Every Knee Shall Bow / Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family
© 1995, 2002 Jess Walter
“[….] people ought not to be murdered by their own government.”
The inherent brutality of the police state sometimes exposes itself to the light for comment. It has happened recently, and it happened in August 1992, when a missed court date resulted in three lives ended, more ruined, and millions of dollars wasted.
I was introduced to the Ruby Ridge case via Rise of the Warrior Cop. The short version: Randy Weaver and his wife had isolated themselves and their family on a mountain to protect them from the Apocalypse and government persecution. After receiving conflicting court summons and choosing to ignore them, Weaver’s property was surrounded by Federal agents, and they shot, in sequence, his dog, his son, a friend, his wife, and him. But why were they there, and why did Weaver resist them for months on the mountain, including eleven days when they were practically in his yard and his wife’s body lady in the kitchen?
The book begins by introducing us to Randy and Vickie, following their stories as they fall in love and begin making a life together. They were both unhappy with just living, and groped for meaning beyond the sex, drugs, and rock and roll embraced by their peers. They sought their meaning in religion, in an epic drama in which the world was a live battlefield between angels and demons — and they were a part of it, their minds consumed with the notion that one day soon a demon-driven goverment was going to come for them. Their electic beliefs, a mix of a race-cult and Jewish practices, drove them to a mountain retreat to live off the grid. The need to Be Prepared also motivated Randy to generate funds by selling firearms, and in so doing he became of interest to an ATF investigation into the remnants of violent white-nationalist groups with a penchant for robbery and explosions. Arrested by FBI agents pretending to be stranded motorists, Weaver retreated to his cabin after making bail and refuse to come down. Enter an increasing army of Federal agents gathering around his property with helicopters, troop carriers, and the works. This played perfectly into the Weavers’ persecution complex, so…the stage was set for a preview of Waco six months later: aggressive Federals sleep-walking to a violent confrontation with an increasingly paranoid target.
But while Waco was purely Federal incompentence at work, at Ruby Ridge the initial agents at least knew they were dealing with a man who didn’t trust them, and so they tread softly. They tried to understand how he was interpreting them, and to avoid escalation they simply waited. Eventually, Weaver would get tired of sitting, watching, and waiting and come out. But as months wore on and more agents became involved, people got careless, confrontational, and stupid. While exploring the Weaver property fringes, agents provoked the family dog and inagurated a firefight that got a child killed, as well as one of the officers. The Weavers were in the dark as to what happened, and assumed the Federals were at last coming in for the kill — and when the Hostage Response Team from the FBI was flown in, they assumed that the entire Weaver clan was actively trying to wipe out their ground forces. Two groups of people, both stumbling in the dark and driven by fear and sorrow, got into an armed standoff. Operating under aggressive orders that declared open season on any adult males, the FBI killed Vickie Weaver, severely wounded a Weaver family friend, and winged Weaver himself. Negotiations were impossible: Randy was paranoid BEFORE his son and wife were killed, and himself and his friend wounded. Both he and his oldest daughter believed they would be gunned down if they attempted to leave the house, and considering there was a remote-control robot with a shotgun barrel close to the house, they can hardly be blamed. Fortunately for all involved, a private citizen stepped in and served as meditator, preventing the FBI’s criminal incompetence and Weaver’s paranoia from killing even more people.
Ruby Ridge is a hard case to read about, with a strange and hostile family on one hand and a needlessly aggressive, frighteningly militaristic, and oblivious-to-apperances government on the other. The worst of it is that Weaver hadn’t even committed any serious crimes beyond refusing to leave his home: unlike David Koresh, he wasn’t screwing kids. When he was put on trial, he was found guilty of failing to apepar in court. When the government was put on trial for its own actions, they paid millions to the Weaver family in restitution. From its needless agression to consistently destructive failures to communicate, the FBI comes off here like Keystone Cops.
This is a hard tragedy to read about, but the expansion of militia groups in the nineties owed much to Ruby Ridge, as people saw they had good reason to fear the government. Ruby Ridge inflamed the minds of men like Timothy McVeigh; when he committed the largest act of domestic terrorism on American soil in 1995, Ruby Ridge and Waco were both on his mind. Ruby Ridge is a helpful reminder that “Goverment is not reason, it is not eloquence….it is force. Like a fire, a troublesome servant and a fearful master.”
- Harvest of Rage: Why Oklahoma City is Just the Beginning. Probably the best source for reading about militant populism in the 1990s,with background on different movements that Weaver would have been aware of.
- Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces, Radney Balko
- Why Waco and The Ashes of Waco, two histories of the Waco fiasco of April ’93, which unfolded during the Weaver trial.