ABOUT THIS EPISODE

In the final episode of Standoff, our narrative miniseries on the story of Ruby Ridge, host Ruth Graham recaps the prosecution of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris, and explores how the story of the standoff became legendary among the modern far right.

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TRANSCRIPT

00:00:01check Peterson is a criminal defense lawyer in Boise he started his career as an army lawyer and by the nineteen nineties he was back home in Idaho and getting restless I had a good practice had plenty of experience and and then ruby ridge happened like a lot of
00:00:19people Peterson and follow the standoff on the news on what turned out to be the day Randy weaver surrendered he heard that a respected trial lawyer named Gerry Spence had offered to represent Randy Peterson a new sense of the larger than life character who was well known for
00:00:36winning big verdict for underdogs and a little he was more than six feet tall with a mean of silver hair and often when I finished buckskin jacket and cowboy boots in the court room and in many weaver stance on a typical little and a friend said don't take
00:00:55the case my sister said don't take the case here Spence talking to Tom Brokaw about why he took Randi on as a client how can you defend a racist how can you defend this person the other side of me is that %HESITATION as long as he's free to
00:01:15have those views you and I can have hours and when he loses his we've lost Spence cleaned to never lost a case Peterson was a more button that kind of guy but he admired the flamboyant older lawyer he gone to a seminar once were Spence talked about getting
00:01:39those huge verdicts if you aren't willing to ask for expense and said you don't deserve it Peterson decided to ask for it I got the idea that I would send Gerry Spence a fax so I sent him a fax that said something like %HESITATION I hear you might
00:01:59be coming to town to represent weaver fee comes down off the mountain you're gonna need local council I should be that lawyer and then I said something like I've tried everything from a wall of murder in the last couple years and would be happy to work with you
00:02:15give me a call if you if you're interested a few hours later spends called any moved quickly that evening Peterson that spans in Boise as he disembarked from his private chat and then accompanied him to the county jail they were there to meet the notorious Randy weaver he
00:02:35comes in and use this little scrawny Randy is maybe five foot seven if that he was probably a hundred and twenty pounds but he just comes in and he's got these great big sandy ice he looks at us and he just immediately breaks into tears any says I
00:03:02killed my son to kill my wife they shot me in the back they shot my boy in the back and they shot Kevin Harris anyone any reason for Peterson didn't know what to say but he was standing next to someone who did eventually Jerry looked at him and
00:03:23he said well I'm Gerry Spence and I'm here to to save you there this is standoff I'm your host Ruth Graham on today's episode the prosecution of Randy weaver and where the story didn't end with the verdict prosecuting the case against Randy weaver and Kevin Harris was assistant
00:03:55US attorney Ron hohen we met in episode two by the early nineties he was feeling burnt out in his job as a federal prosecutor I'm always you know him quarter lane Pocatello Seattle Montana's somewhere else working on a case I'm not home with my family I'm not home
00:04:14with my wife I'm not home with my children I'm missing their lives as they grow up then the ruby ridge case landed on his desk and of course it just takes over my entire life from the start Helen says he wasn't optimistic about the outcome of the case
00:04:34you have to understand how difficult it is to try a case like this in a state like Idaho that has a lot of the far right all right running through it doesn't take much to fan that fire and that's why this case I thought was actually impossible but
00:04:53he had a reputation as an aggressive prosecutor who rarely offered plea bargains instead of limiting himself to small charges he knew he could win I when went big his indictment of Randy and Kevin ran to sixteen pages with ten interconnected charges starting with conspiracy to provoke a confrontation
00:05:13they were both charged with first degree murder in the death of marshal bill Degan along with assaulting and resisting federal officers and they both faced the possibility of life in prison Indian cabins trial started on Tuesday April thirteenth nineteen ninety three the court room itself was less of
00:05:33a circus than it might have been Gerry Spence's team with help from Bo greitz had asked Randi's right wing supporters who did show up to lay low they largely obeyed but on the fourth day a bomb shell piece of news rocked the trial it is not the David
00:05:52Koresh who believe that he was the son of god parish today in a setting that closely resembled hell and more than seventy members of the branch Davidian religious sect in Waco Texas were killed after the FBI moved to and a fifty one day standoff a fire engulfed the
00:06:09group's compound the surviving branch Davidians insists tank started the fires when they knocked holes in the building to inject tear gas parallels to ruby ridge were eerie the Waco case and started as an a TF case and then later the FBI took over there was a bungled attempt
00:06:27to serve arrest warrants and a firefight that killed both law enforcement officers and civilians there were women and children involved and the FBI's hostage rescue team who had managed the standoff at ruby ridge was on the scene including this neighborhood shot Vicky weaver Lon Horiuchi as Chuck Peterson
