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Randy Weaver’s Victory: Now The Government’s Under Fire As Criticism Of Agents Grows, Naples Neighbors Still Divided

Sun., Aug. 20, 1995

UNPUBLISHED CORRECTION: The sidebar of this story states that Kevin Harris surrendered on Aug. 20, 1992. The actual date of surrender was Aug. 30, 1992.

Three years after federal agents killed a mother and son and lost one of their own, Randy Weaver finally is front-page national news.

But the story no longer is about a lone, defiant racist atop a mountain thumbing his nose at an army below.

It has evolved into a tale of government misconduct, deception and the disgracing of one of the nation’s most reputable law enforcement agencies.

In Naples - a two-square-block hamlet consisting of a school, a general store and a tavern - the Weaver standoff is old news. The schisms it created among the people aren’t.

The 11-day siege of Weaver’s remote, rickety cabin drove a giant wedge through this community.

Some residents still zealously defend the white separatist as a freedom fighter who stood up to government thugs and their stifling laws.

Others regard Weaver as a nobody, more mouth than macho, who turned this peaceful enclave into a national laughingstock.

Another faction is neutral: Its members hate both the federal government and Randy Weaver.

And still others refuse to waste time thinking about Weaver at all.

Three years after 500 federal marshals, FBI agents and federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms enforcers descended upon a nearby mountain, the world won’t let Naples heal and neighbors repair friendships.

“We’re still divided,” said Earl Berwick, owner of Naples General Store. “We just want it to go away.”

Jackie Brown helped carry friend Vicki Weaver’s corpse from the plywood cabin as the standoff waned. She still weeps when reminded of 14-year-old Sam Weaver, who also was killed.

Old-timer Robert Straley still grumbles about how Weaver asked for a confrontation, got one and now is getting rich off it.

Logger Rick Reed helped organize an around-theclock vigil and protest against arriving government troops three years ago. Then he abandoned his creation a week later when Utah skinheads and outside rabble-rousers made a volatile situation worse.

Reed, now a Naples-based professional comedian, uses humor to make sense of it all.

When the first shots echoed through a nearby canyon the cool morning of Aug. 21, 1992, the national media barely noticed. Hurricane Andrew was battering south Florida; Los Angeles still was smoldering from a race riot.

Then came David Koresh. Then came Oklahoma City.

America’s attention turned to paranoid paramilitary groups and complaints of government overstepping its bounds - and ultimately to the Weaver siege.

Now, residents here who don’t like reporters of any kind must bear East Coast journalists with little comprehension of North Idaho, its people, its principles.

“We’re the backbone of America,” Reed says. “We’re not a bunch of nuts. We’re those family values all those politicians back East are talking about.

“We’re hard-working, honest people. We just want to be left alone.”

There’s no such town as Ruby Ridge, Idaho, even though CNN and other national media have created one.

Ruby Ridge is but a crag in the Selkirk Mountains, barely recognizable on a Forest Service map. But it has become a routine stop for Eastern reporters who often recruit Jackie and Tony Brown as tour guides.

They recently were hosts for a writer from the Washington Post who won a 1993 Pulitzer Prize for stories about his daughter’s murder by a stalker.

The Browns have grown weary of visitors with notepads and tape recorders. But in exchange for a world-class hamburger and curly fries at the nearby Elmira Cafe, they’ll set you straight about the Weavers, how they lived, what they stood for and how they were abused by the government.

Tony Brown didn’t always appreciate Randy Weaver’s loud and constant rhetoric, but he admired him as a generous and thoughtful husband and father, committed to his beliefs even if society wasn’t.

Jackie Brown loved Vicki Weaver and how she kept a cabin with a cheap exterior so immaculately clean inside. Vicki was a lady and a mentor who had taught her how to can vegetables.

“Everyone wants to heal, but we can’t heal until the truth comes out,” Jackie Brown says. “You’ve got to treat the wound.”

At a neighboring table at the Elmira Cafe, 70-year-old Robert Straley waits for a milkshake by pulling out his false teeth, inspecting them and popping them back in.

Out of earshot of the Browns, he questions why so many guns were confiscated from the Weaver cabin after the standoff and why three children were always armed.

“I’ve got one hunting rifle,” Straley says. “Hell, they’ve made him a martyr.”

The Justice Department recently settled Weaver’s $200 million civil claim by awarding his three daughters $1 million each. Weaver will get $100,000.

Five FBI agents have been suspended with pay on suspicion of lying or destroying documents relating to the special rules of engagement used during the siege. The controversial and possibly unconstitutional policy allowed snipers to fire at Weaver and his friend Kevin Harris, even if they weren’t threatening agents.

A Senate oversight committee headed by Republican presidential candidate Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania is scheduled to convene hearings on the case Sept. 6.

Whenever comedian Rick Reed hits the road, his crowds want to know about North Idaho racists.

Right after the Weaver siege, Reed was in Milwaukee - home of cannibalistic serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. The crowd ragged Reed; he got even.

