News >  Crime/Public Safety

Randy Weaver, the man who fought federal agents at Ruby Ridge, has died at 74

UPDATED: Fri., May 13, 2022

Randy Weaver is seen on Dec. 18, 1993, the day he was freed from jail. (Blair Kooistra/The Spokesman-Review)

Randy Weaver, the white supremacist who became a hero of the modern militia movement after an 11-day standoff with federal agents at Ruby Ridge, has died.

The 74-year-old died Wednesday, according to a Facebook post from Weaver’s daughter, Sara Weaver.

Sara Weaver, who lives in Marion, Montana, didn’t share details about her father’s death and couldn’t be reached for comment. The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, which doubles as the coroner’s office, said it had no information on Weaver. Logan Health Medical Center, the region’s largest hospital, did not answer questions about whether he was a patient.

Weaver, an Iowan who moved to North Idaho with his family in the 1980s, became a household name in August 1992.

U.S. marshals attempted to arrest him after he failed to appear in court to face charges for manufacturing and possessing illegal shotguns. Weaver refused to surrender and holed up in the family’s cabin atop Ruby Ridge, near Naples in Boundary County.

On Aug. 21, six marshals surveilling Weaver’s cabin ran into him, his 14-year-old son, Sammy, and friend Kevin Harris. The encounter led to a shootout and the deaths of U.S. Deputy Marshal William Degan and Sammy Weaver.

Hundreds of federal agents flocked to the remote site following the incident and the 11-day siege began.

Violence continued on Aug. 22 when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki Weaver.

“It was tragedy on both sides,” said Tony Stewart, one of the founding members of the Kootenai County Human Rights Task Force on Human Relations. “There were no winners.”

The standoff captivated the nation. Millions of Americans watched the event unfold on TV and in print until it ended on Aug. 31. Weaver was arrested and taken to Boise, while his daughters went to live with relatives.

The federal government charged Weaver and Harris with a list of crimes, including Degan’s murder, but a jury in 1993 acquitted the men of virtually all charges. Weaver was only convicted on two minor gun counts.

The Justice Department disciplined 12 federal agents for their actions at Ruby Ridge, and the agency in 1995 paid Weaver $3.1 million for the deaths of his wife and son.

Thirty years after the disastrous standoff, Ruby Ridge remains a rallying cry for anti-government extremists.

John Allison, a Spokane lawyer who covered the siege as a TV reporter for KXLY, said Ruby Ridge showed the public that sort of extremism was real and more prevalent than people had thought.

“That was really, I think, a wakeup call to the nation,” Allison said. “It certainly was to me and us in the Pacific Northwest, the degree to which there was a faction of people that were very much distrusting and angry with the government.”

Former Spokesman-Review reporter J. Todd Foster, now editor of the Cleveland Daily Banner in Tennessee, covered Ruby Ridge for the newspaper alongside Bill Morlin and Jess Walter. He said Weaver leaves behind a two-pronged legacy.

“It’s one of a racist, even though he called himself a white separatist,” Foster said. “He’s also an example of government overreach.”

In the aftermath of Ruby Ridge, federal law enforcement agencies admitted they’d handled the siege terribly. The tragedy, along with the siege in Waco, Texas, that happened six months later, changed how law enforcement handled standoffs with fugitives.

Law enforcement began to place greater emphasis on de-escalation and waiting for fugitives to give up.

Walter, whose 1995 book “Every Knee Shall Bow” is often referred to as the definitive account of the standoff, said in a 2017 interview with The Spokesman-Review that neither Weaver nor the government was blameless. The book was later re-released as “Ruby Ridge.”

“There were so many missteps in this case that it really is a textbook on what not to do in law enforcement,” Walter said. “It’s also a textbook in how paranoia can cause a man to put his family in danger and lose two members of them.”

Weaver remained popular among white supremacists and far-right extremists in the years following the siege. He was often seen selling his book, “The Federal Siege at Ruby Ridge,” at gun shows and survivalist expos.

Nearly 30 years later, his death inspired an outpouring of grief on social media.

Allison covered the Weaver trial in Boise, right while he was beginning the transition from journalism to law.

He said he remembers listening to the arguments of Gerry Spence, Weaver’s attorney. Allison said Spence’s defense brought a lot of government overreach issues to his attention.

“In some ways, the government earns the distrust that a lot of people feel,” he said.

Allison said he thinks there’s an important lesson to be learned from Ruby Ridge.

“I think we all have to continue to listen to people who are angry,” he said. “We have to try to understand why and put it in the right perspective, and not dismiss that anger or distrust it.”

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