00:06:47side the disastrous and even more deadly end to another federal standoff was a gift to the defense I remember talking to a jury said to me can believe that that was all going on at that our government was doing that again and it fit into the narrative that
00:07:03you did have maybe an out of control FBI there was this sense that we should be waiting people out not firing line indiscriminately at people who may or may not be armed how an agreed %HESITATION that was not helpful without any question you see the muzzle of that
00:07:24%HESITATION tank go into the %HESITATION the cop on the place burns down people are burned up that you know that was a godsend for defense counsel and you know just one of the many things that kept making that case harder and harder and harder and just the way
00:07:39life is sometimes but when I asked Helen what he saw as the key turning point in the trial he had another answer only one answer to that the fourth class mailing the trial was more than halfway over when it happened the FBI agents on the scene had already
00:07:59been on the stand sniper Lon Horiuchi had testified that he couldn't see anyone at the door when he fired their then how one got a piece of mail from Washington DC that changed his case it was an inch or two seconds he remembers that I walked into the
00:08:15office and my secretary said there's %HESITATION package came for you on your desk or okay I start going through the papers and I am just devastated and I'm just going to page after page of the and I'm just you know my stomach and chest and I close the
00:08:35door apple people I broke down and cried uncontrollably for about five the folder included interviews with FBI agents that had never been provided to the defense implying the bureau had been deliberately and a legally withholding evidence first of all there was a small sketch on a hotel note
00:08:53pad made by Horiuchi the day after the standoff ended it was a drawing of what he had seen as he fired his weapon at the cabin the shot meant for Kevin Harris the killed Vicki weaver in the crudely drawn window he had sketched two hands suggesting he had
00:09:10seen Vicki at the door that was the end of the cases for if I have to turn this over it's all at least up to that time we had a party why had the FBI moved so slowly in turning over this crucial evidence how and wondered it was
00:09:30a moment he told me where he knew he could have just held on to the documents and kept quiet it was a textbook tasked of ethics your turn it over to take the heat I mean I was the government's lawyer I can't control these people back in Washington
00:09:45DC I'm a nothing who even knows right %HESITATION is for a lot of those people in Washington DC and you you you you have to understand that that's what people and I don't think of Washington DC it's a crop them as trump says it's a swap check Peterson
00:10:03clearly remembers the moment he received the documents run horn walks up to me he's got a Manila envelope he lays it on my desk and he said he should have this and I say okay thanks bye open it up and your sister what is that and it's the
00:10:24note on which one Horiuchi has drawn the door and the head and I said to him we've got they hid this from us because they didn't want Horiuchi to be cross examined about this the judge was furious and finds the government for withholding evidence Horiuchi had to fly
00:10:43back to Idaho to testify again he said the heads were meant to be Randy and Sarah weaver running back into the house he reiterated that he had never seen Vicki weaver because the curtains were drawn %HESITATION and believed Horiuchi he believed the marshals to but he also knew
00:11:00his case was falling apart you seem to have contradicted himself on the stand meanwhile government witnesses told confusing and conflicting stories about what happened at the shoot out between Cavan Sammy weaver and the marshals it was turning into a trial about the government's errors not Randy in Kevin's
00:11:18involvement in the death of a federal agent the trial was wearing on how emotionally to it already kept him away from an annual fishing trip with his teenage son and I tried to explain it to him and he just wasn't her a resume their tears running down his
00:11:35cheeks things his dad and I'll never forget that she should dad you love your job more than you Love Me trigger %HESITATION walked away if you could have stopped a dagger in my heart turned it you couldn't hurt me worse but I wound team leader I was you
00:11:53know was my responsibility as the trial progressed hoan was beginning to fray well I was working horrible our age I stopped eating a stop working out I think I lost over forty pounds in the beginning of the trial of toward the end and I just hit the wall
00:12:14how when couldn't finish the trial one day in court a few days before closing arguments he just stopped he's standing there he's not see Chuck Peterson and Ron is tough done prosecutor guy who doesn't give any anybody or anything I mean he was a pro government government is
00:12:38never wrong kind of guy the government can do no wrong and suddenly was confronted with the fact that that the department justice had hidden this from us and then hustled Horiuchi off the stand so he couldn't be cross examined about the what was obviously the most important piece
00:12:55of evidence in the trial Ron goes away niece never to return how one's partner was left to close the case spends in Peterson meanwhile didn't call a single defense witness throughout the trial Mandaean Kevin never took the stand neither did sixteen year old Sarah weaver instead the defense
