Randy Weaver's Return From Ruby Ridge
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Editor, The Konformist
Randy Weaver's Return From Ruby Ridge
Back Home in Iowa, He's Got Memories -- and a Message
By Anne Hull
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 30, 2001; Page A01
JEFFERSON, Iowa -- The small town where Randy Weaver now
lives is as wide and open as Ruby Ridge was steep and
hidden. The Union Pacific whistles past the cornfields
It is not unusual to find Weaver in Iowa because he was
born and raised here, the son of a grain salesman. People
forget that part.
What they remember is the 11-day standoff with federal
agents in 1992 that left Weaver's wife and 14-year-old son
dead on an Idaho mountainside in the debacle that came to
be known as Ruby Ridge.
What they remember is the survivalist who wanted to
separate from a race-mixing nation and its oppressive
Now, Weaver mows his neat little lawn here on Wilson
Avenue. A Cadillac sits in his driveway. He is listed in
the phone book. But to say that Weaver has come down off
the mountain would be only half-right.
At 53, he is still not ready to forgive. Not after the
Justice Department settled a lawsuit brought by his family
for $3.1 million. And not after a wayward soldier named
Timothy McVeigh killed 168 Americans to avenge what
happened at Ruby Ridge and Waco, the other disastrous
When McVeigh is executed next month for his role in the
Oklahoma City bombing, a violent chapter in American
history will close with one more death. Weaver says the
real enemy will remain at large. The real enemy will
continue to violate the Constitution and "eavesdrop on your
house from a mile away with that super ear thing."
Organizations that track the activities of racist and
paramilitary groups dismiss Weaver as a fading figure in a
waning movement. "In the scheme of things, he's
milquetoasty," said Joe Roy, director of the Southern
Poverty Law Center's Intelligence Project.
Yet Weaver continues to rise like a martyr above the
wreckage. In his case, the black helicopters really did
come. A robot with a gun in its claw really did move across
his cabin porch.
It's hard to say who Weaver is now. The industry of rage
and resentment makes certain demands upon him. He is a folk
hero of ultra-right-wing groups. When asked about McVeigh's
impending execution, he says almost reflexively, "There
should be a bunch of federal agents lying right beside him
on the gurney."
Although he lost his own wife and child, Weaver identifies
with McVeigh more easily than with the victims of the
Oklahoma City bombing.
"He was a soldier's soldier," Weaver says. "He just
switched sides. Tim McVeigh was trying to make a point. He
was what you call pro bono. He was going to be judge, jury
and executioner. No different from the federal government.
One has a badge and one don't."
But other times Weaver is not so gung-ho. What if McVeigh
had come to him with his plans for Oklahoma City?
"I would have told him to forget it."
'They Are Just Mad' "Meet Randy Weaver," the blinking sign
announces outside the fairgrounds in Lincoln, Neb. Inside a
stale expo hall, the tables are laid out with rifles and
scopes and munitions. Weaver is near the door, standing at
a table piled with $20 copies of his 1998 book, "The
Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge."
No one here for this mid-April gun show really needs the
book to tell what happened. In 1989, while living in Idaho,
Weaver was caught selling two shotguns he had sawed off
shorter than the legal limit to an informant working for
the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. The ATF tried
to enlist Weaver as an informant, promising to drop the gun
charges, but he refused and was indicted by a grand jury.
When Weaver failed to appear in court -- he had been given
the wrong date -- an arrest warrant was issued.
Seventeen months later, federal agents in camouflage and
face paint were crawling around Weaver's 20 acres when they
were detected by the family dog. Agents shot the dog and
began a gun battle with Weaver's 14-year-old son, Sam, and
a family friend, both armed. Sam was killed. So was U.S.
Marshal William Degan. The siege began.
Weaver holed up in the cabin with his wife and three
daughters. The day after Sam was killed, Vicki Weaver was
holding her 10-month-old daughter when an FBI sniper shot
her in the head.
Weaver surrendered after 11 days. He was charged with
murder in the death of the marshal, but an Idaho jury
acquitted him. He spent 16 months in jail for the original
And here he is at a gun show, unable to own a firearm
legally because of his conviction. He stands at a table
with only his story.
The procession is steady. "My condolences," says one man,
extending his hand. "I appreciate all your character. It
must be a bitch."
Weaver signs the book and takes the $20. "I appreciate
They approach like mourners coming to pay their respects.
He relaxes them, sometimes with humor, sometimes with
anger. Some of them vent. Some want to know about missing
shell casings at Ruby Ridge after the siege. One man is
curious about "that shotgun robot sent in by the Freddies."
