On August 21, 1992, on a remote hilltop cabin in northern Idaho, known as Ruby Ridge located 30 miles from the Canadian border, U.S. Marshals attempted to serve Randy Weaver bench warrants on a Firearms charge and arrest him.
By the end of the first of what became an eleven day siege, US Marshall Deputy Agent William F. Degan, Sammy Weaver (the Weaver’s fourteen year old son) and the Weaver’s dog, Striker, all lay dead.
Weaver, his wife, Vickie, three living children (including newborn infant Elisheba) and friend Kevin Harris were holed up in the Weaver’s cabin.
Randy Weaver was labelled a white supremacist in the media, and later as a “white separatist”. Newspapers used aspects of his Army service during the Vietnam conflict to cast him as mentally unstable. The Weavers religious beliefs and desire to live off grid were used to substantiate the view that they were “crackpots”,
Randy Weaver, forty-four years of age in 1992, was highly suspicious of the U.S. government and of federal agents. Given the facts of the case, which you are about to hear, you may find that his fears were well founded.
Randy was a target of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, or ATF, investigation due to Weaver’s connection with the Aryan Nations, a white supremicist movement. Randy had attended four meetings of the Aryan Nations. The ATF wanted to turn Weaver into a Confidential Informant, or CI.
As part of their plan to turn Weaver, the ATF charged him on a bogus weapons charge, alleging that Weaver had manufactured and possessed an unregistered firearm. For those who might not know, a CI is an individual who gives information to law enforcement, usually in exchange for reduced charges or immunity.
The ATF planned to use the weapons charge against Weaver as leverage to force him into agreeing to become a CI. Weaver refused to be a snitch. In response, the ATF had a federal grand jury indict him for making and possessing the unregistered firearm.
The ATF thought it would be too dangerous to serve the warrant at the Weaver residence on Ruby Ridge. Instead, they staged a vehicle breakdown to inform him of his charges.Weaver and his wife Vickie stopped to provide assistance.
Suspicious of the ATF, and due to a mix up of hearing dates, Randy did not show up to court.Randy Weaver was indicted for failure to appear for trial and the judge issued a bench warrant for Randy’s arrest. On March 14, 1991
The US Marshall’s service tried to get Randy to surrender, and had failed. By August, 1992, over a year had passed since the warrant for Weavers arrest had been issued.
The Marshalls Service was under pressure to conclude the matters with Weaver. Fearing armed resistance, the US Marshals Service determined that an undercover operation was the best way to proceed.
Six federal Marshals planned to reconnoiter the property on August 21, 1992.During the scouting, Stryker, the Weaver’s dog, alerted the family to the presence of the strangers by barking. US Marshals shot Striker, and a gunfight ensued. Randy’s son, Sammy, returned fire.
I’m pretty sure that if someone shoots your dog, on your property, the appropriate set of responses would include firing back. Its clear that you are under attack and that you need to defend yourself.
Sammy was shot in the arm and back while retreating to the cabin. He died of his wounds. Family friend Kevin Harris shot back and killed a US Marshall.
In the aftermath of the first day, a seige commenced as the State Police, and later FBI arrived on scene.Larry Potts headed up the FBI team from headquarters, and decided to send the Hostage Response Team, or HRT. Special Agent Eugene Glenn was assigned as Commander on the scene. Richard Rogers, was in charge of the elite and hard charging HRT surrounding the cabin and out buildings. According to witnesses, but later denied by Potts, Potts and Danny Coulson, Potts’ deputy, re-wrote the Rules Of Engagement, or ROE, on the flight out to Idaho.They did this in order to give the HRT snipers more flexibility to fire on targets.
The controversial ROE, gave orders that the HRT could and should shoot any armed adult male on sight. Ordinarily, deadly force is approved only in self defense.
The fact that the HRT was on the scene brought a high level of seriousness to the situation that might not have been felt otherwise. The presence of an armed personnel carrier also changed the demeanor of the agents on the scene.
The access road to the Weaver’s cabin was blocked off by law enforcement, about two miles away. Neighbors, attracted by the activity, began to occupy the roadblock to gain information about the events in what would become a major site of demonstration. The blockade attracted an assortment of skinheads, nazis and other characters that were unsympathetic to law enforcement, and in support of the Weavers.