“I said, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a couple of nuts in North Idaho, but we know who they are and where they live,”’ Reed recalled. “‘We don’t have anyone who would eat 15 people. Besides, after the first five or six, we’d realize some of us were missing.”’

Reed, 43, now tours 11 Western states and Canada with his routine - a hyperactive Will Rogers with an edge.

With long hair and a thin, graying beard, he speaks from wide experience: logger, 19-year husband, father and combat veteran who used to numb himself with heroin before dropping 55-gallon barrels of napalm on the Viet Cong.

Sipping a Keystone Light at his 18-acre homestead, Reed starts performing.

“Those federal boys just don’t understand us here in North Idaho,” he says. “Any time you mix alcohol, tobacco and firearms, hey, it’s just a party.”

Of racism, Reed quips: “We’re not racists. We hate everybody. That’s why we live in the mountains. We don’t care what color you are. We don’t like you.”

Then Reed, a live-and-let-live ex-hippie, turns serious. Weaver was wrong to invite a confrontation, he says, but deputy marshals should have kept their noses out of North Idaho.

“Everybody has neighbors they don’t necessarily care for,” Reed says, “but you can’t come in and kill them.”

Gerry Spence, the Wyoming cowboy lawyer who got Weaver acquitted of all but one minor charge, says America’s law enforcement is at a crossroads.

He recognizes the Weaver standoff as a seminal event for the patriot movement and distrust of government.

“We have to feel confident that they’ll protect us and not kill us,” Spence says between breaks in analyzing the O.J. Simpson trial.

“We’re now faced with these frightening militia groups,” he says. “They come as a result of ordinary citizens fearing their own government. Randy Weaver was afraid of his own government. That’s a terrible comment on America. This is not Nazi Germany.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WEAVER’S PATH FROM ISOLATION TO CENTER STAGE Randy Weaver ran afoul of the federal government in the late 1980s by selling a federal informer two illegally sawed-off shotguns and then refusing to help agents investigate white supremacists. He was indicted, but in February 1991, he failed to appear in court to answer weapons charges. He holed up at his mountaintop cabin until Aug. 21, 1992, when six deputy U.S. marshals were discovered by Weaver’s dog during a surveillance mission. A gunfight killed Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam, and agent William Degan. The next day, an FBI sniper wounded Weaver and friend Kevin Harris and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, as she held her 10-month-old daughter. A badly wounded Harris surrendered Aug. 20. Weaver and his three daughters came out Aug. 31. In July 1993, a federal jury acquitted Harris of all charges, including murder, conspiracy and weapons violations, and convicted Weaver only of failure to appear in court. He served 16 months in jail and moved back to his native Iowa. Last January, the FBI reprimanded 12 agents for their handling of the Weaver case, including Larry Potts, the agent who had supervised the standoff. Still, Potts was promoted to the No. 2 position in the FBI. In April, the Justice Department said the FBI had botched the Weaver case and then had failed to support government lawyers prosecuting him. Last month, Potts was demoted as deputy FBI director and, along with four others, was suspended with pay as a criminal investigation opened into a possible government cover-up. Last Tuesday, the Justice Department agreed to pay Weaver and his three children $3.1 million to settle their $200 million civil claim against the government. Senate hearings into the Weaver case are scheduled to begin Sept. 6. J. Todd Foster

This sidebar appeared with the story: WEAVER’S PATH FROM ISOLATION TO CENTER STAGE Randy Weaver ran afoul of the federal government in the late 1980s by selling a federal informer two illegally sawed-off shotguns and then refusing to help agents investigate white supremacists. He was indicted, but in February 1991, he failed to appear in court to answer weapons charges. He holed up at his mountaintop cabin until Aug. 21, 1992, when six deputy U.S. marshals were discovered by Weaver’s dog during a surveillance mission. A gunfight killed Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam, and agent William Degan. The next day, an FBI sniper wounded Weaver and friend Kevin Harris and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, as she held her 10-month-old daughter. A badly wounded Harris surrendered Aug. 20. Weaver and his three daughters came out Aug. 31. In July 1993, a federal jury acquitted Harris of all charges, including murder, conspiracy and weapons violations, and convicted Weaver only of failure to appear in court. He served 16 months in jail and moved back to his native Iowa. Last January, the FBI reprimanded 12 agents for their handling of the Weaver case, including Larry Potts, the agent who had supervised the standoff. Still, Potts was promoted to the No. 2 position in the FBI. In April, the Justice Department said the FBI had botched the Weaver case and then had failed to support government lawyers prosecuting him. Last month, Potts was demoted as deputy FBI director and, along with four others, was suspended with pay as a criminal investigation opened into a possible government cover-up. Last Tuesday, the Justice Department agreed to pay Weaver and his three children $3.1 million to settle their $200 million civil claim against the government. Senate hearings into the Weaver case are scheduled to begin Sept. 6. J. Todd Foster


 
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