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Federal agents in body armor and black ninja uniforms, armored cars crashing up hillsides, even the fabled helicopters of militia nightmares –Ruby Ridge had all the elements of a paranoid fantasy, with the difference that it was stamped in real flesh and blood. In the 11- day standoff, Weavers wife was shot dead as she held their 10-month-old daughter in her arms. A day earlier his 14-year-old son and a U.S. Marshal had been killed (Lacayo, 1995). But who was Randy Weaver? What kind of horrible criminal was he to deserve armed federal agents rushing on his house and family? And why isnt there a happy ending to this story?
Randy Weaver was a 44-year old ex-Green Beret. He lived in a cabin in the woods of Ruby Ridge with his wife, Vikki, son, Sammy, and daughters, Sara, Rachael, and Elisheba. Randy also had his young friend, Kevin Harris, staying with him and his family. Randy and his family were subsistence hunters and farmers. They had a generator to produce electricity, but they had no televisions or radios. The Weaver family liked to keep things simple and keep to themselves.
In October of 1989, Randy Weaver sold two sawed-off shotguns that were under the legal length to a friend. This friend turned out to be an undercover BATF agent (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Several months after Randy had sold these illegal shotguns, two BATF agents with an offer approached him. The offer was to be an informant for the BATF agency or be charged and go to jail. Randy refused the offer and about seven months later he was indicted on illegal weapons sale. He was then arraigned and told to reappear in court in February of 1991. Randy did not return to court; he returned to his mountain. A warrant was then issued for the arrest of Randy Weaver for failure to appear in court and for the sale of illegal firearms. These were the vicious crimes of the horrible criminal, Randy Weaver.
For an entire year, the U.S. Marshals Service was involved in gathering information about Weaver, and developing a plan to arrest him. So, why didnt they just go to his mountain cabin and arrest him? Randy Weaver was a white separatist. His religious and political views were far outside the American mainstream. Weaver also like guns and had many of them. Based on information that is collected, the Marshals Service learned that for many years Weaver had made statements about his intent to violently confront federal law enforcement officials. As a result, the Marshals Service concluded that Weaver intended to resist violently governmental attempts to arrest him (Department of Justice Ruby Ridge Report). Therefore, they decided an undercover operation would be the most prudent and safe way to go.
A team of six U.S. Marshals approached the edge of the woods that surrounded the Weavers cabin on the afternoon of August 21, 1992. The Weavers dogs began to bark loudly, so Randy, Kevin, and Sammy began to follow their dogs through the woods. Gunfire erupted in the woods. The Weavers dog, Striker, was killed. Sammy was shot in the back and killed. Kevin shot and killed a U.S. Marshal. It was concluded in the Justice Department report that is was impossible to know who fired the first shot.
The shooting abruptly stopped; Randy and Kevin drug Sammys body to the shed and the standoff began. Since a U.S. Marshal was down the FBI was called in help with the situation. That night all was quiet at Ruby Ridge and in the Weavers cabin. But on August 22, 1992, the Rudy Ridge catastrophe went down.
FBI Headquarters rejected an initial operation plan because there was no provision to even attempt to negotiate the surrender of the suspects. The plan was revised to include a negotiation provisionbut subsequent FBI action made that provision nullity. FBI snipers took their positions around the Weaver cabin a few minutes after 5 p.m. on August 22. Within an hour, every adult in the cabin was either dead or severely woundedeven though they had not fired a shot at any FBI agent (Bovard, 1995). As the FBI hostage-rescue team were in route to Ruby Ridge the rules of engagement were discussed. It was said that any armed adults could and should be shot on site, deadly force should and could be used to neutralize the situation. But why was all of this happening to the Weavers?
On Thursday, August 27, radio newsman Paul Harvey used his noon broadcast to reach the Weavers, who hed learned were regular listeners As a part of their efforts to make contact with the Weavers, the FBI sent a robot with a telephone to the cabin. But the robot also had a shotgun pointed at the door, so the Weavers feared that reaching for the phone could result in death or injury (Oliver). Does this sound like normal negotiations tactics used by the FBI? Was the FBI really trying to get Randy and his family out of there alive?
Kevin Harris finally surrendered on Sunday, August 30. He was very badly wounded and was then rushed to the nearby hospital. The remaining living Weaver family surrendered the following day thanks to the negotiations of former Green Beret hero, Bo Gritz. Bo Gritz did not work for the FBI. So why was he the one negotiating? Why wasnt the FBI trying to negotiate?
At the conclusion of this standoff, it seems as though unnecessary life was lost and innocent blood shed. But why? Why did the Ruby Ridge incident end in a catastrophe? Did it really have to end up that way? The only way to get some answers to these questions is to examine the methods used by the U.S. Marshals and the FBI and to compare them to what should and could have been done.
