Randy Weaver, key figure behind bloody Ruby Ridge standoff near Canada-US border, passed away

Randy Weaver, who refused to leave his remote Idaho cabin to respond to a US gun threat with bloody consequences, died this week.

According to a social media post from his daughter Sara, Randy Weaver died Wednesday at age 74. She has not disclosed a cause of death.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of the 11-day Ruby Ridge standoff in which separate, deadly gunfire claimed the lives of Randy Weaver’s wife Vicki and teenage son Sam, as well as an American Marshal.

The lead-up to the deadly violence likely saw Weaver entangled in a sale of illegal weapons to an undercover federal agent, according to a finding by a U.S. Senate committee. Weaver, who refused to work as an informant, was charged before the standoff with a gun crime, which has become a rallying point for anti-government groups.

Few historians dispute that Ruby Ridge is a seminal event in recent American history. It mobilized militias, and Timothy McVeigh cited it as one of the causes influencing his 1995 bombing of a government building in Oklahoma City.

“Ruby Ridge still has a long-lasting resonance,” said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow with the Anti-Defamation League advocacy group. He said it is often one of the most significant historical incidents for the far right to be called out when they sense the US government has accomplished too much.

Randy Weaver points to bullet holes in his cabin door, next to a model of the property on Ruby Ridge, Idaho, during a United States Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC, on Sept. 6, 1995. (Joe Marquette/The Associated Press)

While the law enforcement community mourned US Marshal William Degan, it was the suffering of the Weaver family that infuriated many Americans.

“Ruby Ridge remains key to understanding how the FBI is no longer leashed by the law,” libertarian author James Bovard wrote on his blog on Thursday. He cited what he characterized as exaggerated in the prosecution of hundreds of participants in the U.S. Capitol riot and the recent hanging of the Michigan jury trial of men charged with conspiracy to kidnap that state’s governor.

Randy Weaver, who has been held up as a martyr on the far right, had views that many would consider abhorrent. He and his wife despised interracial marriage and subscribed to Christian identity beliefs that hold that Jews are impostors and white Protestants are the real descendants of Israel.

But, Pitcavage said, “that doesn’t give the government permission to commit evil acts of their own, just because the party on the other side is extremist, or even if they’ve done wrong.”

“If the government isn’t careful in that regard, and they take actions like… [what] happened at Ruby Ridge or Waco or [the Philadelphia MOVE bombing]The negative effects can have consequences and have reverberations that are much larger and much longer than you could ever expect,” he added.

The months-long standoff in Waco, Texas in 1993 ended with a federal police raid that left 86 dead and the grounds of the Branch Davidians, an apocalyptic religious community, burned to the ground. The 1985 Philadelphia Police Department bombing a property owned by the Black Rights activist group MOVE set a generator on fire and killed 11 people.

Extremism hotbed

As described in Jess Walter’s book Ruby Ridge: The Truth & Tragedy of The Randy Weaver Familythe Weavers were a middle-class family in Iowa that radicalized in the late 1970s.

They saw signs in everyday life that the violent end times prophesied in the Old Testament could happen during their lifetime. Long before the internet boosted QAnon and other fantastic theories, the Weavers fell under the spell of conspiracies communicated through newsletters and videotapes circulating on the fringes. For example, they believed that the Soviets would soon invade — through Canada to the south — and that the IRS was illegitimate.

Idaho was a hotbed for racist and anti-government militias in the 1980s and 1990s. Here, Weaver supporters demonstrate on August 23, 1992, near a government rallying point. (Jeff T. Green/The Associated Press)

They moved to a remote cabin with no electricity in the early 1980s on Ruby Ridge near Naples, Idaho, about a 45-minute drive from the border crossing at Rykerts, BC

Like today’s prepper movement, they stocked up and were armed and ready for any apocalypse.

“Guns were tools in our family,” Sara Weaver said in the 2021 American Experience: Ruby Ridge documentary about PBS.

