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 on Wednesday, according to a Facebook post from Weaver’s daughter, Sara Weaver.
Sara Weaver, who lives in Marion, Montana, did not share details of her father’s death and could not be reached for comment. The Flathead County Sheriff’s Office, which also serves as the coroner’s office, said it had no information on Weaver. Logan Health Medical Center, the largest hospital in the area, did not respond to questions about whether he was a patient.
Weaver, an Iowan who moved to northern 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 of making and possessing illegal shotguns. Weaver refused to surrender and locked himself in the family’s hand-built cabin atop Ruby Ridge near Naples in Boundary County.
On August 21, six marshals guarding Weaver’s cabin came across him, his 14-year-old son Samuel, and his friend Kevin Harris. The encounter led to a shootout and the death of U.S. Deputy Marshal William Degan and Sammy Weaver.
Hundreds of federal agents flocked to the remote site after the incident and the 11-day siege began.
The violence continued on August 22 when FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki Weaver.
“It was a tragedy on both sides,” said Tony Stewart, one of the founding members of the Kootenai County Human Relations Task Force for Human Rights. “There were no winners.”
The standoff has captivated the nation. Millions of Americans watched the event unfold on TV and in print until it wrapped on August 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 of two minor counts.
The Justice Department sanctioned 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 attorney who covered the siege as a television reporter for KXLY, said Ruby Ridge showed the public that anti-government extremism was real and more widespread than people realized.
“It was really, I think, a wake-up call for the nation,” Allison said. “It was certainly for me and us in the Pacific Northwest, the extent to which there was a faction of people who were very suspicious 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 paper alongside Bill Morlin and Jess Walter. He said Weaver leaves behind a two-pronged legacy.
“It’s that of a racist, even though he called himself a white separatist,” Foster said. “He is also an example of government overreach.”
In the aftermath of Ruby Ridge, federal law enforcement admitted they handled the siege terribly. The tragic standoff, along with the siege of Waco, Texas, which occurred six months later, changed the way law enforcement handled confrontations with fugitives.
Law enforcement began to place more emphasis on de-escalation and waiting for fugitives to give up.
Walter, whose 1995 book “Every Knee Shall Bow” is often considered the definitive account of the standoff, said in a 2017 interview with The Spokesman-Review that neither Weaver nor the government were blameless. The book was later reissued as “Ruby Ridge”.
“There were so many missteps in this case that it’s really a textbook on what not to do in law enforcement,” Walter said. “It’s also a handbook on how paranoia can cause a man to endanger his family and lose two members.”
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 survival shows.
He remains an icon: 30 years later, his death sparked an outpouring of grief on social media.
Allison covered the Weaver trial in Boise as he began the transition from journalism to law.
He said he remembered listening to arguments from Gerry Spence, Weaver’s attorney. Allison said Spence’s defense brought to his attention many of the government’s overreach issues.
“In a way, the government is earning the distrust that a lot of people feel,” he said.
Allison said he thought there was an important lesson to be learned from Ruby Ridge.
“I think we all have to keep listening 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 be suspicious of it.”