Any and every negotiable situation has critical decisions that must be made in order to resolve the situation peacefully. How these critical decision points were reached and made have an extensive impact on the situation. The textbook, Crisis Negotiations, recommends about 17 questions to ask when reviewing a negotiated situation.
First one must assess what type of incident it is. In the case of the Ruby Ridge incident, it was not a planned situation. It just kind of came about unexpectedly when shots were fired in the woods and Sammy Weaver was killed. The Weavers had no idea that the U.S. Marshals were outside and planned to arrest him that day. The Weavers were not prepared for this type of situation, but weapons were available and emotions were running high. Ruby Ridge was not a hostage situation but a crisis, standoff situation.
Secondly, one must use appropriate and accurate intelligence. In depth intelligence and information was gathered about the Weaver cabin and the surrounding areas almost 18 months before the situation began. It was concluded from the information about Randy Weaver, that he was dangerous and planned to attack with force if any law enforcement officials tried to arrest him. It was thought he had a large arsenal in his cabin; Randys political and religious views made him a dangerous target, according to intelligence.
Our review found numerous problems with the conduct of the FBI at Ruby Ridge.
Although we concluded that the decision to deploy the HRT to Ruby Ridge was appropriate and consistent with Department policy, we do not believe that the FBIs initial attempts at the intelligence gathering at the scene were sufficiently thorough.
We also found serious problems with the terms of the Rules of Engagement in force at Ruby Ridge. Certain portions of these Rules not only departed from the FBIs standard deadly force policy but also contravened the Constitution of the United States. In addition, we found these Rules to be imprecise and believe that they may have created an >atmosphere that encouraged the use of deadly force thereby having the effect of contributing to an unintentional death (Department of Justice Ruby Ridge Report).
Next, one needs to decide whether the situation was negotiable or made negotiable. No attempts to establish negotiations with the Weavers were made at the start of the situation. There were no attempts made by the U.S. Marshals to communicate Randy and his family; they just started shooting. Attempts to negotiate were finally made after the FBI had arrived, but only after the incident had been going on several hours with no progress. Bo Gritz, an ex-Green Beret, was the negotiator who finally got Randy and Kevin to surrender. But in my opinion, these were feeble and pathetic attempts to communicate with the Weavers. Why didnt they just arrest him like anybody else?
The next few questions deal with demands, emotional and behavioral status, and potentials of suicide and aggression. Randy Weaver made no demands because this was not a hostage situation. This situation was sprung on him. I am sure the emotional status was high and tense due to his son and his wife being killed, and the safety of the rest of his family in question. There has not been any documentation about Randy being suicidal, but I guess you can say that aggression was present if you call shooting in self- defense aggression. But it is documented that no other shots were fired at any of the law enforcement officials after the initial shooting in the woods. The Weavers never fired another shot, yet from every direction guns were locked on them.
The next several questions deal with communication channels. The communication between law enforcement officials and the Weavers was minimal. I am sure safety and security was kept in mind as well, but the children were in danger throughout the situation. Vikki Weaver was shot while holding her baby daughter. Vikki Weaver was unarmed.
Finally, was there a back up plan, were all basic negotiations guidelines used, what worked, and what suggestions can be made for the next time? With the Ruby Ridge situation, I think the back up plan was the FBI and the HRT, and neither went over very well. I am sure the guidelines were looked over and contemplated but not put into action.
The incident led to one of the most extensive internal reviews of an FBI investigation ever. Attorney General Janet Reno established a Justice
Department task force to investigate the events as Ruby Ridge. The task force concluded in a 1994 report that the FBIs Hostage Rescue Team overreacted to the threat of violence and instituted a shoot-on-sight policy that violated bureau guidelines and Fourth Amendment restrictions on police power. The FBI disciplined 12 agents and employees, including Larry Potts, then the head of its criminal division and now its deputy director, for their roles in the operation (Department of Justice Ruby Ridge Report).
Randy Weaver was a simple man that had radical religious and political views. And he did not like the government too much. He lived quietly on Ruby Ridge with his family in a small cabin. Randy Weaver committed a crime and needed to be arrested, but did he need a U.S. Marshal team hiding in the woods with their guns loaded to arrest him? Why wasnt he warned or notified he was going to be arrested? Did his loved ones need or half to die in order for him to be arrested?
I am bothered by these questions and many more when I read information about the Ruby Ridge incident. Many things could and should have been done differently. The FBI was clearly in the wrong, as it was stated in the Justice Report. I believe Ruby Ridge was a catastrophe.
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