Coding the Ruby Ridge Incident
During the Spring 2020 coding term, my coding partner Maddie Weaver and I decided to clean some of the unclaimed cases out of the team spreadsheet. We ended up picking out a bunch of older cases, primarily from the 1990’s and early 2000’s. At first, I was apprehensive, particularly because older cases are notorious for being difficult to code because sources are typically fairly limited, whether it be in detail or having multiple sources, and while some of the cases we chose had those problems I was pleasantly surprised by a few of them. One of those cases was the Ruby Ridge Incident.
This case had a plethora of information and various credible sources that range from documentary focused sites such as PBS and the History Channel to online encyclopedias such as Britannica and Wikipedia. It is rare to code cases that have information from sources such as these.
The Ruby Ridge Incident was a particularly interesting case that was a chain of events that seemed to perpetually escalate. Randy Weaver is a former United States Army combat engineer that engaged in a shootout with U.S. marshals and FBI agents that sparked the modern militia movement. Randy and his wife Vicki believed in the Christian Identity Movement, which is essentially a racist, anti-Semitic and white supremacist interpretation of Christianity. At the time of the incident they had had four children together. Additionally, they attended Aryan Nation meetings, and they began to become more vocal about their anti-government positions. The Weavers decided to move to a 20-acre remote property in Ruby Ridge, Idaho in order to isolate themselves from the government and civilization in the early 1980s.
In 1989, Randy Weaver supplied an undercover Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) federal agent with two modified shotguns. After this sale Weaver is approached by ATF agents who attempt to negotiate a deal in which Weaver would cooperate with them to infiltrate the Aryan Nations, or else they will arrest him on charges for the possession and sale of illegal weapons. However, Weaver refused and the agents arrested him in January of 1991. He was released with a trial scheduled for February of 1991, however his probation officer mistakenly told him that it was supposed to happen in March. Subsequently, the court issued a warrant for Randy Weaver’s arrest for failure to appear in trial.
The U.S. Marshal Service was to attempt to arrest him, however they feared that Randy and his family were likely to resist arrest violently if they were confronted directly. Thus, the marshals planned a stealth operation. They attempted to enact their plan on August 21, 1992, but things quickly took a downward spiral. The surveillance team was discovered by their family dog. One of the agents shot and killed the dog which then led to a shootout between the marshals and Randy’s son Sammy. The shootout resulted in Sammy being shot and killed. Kevin Harris, a family friend who was staying with the Weaver’s at the time, opened fire on the marshals as well, and he shot and killed U.S. Marshal William Degan. Following these shootings, the FBI was called in for assistance. They dispatched their Hostage Rescue Team.
On August 22, a FBI sniper believed that Weaver and Harris were going to attempt to shoot an FBI helicopter so he opened fire and shot Weaver in the arm and attempted to shoot Harris as well, but the two turned and ran. This resulted in Vicki Weaver mistakenly being shot in the head. This killed her, though, her body remained in the cabin for 11 days after her death. A week or so later Weaver and Harris surrendered. They were both charged with a bunch of crimes which include murder, conspiracy, and assault, however all of these charges were dropped and Weaver was only convicted of failure to appear in court for the original firearms charge. He was fined $10,000 and sentenced to 18 months in prison. The government awarded the three surviving daughters of the Weavers $1,000,000 each and Randy Weaver $100,000 to avoid going to trial for a civil lawsuit for the deaths of Sammy and Vicki.
The government’s mishandling of the Ruby Ridge Incident, in conjunction with the Waco Incident that happened the following year fueled the narrative of radical rightists that the federal government was coming for their guns and properties due to their beliefs. I believe there are many intricacies of this case that made this case complex to code due to charges being added then dropped after the incident took place as well as whether or not this incident is an example of extremism and if their socio-political beliefs were connected to their actions and the charges. It is arguable that they engaged in the shootout and resisted with the U.S. Marshals due to their extremist, anti-government beliefs. The ideology of the Weavers and Harris can be defined as extremist as evidence seems to suggest the existence of ideological texts, in which describe who is part of the in group, who is the out group, and protocol for how to interact and engage with the out-group (Berger, 2018).
Berger, J. M. (2018). Extremism. Cambridge: The MIT Press.