During the next day, August 22nd, Weaver went to check on Sammy’s body, which was being stored in a shed at the time. While outside the cabin, Randy was shot by FBI Sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi, who fired two rounds in quick succession.
The second bullet went through Harris and into Vicki Weaver’s head, killing her. Vicki had been holding her infant daughter in her arms at the time, while standing in the doorway of her home.
Following this shooting, the FBI spent the next eight days attempting to convince Weaver to surrender. He had been convicted of no crime.
Weaver was given an ultimatum that if he did not surrender, federal agents would crush the cabin with earthmoving equipment and push it off a cliff. These threats did not change Weaver’s inclination to surrender, but it did make him more wary of the potential actions of the FBI.
The day after the killing of Vickie Weaver, on Aug. 23, agents moved closer to the Weaver cabin during the night and they discovered Sammy Weaver’s body in an outbuilding, known as the “birthing shed”. This was the place were Elisheba had been born 10 months earlier
On Monday August 24th, FBI Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, allegedly wrote a memo with the following content:
Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull S___.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver’s defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys [camouflage] shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting. He is in pretty strong legal position
Coulson did not know that Vickie Weaver had been killed at the time of writing the memo. Coulson was the creator and head of the HRT.
On Aug. 25, Five skinheads were arrested on a nearby road, while attempting to reach Weaver’s cabin in a vehicle is loaded with weapons.
Since the Weavers did not have a phone, or phone service or electrical service, the FBI used a robot to deliver a phone to Randy and began communicating with the cabin.
Civilian hostage negotiators, including Bo Gritz, brought the siege to a close with Harris surrendering on August 30th, and Randy Weaver and his daughters on August 31st. Randy had agreed to speak with Bo Gritz because the pair knew each other from their Army days during the Vietnam Conflict.
Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris were arrested, and taken into custody.
As a Paul Kristoffer Show side note, Bo Gritz was the leader of the “militia movement” and would go on to train numerous militia members in special forces tactics. Bo attempted to kill himself in September 1998, 10 days after his wife filed for divorce. He was dressed in his military Uniform, decorated with medals and ribbons, and found in his driveway next to his GMC pickup after shooting himself in the chest with his .45 caliber pistol.
Gritz survived his wounds.
As a result of the Ruby Ridge Seige, the FBI “forever” changed the rules of engagement that determine how deadly force is to be used. ROE is currently determined by the Department of Justice, and the FBI does not, and can not, determine its own ROE.
In 1995, three years after the incidents at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, then F.B.I. Director Louis Freeh suspended five high-ranking officials and disciplined agents for their role in the incident including:
- Larry Potts, who received a letter of censure.
A letter of censure is a minor rebuke in the FBI’s disciplinary system,
on the order of an oral reprimand.
A letter of censure is the penalty for minor offenses, such as engaging in an argument, or losing a pager.
- Eugene Glenn, Commander in charge, was removed from his post,
suspended for 15 days
and received a letter of censure for approving the shot that killed Vickie Weaver.
- Richard Rogers, head of the HRT, was suspended for 10 days and censured for writing the flawed and unconstitutional ROE
- Michael Kahoe destroyed FBI analysis of the seige and lied about what had happened. He was suspended for 15 days and censured for not knowing that the rules of engagement were flawed.
- Danny Coulson, was put in charge of the FBI’s Dallas office. During the standoff, he was Potts’ deputy and he also received a letter of censure.
Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris were acquitted of charges stemming from the killing of a federal officer(federal agents shot the Weaver’s dog Striker and murdered the boy Sammy).
In August 1995, Randy Weaver was compensated $3.1 million by the Justice Department to settle his legal claims, and $1 million went to each of his three daughters.
The public questions resulting from the incident led to a hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information in October 1995, leading to a call for reforms.
Conclusion: Federal agencies, like the FBI and ATF do not have adequate ability to police themselves to prevent illegal and unconstitutional actions. Top amongst these unconstitutional actions would include killing innocent civilians, illegal wiretaps and other unconstitutional actions.
It is only through transparency and Congressional oversight that federal agencies can be held accountable. It is important to create positive reforms and further prevent unconstitutional and illegal activities of federal law enforcement agencies.
- The Spokesman-Review
- United States Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security
- Music by Zapsplat