[Originally published in the Front Range Voluntaryist, article by Jason Boothe]
“This was hell on earth, and we were living it. I had to crawl through my mom’s blood to the pantry.” - “The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge,” written by Sarah and Randy Weaver about the siege of their home in 1992.
Three years before the now infamous siege of the Weaver home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho, Randy and his family were just everyday folks trying to live as free as can be, same as many of us today. They simply wanted to be left alone. The federal government had other ideas for Randy though: a snitch. And they tried to entrap him to make that idea into a reality.
Kenneth Fadley, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, & Firearms (ATF) informant, asked Weaver to sell him two sawed-off shotguns. The ATF claimed the barrels were cut shorter than the 18 inches mandatory by law. According to Weaver the ATF then threatened him, saying that unless he promised to infiltrate the Aryan Nation and turn informant, they would prosecute. He refused. Charges were filed in December 1990. A court date was set, then changed. A probation officer sent a letter to Weaver with yet another date. When Weaver failed to appear, a warrant was issued. A Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information later concluded that pretrial services incorrectly informed Weaver about the change.
What followed was an intense and extensive 18 month investigation and surveillance of the Weavers 20 acres. David Nevin, a lawyer involved in the court case post siege noted that,
“The marshals called in military aerial
reconnaissance and had photos studied
by the Defense Mapping Agency. They
prowled the woods around Weaver’s
cabin with night-vision equipment.
They had psychological profiles performed
and installed $130,000 worth of long-range
solar-powered spy cameras. They intercepted
the Weavers’ mail. They even knew the
menstrual cycle of Weaver’s teenage daughter,
and planned an arrest scenario around it.
They actually bought a tract of land next to
Weaver’s where an undercover marshal was
to pose as a neighbor and build a cabin in
hopes of befriending Weaver and luring
All this despite the fact that the ATF had initially served Weaver the warrant without encountering violence by agents pretending to be stranded nobodies with engine trouble on the side of the road that Randy stopped to help.
Nevin also noted, “Although the marshals knew Weaver’s precise location throughout this elaborate investigation, not a single marshal ever met face-to-face with Weaver. Even so, Weaver offered to surrender if conditions were met to guarantee his safety. The marshals drafted a letter of acceptance, but the U.S. attorney for Idaho abruptly ordered the negotiations to cease.”
How It Started...
Fast-forward to August 21, 1992..
14-year old Samuel Weaver and family friend Kevin Harris, 25, bound off after the dogs in hopes of getting a deer for the dinner table. What they found instead was camo clad, face painted, suppressed automatic firearm standing over the Weaver's dog, Stryker.
What happen next is a point of great contention. A "he said/he said" if you will. The camo clad men, US Marshal's, claim they identified themselves. Kevin Harris said they didn't. Either way, shots were fired from both sides. US Marshal W.F. Deagan was killed by Kevin Harris and little Samuel was killed, shot in the back, his arm nearly severed, as he turned to run back up the hill, by U.S. Marshal Larry Cooper; though it took more than 3 years and a very persistent county sheriff to prove who killed Samuel. Harris managed to make it back to the cabin and inform Randy what happen. The Marshal's retreated down the hill and called for help. Randy retrieved his son's body and placed in a shed near the cabin.
The next day, August 22, nearly 400 federal agents from the FBI, ATF, joined the US Marshals surrounding the cabin. The Feds then altered the "rules of engagement" to include "If any adult in the area around the cabin is observed with a weapon after the surrender announcement had been made, deadly force could and should be used to neutralize the individual." Shoot first. Ask questions later. The rules were later determined to be "unconstitutional".
Later that second day, the family went out to the shed to say goodbye to Samuel. Randy was shot by FBI HRT sniper Lon Horiuchi in the shoulder. As he ran back to the cabin, Randy's wife Vicki, while unarmed and holding her 10 month daughter Elisheba, was shot and killed by Horiuchi. The bullet went through her skull and traveled into Kevin Harris's arm, lodging in his chest, causing him excruciating pain and several times asking Randy to shoot him.
For the next 8 days, August 23-August 30, the family lived on their knees and crawled around the cabin floor (through blood from Kevin, Randy, and Vicki) to keep from silhouetting themselves in the windows. The Feds sifted through and removed the contents under the cabin (in the book she co-wrote, she specifically remembers hearing them talking and moving around) and taunted the Weavers by using a loud-speaker to try convince Vicki (the Feds claimed they didn't know she was dead) to tell Randy to give up.
August 31, Randy peacefully surrendered.
The Trial and Aftermath
The FBI's incompetency continues. They claimed that shooting Randy and Vicki was justified because Horiuchi said he saw one of the suspects raise a weapon in the direction of a helicopter. But other federal officials testified at Weaver’s trial that there were no helicopters in the vicinity of the cabin at the time when Horiuchi shot.
Randy was cleared of all major charges including murder. He was found guilty of failure to appear and carrying a weapon during pre-trial release. Randy was sentenced to 18-months in prison and a $10,000 fine. He got credit for time served and only served an additional 3 months post trial.
Randy sued the government for wrongful death of his son and wife in 1995. The government settled for $3.1 million. One million to each of the surviving children and $100,00 to Randy. A DOJ official told the Washington Post that "if Weaver’s suit had gone to trial in Idaho, he probably would have been awarded $200 million."
Kevin Harris was cleared of all charges. He sued and got a settlement for $380,000 in 2000.
The government never admitted any wrong doing in either settlement.
The "Ruby Ridge Task Force" report to the DOJ's Office of Professional Responsibility in June 1994 stated in its conclusion that the rules that allowed the second shot to take place (the shot that killed Vicki) did not satisfy constitutional standards for legal use of deadly force. Despite this, Lon Horiuchi was saved from an involuntary manslaughter conviction in 1998 by U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge citing the supremacy clause of the Constitution which grants immunity to federal officers acting in the scope of their employment. Charges were officially dropped in 2001.
FBI Director Louis Freeh found 12 FBI officials guilty of “inadequate performance, improper judgment, neglect of duty and failure to exert proper managerial oversight.” The heaviest penalty imposed was 15 days unpaid leave, for only four agents. As The New York Times reported, Freeh has imposed heavier penalties for FBI agents who used their official cars to drive their children to school. Larry Pott, the senior field agent and man the altered the "rules of engagement", received on a letter of censure.
In March 1996, the six US Marshals at Ruby Ridge, including Samuel's murder Larry Cooper, were given the agencies highest awards for their "courage".
Kill a kid, get a medal.