The armed standoff between anti-government militants and law enforcement in Oregon has lasted more than four weeks. After the arrest of 11 people last week, it was expected that the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge would come to an end, but the killing of the group’s spokesman in an encounter with police has re-energized protesters.
We have been here before. Back in the 1990s, there were several showdowns between armed anti-government extremists and the federal government.
One of the longest standoffs involved the Freemen of Montana in 1996, who held out for 81 days before surrendering peacefully to law enforcement. It was a different story in 1993, when the standoff with the Branch Davidians near Waco, Texas, ended with the deaths of at least 75 people — many of whom were children — in a fire.
But it was the events at Ruby Ridge in Idaho that would become the symbol of government overreach. This week on For the Record: the lessons of Ruby Ridge.
“Ruby Ridge is a complex case,” says Jess Walter, author of the book Ruby Ridge: The Truth and Tragedy of the Randy Weaver Family. In 1992 he was a cub reporter for the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash. “It’s one of the reasons when it first unfolded in 1992, it slipped beneath the radar of the national media and the public.”
As he tells NPR’s Rachel Martin, the story begins with Randy Weaver and his family.
“He lost his job at a tractor farm in Iowa, and they made their way west,” Walter says. “They were apocalyptic Christians who believed the world was about to end. And they began practicing a form of religion called Christian identity, which is the religion of skinheads and white supremacists.”
One summer, Weaver took his family to a camp run by the Aryan Nations. He sold two sawed-off shotguns to a man he met at that gathering, but that man turned out to be a federal informant. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms planned to use the illegal weapons sale to recruit Weaver as an informant, as well.