Along with the siege at Waco, the Ruby Ridge incident has become one of the most prominent events for conspiracy-minded opponents of the government and the “New World Order.”
In August 1992, U.S. marshals engaged in a weeklong standoff with the family of Randall J. Weaver at the Weavers’ mountain-side home in northern Idaho, now popularly known as Ruby Ridge. The raid resulted in the deaths of Weaver’s wife Vicki, his son Samuel, and federal agent William Degan. A number of conspiracy theories cluster around the Ruby Ridge incident.
On one side, the Weavers believed that Zionists had taken control in the United States and planned to institute a tyrannous one-world government. In the wake of the siege, Randy Weaver has insisted that federal officials conspired to hide the truth of their own conduct prior to and during the siege.
On the other side, federal authorities believed that Randy Weaver was involved in a conspiracy by white supremacist groups to commit terrorist acts and subvert the U.S. government. And, finally, the events at Ruby Ridge confirmed the suspicions among many right-wing extremists that a Jewish-controlled U.S. government intends to disarm patriotic U.S. citizens.
Randy Weaver grew up in a small town in southwestern Iowa. Two years after graduating from high school in 1966, he enlisted in the army and underwent Special Forces training with the Green Berets, but never went to Vietnam. In 1971, he married Vicki Jordison. The Weavers became interested in biblical prophecy after reading Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), which interpreted the Old Testament through events in the modern world.
The Weavers quickly came to believe in the literal truth of the Bible and, through their readings, developed the belief that the Old Testament predicted many of the global conflicts in the modern world, such as the rise of communism. They also came to believe that the forces of evil—controlled by Communists and Jewish bankers—were preparing to invade the United States and usher in the Last Days.
In 1983, the Weavers moved to northern Idaho with their two children, Sara and Samuel, in order to separate themselves from modern society and await the Tribulation. They built their own home on the mountain, stockpiled food and other provisions, and trained their children in the use of firearms.
While in Idaho, the Weavers came into contact with many people who held beliefs similar to their own: white supremacists, survivalists, and members of the religious movement called Christian Identity. But even in rural Idaho, which in the 1980s was home to some of the most notorious white supremacist groups in U.S. history, the Weavers’ beliefs were iconoclastic.
They considered themselves separatists, not supremacists, and lived their lives according to the strict rules of the Old Testament and other arcane religious writings, such as the biblical apocrypha. Although they made friends with members of groups like the Aryan Nations, the Weavers never officially joined any organized group.
They did, however, attend the Aryan Congress meetings at the Aryan Nations compound in Hayden Lake, Idaho. Their attendance at the Aryan Congress was significant for two reasons. First, in the mid-1980s, the American West, and Idaho in particular, was a principal concern for both the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF).
In 1983 and 1984, an offshoot of the Aryan Nations calling itself the Bruders Schweigen, or the Order, launched a wave of crime that included bank robbery, an armored car heist in Seattle that netted a half million dollars, and the murder of Alan Berg, a prominent talk-radio host in Denver. By 1985, following tips from informants and a series of raids, federal authorities had successfully captured and convicted twenty-two members of the Order.
Following that success, FBI and BATF investigations of Aryan Nations were ongoing. The Weavers’ attendance at the Aryan Congress was also significant because it was there, in 1986, that Randy Weaver befriended Kenneth Fadeley, an undercover BATF informant calling himself Gus Magisono.
Three years later, in October 1989, Weaver agreed to sell Fadeley two sawn-off shotguns and soon after, federal agents threatened to arrest Weaver unless he agreed to become an informant himself. When Weaver refused, a grand jury indicted him on federal weapons violations. At his indictment hearing, Weaver’s trial date was set for 19 February 1992.
On 7 February of that year, Weaver was sent a notice by the U.S. attorney that his trial date had been changed to 20 March, when in fact it had been changed to 20 February. The Weavers maintained that this and other dealings they had with law enforcement officials were deliberate acts of deception, further proof that they had been targeted for their beliefs and purposely set up as part of a government conspiracy.
