Since its inception in 1908, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been involved in various controversial cases where it has been proven that they abused their federal power and took advantage of the citizens they’re supposed to be protecting. In order to achieve what they want, the government is capable of doing almost anything. Techniques like entrapment, bullying, and changing the rules of engagement of field missions are all used to achieve these goals set by the government. The Ruby Ridge incident is a perfect example of the abuse of federal power.
Randall Weaver, his wife Vicki, their two children Sara and Sammy and their adopted son Kevin Harris were not ordinary mainstream Americans. Their extremist right wing views led them to seek refuge from mainstream society in the remote hilltops of Ruby Ridge, near Bonners Ferry in Northwest Idaho. Their goal was to create a self-sufficient refuge according to the doctrines of the Christian Identity movement, which saw the Anglo-Saxon race as the true Chosen People of the Bible, besieged by a Zionist-controlled government. (Powers, 2004, p. 63) Although the views of the Weaver family were very different from those of mainstream America, it is their 1st Amendment right to be able to believe and exercise any religion they want. At the end of the day, the Weaver family just wanted to be left in peace to live their lives accordingly with their beliefs.
It all began when the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (A. T. F. ), who was investigating illegal traffic in guns by right wing extremists, had one of their informants go to Weaver and ask him to shorten two shotguns illegally, as a result of which led to the arrest of Weaver on January 17th, 1991. Powers, 2004, p. 363) What happened was later found to be entrapment by an Idaho jury. Weaver was later released on bond. He then withdrew back to his hilltop and later failed to appear several times in court. This didn’t go down well with the U. S. Marshall’s Service, who decided to then form a team of six marshals to go in and observe the Weavers. On August 21st 1992 six marshals split up into two groups, fully armed and clothed for combat then infiltrated the Weaver property trying to collect any info on them possible. The marshals somehow triggered the attention of Sammy Weavers dog, which made him bark uncontrollably.
The noise obviously sparked the attention of Randall Weaver, which led him to go investigate what was happening along with his son Sammy and stepson Kevin Harris. (Powers, 2004, p. 363) According to the report, as they left the cabin and approached the marshals, gun fire erupted. Sammy was shot in the back by agent Cooper while attempting to run back home, Kevin Harris shot Marshal Degan in self-defense. As a result of the gunfight, U. S. Marshal William F. Degan, 13 year old Sammy Weaver and the dog were all found dead. (Bovard, 1995, p.
A14) One of the other marshals fled down the mountain to a nearby neighbor where he then placed a frantic emergency call stating that an agent was dead and the remaining agents were trapped on the Weaver property. (Discovery Times, 2001) Since the F. B. I. has jurisdiction over crimes against federal agents, and the remaining agents were still trapped on the Weaver property, they dispatched the Hostage Rescue Team (H. R. T) to Idaho. (Powers, 2004, p. 364) This HRT was no force to be reckoned with. It contained the best operators of the agency.
They were smart, athletic; brave and capable of handling almost any situation, never mind a family of six including babies. (Powers, 2004, p. 365) Provided with new rules of engagement, which stated that the HRT could shoot any male adult who was armed, the HRT snipers setup around the weaver premises, and prepared to take matters into their own hands. When the HRT saw that some of the Kevin Harris and some of the Weavers were armed, they opened fire. This led to the unintentional death of Vicki Weaver, while she was holding her baby daughter and opening the door so that the rest of her family could seek shelter in the house.
The same bullet that killed Vicki, also wounded Kevin Harris. (Powers, 2004, p. 365) The Weavers waited ten days before they actually surrendered. Only then did agent Horiuchi learn that his second shot fired which was meant for Kevin Harris, actually hit Vicki in the head first causing her immediate death. (Discovery Times, 2001) Randall Weaver was tried on federal charges ranging from illegal weapons possession to the murder of a federal officer. Kevin Harris was acquitted of all charges and Randy Weaver all but two- failure to appear in court and violating the terms of his bail of his original arrest.
Agent Horiuchi was indicted in state court for killing Vicki Weaver, but ultimately all charges were dismissed. Weaver received a 3. 1 million dollar settlement for the wrongful death of his wife and son. (Powers, 2004, p. 365) The Ruby Ridge shooting is so controversial because it left those who knew about it, in shock and fear of the means that the government could use to reach their goals. The Weaver family was not an ordinary family by any means, but they also weren’t criminals. The Weaver family had different beliefs than the government, and although they had the right to under the 1st Amendment, they paid a steep price for it.
The Weaver family didn’t bother anyone; in fact, they would prefer to just be left alone. The government just obsessed with this case and didn’t back down until they got what they wanted. The government has always had issues with extremists but in this case they went a little overboard. Randall Weaver was no terrorist, and he certainly had no intentions of harming anyone. This all began when Randall Weaver was entrapped by an A. T. F. informant. If not for that, none of this would have happened. This case was not only controversial because of the fact that it was violating the 1st Amendment right to free religion, but also because the F. B. I. used excessive force in obtaining the goals they sought after. Like mentioned previously, the Hostage Rescue Team that was sent to Idaho on this mission was the cream of the crop. The best snipers and field agents that were available were sent to handle a situation which involved a family of six people, two being children and the other a baby. So realistically, there were two, possibly three potentially dangerous targets.
The means used were exceedingly over the top. A tank was even sent to the Weaver residence to knock down walls and strike fear into the family. Discovery Times, 2001) It was all a great big mess, which could have been avoided using other means, like a better negotiation plan. Not only that, but the HRT had new rules of engagement which allowed them to use lethal force when it could easily be avoided. Seen from an outsider’s perspective, one would think the F. B. I. was dealing with a terrorist here who posed a national threat. The problem is this wasn’t the case. The Weavers were just a family trying to make it in the world on their own and the F. B. I. abused their federal power once again even though they could have managed to extract the family in a more peaceful manner.
The Ruby Ridge incident is a national concern because it affects all Americans. As a nation we have always believed that we have certain unalienable rights. When the rights of a citizen are challenged by the government, it is a national concern because it could happen to anyone. In this case it happened to a family who had different beliefs than the government. Since the government did not like what they observed, they tried to do something about it by entrapping Randall Weaver. The situation leads to the death of his wife and son, when it could have easily been avoided. All due to the obsession the government has with right-wing extremists.
I believe the federal government’s response was wrong. They used excessive force when it could have been avoided. This was not a hostile situation until the HRT made it one. The techniques used, from entrapment and the changing of the rules of engagement (allowing deadly force) are completely unfair, and as an American I am honestly ashamed and even fearful of what our government is capable of doing to meet an objective. I understand the fact that Randall Weaver should have met the conditions of his bail, the government is right about that, but in no way should they have used the type of force and strategies applied by the A. T. F. and F. B. I. to take the Weavers into custody. Nothing good came from the situation, just the deaths of Vicki Weaver, Sammy Weaver and U. S. Marshal William F. Degan.
Powers, R. (2004). Broken. The Troubled Past and uncertain future of the F. B. I.. Free Press Gaines, L. , Kappeler, V. (1994, 1997, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2008). Policing In America. LexisNexis Group Bovard, J. (1995) Ruby Ridge: The Justice Report. Wall Street Journal article retrieved from http://www. stormfront. org/ruby. htm Discovery Times: Ruby Ridge (2001) Documentary Video of Ruby Ridge. Parts 1-5 retrieved from www. youtube. com