The Siege at Ruby Ridge is often considered a pivotal date in American history. The shootout between Randy Weaver and his family and federal agents on August 21, 1992, is one that kicked off the Constitutional Militia Movement and left America with a deep distrust of its leadership – in particular then-President George H.W. Bush and eventual President Bill Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno.
The short version is this: Randy Weaver and his wife Vicki moved with their four kids to the Idaho Panhandle, near the Canadian border, to escape what they thought was an increasingly corrupt world. The Weavers held racial separatist beliefs, but were not involved in any violent activity or rhetoric. They were peaceful Christians who simply wanted to be left alone.
Specifically for his beliefs, Randy Weaver was targeted by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) in an entrapping “sting” operation designed to gain his cooperation as a snitch. When he refused to become a federal informant, he was charged with illegally selling firearms. Due to a miscommunication about his court date, the Marshal Service was brought in, who laid siege to his house and shot and killed his wife and 14-year-old son.
Randy Weaver was, in many ways, a typical American story. He grew up in an Iowa farming community. He got decent grades in high school and played football. His family attended church regularly. He dropped out of community college and joined the United States Army in 1970. After three years of service, he was honorably discharged.
One month later he married Victoria Jordison. He then enrolled in the University of Northern Iowa, studying criminal justice with an eye toward becoming an FBI Agent. However, he dropped out because the tuition was too expensive. He ended up working in a John Deere plant while his wife worked as a secretary before becoming a homemaker.
Both of the Weavers increasingly became apocalyptic in their view of the world. This, combined with an increasing emphasis on Old Testament-based Christianity, led them to seek a life away from mainstream America, a life of self-reliance. Vicki, in particular, had strong visions of her family surviving the apocalypse through life far away from what they viewed as a corrupt world. To that end, Randy purchased a 20-acre farm in Ruby Ridge, ID, and built a cabin there.
The land was purchased for $5,000 in cash and the trade of the truck they used to move there. Vicki homeschooled the children.
The Weavers Move to Ruby Ridge
After moving to Ruby Ridge, Weaver became acquainted with members of the Aryan Nations in nearby Hayden Lake. He even attended some rallies. The FBI believed his involvement in the church was much deeper than it actually was – they thought he was a regular congregant of the Aryan Nations and had attended the Aryan Nations World Congress.
Both Randy and Vicki were interviewed by the FBI in 1985, with Randy denying membership in the group, citing profound theological differences. Indeed, the Weavers (who had some points of agreement with the Aryan Nations, primarily about the importance of the Old Testament) mostly saw their affiliation with the Aryan Nations as a social outlet. Living off-grid, the nearby members of the Aryan Nations were neighbors in remote northern Idaho.
Later, in 1986, Randy was approached at a rally by undercover ATF informant Kenneth Faderley, who used a biker alter ego of Gus Magisono and was currently monitoring and investigating Weaver’s friend Frank Kumnick. Faderley introduced himself as an illegal firearms dealer from New Jersey. Randy later encountered Faderley at the World Congress of 1987. He skipped the next year’s Congress to run for county sheriff, an election that he lost.
The ATF claims that in 1989, Faderley purchased two illegally shortened shotguns from Randy Weaver. However, Weaver disputes this, saying that the shotguns he sold Faderley were entirely legal and were shortened after the fact. The notes from the case show that Faderley purchased the guns and showed Weaver where to shorten them, which would constitute illegal entrapment. What’s more, the government preyed on the destitute nature of the Weavers, who lived in a small cabin in the woods with no electricity or running water.
The real purpose of the investigation was not to grab Weaver, but to use him to infiltrate a group in Montana being organized by Charles Howarth. In November 1989, Weaver refused to introduce Faderley to Howarth, and Faderley was ordered by his handlers to have no further contact with Weaver.
Randy Weaver Refuses to Turn Snitch
In June 1990, Faderley’s cover was blown. It was then that the ATF reached out to Weaver, stating that they had evidence he was dealing illegal firearms. They told him they would drop all charges if he would agree to become their new informant regarding the investigation of the Aryan Nations groups in the area. Weaver refused.
To coerce him into changing his mind, the Feds staged a stunt where a broken down couple were at the side of the road. Weaver stopped to help them and was handcuffed, thrown face down in the snow and arrested. He had to post his home as bond. Still he refused to become a federal informant.
The irony of the federal government’s desire to obtain informants within the Aryan Nations is that different branches of federal law enforcement and intelligence gathering occupied five of the six key positions in the organization. This means that the Aryan Nations were effectively a government-run shop, with agents spying on each other to ensure the integrity of an investigation – into an organization almost entirely run by the federal government.
The government had an obsession with the Aryan Nations due to Robert Jay Matthews, who was a member of The Order, a terrorist organization including members of the Aryan Nations. The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team burned Matthews alive inside his own home.
Due to his ongoing refusal to snitch, Weaver was then arrested in January 1991, on illegal firearms sales charges. These charges stemmed from Weaver’s earlier “sale” of two shortened shotguns to Faderley, the undercover ATF agent – a sale which the feds later admitted constituted illegal entrapment.
Weaver’s court date was set for February 19, 1991, then changed to the next day. Weaver, however, received notice that his court date was not until March 20. He missed his February court appearance and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. The United States Marshals Service wanted to allow Weaver the chance to appear for what he thought was his court date, however, the United States Attorney’s Office sought a grand jury indictment on March 14th – six days before his notice said he was due in court.
Already skeptical of the Feds after their repeated strongarm tactics, both Randy and Vicki saw this as further evidence that Weaver would not receive a fair trial. They increasingly isolated themselves on their Ruby Ridge farm, vowing to fight rather than surrender peacefully.
During the standoff, a voluntary surrender date was negotiated with the Marshals Service for October 1991, but the United States Attorney’s Office refused the settlement. The Deputy Director of the Special Operations Group of the Marshals Service, using evidence obtained through surveillance, believed that the best course of action was to drop the indictment, issue a new one under seal, and use undercover agents to arrest Weaver, who presumably would have dropped his guard. This recommendation was again rejected.