Federal law enforcement agencies were keyed in in Idaho. The Aryan Nations were based there and a similar group The Order had murdered Jewish talk radio host Alan Berg in 1984.

Weaver was pressured to go undercover to infiltrate the Aryan Nations – a group he didn’t belong to, but whose events he had attended. He was charged with gun offenses when he didn’t.

‘Good morning, Mrs. Weaver’

Police kept an eye on his home after the gun charges were filed. After weeks of team surveillance, the barking of the Weaver family’s dog on August 20, 1992 sparked movement in the bushes and panic reactions from the family and security forces. Each side later insisted that the other shoot first. The Weaver family’s friend Kevin Harris, Samuel Weaver and Degan fired guns. The last two were killed.

The next day saw more gunfire. Vicki Weaver, standing in the doorway of the cabin holding her daughter, was killed instantly by an FBI sniper who thought he had Harris in his sight.

Larry Cooper, then Deputy US Marshal, is shown at a 1996 US Congressional hearing next to a photo of Marshal William Degan, who was murdered on Ruby Ridge. (Richard Ellis/AFP/Getty Images)

The standoff continued for several days. For a while, authorities were unaware that Vicki Weaver had been murdered. So negotiators continued to address her through a megaphone, with a torturous effect on the secluded family.

“Good morning, Mrs. Weaver. We had pancakes. And what did you have for breakfast?’ they said, according to Walter’s book.

Finally, Weaver and Harris—each with gunshot wounds—were taken off the ridge along with the three surviving children.

The men were tried for first degree murder in Degan’s death and acquitted. Weaver received $100,000 US after a settlement with the federal government and his children received $3 million.

A Justice Department investigation concluded that there was no evidence that Weaver “was coerced or wrongly enticed to sell the sawed-off shotguns.”

Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agents are shown during the standoff on August 26, 1992 near Naples, Idaho. The ATF, FBI and US Marshals were criticized for their tactics at Ruby Ridge. (Gary Stewart/The Associated Press)

The department’s assessment of the shooting was stricter. It found that the rules of engagement “expanded the use of deadly force beyond the scope of the Constitution and beyond the FBI’s own standard deadly force policy.”

Separately, a manslaughter case for the FBI sniper accused of killing Vicki Weaver was dismissed by the courts.

Weaver slammed McVeigh’s reason

Ruby Ridge was followed just eight months later by the disastrous federal raid on Waco, Texas.

McVeigh, who would kill 168 with his bombing, cooked.

“What the US government did in Waco and Ruby Ridge was filthy,” he told Lou Michel and Dan Herbeck, authors of American Terrorist: Timothy McVeigh and the Oklahoma City Bombing† “And I gave them the garbage back in Oklahoma City.”

Weaver was stunned when he heard that.

“McVeigh took the law into his own hands. He had justified it in his own mind. I completely disagree with him,” Weaver said in 2001.

The murders of Weaver family members in Ruby Ridge infuriated Timothy McVeigh, who was executed for the 2001 Oklahoma City bombing. (David Longstreath/The Associated Press)

Pitcavage believes it is important not to confuse every aggrieved, well-armed American. He sees a distinction between an off-the-grid type like Weaver and those who want to proactively undermine government function, as did many of the convicted capitol rioters and Idahoan Ammon Bundy, who once led an occupation of federal lands. .

While the most vocal anti-government extremists probably wouldn’t give the FBI a dime, Pitcavage points to the peaceful resolution of a protracted showdown in Montana Freeman in 1996 as evidence that law enforcement has learned lessons from the shortcomings at Ruby Ridge and Waco.

Given the extraordinary armed force available to U.S. law enforcement agencies, remembering Ruby Ridge’s lessons is critical, Pitcavage said.

“The FBI must not only learn lessons, and often learn the hard way by making mistakes and seeing the consequences, but as an institution [it] often have to relearn those lessons,” he said. “They fade over time.”

Leave a Comment