McAlester Legal Blog

THE INCIDENT AT RUBY RIDGE, Part One

THE INCIDENT AT RUBY RIDGE
I’m going to do a series on an important event in American history, the incident at Ruby Ridge. I have wanted to do this for a couple of reasons, I believe that Ruby Ridge is a poster child for abusive governmental action, and it resulted in one of the finest closing arguments in the history of American jurisprudence.
PART ONE – THE WEAVERS AND RUBY RIDGE
Randy Weaver was born in Villisca, Iowa, in 1948. He graduated from high school in 1966, enrolled in community college, and met his future wife, Vicki Jordison. Weaver soon dropped out to join the fight in Vietnam, and although he successfully completed Grenn Beret training he never made it to Vietnam. Weaver, who wanted to go to Vietnam to fight was stationed in Fort Bragg, North Carolina and remained there until he was discharged in 1971.
Randy married Vicki that same year, and the couple moved to Cedar Falls, Iowa, where Randy enrolled in Northern Iowa University. Randy eventually dropped out, due to lack of money to pay tuition, and he and Vicki worked a series of odd jobs to make ends meet.
The Weavers always maintained a close relationship with God, whom they referred to as Yahweh. They studied the Bible nightly.
In the 1970s, following the latest Arab-Israeli war, the Weavers came to believe that the biblical doomsday prophecies were being fulfilled. In 1978 Vicki began to talk to Randy of a recurrent dream, an omen. Vicki said that she saw a beautiful mountaintop retreat where her family would be safe from evil and the coming apocalypse. The Weavers began planning, and Randy began buying weapons that they felt would be needed to protect the family during Armageddon.
In 1982, the Weavers third child, Rachel, was born, and the following year they sold their home and possessions, buying twenty acres of land in the Ruby Ridge area of Northern Idaho. The Weavers built a rough cabin, without electricity or running water, and Vicki homeschooled the children, a violation of Idaho law. The Weavers made friends in the area, eventually taking in a troubled teenager, Kevin Harris.
During the mid- to late 1980s, the Weavers became more and more paranoid that others in the communities around Ruby Ridge were conspiring against them in a “smear campaign”, and slinging false accusations against them to the FBI and Secret Service. In fact Randy had been in a few disputes with locals and it is believed that one such dispute resulted in neighbor contacting various governmental agencies about the Weavers.
Randy ran for sheriff in 1988; his platform included protecting the public from the government, and he handed out “get out of jail free” cards, saying that anyone arrested for a nonviolent crime would get a second chance. Weaver lost the election.
THE SETUP
In the late 1980s, the media began running stories about “militia” groups inhabiting the Northwest. They would role tape of families dressed in camouflage performing military-style drills while holding military-style weapons. The stories generally painted these groups as radical right-wing extremists hell bent on the overthrow of the government, and the public, frightened and angry, called upon Congress to do something.
The FBI and BATF (Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms) began sending in agents to infiltrate these groups, evaluate whatever threat they presented and arrest lawbreakers. Agent Herb Byerly, working undercover as Kenneth Fadeley, made contact with Randy Weaver and became friendly. Weaver, who never joined any of the targeted groups, was targeted by the agent because of the respect many of those involved in this lifestyle had for him.
Slowly, Weaver began to trust the undercover Fadeley as a friend, and Fadeley saw this as an opportunity. The Agent asked Randy to sell him some shotguns, which Weaver was to cut down to an illegal length. Randy refused, but after several requests from his “friend”, who claimed that he was in desperate need for money, Randy complied and sold the agent two sawed-off shotguns.
Eight months after the guns changed hands, criminal charges were filed against Weaver. Weaver was then approached and offered a deal. If he would become an informant and help infiltrate some of these groups, the charges would be dismissed. Although he was facing prison time, Weaver didn’t believe it was right to befriend someone only to betray him later, and refused to cooperate.
Six months passed before an arrest warrant was issued on the gun charges, but federal agents thought it was too risky to try to arrest Weaver at his home; they delayed serving a warrant because he and his family were considered armed and suspicious of government officials. The federal agents designed a ruse to get Weaver, they pretended to be stranded motorists and when Weaver stopped to assist, he was arrested. Weaver appeared before a magistrate that found probable cause existed for him to stand trial, then released him on his own recognizance. However before doing so the magistrate informed Weaver that if he was convicted he would have to surrender his home, twenty acres of land, and truck to the government to pay for the trial, a falsehood the magistrate later admitted.
The trial was set for Febuary 19, 1991, but through some miscommunication, Weaver’s parole supervisor told him the trial was on March, 20. Weaver did not appear for his scheduled court date.
Eighteen months passed without any open action by the government. However, the BATF had started surveillance shortly after Weaver missed his court date. They set up video cameras, took aerial pictures of the Weaver house. They had installed a sophisticated audio system throughout Weaver’s yard and house, even putting speakers under his kitchen floor.
The marshals considered and abandoned several plans that would have allowed them to arrest Randy Weaver. One idea was to cut the water line from the cabin. Another was to capture Sara, the Weavers’ eldest daughter, when she was in the “birthing shed” during her menstrual cycle (the Weavers’ religious beliefs required that they isolate the women during the time they were “unclean”). The goal of this plan was to capture the Weaver children as they brought food to Sara, and this would force Randy to surrender. However the agents did not have an arrest warrant for Sara, so kidnapping her would have been a crime (a crime that carries more prison time than selling saw-off shotguns). Finally, the BATF developed a reconnaissance mission plan, and on the morning of August 21, 1992, the agents closed in, and all hell broke loose.
In PART TWO, I will tell the story of the assault on Ruby Ridge.

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