Remembering Randy Weaver

Big Media is all abuzz right now. "How shall we commemorate the first anniversary of 9/11?" they ask. "Where do you draw the line between a tasteful memorial and too much?"

It's a safe bet that politicians and pundits will err on the side of "too much."

Meanwhile, another significant anniversary will likely go forgotten by CNN, Donahue, Brocaw, and others.

August 21 marks ten years since the federal government's siege on the home of Randy Weaver and his family at Ruby Ridge in Idaho.

The Weavers have disappeared down an Orwellian memory hole for most Americans. You see, their story doesn't offer an occasion for waving flags and singing patriotic songs. In fact, despite the tragedy that befell the Weaver family, Randy Weaver is still vilified by major media and so-called liberals for his "crimes and strange beliefs." Those crimes and strange beliefs include distrust of your government.

Randy Weaver had reason to distrust his government. In 1991, an agent of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) entrapped Weaver by hiring him to cut off the barrels of two shotguns illegally. Once Weaver was arrested, BATF tried to force him to inform on the Aryan Nation group, with which he was affiliated, but he refused. Weaver also refused to appear in court for the minor firearms charge. For the next 18 months, the U.S. Marshals Service spied on the Weavers' isolated mountain cabin, where Randy lived with his wife Vicki, son Sammy (14), daughters Sara (16), Rachel (10), and Elisheba (10 months), and a young friend named Kevin Harris.

Then came August 21, 1992. On that morning, six trained government marksmen wearing ski masks and camouflage and armed with automatic weapons equipped with silencers, crept up on the Weaver cabin without warning or warrant and without identifying themselves. First they shot and killed the family's yellow Labrador, Striker, who had been barking at the intruders. When young Sammy witnessed this, he fired a .223 mini-14 in the direction from which the shots had come, then ran back toward the cabin. Agents shot Sammy in the arm, knocking him down. The youngster got back to his feet and began running again. Moments later, a second gunshot caught Sammy in the back, killing him.

Within 24 hours, one Deputy U.S. Marshal was dead and some 400 federal agents were arriving at the scene, along with a helicopter, "humvees," and armored transport vehicles and personnel carriers. The Weavers' dead dog was left in the road and repeatedly run over by government vehicles. On the afternoon of August 22, Vicki Weaver, standing at the cabin's kitchen door and armed with nothing more lethal than baby Elisheba, was shot in the head by a government sniper. The round hit Vicki in the temple, traveled through her mouth, tongue, and jawbone, then severed her carotid artery. Kneeling on the floor and still clutching her baby, Vicki bled to death.

Nine days later, Weaver, a badly wounded Harris, and the surviving kids surrendered to federal agents. Eleven months after that, a jury in Boise, Idaho, acquitted Weaver and Harris of murder and conspiracy charges stemming from the government assault.

When the jury came back with its not-guilty verdict, Randy Weaver turned to his lawyer, Gerry Spence. "I've learned something about the system," he told Spence. "This is a good system. This system will work."

Weaver was more optimistic than I am. More forgiving, too. In 1995, Congressional hearings into the Weaver tragedy revealed a cover-up, but the feds refused to prosecute the killers of Sammy and Vicki Weaver. Case closed. And despite all the evidence of government wrongdoing, those of us who now mention the name Randy Weaver are generally dismissed as "right-wing, gun-toting, conspiracy nuts."

Today, while the Weaver story is falling through the cracks of history, most Americans look toward the anniversary of 9/11 and demand that the government "do something, anything" to protect them from foreign terrorists u2014 highly trained assassins wearing ski masks and camouflage and armed with automatic weapons equipped with silencers.

As for me, I will respectfully observe the 9/11 memorials. But I also intend to take a few minutes on August 21, the tenth anniversary of the Siege at Ruby Ridge, to ponder how best to tell the Bad Guys from the Good Guys during these difficult times. And to wonder how wise it is to demand that one band of murderous thugs protect us from another.

August 10, 2002

Wally Conger [send him mail] is a marketing consultant and writer living on California's central coast.

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