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What I Watched Last Night: Ruby Ridge

I suppose William Shatner wants to keep working, but he keeps showing up in the weirdest ways. His latest is a Biography channel show called Aftermath, described thusly:

"William Shatner takes an in-depth look at what happens when people are tragically or infamously transformed from unknown citizens into household names overnight, taking viewers back to the dramatic events that dominated the American news cycle as he gains exclusive access to the newsmakers at the heart of each story - heroes, villains, perpetrators, victims, family members and law enforcement officials - to dig deep and separate the fact from the fiction."

Well, yes, but he's not exactly a newsman and with episodes on Mary Kay Letourneau and the Unabomber, the whole enterprise just sounds like an another excuse to play the television version of search engine optimization - hammer those buzzwords! Or in this case, those buzzpeople.

I was, however, quite interested in the episode I saw over the weekend about Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge fame because I had ever so slight touch upon the story back when I was a reporter in Iowa. And I have to give the show's creators credit - it was fascinating to hear from the central characters now reflecting upon the tragedy (particularly Weaver's daughter, Sara).

It's just too bad Shatner played the role of inquisitor instead of someone with a more serious mien. Perhaps he would have been a bit more skeptical; I guess I always viewed Weaver as less victim and more provacateur than the general view because of my reporting experience.

You see, when the story of the standoff originally broke I noticed somewhere a reference to the Weavers having previously lived in Cedar Falls, Iowa, where I lived while I worked for the Waterloo Courier as police reporter. I checked the clips and found that the Courier had once wrote about the Weavers in a story arted with a Bible and two bullets. Seems the Weavers were scaring the bejeesus out of their neighbors as they talked about the end times while accumulating a huge weapons cache.

I couldn't find a copy of that original article, though it was later cited in many official investigative reports of the incident, but I did locate the story that I wrote, which would have been late 1990 or early 1991. Authorities had yet to move on the Weavers. Here is that story.

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Ex-C.F. family involved in mountain standoff
By Steve Rhodes
Courier Staff Writer
CEDAR FALLS - A former Cedar Falls family that caused a stir in the early 1980s because of its religious beliefs and ammunitions stockpile has held Idaho authorities at bay for more than a year from their mountaintop retreat.

Randall and Vicki Weaver have been living peacefully with their four children in an isolated cabin on the Ruby Ridge of the Selkirk Mountains even as Randall is wanted on a federal weapons charge and hasn't paid real estate taxes in three years.

"He's in a very remote area," said Steve Boyle, spokesman for the U.S. Marshal's Service, which holds an arrest warrant for Weaver. "The cabin he has has a commanding view in all directions. It's just a very difficult place to extricate anyone from who does not want to be extricated."

For three years the Weavers planned their journey west from a modest home on University Avenue [in Cedar Falls], where they would live as Christian survivalists awaiting the "great tribulation."

They visited an Amish community to learn how to live without electricity, canned a supply of food to last three years, and practiced using weapons for hunting and self-defense.

The Weavers finally set off in 1983, after their fervent religious beliefs had ignited rumors of cult activity during their time in Cedar Falls.

But times were tough out West. Weaver, 44, worked at times as a logger and laborer, and he even ran for sheriff in 1988 as a Republican in Boundary County, handing out "Vote Weaver for Sheriff" cards that said "Get Out of Jail Free" on the other side.

A year ago, Weaver was arrested for allegedly selling two sawed-off shotguns to a federal informant but failed to appear in court after he was released on his own recognizance.

Instead, he barricaded himself and his family in his mountaintop cabin and authorities have been reluctant to force him out, choosing instead to wait for his surrender even as friends ferry supplies to him and his family.

"The underlying charge is not a violent crime or heinous charge, so you have to use judgment in whether you want to risk the lives of others or children to bring him in," said Boyle. "There are strong arguments against storming the place."

In the iconoclastic Idaho panhandle, Weaver has his supporters, including a white supremacist church that claims him as a member.

"He doesn't want any contact with anybody," said Carl Franklin, chief of staff of the Church of Jesus Christ Christian in nearby Hayden Lake. "He has his family up there and they just keep to themselves."

Weaver has attended the church but has not become involved with its political arm, the Aryan Nation, Franklin said.

"I get the impression he considers them a moderate group. Almost too moderate for his tastes," said Boyle.

Boundary County Sheriff Bruce Whittaker, who was elected in 1990, has said in published reports that federal authorities are sending the wrong message in allowing Weaver to continue his life nearly unhindered.

