The Washington Times

December 15, 1994, Thursday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 1542 words

HEADLINE: Open season on gun owners? ;
Dubious decision at Justice

BYLINE: James Bovard

The Clinton administration has indicated there will be no prosecutions of
federal agents involved in the killing of 14-year-old Sammy Weaver and his
mother, Vicki Weaver during a 1992 government siege in Idaho. Deval Patrick,
assistant attorney general for civil rights, effectively overruled a Justice
Department investigation that urged prosecution of the agents involved for,
among other things, violating the U.S. Constitution. Instead, the Clinton
administration is signaling that government agents can practically never
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

violate the rights of gun owners - even when they kill a man's son and wife.

Randy Weaver lived with his wife and four children in an isolated cabin on
20 acres on Ruby Ridge in the Idaho mountains 40 miles south of the Canadian
border. Mr. Weaver was a white separatist - he did not favor violence against
blacks or any other race, but merely believed that the races should live
separately. Because of his odd beliefs, Mr. Weaver was targeted for a
government undercover sting. In 1989, an undercover agent for the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms approached Mr. Weaver and sought to get him to
sell sawed off shotguns. Mr. Weaver refused, but the agent was persistent and
even showed Mr. Weaver exactly where to saw off a shotgun barrel. Mr. Weaver
eventually relented to the undercover agents' demands and sold him two shotguns
- thereby violating federal firearms law. A court official sent Mr. Weaver the
wrong date to appear in court; after Mr. Weaver did not show up on the actual
date, a Justice Department attorney (who knew Mr. Weaver had been sent the
wrong date to appear) then secured a warrant for his arrest.

Federal agents launched an elaborate 18-month surveillance of Mr. Weaver's
cabin and land. David Niven, a lawyer involved in the subsequent court case,
noted later: "The marshals called in military aerial reconnaissance and had
photos studied by the Defense Mapping Agency. ... They had psychological
profiles performed and installed $130,000 worth of solar-powered long-range
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

spy cameras. They intercepted the Weavers' mail. They even knew the menstrual
cycle of Weaver's teen-age daughter, and planned an arrest scenario around it."

On Aug. 21, 1992, six U.S. marshals trespassed onto Mr. Weaver's
property, outfitted in full camouflage and ski masks and carrying sub-machine
guns. Three agents circled close to the cabin and threw rocks at the cabin in
order to get the attention of Mr. Weaver's dogs. As Mr. Weaver's 14-year-old
son, Sammy, and Kevin Harris, a 25-year-old family friend who was living in the
cabin, ran to see what the dogs were barking at, U.S. Marshals shot and killed
one of the dogs. Sammy Weaver fired his gun in the direction from which shots
had come. Randy Weaver came out from his cabin and hollered for his son to come
back to the cabin. Sammy yelled, "I'm coming, Dad," and was running back to the
cabin when a federal marshal shot him in the back and killed him. Kevin Harris
responded to Sammy's shooting by fatally shooting a U.S. marshal. Federal
agents testified in court that the U.S. marshal had been killed by the first
shot of the exchange - but evidence later showed that the marshal had fired
seven shots from his gun before he was shot during the exchange.

The death of the U.S. marshal sent the U.S. government into a frenzy. The
commander of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team was called in from Washington,
D.C.,and ordered federal agents to "shoot-to-kill" any armed adult male outside
the Weaver cabin, regardless of whether that person was doing anything to
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

threaten or menace federal agents. (Thanks to the surveillance, federal
officials knew the Weavers always carried guns when outside their cabin - as do
many people in the Idaho mountains). With the massive firepower that the federal
agents had in the area surrounding the cabin - the automatic weapons, the
deadly-accurate sniper rifles, the night vision scopes - this was practically an
order to assassinate the alleged wrongdoers. Four hundred government agents
quickly swarmed in the mountains around the cabin.

The next day, Aug. 22, Randy Weaver walked from his cabin to the little
shack where his son's body lay to say one last goodbye to his boy. As Mr.
Weaver was lifting the latch on the shack's door, he was shot from behind by FBI
sniper Ron Horiuchi. As he struggled back to the cabin, his wife, Vicki, stood
in the doorway, holding a 10-month-old baby in her arms and calling for her
husband to hurry. The FBI sniper shot Vicki Weaver in the temple, killing her
instantly. (The FBI is very proud of its talented sharpshooters; Mr. Horiuchi
testified in court that he could hit within a quarter inch of a target at a
distance of 200 yards.)