"They want to talk to me a little more than I want to talk
to them," Weaver says. "They've become so upset with the
government that it's hard to trust anybody. They're not bad
people. They are just mad."
Weaver wears motorcycle boots and keeps his wallet leashed
to his blue jeans by a silver chain, Harley-style. His
silver hair is cut close on the sides and long in the back.
A broad-shouldered man in a John Deere jacket and an NRA
cap extends his hand. "Fritz Oltjenbruns," he says. "I'm
part of America's largest not-for-profit organization --
farmers. I was just telling my son this morning how the ATF
snookered you down by an eighth-of-an-inch on that
Weaver rocks back on his heels. "I ain't ashamed of it.
I'll cut it right down to the stock, whatever."
The farmer folds his arms. "It's a darned shame what you
went through with your wife," he says. "It's hard to
believe the government went that corrupt that fast."
Weaver signs a book and pockets the twenty. "Keep your
powder dry, buddy."
A concessionaire trots up with a present. "Here's something
for you, Randy," he says, handing over a napkin. Buffalo
jerky. "Thanks," Weaver says, and sets it aside forever.
A grandpa type holding a pistol approaches. "They haven't
tried to run you out with your books, have they?" When
Weaver was appearing at a gun show at the Reno Hilton once,
the Northern Nevada B'nai B'rith pressured the promoter
into banning his appearance.
An intense, red-cheeked man holding a 32-ounce Coke pounces
with a great gale of rhetoric on religion and politics that
begins with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and ends with his
plea, "If you have the time, I'd really like an answer."
"I don't have the answer," Weaver says. "Religion's all a
bunch of crap." The speechmaker, silenced, walks off into
the sea of guns.
The only person in the armory who isn't white is a janitor
at the fairgrounds, a Native American named Floyd Pilcher.
He approaches Weaver with a bag of sage, a faded bandanna
and a T-shirt that reads, "IN THE SPIRIT OF CRAZY HORSE."
"These are gifts from powerful people," Pilcher says.
Weaver takes the gifts. "I guess anybody who's ever gotten
stomped on by the government knows what I'm talkin' about,"
Back inside, a strapping young man in a T-shirt imprinted
with a Fort Benning logo and the words "DEATH COMES QUICK"
solemnly shakes Weaver's hand. "I'm sorry your deal
happened," he says. A creamy-skinned woman extends her
hand. "By God, stand by your word," she tells Weaver.
The show doesn't end until 3:30, but Weaver starts breaking
down his booth 40 minutes early. Two teenage boys hover.
"Need some help?" one asks.
"Thanks, partner," Weaver says.
The kid turns to his friend. "He called me partner!"
At Ruby Ridge When a pickup truck comes to a four-way stop
in Jefferson, it is a lone red object against an endless
curtain of green. Only the grain elevators have altitude.
There is an A and W stand next to the ballfield, which is
next to a cornfield.
This is the place Randy and Vicki Weaver wanted to separate
from when they sold their belongings and moved to the
Pacific Northwest in 1983 with their three children.
Separate from what, he is asked.
"From what we were trying to get away from."
It was Vicki Weaver who drove her family's peculiar
following of Old Covenant Laws, calling God "Yahweh" and
believing themselves to be the true Israelites. Because a
woman having a child was considered unclean, Vicki Weaver
gave birth to her fourth child in a shed behind their cabin
on Ruby Ridge. She canned her own food and home-schooled
On three or four occasions, the Weavers attended Aryan
Nation meetings up at Hayden Lake, a compound for
government resisters and for white separatists and
supremacists. Weaver says he'd drink beer and talk to the
skinheads. He did nothing illegal, he says, until he got
desperate for money and sold the two sawed-off shotguns to
The Weavers' racial views were obscured by the enormity of
what happened to them during the siege at Ruby Ridge. After
the sniper killed Vicki Weaver, negotiators used a bullhorn
to greet her in the morning, saying they'd had pancakes for
breakfast -- what did she have?
FBI Special Agent Eugene Glenn later told a Senate inquiry
that agents didn't realize that Vicki Weaver had been shot.
The sniper, Lon Horiuchi, testified that he could hit a
target at 200 yards within one-quarter inch. He said he had
been aiming for one of the armed males, not Vicki Weaver.
An investigation found that the FBI had altered its rules
of engagement, directing agents to shoot any armed adults
on sight. Several high-ranking FBI officials were
disciplined after a Justice Department inquiry found
evidence of a cover-up. One pleaded guilty to obstruction
of justice. The No. 2 official at the FBI, Deputy Director
Larry Potts, was demoted after an investigation found
evidence of misconduct. He retired two years later.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is still reviewing
whether Horiuchi should be subject to manslaughter charges.
