The Trial of Randy Weaver
The Tyranny of Government
This account of Randy Weaver's trial is dedicated to the memory of Vicki Weaver, Randy's devoted wife, and to Sammy, his small, brave son. From the deaths of Vicki and Sammy may we learn and remember important lessons in this blessed and perpetual business of freedom.
Ronald D. Howen, the Assistant United States Attorney, a powerful, square-jawed, humorless man, had attempted from the earliest moments of the trial to convict Randy Weaver by tying him to the Aryan Nations with slim circumstantial strings. Everyone knew the Aryan Nations as a miserable conglomerate of discontents, who like fanged sheep, followed Pastor Richard Butler of the "Church of Jesus Christ Christian." Butler preached that the "Nations" were composed of the twelve lost tribes of Israel, which were, of course, all white and all "cleansed of Jews." Blacks were the descendants of Cain, and the unfortunate mixtures of blacks and whites Butler ignobly labeled, "Mongrels." Blacks had been stricken black in punishment for their inherited sin, the eternal libel born of the Cain and Abel legend, and, therefore, according to Butler, a natural enmity persisted between "the children of Satan, the Negroes and the children of The Most High God, Yahweh," who were, according to this logic, the divine citizens of the Aryan Nations.
Pastor Butler preached to his flock in the Church of Jesus Christ Christian in Idaho, and the sermons were not of the universal love of Christ, but the tirades of universal hatred, a sort of genetic malevolence against all who were not white, especially the Jew, who Butler, by the abracadabra of his fanaticism, transformed into a subspecies of the hated non-white. "We believe that the Canaanite Jew is the natural enemy of our White Christian Race. This is attested by the scripture and all secular history. The Jew is like a destroying virus that attacks our racial body to destroy our White culture and the purity of our Race. Those of our Race who resist these attacks are called 'chosen and faithful.'"
The twelve lost tribes were identified by Pastor Butler as Denmark, Norway, Finland, Germany, France, Italy, Holland, Spain, Iceland, Great Britain, and Sweden, with the United States and Canada being considered as one, thus causing the arithmetic to come out right -- twelve, not thirteen, lost tribes.
History? Well, according to Butler, history is only the work of the devil. God's history, as revealed to Butler, was the only true history, and to know such history one need to be no scholar. One need only read the Bible and listen to God, and, accordingly, to Pastor Butler who would faithfully reveal the word of God.
The goal of the Aryan Nations was twofold: first, to preserve the white race, one of the "twelve foundation stones for the redemption of our Aryan Racial Nation" being "the recognition that an Aryan National State is an institution that has a single duty to itself and the people of the Racial Nation; the preservation of the Race . . . and that a nation begins and ends as a race, and everything else is predicated upon this fact. The second goal of the Nation was the elimination of all Jews and the confiscation of all property held by Jews (as well as other "non-white"). Under the Platform for the Aryan National State, only Aryans were allowed citizenship. Only citizens could vote, conduct business, possess and bear arms, hold office in government, industry or society, and only these citizens -- the Aryan whites -- could belong to the military or law enforcement. Whites would be free of all taxation except a voluntary ten percent tithe upon net increase in wealth over the previous year. Whites could receive loans without interest charges. Non-citizens could visit in the republic, but only under the custodianship of a citizen.
The platform provided ,"All hybrids called Jews are to be repatriated from the Republic's territory, all their wealth to be redistributed to restore our people, and it shall be a capital offense to advocate or promote Jew Talmudic anti-Christ Communism" -- whatever that meant -- "in any manner or any other crimes against nature."
Under the constitution of the Aryan Nations, "A credible news media is to be established for the betterment of the people by: (1) Requiring all editors, writers, actors, broadcasters, and all having any part in the media to be citizens; (2) Not allowing the circulation of non-white media except by permission of the government, and then only with appropriate comments from an Aryan cultural viewpoint; (3) Forbidding the publication, broadcasting, televising or circulation of any material which is not conducive to the National welfare."
The cult had often been labeled neo-Nazi, and these so-called skinheads with their shaved skulls, black shirts and swastikas had gathered at Ruby Ridge to maintain their "vigil" during the Weaver standoff. Although colonel Bo Gritz had assured me that Randy was not a member of the Aryan nations, and, indeed, he was not, Weaver nevertheless had candidly displayed an occasional trapping and employed, from time to time, some of their biblical language.
It is easy for us to hate these truants from reason who propose ideas that insult the dignity of the species, ideas that harbor a self-contained hypocrisy.I, too, had begun to hate those who were diseased with the disease of hatred. During the trial I often remembered the earlier arguments of my friend, Alan Hirschfield. In important ways he was right. Involuntarily I had become the hero of many whose causes and creeds were antithetical to me own. Yet the same pesky voice pestered in my ear. If we do not preserve the right of our enemies to worship and to speak as they please, our own preachments of freedom are as empty as empty cans on the beach.
And Assistant United States Attorney, Ronald D. Howen, was also stricken by the same hatred of hatred, by an enmity that, untethered, could lead to the prosecution of people, not for alleged crimes, but for the loathsome beliefs. And, as the trial proceeded, Howen's case against Randy Weaver proved to be as minuscule as his abhorrence of Randy Weaver was towering. I had argued to Judge Edward Lodge that Randy Weaver was not a member of the Aryan nations, for in truth, he was flat against belonging to anything -- not the NRA, not the PTA, not the boy Scouts, not even the local garden club. he was a separatist. But, I argued, even if he did belong to the Aryan Nations, his membership in that or any other organization could not be considered as evidence of his having committed any crime. One is not guilty of murder because one belongs to a church that preaches hatred of one who has been murdered.
but Howen vowed to the judge that he would tie randy Weaver's beliefs to his actions. Based on that assurance, Judge Lodge permitted evidence to the effect that Randy and Vicki spoke of the coming of Christ, of Armageddon when the world would be filled with agony and turmoil and the federal government would be peopled with evil officers who would attach innocent citizens. And Howen was successful as well in dragging before the jury many of the repugnant tenets of the Aryan nations, including their hatred of blacks and Jews.