Though federal officials now claim that the killing of Mr. Weaver's wife
was an accident, the FBI capitalized on her death to try to psychologically
torture the survivors during the siege. As The Washington Times' Jerry Seper
(whose excellent reporting has helped keep this issue alive) reported, "Court
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

records show that while the woman's body lay in the cabin for eight days, the
FBI used microphones to taunt the family. 'Good morning Mrs. Weaver. We had
pancakes for breakfast. What did you have?' asked the agents in at least one
exchange." Neither Mr. Weaver nor Mr. Harris fired any shots at government
agents after the siege began.

Mr. Weaver surrendered after 11 days. An Idaho jury found Mr. Weaver
innocent of almost all charges and ruled that Kevin Harris' shooting of the U.S.
marshal was legitimate self-defense. Federal Judge Edward Lodge told Mr.
Weaver: "You've suffered probably far beyond what the court could do. I think
you're a good person." Judge Lodge condemned the FBI: "The actions of the
government, acting through the FBI, evidence a callous disregard for the rights
of the defendants and the interests of justice and demonstrate a complete lack
of respect for the order and directions of this court." Judge Lodge issued a
lengthy list detailing the Justice Department's misconduct, fabrication of
evidence, and refusals to obey court orders.

Justice Department officials launched their own investigation of the Weaver
case. A 300-page report was completed earlier this year, condemning the FBI's
handling of the Weaver case and recommending possible criminal prosecution of
federal officials. Yet the Justice Department has disregarded the report's
findings and is refusing to release the report to the public, or even to Idaho
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Sen. Larry Craig, who has fought doggedly to try to get the truth out on this
case. Instead, portions of the report appear to have been leaked to journalists
trusted to write pro-government stories on the killings, such as The Washington
Post front-page story on Dec. 4.

Mr. Patrick reportedly concluded there was no evidence to show that Mr.
Horiuchi intended to shoot Mrs. Weaver. Yet, Bo Gritz, the former Vietnam War
hero who represented the government when negotiating Randy Weaver's surrender,
declared that the government's profile of the Weaver family recommended killing
Mr. Weaver's wife: "I believe Vicki was shot purposely by the sniper as a
priority target. ... The profile said, if you get a chance, take Vicki Weaver

Mr. Patrick's whitewash of the Idaho killings echoes what Attorney General
Janet Reno did after the Waco debacle. The Justice Department's report late
last year blamed the Branch Davidians for their own deaths and ludicrously
portrayed the gassing and the defacto bulldozing of a compound with live people
inside as a nonaggressive FBI tactic. The Justice Department evaluation of the
final assault repeatedly praised FBI agents for showing "remarkable restraint" -
even when FBI tanks pumped a potentially toxic gas (banned from use in
international chemical warfare) into closed areas occupied by women and
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

Mr. Patrick concluded that the FBI's action against the Weaver family did
not involve "excessive force." Yet, the FBI effectively decided in this case
that a family that had defended itself against a de facto ambush by U.S.
marshals practically automatically deserved a death sentence, to be administered
by FBI snipers.

If this is not excessive force, then do U.S. government agents have the
right to kill anybody suspected of a crime who happens to possess a gun? Can we
expect federal sharpshooters to be gunning down women holding babies any time
that some supervisor feels his agents may face some distant threat, however

The Weaver case presents a great challenge to the competency and courage of
the new Republican congressional leadership. Either or both the House or Senate
Judiciary Committees must investigate this travesty of justice. If the
Republicans let the Justice Department and the FBI get away with what may have
been murder, then they will be accomplices to the deceit and repression of the
American people.

James Bovard is the author of "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American
Liberty" (St. Martin's Press, 1994).
The Washington Times, December 15, 1994

GRAPHIC: Illustration, Deval Patrick, By Ramirez/The Commercial Appeal (Copley
News Service, '94)

LOAD-DATE: December 15, 1994