"The Marshal Service is sending a message to people all over this country that, if you are a fugitive from the law, all you have to do is move to northern Idaho and build a cabin and strap on a pistol," Whittaker told the Chicago Tribune.

Whittaker is now denying media requests in the publicity crush that has followed. After a story by the Spokane Spokesman-Review hit the news wires and was picked up across the country, the tabloid TV people wanted in.

"Inside Edition wants an interview with the man on the mountain," Boyle said sardonically.

All of this attention had escaped the notice of Carolee Flynn, a former next-door neighbor and close friend who lives at 4920 University Ave.

Flynn still receives letters, and an occasional phone call, from the Weavers. The family has never mentioned the standoff.

"I just got a letter (from Vicki) saying the baby had arrived," Flynn said. "Her letter never mentioned that they were barricaded."

Vicki, 42, had her fourth child, a girl now 6 months old, at the cabin. Their other children are 16, 14 and 11. An F-4 Air Force jet has reportedly taken reconnaissance pictures of two of the children with handguns strapped to their waists. Flynn said the children are home-schooled by Vicki.

A letter from Sara, the 16-year-old, to Flynn at Thanksgiving shows no signs of anything but a contented home life, complete with a pet parakeet, a 100-pound Labrador named Striker, three "cute" puppies and 16 laying hens.

Flynn described the Weavers as generous neighbors whose kids were like grandchildren to her.

"Then they turned to religion," Flynn said. "They were nonviolent. They seemed to be almost persecuted by others for their religious beliefs. They were accused of being in a cult, which they were not. If they were in a cult, they would have tried to bring other people with them."

By January 1983, Randall, a John Deere mechanic and former Army Green Beret, told a Courier reporter he had amassed more than 4,000 rounds of ammunition, several military assault rifles and shotguns, and a variety of handguns.

"We called him crazy," Flynn said. "My husband said 'That's one crazy son-of-a-bitch over there.'"

The Weavers attracted the community's attention and in January 1983, they consented to be interviewed for a Courier article about their beliefs and activities. The article was published with artwork of two bullets beside a Bible.

"People can call us anything they want," Randall told the Courier. "I will speak the truth and they won't stop me."

Randall also described plans for developing a 300-yard kill zone to encircle their mountain compound, although Vicki later denied it. And they denied planning a confrontation with authorities, even as they prepared for the martial law they say is inevitable according to Biblical prophecy.

The Weavers did not seem to be religious people when the Flynns moved next door in 1976.

"When we moved in here they were common, ordinary people," Flynn said. "I think a lot of this came from watching PTL on television. And they got to studying and researching extensively, by the hour inside that home until they knew more than an ordained minister."

Flynn spent long hours over iced tea with Vicki, who worked at Sears, discussing the family's newfound religious beliefs and dark prophecies that would mark the beginning of the end.

In a Nov. 2 letter to Flynn, Vicki recalled those talks: "How is everything in Iowa? Are there a lot of people out of work there too? Things aren't looking good in this country or the world. What do you think of Geo. Bush's New World Order? Keep your eyes open. It's what we've talked about for years. This is a time of great deception. Deception is what the people of the world are being fed by the news media."

Flynn shied away from discussing the Weavers' political beliefs, but said the neo-Nazi label seems odd because Vicki once warned her to stay away from an acquaintance, saying "That's a neo-Nazi."

Authorities, however, consider the Weavers to be adherents of the Christian Identity, a racist and anti-Semitic group whose ranks have included Posse Comitatus leader Gordon Kahl and neo-Nazi leader Robert Matthews.

Both were killed in widely publicized shootouts with authorities - Kahl in 1983 when police stormed his farmhouse and Matthews in 1984 at his house on Whidbey Island on the Puget Sound.

Authorities, who have not ringed the cabin with armed patrols but instead are keeping the family under tight surveillance, deny they are being unusually patient to avoid the publicity of another such shootout.

"Only one of them has been charged with a wrongdoing. The other five have not," said Ron Evans, deputy chief of staff of the Marshal's Service. "He's kind of under house arrest up there."

That seems to suit the Weavers just fine. Randall's last message to authorities was "that he was not going to surrender," Evans said. "That he was prepared to stay on his mountaintop forever."

In Vicki's last letter to Flynn, she wrote: "We are all fine, happy on our little mountain and in good health."

-

Comments welcome.



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Posted on September 7, 2010


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