping. There is a LOT of information about this incident out there, so I'll try to keep to the basics while still making it interesting.


Ruby Ridge refers to an 11-day siege in Boundary County, Idaho that began on August 21, 1992. The United States Marshals Service (USMS) tried to apprehend and arrest Randy Weaver under a warrant because he had failed to appear in court on firearms charges. Weaver refused to surrender, and his immediate family, as well as a family friend, resisted as well. The Hostage Rescue Team of the FBI became involved.


While the USMS was on the property, 6 Marshals encountered Kevin Harris, the family friend, and Sammy Weaver, Randy's 14-year-old son. A shootout took place, killing a deputy, the son, and the family dog. As the siege continued, Weaver's wife, Vicki, was killed by a sniper. All of the deaths occurred in the first 2 days. By August 30, everyone had surrendered.


Much of the conversation surrounding the siege focuses on the government overstepping their boundaries, resulting in the death of innocent people. Though the Weavers won various civil suits against the government, nobody was ever held criminally responsible for the deaths.

BACKGROUND


So, how did a missed court date result in various deaths, an 11-day siege, and an incident that has gone down in history?


Randy Weaver, a former U.S. Army Green Beret, and his wife and 4 children moved to Idaho in the 1980s to homeschool their children, and escape what he and his wife believed to be a corrupted world. His wife, Vicki, was the religious leader of the family, and in 1978, she began believing the apocalypse was imminent. After the birth of their son, Sammy, they began selling their possessions, even living without electricity.


In 1984, after a dispute with his neighbor, Terry Kinnison, over a land deal, Kinnison began writing letters to the FBI and Secret Service claiming that Randy had threatened to kill the Pope, the President, and the Idaho Governor. And so, in January 1985, the FBI began and investigation into Randy. In February, Vicki and Randy were interviewed by a slew of government officials. Though they had been told that he was a member of a white supremacist group, Randy denied the allegations, and the government filed no charges against him.


However, they did note that Randy was associated with one Frank Kumnick, a known associate of the Aryan Nations white supremacist group. Randy had told them that neither he nor Kumnick were members of said group, and that Kumnick was involved in a different alt-right terrorist group. On February 28, 1985, Randy and Vicki filed an affidavit alleging that their enemies were plotting to provoke the FBI into killing them, and on May 6, they wrote to President Reagan claiming that their enemies had sent him a threatening letter under their name. (No evidence of such a letter ever surfaced.)


The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) got involved in July of 1986 when Randy introduced himself to an ATF informant at the World Aryan Congress. He had been invited by Kumnick, the original focus of the ATF investigation. Over the next few years, Randy and the informant met various times. He invited him to his home in 1989 to discuss forming a group to fight the U.S. government.


In October of 1989, allegedly, Randy sold the informant 2 sawed-off shotguns. The next month, he accused him of being a police spy, and so the informant's handler ordered him to have no further contact with Randy. In June of 1990, Herb Byerly, the handler, tried to use the shotgun charge as leverage for Randy to act for an informant in his investigation into Aryan Nations, but he refused to become a "snitch". And thus, the ATF filed gun charges against him. He was indicted in December 1990 for making and possessing illegal weapons.


The ATF believed it would be too dangerous to arrest Randy on his property, and so in January of 1991, they posed as broken down motorists and arrested Randy when he stopped to assist. He was told his charges and released on bail. The trial date was set for February 5, but was changed to February 20. However, the date change was not sent directly to Randy, only his attorney, Everett Hofmeister. Hofmeister had no way to contact Randy, apparently, and tried repeatedly to get in contact with him to keep him up to date with the trial date. During this time, a letter was said directly to Randy that erroneously claimed his trial date was March 20.


On February 20, Randy did not show up in court, and so a bench warrant was issued for the failure to appear. Even though various people brought to the judge's attention that Randy had been provided the wrong date, he refused to withdraw the warrant. However, they agreed to wait until March 20 to execute the warrant to see if he would show up (essentially to see if it truly was the wrong date, or if he just wasn't going to come). However, a grand jury was called on March 14, and nobody was told about the mistaken letter.


So the case gets handed off from ATF to the US Marshals. They were tasked with arresting and bringing in Randy Weaver, who was now considered a fugitive. He stayed in his remote home and threatened to resist any forceful attempts to gather him. Being already extremely distrustful of the government, he saw the erroneous letter as just another point in the conspiracy against him. His distrust grew when his lawyer, incorrectly, told him that if he lost his trial, he would lose his land, leaving his wife homeless, and the government would take his kids.


The Marshals attempted to have him surrender peacefully, but he refused to leave his cabin. He negotiated with various people, but the Marshals began to come to the realization that they'd have to capture him against his will.

THE SEIGE BEGINS


On Friday, August 21, 1992, nearly a year and a half since he initially failed to appear in court, 6 marshals were sent to scout a suitable area where they could arrest Randy. At one point, Deputy U.S. Marshal Art Roderick threw a rock at the door to test the reaction of the dogs. When Randy's son, Sammy, and friend, Kevin Harris, came out to investigate, 3 of the marshals (Roderick, Larry Cooper and Bill Degan) retreated into the woods, and took up hidden defensive positions.