00:13:19team methodically poked holes in Hollins case why had the FBI changed its own rules of engagement was it really possible that an expert marksman like Lon Horiuchi shot Vicky weaver by accident the judge himself estimated that seventy five percent of the government's testimony and evidence had actually supported
00:13:37the defense response was loose and comfortable in front of the jury even seem to be having fun he had built his reputation on his knack for turning legal complexities into grand narratives of good versus evil Spence is a great storyteller %HESITATION because he engages the jury doesn't speak
00:13:58like a lawyer you know when you watch TV or if you're a real jury trials I get people who sell time this is the most boring thing I've ever seen that why isn't like TV well because mostly lawyers are trained to stand up and talk like lawyers and
00:14:13you know Spence was the genius he never talked like a lawyer just was this thing cameras are generally not allowed in federal court rooms but you can get a taste of Spence's approach in this interview with Tom Brokaw taped on the weaver property in nineteen ninety three I
00:14:30asked him if Randy weaver was a dangerous man do you see that whole right there now that's a hole that would be occupied by a little rabbit I've never seen a rabbit that was dangerous until you reach your hand into the whole to try to pull a rabbit
00:14:50out and to take its young and to destroy it and then the rabbit will bite you that's the kind of danger that Randy weaver was delivered a sweeping and emotional closing argument on behalf of Randy weaver he called federal agents the Waco police and the new Gestapo if
00:15:10this was a murder case he said the real murders hadn't been charged with their crimes he told the jury that this was their chance to send a message to the government about how it's allowed to use deadly force against its own citizens he compared them to Thomas Jefferson
00:15:24and said they could change history jury deliberations began on June sixteenth three long weeks later the jury of five men and seven women returned with a verdict after the lengthy is jury deliberations in Idaho history weaver was found not guilty in the murder of federal marshal William Degan
00:15:44but he was commanding Kevin had been acquitted of all charges related to the death of marshal bill Degan the thing about trying cases is this have to love your client to help you they have to want to help him and let him go and jurors listened %HESITATION and
00:16:05watch Randy and listened to Jerry watched the government's actions and in the end they liked Randy weaver a whole lot better than they liked anybody else in that courtroom and that's why he was acquitted of murder and acquitted of the other charges the jury didn't just like Randy
00:16:21weaver thanks to Gerry Spence they identified with him that Dorothy Hoffman was juror number eleven I thought about what if this was one of my family or meet there and I I I thought you know this is wrong this is terribly terribly wrong what's happened to these people
00:16:38this woman was an alternate on the jury until two days before deliberations began makes felonies see %HESITATION I feel like this has to be stopped I didn't realize that they could do the things that they did %HESITATION to the extent that they did Kevin walked out of the
00:16:55courtroom a free man still owned by freedom for the first time in eleven words he was surrounded not by U. S. marshals but by a family friend to lose face in when he wasn't even convicted of sign off the two shot guns that because the whole chain of
00:17:18events to begin with which stands at argued was entrapment he was found guilty only of failing to appear in court Randy served a few more months in prison and was freed by the end of the year I'd like to fight the world though home Mr owl how many
00:17:40licks does it take to get to the Tootsie roll center of the five I don't always drink beer when I please like coke could see when the door seconds and Budweiser are the wallpaper of our lives would you ever think about the nuts and bolts of the businesses
00:18:01behind products like these I'm set Stephenson senior writer it's like I've been covering the business world for a long time I never get tired of talking to the people who sit at the top of the org chart in a new podcast from slate I'll be doing it in
00:18:14front of microphones shows called who runs that will get into the business when it's just enough to you'll learn a ton but not so much the NBA to follow join me for who runs that forever you listen to podcasts %HESITATION Randi's friends and followers and others who have
00:18:40been outraged by the ruby ridge saga the verdict was a measure of justice and after the trial the department of justice opened an investigation into what happened at ruby ridge in the summer of nineteen ninety five the government paid Randy a hundred thousand dollars and a civil settlement
00:18:57his three daughters received a million dollars each officials say that they want the healing to begin the government doesn't pay three million dollars unless they believe that there's a %HESITATION claim there that's that's valid senator Arlen specter plans to hold Senate hearings on the matter next month with
00:19:16what happened at ruby ridge and what happened at Waco I think it is a special time in our history where we have to be very open and there has to be accountability at the highest levels that fall a Senate judiciary subcommittee held fourteen days of public hearings on
