Ruby Ridge is a remote mountainous area in the northern Idaho Panhandle, known for a confrontation in August 1992 between a family living there and the forces of the American federal government. The actions of the government forces were later widely criticized by the US Senate and others; the government later settled for $3.1 million dollars.
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) were trying to infiltrate the Aryan Nations, a group of white supremacists based at nearby Hayden Lake. It remains hotly debated whether Randy Weaver, a local farmer, was a sympathizer, but he had visited the Aryan Nation church on more than one occasion. He seemed well placed to act as an infiltrator, but refused to when asked. Perhaps intending to elicit his cooperation, the BATF entrapped Weaver into selling them two modified shotguns, in contravention of federal law. He failed to appear in court to answer the charges, citing an incorrect date on his summons.
Weaver’s home was then subjected to surveillance. The family was unaware that they were being watched by federal agents. At one point, Randy Weaver, his son Sam, and his friend (and house guest) Kevin Harris went hunting on the property, along with several of the family's dogs. The three split up in the hopes of fleshing out a deer. Harris and Sam were together, while Weaver went in a different direction. Kevin and Sam unknowingly stumbled upon a group of federal Deputy U.S. Marshall (DUSM) when one of their dogs scented the agent. The canine approached the agent, who opened fire on the dog, killing it. Sam, upon seeing the camo-clad agent shoot the dog, returned fire. In the ensuing exchange of gunfire, Sam was shot and wounded. As Sam ran away, he was fatally shot in the back. At that point, Harris, who had seen the dog and child die, fired back, killing one of the agents.
The next day, a F.B.I. sniper named Lon Horiuchi wounded Weaver while Weaver was outside. As Weaver ran back to the house, Horiuchi fired again, killing Weaver’s wife Vicky, with a single shot to the head, and wounded another son. Vicky Weaver was holding a baby in her hands when shot dead. Much controversy was later generated by the fact that, after the first day's events, the FBI had changed the rules of engagement. Horiuchi and other agents understood the new rules of engagement as an order to fire at will. Had the rules of engagement not been changed, it is unlikely that Horiuchi would have fired on the Weavers at all.
A stand-off ensued for ten days as several hundred federal agents surrounded the house, in which Weaver and his three surviving children remained with Harris. The area was surrounded by protesters angered at the heavy-handed nature of the authorities’ actions. James "Bo" Gritz, then a third-party presidential candidate who had formerly been Weaver's commanding officer during the Vietnam War, served as a mediator between Weaver and the government. Eventually, Weaver elected to abandon the stand-off and trust his case to the judicial system.
At trial in 1993, Weaver was charged with an array of charges, including the original weapons charges as well as murder. He was represented by noted trial lawyer Gerry Spence. Spence pursued an affirmative defense of self-defense, and was successful. Weaver was acquitted of all charges except missing his original court date. He was credited with time served and spent less than 3 months in jail. Harris was acquitted of all charges. At one point in the trial, the judge admonished the FBI for withholding exculpatory evidence.
Later investigations criticized the federal agents. The United States Department of Justice's report recommended criminal prosecution of federal agents, though nothing has come of this. The surviving members of the Weaver family received a $3.1 million settlement.
The US Senate in September 1995 held hearings on the Ruby Ridge incident, and in December, released a report criticizing the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies.
Last updated: 08-16-2005 10:03:24