On August 21, 1992, a deadly firefight at a remote cabin on Ruby Ridge in Northern Idaho sparked the birth of the modern militia movement that still exists to this day.
US Marshalls went to Ruby Ridge looking for Randy Weaver who had moved his family to the cabin a year earlier after he was charged with selling illegal sawed-off shotguns to ATF agents.
The former Green Beret and his wife were religious fundamentalists who distrusted the government and believed the end of the world was imminent. They had always planned to move to Ruby Ridge to live off the grid with their children, but the couple decided to accelerate the plan after Weaver got into trouble with the law.
On the morning of Aug 21, 1992, US Marshalls planned to ambush Weaver and arrest him but after the family’s dog found officers hiding in the woods, a firefight broke out. Weaver’s 14 year old son Sammy was killed, along with a US Marshall who was shot by, Kevin Harris, a friend of Weaver’s who was staying with them at the time.
The Weavers retreated to their cabin and laid Sammy’s body in a shed. Over the next day, hundreds of federal and local officers – now under the command of the FBI – began to arrive to join the siege. An order was issued that deadly force could be used on any adult male observed with a weapon.
On August 22, the second day of the siege, an FBI sniper wounded Randy Weaver as he checked on Sammy’s corpse. The same sniper then shot Randy’s wife, Vicki, dead as she stood behind the door of the cabin holding her infant daughter.
The siege dragged on for 11 days and the scene became a circus. Neo-Nazis from the nearby Aryan Nations compound at Hayden Lake showed up to protest.
Other far-right groups poured in from all over the country to stand against what they saw as the persecution of an innocent family by a tyrannical federal government.
Ruby Ridge was resolved with the help of civilian negotiators including Bo Gritz, a former green beret, prolific conspiracy theorist, and the Populist party’s presidential candidate.
Weaver and Harris were charged with a host of crimes, including murder, conspiracy and assault. An Idaho jury acquitted Harris of all charges. Weaver was convicted of failing to appear for the original firearms charge.
The FBI sniper was initially charged with voluntary manslaughter but after a protracted legal battle the charges were dropped. In 1995 the federal government settled a $3.1 million lawsuit brought by Randy Weaver and his three surviving daughters.
Ruby ridge and the siege at Waco, Texas the following year boosted the emerging narrative on the far right that the feds were coming for the guns and property of those, like Weaver, who wanted no further contact with a country they saw as irredeemably corrupt.
Bill Morlin a fellow at Southern Poverty Law Center says, “Ruby Ridge became a demarcation point for the rise of the modern militia movement. It put the fertilizer in their minds which sprouted radical anti-government beliefs.”
For more stories from the 1990s, including the siege at Waco, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.