Randy Weaver's Turn: `It Will All Come Out' -- Senate To Probe Siege, FBI's Shoot-To-Kill Role

GRAND JUNCTION, Iowa - Soon it will be his turn, this wiry, slightly built man with steel gray hair and intense blue eyes. Randall Claude Weaver is the other shoe to fall in Congress' scrutiny of infamous federal law-enforcement sieges of the 1990s.

Along with Waco, Texas, and the Branch Davidians, Weaver's name and that of Ruby Ridge, the mountain in northern Idaho where he and his wife, Vicki, built their plywood home, have become for a widening swath of Americans - from gun militants to civil libertarians - emblematic of excessive force by federal agents.

On Friday, the FBI suspended four top officials for possibly covering up their roles in the siege.

"While there may not have been much sympathy for Randy Weaver (a white separatist), I think the average citizen saw a phenomenal display of federal force against a man and his family that they began to question," said Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Vicki Weaver, 43; the Weavers' 14-year-old son Samuel, and U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed by gunfire during a 10-day siege on Ruby Ridge in August 1992. Randy Weaver, 47, who was wanted on a federal weapons charge, bears the scars of an FBI sniper's bullet in his right shoulder and armpit.

A Senate Judiciary subcommittee headed by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has set hearings for Sept. 6.

Until then, Weaver refuses to discuss what happened. Still, he is a cordial man who likes to talk, even as he makes it known that he grants no interviews - an order, he said, from Gerry Spence, the Wyoming lawyer who represents him.

"It will all come out," he says. "Oh yeah, it will all come out." He nods his head and bites at his lip.

He'll testify, reluctantly

He stands on the porch of the wood-frame house he moved into shortly after his release from prison in December 1993. Scattered about are tools and children's playthings. His early 1980s beater of a car is in the front yard.

Rachel, 13, and Elisheba, 3, share the house with him. Elisheba was an infant cradled in her mother's arms when a sniper's bullet struck Vicki Weaver in the face.

Sara, 19, the oldest, lives down the street.

Randy Weaver's parents and relatives live nearby, and he is only 9 miles from Jefferson, Iowa, his hometown. He likes it that Grand Junction, population 850, is small, quiet and overlooked.

His eyes flash with emotion only twice. Once warmly, when recalling the simple pleasures of drinking fresh water from an Idaho mountain stream. "Have you ever drunk mountain water?" he asks, emphasizing the last three words.

But he makes it clear that he could never return to Idaho, where he sold his 20 acres of mountaintop land. Maybe another Western state, but not Idaho, not Ruby Ridge.

When talk turns to Washington, the smile vanishes, his brow furrows and a quiet fury dances in his eyes. He says he does not look forward to going to the nation's capital to testify, but will if called.

They went to the mountaintop

The Weavers were drawn to rural Idaho in 1983 as a place where they could practice their Old Testament religious beliefs. Those beliefs closely paralleled those of Christian Identity followers, who hold that white American and northern European Christians are the true Israelites.

They feared the government was controlled by a cabal of European bankers. They opposed the mixing of races and espoused white separatism. And they saw themselves as escaping a decadent society and corrupt government as the world approached the millennium.

But the Weavers did not join right-wing survivalist or other groups, preferring instead to conduct their own Bible study on the mountaintop, receive their own prophecies and school their children at home.

In any case, what happened, says Julie Brown, Vicki's younger sister, had nothing to do with their beliefs.

"It's easy for me to sit back and think Vicki was being extremely paranoid. She was scared to death of government. But how would I feel if my husband was being harassed by government agents?" she said.

"They overestimated him"

But Jess Walter, a Spokane newspaper reporter who has written a soon-to-be-published book, "Every Knee Shall Bend," about the case, does think beliefs played a role - beliefs of government conspiracy on the part of the Weavers, and beliefs of a right-wing conspiracy on the part of the federal agents.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents, he says, admitted to him that they made far more out of Randy Weaver than was justified. Weaver, a former Green Beret who spent his tour of duty working with engineering equipment at Fort Bragg, was portrayed as a neo-Nazi fugitive who planned an armed confrontation and possessed dangerous military skills.

"They overestimated him " said Walter, who reviewed agents' surreptitious recordings of Weaver's conversations with far-right-wingers. "Every time something dangerous is mentioned, Randy bows out."