Later, the observation post team noted that the dogs were alerted to the team after neighbors alerted them. Sammy and Kevin followed the dog, Striker, on foot through the woods. Randy went elsewhere in the woods, and the rest of the family (Vicki and their 3 daughters Sara, Rachel, and baby Elisheba) stayed in the cabin. By government account, 2 people yelled "Stop! U.S. Marshal!" buy the dog and Sammy came out of the woods, and a firefight erupted.


19 rounds were fired. Roderick fired 1, Degan fired 7, Cooper fired 6, Sammy fired 3, and Harris fired 2. Roderick's shots resulted in the death of the dog, at which time Sammy returned fire. He was shot in the back while retreating. Harris shot and killed Degan. The matter of who killed 14-year-old Sammy was one of the biggest matters in the investigations. The evidence "suggests, but does not establish" that Sammy was killed by officer Cooper. Though the officers claimed Harris had shot first, he would eventually assert self defense and was acquitted of all charges.


After the August 21 firefight, immediate support was requested, as a marshal had been killed. Various other government agencies arrived at the scene. By August 22, rules of engagement were drafted.


Between 2:30 and 3:30 PM on August 22, sniper teams were briefed and deployed to the cabin. The rules of engagement were also a topic of contention, as the snipers considered them as a "green light" to shoot armed adult males on sight, which was considered the most severe rules Fred Lanceley, the FBI Hostage Negotiator, had heard in 300 hostage situations.


Before negotiators arrived at the cabin, an FBI sniper shot and wounded Randy in the back while he was trying to enter his shed to visit the body of his murdered son. When Randy and his 16-year-old, Sara, ran back toward the house, the sniper shot a second bullet, killing Vicki Weaver, who was standing behind the door of the cabin. She was holding their 10-month-old baby.


On August 30, after no more deaths and civilian negotiations, everyone surrendered. Both Harris and Randy were arrested. Harris was severely injured (the shot that killed Vicki had hit him as well).

LEGAL PROCEEDINGS


Both Kevin Harris and Randy Weaver were charged with a variety of offenses. Weaver was acquitted of all charges, except for hissing his original court date and violating bail conditions. He was sentenced to 18 months and a $10,000 fine, but he served less than 16 months with a credit for time served. Harris was acquitted of all charges.


The US Department of Justice created a task force to investigate the events of the incident, which was ultimately 542 pages long. The rules of engagement were determined as unconstitutional.


Randy Weaver and his daughters filed a wrongful death suit for $200 million for his son and wife. He was awarded $100,000 and his daughters $1 million each in an out-of-court settlement, though the government did not admit to any wrongdoing. The DOJ believed they would have won the full amount had they gone to trial. Harris was awarded a $380,000 settlement.


In 1997, the sniper who killed Vicki, Lon Horiuchi, was indicted on manslaughter charges. However, the trial was dismissed as he had been acting in the line of duty. Though further conversations were had about the validity of his sovereign immunity, it was believed there was not enough evidence to prove criminal charges. And though, even though the rules of engagement and killings of the Weaver family were deemed unconstitutional, nobody was ever legally held accountable for the events at Ruby Ridge.


Randy and his daughter Sara wrote The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge in 1998. The family moved to Kalispell, Montana. Sara became a born again Christian and in 2012 said she forgave the agents who killed her mother and brother.


In 1995, domestic terrorists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols claimed revenge for Ruby Ridge and Waco by committing the Oklahoma City Bombing on the second anniversary of the Waco siege fire. 168 people were killed, including numerous women and children.


So, look. I didn't expect my beliefs to align with 2 domestic terrorists. I didn't think I'd read about Ruby Ridge and think, wow, we should fight against the government for their horrific actions. But I expected the sides to be a little bit more well-defined, and I don't think they are.


Of course I do not support the government's killing of a 14-year-old kid and an innocent mother who was holding an infant. That is horrible and heartbreaking and, I believe, avoidable. But, am I wrong to think that this wasn't partially Randy Weaver's fault? First of all, I have nearly no sympathy for him because he was a white supremacist, so that's pretty bad. But also, he didn't go to his court date. Do I believe your wife and child should be killed for that? Heaven's no! But he didn't go to court in February 1991. The siege didn't happen until late August of 1992. He had refused to surrender himself for a crime he was absolutely guilty of (that carried a fairly short sentence) for a year and a half. He threatened those who came to apprehend him. They couldn't just let it go - that isn't how the law works.


Similar to Waco, I condemn some of what the government chose to do... but I still understand that the actions of the attacked were responsible for them. If you have a creepy sex cult happening inside a large compound where children are in danger, you have to expect some push back. If you refuse to surrender to a crime you're guilty of for a year and a half, you have to expect that they won't just... give up.


Certainly, the government could have done things a lot better. The teen and wife didn't have to die. I feel terrible for them, and the daughters who lost their mother and brother. But if you want me to feel bad for a conspiracy touting fugitive who refused to surrender for 18 months and had been caught because he was attending white supremacists conferences, you've come to the wrong person.

REFERENCES:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ruby_Ridge


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