Militarization of Police

Ruby Ridge Is History, But the Mindset That Led to Ruby Ridge Is Thriving

Looking back at a lethal attack.


The face of terror, or the victim of terror?

It has been 20 years since the clash at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, an assault that led to the violent deaths of three human beings and a dog. Randy and Vicki Weaver, a Midwestern couple, had moved to the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, where they planned to live as self-sufficiently as possible. Then the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms entrapped Randy on a minor weapons violation and offered him a deal: The charge would be dismissed if he became an informant in white separatist circles. Instead Weaver skipped (or just missed) his trial (*) and moved his family to a cabin in the wilderness.

When federal agents arrived on the scene, they shot the family dog. The Weavers' son Sam, not realizing what was going on, fired a shot in response and then fled, at which point an agent shot him in the back. Kevin Harris, a visiting friend, fired at the attacking cops and killed one. The FBI's snipers went on to wound both Randy and Harris, and one of the sharpshooters killed Vicki, firing a bullet into her head while she held her 10-month-old daughter.

An 11-day standoff ensued. After Weaver surrendered, he and Harris were found innocent of murder. An internal report subsequently concluded that the FBI had violated the Weavers' constitutional rights. Some figures within the agency suspected that they were in the wrong well before then, though—a few days into the siege, Danny Coulson of the FBI wrote this in a memo:

Something to Consider
1. Charge against Weaver is Bull Shit.
2. No one saw Weaver do any shooting.
3. Vicki has no charges against her.
4. Weaver's defense. He ran down the hill to see what dog was barking at. Some guys in camys [camouflage] shot his dog. Started shooting at him. Killed his son. Harris did the shooting [of the FBI agent]. He [Randy Weaver] is in pretty strong legal position.

Not a bad summary.

It isn't hard to find examples of marginal groups whose paranoia about the government drove them to violence. The tale of the Weavers shows how the government's paranoia about marginal groups can drive it to violence, too. The feds looked at a family with fringy views and perceived a threat, and as a result a woman, a boy, a dog, and one of the government's own agents were killed. It wouldn't be the last time something like that happened. A year later in Waco, the Branch Davidians' paranoia would be no match for the paranoia of the Davidians' enemies.

I wish I could report that the authorities' fear has faded in the decades since Ruby Ridge and Waco. Instead it has been institutionalized in the fusion centers that litter the country, where everybody from Ron Paul fans to anti-fracking activists have been tarred as potential terrorists. Meanwhile, the country's police forces have been steadily more militarized. What a sad and terrifying combination.

Elsewhere in Reason: "The Paranoid Center."

(* I originally wrote that he simply skipped the trial, but a commenter reminds me that Weaver had been sent the wrong date. That said, Alan Bock's book on the standoff—which is in no sense sympathetic to the government—points out that there's a good chance Weaver wouldn't have shown up either way: "Randy later told friends that he was convinced he would be railroaded, that government witnesses would lie under oath, and that he would be convicted whether guilty or not." But even if Bock is right, the fact that Weaver wasn't told the right day for the court date he missed just underlines how over-the-top the government's reaction was.)

NEXT: Cops Want to Store Rifles in Plainfield, Ill. High Schools In Case Violence Breaks Out

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  1. Ruby Ridge was just one instance where the state tests the waters, to see how far it can go without massive uprisings against it.

    One of many such experiments. Eventually, the state will find out what it takes, how much it has to push.

    All in the name of creating a future police state.

    And… both Teams are right there waiting for the results.

    1. And for Waco, the federal government got Oklahoma City.

      Wasn’t it David Boaz who had the two-bullet-point suggestion for Tim McVeigh?


      “2:00 am”

  2. I doubt a time traveler from 70 years ago would recognize America today.

    1. You’re probably right. In 1942 (70 years ago) FDR recommended a $25,000 maximum wage and authorized Executive Order 9066 allowing the internment of Japanese Americans. Things are a lot better now than in 1942.

      1. “Tax the shit out of the rich” isn’t functionally equivalent to a maximum wage?

        1. Look at the Revenue Act of 1942. The 88% tax rate for those making more than $200,000 was a compromise. If FDR had his way it would have been a 100% tax rate on anything more than $25,000.

      2. nobody makes a valid point. I don’t like all this “Life in these here united states was so much better 50/75/100/200 years ago” talk. Because it wasn’t.

        1. True, but at least the army of civil shitbags they used to enforce everything was a lot smaller.

          1. But they could be more brutal because of less scrutiny and a populace more deferent to authority.

            1. I don’t think that’s true, at least for White America.

              1. You may think what you like.

      3. Jr Simplot was persecuted for the crime of profiteering in ’43. His crime, building a facility to meet the demands for K-rations his company had been contracted to meet by the very same government that decided to go after him.

      4. It was much easier to evade payroll taxes 70 years ago. Hell, back then you wouldn’t be acting suspiciously when still holding large cash amounts.

      5. 80 years ago weed and machine guns were legal and you only needed a prescription to buy opiates and cocaine, everything else was OTC.

        Oh, and the cars

  3. Feck these worthless scum. Were these FBI “agents” charged and imprisoned for murder? NO? Feck the FBI and feck Coulson, that shift-eyed mealy-mouthed bastid….

  4. The feds looked at a family with fringy views and perceived a threat, and as a result a woman, a boy, a dog, and one of the bureau’s own agents were killed.

    Well, thankfully they are getting drones now, so they won’t have to worry about their brave agents getting killed the next time they go up against domestic terrorists.

  5. Weaver didn’t decide to “skip the trial”, he was given the wrong court date. And it wasn’t one of the ” bureau’s own agents” that was killed, it was a US Marshal, dressed in camo and spying on the family.