Meanwhile, the world Weaver had tried to separate from
found in him a brother. He says he received more than
30,000 pieces of mail. "Hell, anyone who'd ever been picked
on by the government was writing me," he says. "Airmen
who'd escaped Red China, black guys from Detroit -- some
friends of Leonard Peltier's mailed me one of his
In the settlement of the civil lawsuit Weaver brought
against the government, each of his three daughters
received $1 million, and Weaver received $100,000.
Weaver returned to Iowa, where relatives rented him a house
in a small town next to Jefferson. He had his two youngest
daughters with him. Weaver met a woman, Linda Gross, who
was married and in farm-implement sales. The town suddenly
got too small. Weaver and his girls went out to Montana for
a few years.
Weaver came back to Jefferson in 1999. He and Linda are now
married and live with her two children from her first
marriage. Linda is a secretary for a lawyer in town. Except
for the gun shows, Weaver doesn't have a job. He's working
on his next book, "The Rise and Fall of the USSA."
His daughters live in Montana. The oldest, Sara, 24, is
married to a corrections officer. The youngest, Elisheba,
whom Vicki Weaver was cradling when she was shot, is 9 and
lives with her sister Rachel, who is 19. Weaver says his
kids "live out there because they like it."
Before he left Iowa for the first time to live in the
Pacific Northwest, Weaver sold his Harley-Davidson because
he was starting a new kind of life. Now he owns a Harley
Heritage Soft Tail that gleams in his garage.
He writes off much about his lifestyle at Ruby Ridge. "Punk
idiots" is what he calls many of the attendees at Aryan
Nation meetings. He has offended Christian supporters who
assume they are simpatico with him on matters of faith.
"I've studied religions and pretty much decided they are
all the same: [expletive]," he says. "And you shouldn't
have to pay a tax-exempt preacher to hear it."
He says people should live by the Golden Rule and not
"whore after false deities."
His views on race haven't evolved much. When asked whether
white separatism isn't a losing battle in light of the new
census figures that show a browning America, he shakes his
head in pity. "I feel sorry for the next generation."
A Place of His Own Weaver is having a White Russian at a
place called Wet Goods on the town square. Joe Cocker is
singing "Unchain My Heart" on the stereo. A tall man in a
plaid shirt walks through the door. "Nick!" says Weaver.
Nick Friess has known Weaver since elementary school.
During the Vietnam War, they enlisted in the Army about the
same time. Weaver was a Green Beret who remained stateside.
Friess went to Vietnam, and two years later he stepped on
an explosive in the grass. He was awarded a Bronze Star.
Part of his leg was amputated seven years ago. He no longer
farms. Now he is an educational director at an art museum.
Friess sits down with Weaver. The conversation drifts from
their childhood to the gypsum mine where Nick's father
worked to church, and Weaver makes a crack about phony
ministers. Friess says, in a very "Prairie Home Companion"
way, "Oh, well, now, you can't categorize everyone. Some
preachers are just fine."
Weaver sits back, for once not spring-loaded. He doesn't
have to be from Ruby Ridge right now. He is the boy from
Jefferson who used to box with NickyFriess in the front
yard while both of them tried to impress a girl named Lana.
Weaver got a D in government. They both laugh.
Later, Friess will say, "A lot of his beliefs, I don't
And yet: "After all he's been through, jiminy, it's amazing
he can be walking the streets."
And finally: "Maybe with the tragic playing out of events,
there is a certain obligation for him to feel a certain
Weaver has a gun show in Las Vegas next weekend. They will
come for his book and his story. They may talk about the
missing shell casings and the shotgun robot sent in by the
Freddies, as they did at the show in Lincoln.
But what he remembers about the mountain: "There was no
wind," he says. "The snowflakes were so big you could hear
them when they hit the ground. The kids had three or four
campgrounds around the land. They'd go out and build fires
"And Vicki canned. She and the kids would pick
huckleberries. She got top dollar 'cause she picked clean.
Or she'd trade a gallon of huckleberries for four quarts of
peaches. We sold firewood -- me, Vick and the kids. Then
we'd go into Bonner's Ferry and have a hamburger or a
Weaver says he'd like a place in the Ozarks some day, with
nothing but quiet and a clear creek running through.
"That's weird, ain't it?" he asks. "Now who the hell would
want to live like that?"
The Washington Post Company
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