The siege had its origins in Weaver's failure to appear at a 1991 trial. He faced weapons charges - selling two sawed-off shotguns in 1989 to an ATF undercover agent who had offered him $300. The agent told him precisely where to cut the barrels, a quarter-inch short of the 16-inch legal limit.

(After the siege, a jury threw the gun charges out, suggesting that Weaver had been entrapped.)

But his failure to appear at his 1991 trial, and his determination not to be arrested because he had been led to believe he would lose his family and his land, led to a long and costly surveillance of Ruby Ridge by U.S. marshals.

How the siege began

The surveillance ended on Aug. 21, 1992, when three marshals drew the attention of the Weavers' yellow labrador, Striker. Randy Weaver, Sam and Kevin Harris, 25, a friend staying with the family, grabbed their rifles and followed the dog's barks.

Harris and Sam Weaver, who was carrying a Ruger Mini 14 assault rifle, came close to the marshals, who say they were retreating and off the Weaver property, hoping to avoid a confrontation.

Who fired first and what happened next remain in dispute. But here is what the jury believed at Weaver's and Harris' trial:

One of the marshals shot the dog, killing it. An angry and cursing Sam Weaver fired a few wild shots, and then turned and ran when his father ordered him back to the cabin. As he ran, one bullet from a marshal's rifle - not Degan's - shattered his arm. Another struck him in the back, killing the boy.

Harris then raised his 30.06 deer rifle and shot Degan, killing him.

The marshals then called for help from the FBI, which sent its hostage rescue team from Quantico, Va.

Julie Brown, who arrived at Ruby Ridge Aug. 24, 1992, said she was amazed at how her sister's family was being depicted by law officers, who numbered about 200 by then.

"They had already painted a picture of them so damaging, it seemed they could do anything they want, because they had made everybody hate them," she said. "But no one ever asked anyone in my family about Vicki."

Shoot on sight

The morning of Aug. 22, six two-man FBI sniper teams were on the scene, along with a helicopter, an armored personnel carrier and other assorted equipment. They had requested and received approval to change the rules of engagement: Any armed male could be shot on sight.

Later that day, Randy Weaver, Harris and Sara Weaver walked toward the shed where they had placed Sam Weaver's body. As Randy Weaver, carrying a rifle, began to open the shed door, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot him in the shoulder.

Randy and Sara Weaver and Harris ran to the cabin, where Vicki Weaver, holding 10-month-old Elisheba, stood behind the open door, urging them to hurry. Horiuchi said he fired at Harris. But the bullet struck Vicki Weaver in the head, killing her. Harris was wounded.

Waiting for resolution

Eight days passed before the siege was talked to a conclusion by former Green Beret Bo Gritz.

A 542-page report completed last summer by a Justice Department task force found a chaotic series of misjudgments and mistakes. It called the government's actions unconstitutional in relaxing rules governing when federal agents may shoot a suspect, and recommended criminal prosecutions, according to news accounts of a leaked copy of the report.

The department's Office of Professional Responsibility rejected the recommendations; a review by the department's civil-rights division concluded there were no constitutional violations.

But in July, allegations of document tampering concerning FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts' role in changing the rules of engagement for agents at Ruby Ridge led to a renewed investigation by the Justice Department, and Potts' transfer from deputy director to a lower rank.

On Friday, he and three other agents were suspended.

Potts has denied authorizing a change in the rules.

Weaver, meanwhile, is a man awaiting resolution. He has not worked since he got out of prison. First there are the hearings. Then there is the possibility of criminal prosecutions. And there is a $52 million lawsuit against those he holds responsible for the deaths of his wife and son.

THE RUBY RIDGE SHOOTOUT AND SIEGE ------------------------------------------ -- When: Aug. 21-31, 1992 -- Where: Ruby Ridge, Idaho -- Incident: Shots exchanged when U.S. marshals attempt to serve a fugitive warrant on Randy Weaver. Encounter becomes a stalemate punctuated by FBI sniper fire that killed Weaver's wife, Vicki. -- Killed: Vicki Weaver and son, Samuel, and U.S. Marshal William Degan. -- Aftermath: Weaver surrenders with three of his children. He later stands trial on assault charges and is acquitted in the death of Degan.

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