    1. It was camo fetish play day.

    2. Thanks, Chris. I fixed my sloppy error about the US Marshal and added a note about the trial date.

    3. And it came out in the trial that the Marshal was probably accidentally killed by one of his own.

    4. it was a US Marshal, dressed in camo and spying on the family

      They’d been spying on the family for some time. That day, they went out with the intent of killing the family dog, not realizing it might be followed by the family in case the dog had scented a deer. Weaver went down one trail, his son and Harris followed the dog. Which the Feds shot and killed, rather upsetting the son. Who they also shot and killed.

  6. An internal report subsequently concluded that the FBI had violated the Weavers’ constitutional rights.

    As I recall there weren’t any real negative consequences handed to any state agents for those violations.

    1. The Feds even threatened Idaho to drop the charges against Lon Horiuchi for his murder of Vicky. It bounced around the courts for a while, then after a few years had passed, a DA sympathetic to the Feds let the charges die.

    2. As I recall there weren’t any real negative consequences handed to any state agents for those violations.

      That’s because I’m pretty sure procedures were followed.

    3. They got promotions if I recall correctly.

      1. Well, it’s up or out in the Fed Service.

        And no one gets out.

    4. If we’re dressed as soldiers I guess were going to war.


    Nothing has changed since Ruby Ridge? I don’t believe it.

    1. FTA:

      The big concern, Whitehead said, is whether government officials are monitoring citizens’ private Facebook pages and detaining people with whom they disagree.

      Really? Yes, the guy got railroaded by the government, but do people honestly believe that anything on Facebook is private?

      1. If your settings are such, they damn well should be. It appears however that some of his friends ratted him out to the cops.

        1. privacy? facebook is just one step away from selling your face to facial recognition software cos.


          1. Pretty much.

    2. “Whitehead said he found nothing alarming in Raub’s social media commentaries. “The posts I read that supposedly were of concern were libertarian-type posts I see all the time,” he said.”

      Because thinking 9/11 was in inside job is, you know, libertarian philosophy.

  8. Did you forget to mention the “kill memo” where the snipers were told to shoot all armed adults on sight? Hard to use a strong legal position when you are dead.

    1. A baby is kinda like an arm.

      1. How could you live with yourself knowing you shot a baby out of his innocent mother’s arms?

        1. It was either him or me.

        2. A decent man would have committed suicide or done some sort of penance to expiate his sin.

          But few decent men take the king’s coin.

        3. People don’t seek out a job that involves killing people because they have no desire to kill people.

    2. Add to it the FBI memo identifying Vickie Weaver as the “dominant” member of the family. I was mystified at how a HRT sniper, the cream of the long distance rifle LEO community, a guy who can supposedly put 5 shots into the end of a tin can at 400 yds, fucks up a 200 yd shot on a running target so badly as to put a bullet through the head of someone else. Not to mention that he had to shoot through a door—into a dwelling where he knew there were women and children—to do it. And, in true Fed fashion, they not only didn’t fire him, they let him stay on the squad, as he shows up later at Waco, where he may or may not have fired at the compound during the fire.


      1. Actually, this is the one thing I wonder about in this case. There’s no doubt Horiuchi knew she was behind the door, the day or so after in a debrief he drew a rough picture of how her head and I think shoulders appeared behind the screen at the top half of the door.

        On the other hand, the fatal shot first hit the running Harris, seriously wounding him, before hitting her. If it was his intent to kill her, that would have been very hard to time (when to pull the trigger), plus it’s pretty easy for a bullet to get diverted by things like bones.

    3. Don’t forget that the “kill memo” establishing the Rules of Engagement was essentially a death sentence for the adults, all of whom were killed or severely wounded (probably mortally unless they got medical care) within a hour or so of the FBI’s Hostage “Rescue” Team setting up.

      Because carrying a gun when they stepped outside was routine, for protection of bears, opportunity for meat, etc., and one would imagine even more so after the Feds executed one of their dogs and their son….

  9. And don’t forget the state and locals take their cues from the Feds. So the natural result of the feds getting more oppressive and trigger happy is the state and locals follow their lead. The difference of course is that once in a great while a state and local cop is held accountable for something. That never happens to a fed.

  10. The Weavers’ son Sam, not realizing what was going on, fired a shot in response and then fled, at which point an agent shot him in the back.

    And nothing else happened.

  11. Just like the TERRIFYING!!111! “Hutaree Militia” in MI. I remember the day they were arrested and all the news came out – “I bet all charges are dropped, but not till they’ve done some time, and had their lives utterly disrupted, and spent a bunch of cash on lawyers, and….”

    Fuck the fucking fuckers from the gummint. May the ghost of Vicki Weaver ass rape you in your sleep.

    1. And meanwhile, the NSA knew exactly what the 9-11 hijackers were up to and didn’t do a damn thing.

      1. Did they?

        My understanding was that they had damning intercepts, but hadn’t gotten around to translating them yet.

        1. I would have to look at the 9-11 report again. But they certainly knew the guys were in the country and a threat, but never told the INS to have them deported. And meanwhile, the FBI knew that Mousaoi was in jail and had been taking flying lessons learning only how to take off but didn’t tell the NSA. It was the fucking keystone kops.

          1. But they certainly knew the guys were in the country and a threat, but never told the INS to have them deported.

            I wonder what the Reason article about Atta’s pre-9/11 deportation would have looked like.

          2. They didn’t go through all the work of getting a union so they could work hard and be efficient, dude.

  12. I doubt a time traveler from 70 years ago would recognize America today.

    I graduated from high school in 1973, and I cannot believe how much this country has changed.

  13. 20 years ago this was my wake up call.

  14. Ruby Ridge is not in the Pacific Northwest. Ruby Ridge is at the southern end of the Selkirk Range and can either be described as part of the Columbia Mountains or as part of the Inland Northwest.

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