THE SIEGE AT RUBY RIDGE
BATF's entrapment of Randy Weaver, an outrageous precursor to the
Waco inferno, led to the violent deaths of three people. Says his
defense attorney, Gerry Spence: "What happened to Randy Weaver can
happen to anybody in this country."
BY JIM OLIVER
Seeing his dog, Striker, shot to death by masked intruders clad in
camouflage, Sammy Weaver, 14, fired back in fear for his life. The 4
ft. 11" tall youngster was hit in the arm, then shot in the back as
he turned to run for home. He died instantly, killed by an agent of
the federal government.
Cradling her 10-month-old daughter in her arms, Vicki Weaver stood in
the doorway of her home, mourning her slain son, unaware that she
herself had only seconds to live. In an instant a bullet tore into
Vicki Weaver's face, blew through her jaw and severed her carotid
artery. The bullet was fired from 200 yds. away by an agent of the
What had the Weaver family done to bring FBI snipers and
submachine-toting U.S. Marshals to the woods around their cabin on
Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho? Why did the government act as though
the Weavers had forfeited the protections guaranteed all Americans
by the United States Constitution? Who made the decisions that led to
their unjustified deaths and also to the death of deputy U.S. Marshal
For the six men working near Weaver's plywood cabin on Ruby Ridge,
Aug. 21, 1992, was another day on a job that had been going on for 16
months. Their employer, the U.S. government, was spending $26,000 a
week, and there had been no end in sight to the work.
The cabin--really a shack--was home to 44-year-old former Green Beret
Randy Weaver and his family--wife, Vicki; son, Sammy; and daughters,
Sara, Rachel and Elisheba. It was also home to their young friend,
Kevin Harris. They were subsistence hunters, and tended a garden,
putting up vegetables. A generator produced occasional electricity.
They had no TV, no radio.
This day there were some new men on the job site not far from the
cabin--one, 42-year-old William Degan, had been brought to northern
Idaho on special orders. He was to help plan a successful conclusion
to the job.
The men in the woods were dressed in their work clothes--camouflage
commando outfits complete with masks. They carried the tools of their
trade--two-way radios rigged for quiet operation, night vision
equipment, semi-automatic handguns, fully-automatic military rifles
and at least one silenced HK submachine gun. One of the men was a
medic, prepared to care for any casualties.
The Weaver family had dogs. Somebody threw a rock to test their
reaction. A golden retriever barked near the cabin and came running
their way. A mission somebody in the Marshal Service had dubbed
"Operation Northern Exposure" was about to end.
The "op" had included use of jet reconnaissance overflights with
aerial photographic analysis by the Defense Mapping Agency, and
placement of high resolution video equipment recording activity by
the Weaver family from sites 1-1/2 miles away--160 hours worth of
For nearly a year and a half, federal agents had roamed the area,
picking locations for surveillance and for snipers. Degan belonged to
the Special Operations Group, the Marshal's national swat team. The
six on-site this day were deputy U.S. Marshals.
The target of all of this--and of a Federal law enforcement and
prosecution effort that would eventually total $2.3 million was Randy
Weaver. What kind of criminal was he to demand this kind of
attention? Was he a major drug dealer? Serial killer? Was he a
No. On Oct. 24, 1989, Weaver sold two shotguns whose barrels arguably
measured 1/4" less than the 18" length determined arbitrarily by
Congress to be illegal. The H&R single-barrel 12-ga., and Remington
pump were sold to a good friend who instructed Weaver to shorten the
barrels. The "good friend" was an undercover informant for the Bureau
of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), who later told reporters he
was in it "mainly for the excitement."
Eight months after he sold the shotguns guns, Weaver was approached
by two BATF agents with an offer--spy on the Aryan Nations, a white
supremacist hate group headquartered in northern Idaho, or go to
jail. Weaver refused to become a government informer, and--six
months later--he was indicted on the shotgun charge.