00:19:32ruby ridge they examine the bullet hole in the door of the weaver cabin and a scale model of the mountain itself democratic and Republican senators on the committee took an aggressive pose toward the government at the hearings here's Dianne Feinstein Democrat from California why were such extraordinary enforcement
00:19:52actions taken for somebody who just sold two sawed off shotguns why wasn't the marshals service permitted to simply wait Mister weaver route and Chuck Grassley Republican from Iowa too many here in Washington do not understand the impact that this has had on the country this created a crisis
00:20:15of confidence and it has to stop now Grassley was right about the crisis of confidence journalist bill Moreland who had been on the scene at the standoff was surprised by the story's longevity quite frankly I thought that it would sort of dissipate and you know we've gone to
00:20:32the next story but within a short amount of time after ruby ridge by October of that year a lot of the anti government players who turned out to become involved with what we now call the militia movement held a meeting and %HESITATION Estes park Colorado they called it
00:20:51the rocky mountain rendezvous the pastor of a small church that belong to the racist Christian identity movement led the meeting at a YMCA camp in Colorado and the story line is what we gonna do if there's another ruby ridge this beam a prominent Klansmen an Arian nations ambassador
00:21:10gave the keynote speech we were we were bombed Bob borough of well then attacked the phone very early in the United States %HESITATION the federals game for Randy weaver not %HESITATION they may come for you he was a promoter of the idea of leaderless resistance the idea was
00:21:34that scattered groups of independent cells would be less vulnerable to government infiltration and prosecution without a shared leader the feds could only take down one group at a time demanding courage lone wolves to act when the time was right in Colorado Hughes ruby ridge as a rallying cry
00:21:54we will not yield approach through the forces of darkness oppression and donate would you believe in true if you believe in liberty if you believe in god the name John Webber the federal about a murder spaniel and Vicki weaver brought up all of us here together under the
00:22:16same roof for the same reason for the first time in the twenty two year in the movement we are not used to the beat of the same drawn the Beatles song what does it mean for called well here in the only question that we must dancer it what
00:22:48the rock to go up on the map me killed Vicki weaver aren't one wrong leaders in the white power movement had found a potent symbol in the weaver family if the way they told the story was it was government over reach and it was just a poor white
00:23:07man living on a mountaintop why did the federal government have to lean on him and end up killing is his son and wife and it's a little guy versus the government Louis beam warned in a newsletter that ten thousand Randy weaver's are spread out from one coast to
00:23:23another if anything he was underestimating before ruby ridge and Waco citizen paramilitary groups were relatively rare but the two events happening back to back reinforce the narrative of a government attacking its own people the mid nineteen nineties according to one estimate about five million people consider themselves somehow
00:23:44affiliated with the American militia movement different groups use it %HESITATION to pitch their propaganda to say you know come join our group because we'll never let another ruby ridge happen in our backyard the phrase ruby ridge became shorthand for many of the themes the weavers had cared most
00:24:02about even before the stand off the threat of government violence the preservation of white nuclear families the importance of a well armed citizenry NRA president Wayne lapierre referenced ruby ridge in a Tory is nineteen ninety five fundraising letter slamming federal agents as Jack booted government thugs and for
00:24:22those still following the case closely there were continuing revelations throughout the nineteen nineties that suggested the government had acted negligently and that they were getting away with it a justice department report concluded Horiuchi needlessly an unjustifiably endangered the lives of the people in the cabin some critics also
00:24:41saw signs of a cover up in nineteen ninety six FBI agent E. Michael K. hold pled guilty to obstruction of justice after he admitted to shredding internal documents about the case but he was the rare agent to face serious consequences for high ranking FBI officials ended up getting
00:24:59temporarily suspended and one was also demoted an Idaho prosecutor filed charges of involuntary manslaughter against Lon Horiuchi but the case was tied up for years and finally dropped in two thousand one she had long been an object of fury on the far right amid the McVeigh arrest the
00:25:19school for veterans used to hand out cards printed with for you Jeez name and address at gun shows he thought about assassinating the sniper before he settled on a bigger target in nineteen ninety five this terror in the heartland a massive car bomb exploded outside of a large
00:25:36federal building in downtown Oklahoma City shattering that building killing children killing federal employees military men and civilians by then many critics were almost more disturbed by the lack of punishment for ruby ridge them by the incident itself white power leader Louis beam speculated in the Christian identity newspaper