After Weaver failed to appear for his appointed court date, federal agents began what would eventually be an eighteen-month surveillance of the Weaver cabin. During this time, they developed a threat assessment of Weaver that a subsequent investigation by a Senate subcommittee determined was deeply flawed.
That assessment included the charges that Weaver was a neo-Nazi, that he had been convicted of engaging in white supremacist activities, that he was a suspect in a number of bank robberies meant to finance antigovernment terrorism, that the Weaver home was protected by booby-traps and explosives, that Weaver had made threats on the life of the president, and that he was to be treated as extremely dangerous.
In fact, Weaver had never been convicted or charged with any crime prior to his arrest on the federal gun charge and the subcommittee determined that the threat assessment was greatly exaggerated. Nevertheless, based on these assessments, the BATF deployed its Special Operations Group (SOG) to help bring Weaver in.
On 21 August 1992, a group of federal marshals, under heavy camouflage, approached the Weaver cabin. At the same time, fourteen-year-old Samuel Weaver and a family friend named Kevin Harris were out hunting with the family dog, Stryker. When the dog approached the agents, it was shot, setting off a flurry of gunfire that wounded Harris and killed Samuel Weaver and one of the agents, William Degan.
The following day, an FBI sniper, Lon Horiuchi, fired two shots into the Weaver cabin, one of which wounded Randy Weaver. The second shot, which traveled through a window of the Weaver cabin, hit Vicki Weaver in the face as she held her infant daughter Elisheba. Vicki was killed instantly. Following the sniper fire, the remaining members of the Weaver family continued to resist surrender.
Finally, after another week of negotiations and the intervention of Christian Patriot leader Bo Gritz, Randy Weaver agreed to turn himself over to authorities. Weaver and Harris were charged with murder in the death of Marshal Degan and several other felonies, including assault and conspiracy to subvert the United States government.
Represented by celebrity defense attorney Gerry Spence, both men were acquitted of all charges and, in addition, a jury found that Weaver’s original arrest on a weapons violation was the result of entrapment. Weaver was convicted only of a failure to appear for trial.
Following the trial, Weaver filed a wrongful death suit in the killing of Vicki, which was settled out of court in 1994 for over $3 million. In 1995, a Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology, and Government Information held public hearings to address allegations of government misconduct.
At issue were questions regarding FBI and BATF handling of the investigation of Randy Weaver, the rules of engagement used by SOG during the raid, and allegations of a subsequent cover-up during the trial. In each case, the committee determined that the government had acted irresponsibly and, in the case of the rules of engagement, unconstitutionally.
Among their findings were FBI orders that instructed federal snipers to shoot on sight any member of the Weaver family seen to be carrying a weapon, despite the fact that only Randy was charged with a crime. The committee also concluded that Horiuchi’s second shot, which killed Vicki Weaver, was unjustified under FBI policy and the United States Constitution.
Further, the committee found that federal officials attempted to cover up their misconduct in several ways: by failing to follow proper investigative protocols, failing to provide or delaying the release of relevant documents for the court, and showing favoritism when reviewing the actions of friends and colleagues. For many on the extreme Right, the findings of the Senate subcommittee provided evidence of a conspiracy that they had long suspected.
According to Timothy McVeigh’s own statements, the treatment of the Weavers in the Ruby Ridge incident, coupled with similar government handling of the Branch Davidian siege in Waco, Texas, played a significant role in his decision to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City.
A decade later, Ruby Ridge continues to anger antigovernment activists: in June 2001, a federal appeals court ruled that Lon Horiuchi could stand trial on an involuntary manslaughter charge for the killing of Vicki Weaver. But the following week, an Idaho prosecutor declined to pursue the case, citing insufficient evidence, and dropped the charge. Randy Weaver lives with his remaining children in Iowa.