On Jan. 17, 1991, as Weaver and his wife were driving to town for
supplies, they encountered a pickup truck-camper with its hood up, a
man and woman seeming to be in trouble. The Weavers stopped to offer
their help. A horde of federal agents piled out of the camper. A
pistol was pressed against Weaver's neck. Vicki Weaver was thrown to
the slushy ground.
Weaver was arraigned before a federal magistrate, who later admitted
he cited the wrong law. Out on bond, Weaver went back to his cabin.
According to friends who testified in court, he and his wife vowed
not to have any more dealings with the courts of the federal
government. They would just stay on their mountain.
A hearing was set on the shotgun matter for Federal Court in Moscow,
Idaho. The government notified Weaver by letter that he was to appear
March 20, 1991. The actual hearing was held February 20--one month
earlier. The error in dates was enough to give rise to a memo within
the Marshal Service saying the case would be a washout. (Weaver did
not show for the wrong date, either.) U.S. Attorney Ron Howen still
went to the grand jury anyway, and Weaver was indicted for failure to
But why had the BATF picked Randy Weaver to set up as an informer? He
was a man devoted to his family, a man with no criminal record, a
veteran who served his country with honor. It was Weaver's beliefs
that made him an ideal target. His unorthodox religious and
political views were far outside mainstream America. He was a white
separatist. Also, Randy Weaver was little, a nobody.
Over the course of the next 16 months, the feds painted Weaver as
racist, as anti-semitic and as a criminal. But they had to entrap him
into his only crime, altering two guns. The media was unquestioning.
In print and on TV and radio, Weaver's home--the plywood shack he
built himself--became a "mountain fortress," and then "a bunker,"
and "a stronghold protected by a cache of 15 weapons and ammunition
capable of piercing armored personnel carriers."
The common shotguns Weaver sold became the chosen "weapon of drug
dealers and terrorists" or "gangster weapons" that "have no sporting
use." The media always added the universal out . . . "agents said."
But there were no gangsters. There were no terrorists or drug
dealers, just Weaver, the gun buyer and the government.
It was all a lie. Hate-hype. People believed it, maybe even the
agents who planted the hate-hype began to believe. It all ceased to
matter on August 21, when Striker barked and sniffed out the agents
spying on the cabin--lives changed, lives ended.
Nobody, except the people who were there, knows exactly what happened
next. There were several versions of the story. But some facts jibe.
Randy Weaver's little boy, Sammy--a kid whose voice hadn't yet
changed--and Kevin Harris followed Striker. Harris and Weaver later
said they thought the dog was chasing a deer. Harris carried a
bolt-action hunting rifle. The boy also had a gun.
Without warning a federal agent fired a burst into Striker, killing
him. (It came out in court later that there had been a plan to take
the dog "out of the equation.") The boy, frightened, shot back, and
when one of the agents fired another burst, Sammy lay dead.
Kevin Harris shot deputy William Degan in the chest. He died a few
moments later. The shooting ended relatively quickly. The agents
would claim Harris fired first. Harris claimed he fired after the boy
was shot. Agents told the media their men had been pinned down for
eight hours. It was a lie.
The dog was dead. The boy was dead. Deputy Degan was dead. Two
American families had tragically lost a loved-one. During the night
hours, Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris brought the little boy's body to
a shed near the cabin and washed it.
Deputy Degan's shooting brought in the FBI. Soon, the Weaver's
property was ringed by a huge force of FBI, BATF, U.S. Marshals,
Idaho state police and local law enforcement and Idaho National
Among the federal law enforcement commanders was Richard Rogers, the
head of the FBI's hostage rescue team, which includes its snipers. On
the flight out, he took an extraordinary step--he decided to alter
radically the prescribed rules of engagement of FBI sharpshooters.
Normally, agents can only shoot when they are facing death or
grievous harm. But the 11 snipers that were positioned around the
Weaver cabin were given new orders:
"If <I>any adult<D> in the compound is observed with a weapon after
the surrender announcement is made, deadly force can and <I>should be
employed<D> to neutralize the individual." This meant Randy Weaver's
wife would be fair game. It went on:
"If any <I>adult male<D> is observed with a weapon <I>prior to the
announcement<D>, deadly force can and should be employed if the shot
can be taken without endangering the children." (Emphasis added.)