00:25:58that only a few things could have motivated someone like McVeigh to carry out such an act including quote the failure of government to punish those who killed Mrs weaver and her son at ruby ridge not the killing of Vicki and Sammy weaver and other words but the lack
00:26:14of comeuppance Randy weaver himself became a kind of folk hero a tree at musicians wrote songs about him federal agents US marshals and then storm all the phones charges to the songs depicted Randy as a family frames and then attacked by a duplicitous federal government we stand red
00:26:49because you so that is as a minor celebrity Randy made appearances at gun shows and showed up to talk to groups of sympathetic patriots around the country back in two thousand he popped up in a low budget documentary made by conspiracy theorist Alex Jones Jones was helping to
00:27:13rebuild the branch Davidian church in Waco and Randy showed up to pitch in for a few days the federal government they like to go out and destroy he told the camera and these people are out here building that's the difference between a bunch of good folks and a
00:27:27bunch of bad ones after the embarrassments of ruby ridge and Waco the justice department and other law enforcement agencies recalibrated their approach to long standoff they started emphasizing patients over action in Montana a group of anti tax militants surrendered without bloodshed after the FBI waited them out for
00:27:50eighty one days in nineteen ninety six just a few years ago the Bundy families armed standoff over grazing rights on federal land data ended without violence after the government essentially Kate here's an extreme case Texas an alleged militia member name John Joe gray was charged in two thousand
00:28:11with assaulting a state trooper after a traffic stop gray retreated to his ranch outside Dallas armed himself and wrote a letter to authorities warning them to bring extra body bags if they came for him supporters brought the family food and supplies gray told a reporter they can take
00:28:29my life but they can't take my freedom they never did authorities waited amount for fifteen years and then simply dismiss the charges gray was so isolated that for a while it wasn't clear he heard he'd gotten his freedom back so what should the government do about people determined
00:28:51to fight it Randy weaver style of separatism isn't a set of political beliefs really it's a cultural movement that sees confrontation with the government as fundamental to its existence tapping into a narrative we all learn in school it was founded by separatists and dissenters people who valued individual
00:29:10liberty above obedience to the state we revere outlaws but it would be foolish to think that narrative applies to all Americans Sammy weaver was fourteen carried real weapons and was shot after a slow motion conflict that dragged on for a year and a half of careful approaches more
00:29:30than twenty years later a twelve year old boy named omere rice with a toy gun was killed by police just minutes after someone called nine one one on him in a park in Cleveland only one of those stories in flames the outrage of the far right after he
00:29:48left the spokesman review bill Moreland went to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center where he continues to report on right wing movements he's watched with alarm as extremist views have become increasingly normalized one person involved in these hate crimes and heat activities can spread a lot of
00:30:07a lot of hatred in a lot of bigotry I mean it doesn't take armies you know when your influence starts creeping into the conservative movement in into the mainstream of the conservative movement it's time for the American people to pay attention there's nothing special about Randy weaver as
00:30:24a person I'm a celebrity but he was never a leader he was just a guy with bad luck and worst judgment who happen to become part of the story that a lot of people were eager to hear and to spread I keep thinking about Randy attending the Arian
00:30:40World Congress with his family back in the nineteen eighties they're just five more white faces in a sea of white faces getting together to talk about separatism and racial purity and the coming war the catharsis of violence that's always just around the corner they're frightened but they're energized
00:30:58by their fear and by finding a community that shares their fears and their fantasies and then everyone gets in their cars to drive back to their towns in their cities the Aryan nations compound in north Idaho is long gone replaced by a park today white nationalists find each
00:31:15other online and then March together in the streets they're still talking about the battle to come but they don't seem frightened anymore standoff what happened at ruby ridge is brought to you by slate plus membership program slate plus members get a bonus episode of the show every week
00:31:40with in depth interviews going further into the characters and themes this week I interview tera west over the author of the recent best selling memoir educated Westover grew up in rural Idaho in the nineteen nineties and her religious anti government parents were strongly influenced by the story of
00:31:58ruby ridge stand up was produced by me and Nina Ernest with production help from injured persons slate's editorial director for audio is Gabriel rock thanks this week to Chow to Kathleen blue Michael Jack and and the Southern Poverty Law Center slate presents we'll be back with a new
00:32:19mini series right here in this feat early in twenty nineteen they tuned and thanks for listening

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