In words reminiscent of hollow justifications used in Waco, Texas,
federal spokesmen kept telling the media of their concern for the
children. In fact, Gene Glenn, the agent in charge of the siege, told
the <I>New York Times<D> he considered the kids to be hostages. Yet
they'd already killed one child.
The negotiators were not in place, and no effort had been made to
contact the Weavers, when Randy Weaver, Kevin Harris--armed--and
16-year-old Sara Weaver left the cabin and moved to the shed where
Sam's body lay.
As the three reached the shed, an FBI sniper some 200 yds. away aimed
at Weaver. He told the court he was aiming for the spine, just below
the neck. He missed; shot Weaver in the back of the arm, the bullet
exiting through the armpit.
Sara later told <I>Spokesman Review<D> staff writer, Jess Walter, in
a copyrighted story:
"I ran up to my dad and tried to shield him and pushed him toward the
house. If they were going to shoot someone, I was going to make them
shoot a kid."
At the cabin, Vicki Weaver was waiting at the door, holding her
infant daughter, Elisheba. The sniper fired again. His bullet hit
Vicki Weaver. She was dead before the baby hit the floor,
miraculously unhurt. Harris was hit by bullet fragments and bone
from Vicki's skull. He was bleeding badly. Randy Weaver, daughters
Sara, and 10-year-old Rachel all saw the violent death.
Later, sniper Lon Horiuchi stated in court that killing Vicki Weaver
had been a mistake; that he was aiming for Kevin Harris. Defense
attorney Spence asked him, "You wanted to kill him didn't you?" He
answered, "Yes, sir."
Sara Weaver recounted the night following her mother's death. Again
from reporter Jess Walter's story:
"Elisheba cried during the night. She was saying, `Mama, mama,
mama.'. . . "Dad was crying and saying, `I know baby. I know baby.
Your Mama's gone. . . .'"
She told Walter that on Sunday, they tried to yell at federal agents
and get their attention, to tell them that her mother was dead. She
said they got no response. Instead they would hear FBI negotiators.
"They'd come on real late at night and say, `Come out and talk to us,
Mrs. Weaver. How's the baby, Mrs. Weaver,' in a real smart-alecky
voice. `Or they'd say, Good morning, Randall. How'd you sleep. We're
having pancakes. What are you having?'"
The FBI later claimed it had no idea that its sniper had shot Vicki
Weaver. Yet, a <I>New York Times<D> stringer quoted FBI sources as
saying they were "using a listening device that allow(ed) them to
hear conversations, and even the baby's cries in the cabin." Another
On Thursday, August 27, radio newsman Paul Harvey used his noon
broadcast to reach the Weavers, who he'd learned were regular
listeners. Urging Randy Weaver to surrender, Harvey said,
prophetically, "Randy, you'll have a much better chance with a jury
of understanding homefolks than you could ever have with any kind of
shoot-out with 200 frustrated lawmen."
As part of their efforts to make contact with the Weavers, the FBI
sent a robot with a telephone to the cabin. But the robot also had a
shotgun pointed at the door, so the Weavers feared that reaching for
the phone could result in death or injury.
Somewhere in all of this, the FBI discovered the body of Sammy. They
told the news media they didn't know he'd been killed.
The siege began to unravel six days after Vicki Weaver had been
killed. Her body remained in the kitchen of the cabin all that time.
Sara crawled around her to get food and water for her family. It was
during this time that Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris dictated their
version of their story to Sara. In this letter, Weaver accused his
government of murdering his wife.
The news media, based on information from the feds, repeatedly
reported that Vicki had been killed in "an exchange of fire" or in a
"gun battle." More spin control.
The only shots were two--from the government's sniper.
Kevin Harris was the first person to come out. Sunday, August 30,
badly wounded, he was rushed to a Spokane hospital were he was
treated and charged with murder. A magistrate told him he was facing
the death penalty.
The rest of the family came out on the next day. The surrender was
negotiated--not by the FBI--but by Bo Gritz, former Green Beret hero.
All the lies and federal spin control over the story were about to
end. The case was going to go to court.
The 36-day trial took place in the U.S. District Court in Boise, with
Judge Edward Lodge presiding. The jury heard the government put on 56
witnesses. The defense rested without calling a single witness,
confident that the government had destroyed its own case. They were
The jury deliberated for nearly three weeks, and found Harris not
guilty of murder or any other charges leveled against him. They found
Weaver not guilty of eight federal felony counts. The judge had
earlier thrown out two other counts.
Weaver was found guilty of two counts: failing to appear in court and
violating his bail conditions. He was declared not guilty of the gun
charge--the seed of all of this misery.
It was a bizarre trial, full of contradictions, with government
witnesses countering each other's stories as to the events of August
21, and countering the events leading up to Vicki Weaver's death the
The question of who fired first--Harris or the Marshals--was key to
the jury deciding on the murder charge against Harris. In the end
they believed Kevin Harris acted in self-defense. Earlier, the death
penalty had been ruled out. The law the prosecution cited had been
struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court two decades before.
The government spent days going over the Weavers' religious views,
trying to establish they were racist and demonstrated a long-lived
conspiracy to violently confront the government. The jury didn't
Marshal Service witnesses told about a series of pre-siege scenarios
to root Weaver out of his cabin. But when pressed by the defense,
they said they never considered simply knocking on the door and
During the trial, the government admitted that the FBI had tampered
with the evidence; that the crime scene photos given the defense were
phony reenactments. Physical evidence had been removed and replaced.
The prosecutor knew this and had failed to tel l the defense.
The prosecution also withheld documents that might have helped the
defense. When ordered by the judge to produce them immediately, the
FBI sent the material from Washington, D.C., via <I>Fourth class
mail<D>, which took two weeks to cross the country. For
prosecutorial misconduct, the judge ordered the government to pay
part of the defense attorneys' fees, an action almost unheard of in a
criminal case. Prosecutor Howen also was forced to apologize in open
court. At the end of the trial, he collapsed in the middle of a
statement, telling the judge, "I can't go on."
Gerry Spence told the jury, "This is a murder case, but the people
who committed the murder have not been charged. The people who
committed the murder are not here in court."
After the trial, Spence told <I>The New York Times<D>, "A jury today
has said that you can't kill somebody just because you wear badges,
then cover up those homicides by prosecuting the innocent.
"What are we going to do now about the deaths of Vicki Weaver, a
mother who was killed with a baby in her arms, and Sammy Weaver, a
boy who was shot in the back?"
Spence has asked the Boundary County, Idaho, prosecutor to bring
charges against various federal agents. Should that happen lingering
questions about the Weaver case finally may be answered. Should that
happen another jury undoubtedly will serve notice
to those who have forgotten that the United States government is
supposed to serve its citizens, not entrap them, not defame them, not
falsify evidence against them and absolutely not kill their children.
GERRY SPENCE QUOTES FOR CALL-OUTS
"Here you had federal agents come into a little county in northern
Idaho, suspend state law and then say they had the right to eliminate
anyone with a gun."
"The crime he committed was not sawing off a shotgun. The crime he
committed was refusing to go undercover for the (B)ATF."
"A jury today has said that you can't kill somebody just because you
wear badges, then cover up those homicides by prosecuting the
"This is a murder case, but the people who committed the murder have
not been charged. The people who committed the murder are not here in
"The theme is to change Randy Weaver and demonize him and make him
into an evil, spiteful, hateful person so that you can cover up the
murder of a little boy shot in the back and the murder of a woman
shot in the head."
"The whole process is to make us hate and fear the victim . . . then
it's all right to do whatever we want to them. . . . We can kill
him. We can destroy his rights. We can demonize him."
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