Earlier, through hearsay testimony, Howen had Christ Christian, had bombed the house of a priest, attacked gays, robbed armored cars and committed murder. Through these witnesses he told the grand jury that members of the Order even lived in the same town as the jurors themselves, just down the street as a matter of fact, and the grand jury should indict Randy Weaver for the very safety of all of the town's citizens.
Entwining Randy into the web of guilt by implication, Howen displayed to the jury an Aryan nations belt buckle, widely sold at gun shows and swap meets, one that Randy supposedly wore. He held up pictures for the jury to see, showing Randy with his hair closely clipped in the style of the skinheads, and, thereby, he asked the jury to conclude that randy Weaver, like the skinheads, must be the one who hates federal officers, who stores up guns and ammunition for the purpose of killing federal officers, and, therefore, who must have intended to kill Marshal Degan or at least plotted to kill him as part of an evil conspiracy. And when I asked who the members of the conspiracy were, I was told they were Randy, his wife and his children, Kevin Harris and others. I wondered in open court how Elisheba, ten months of age, and little Rachel, then barely 10 years old, could be members of a criminal conspiracy, but when I raised this question, I was attacked by Howen for making light of the serious business of the criminal law. As the trial dragged on, Howen painted an evil portrait of Randy Weaver -- a vicious, wild-eyed radical, who had plotted from the beginning even before he and his family had migrated to Idaho, to instigate a violent confrontation with federal authorities. He had stored up hundreds of thousands of rounds of ammunition for this purpose and he owned a score of guns or more, all of which Owen had hauled into the courtroom and stacked up in a huge pile before the jury. The floor space in front of the jury box looked like the best part of an army ordnance depot by the time the deputies had finished carrying in the evil evidence. But the guns and ammunition had been legally purchased And, when purchased there was no law against Randy Weaver possessing as many guns and as much ammunition as he chose to own.
From time to time, I would look over at this little man who sat beside me at the counsel table in his one gray suit with his small, tentative smile, and displaying his brave good humor. Weaver often offered his king salutations to the marshals who, every day, sat sullenly, silently, behind him with loaded pistols. And when I looked into his eyes and heard his simple words I saw that he was afraid, and sometimes confused, but that always he trusted me, and always he denied that he had ever been a member of the Aryan nations. "I attended a couple of their picnics during the summer, but I never joined them. Their beliefs were different than mine."
I then though of the story my mother told me as a child, about the swan who played with the crows and who was caught one day in the farmer's net along with the crows. The farmer, my mother's story went, intended to kill the crows because they were eating his corn crop, but the swan begged to be set free. "Obviously I am not a crow," the swan argued. "Anyone can see that." But the farmer said, "You must be a crow, for you were caught with them." And thereafter the farmer killed all who had been trapped in his net. "And so," my mother would counsel, "be careful who you choose as friends."
During my lifetime, we in America have often endured the invidious reasoning that seeks to probe guild by associating people with unpopular cause: the internment of innocent and patriotic Japanese in my own home state of Wyoming during World War II; the McCarthy inquisitions when decent people were smeared with the taint of Communism; and the frightening times during the Vietnam war when good citizens were vilified as traitors, even shot and killed, as at Kent State, should they protest a war with which they disagreed. And after the Oklahoma bombing in April of 1995, we were told the FBI was investigating individuals as bombing suspects that included such circumstances as: "He [the suspect] would make remarks, like how we were losing our freedom . . .l" which would likely qualify every thinking, peaceloving American as a bombing suspect, and "the suspect liked to wear military fatigues, was antigovernment, and had a fascination with firearms," which could cast millions into the irredeemable trough of suspicion.
I had grown up believing the police were just good people like Andy Sutka, the policeman who lived next door and who, my parents told me, would come to find me when I was lost, or who would help me when I needed help. I never saw Andy Sutka without a big smile on his face, and I saw him every day, and his kids were my pals. We went fishing for perch together at the slew and played marbles and wrestled on the lawn. And at night I would lie in bed with my pillow against my open upstairs bedroom window, and the sounds of Andy plunking guitar and the whole family singing those old country westerns would drift up to me in the sweet, soft summer air.
We all have our primary experiences by which we judge the people and the events of our lives. As I grew older I naturally thought of the police, yes, even the federal police, as folks like Andy Sutka. They were decent folks who lived next door to decent folks. They were trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly . . . they were adult Boy Scouts who carried a badge and a sidearm.
But over the years, as a criminal defense attorney, my in-court experiences with the police forced me to the realization that police, like the rest of use, want to win. we are a competitive people who, from the earliest times, have donned a jersey of one color or another, and we have been taught that we should fight for that color jersey, and win. Many police, perhaps most, struggle under the misguided belief that when the accused is guilty it becomes the duty of the police to see that the accused is convicted and punished. Many police seem to weigh one wrong against the other -- their own wrong of fiddling with the evidence, of intentionally omitting exculpatory facts, even the criminal wrong of planting or manufacturing evidence or, equally reprehensible, lying under oath, against what many police see as the greater wrong of permitting the guilty to escape his just dues. Indeed, the argument that it is all right for the police to cheat if, in the process, they catch the criminal, is commonly dramatized in the movies and on the television screen.; This idea, in fact, is applauded by many a citizen as justice in the raw without all the bothersome loopholes that permit the guilty to escape. On the screen we often witness the cop blithely picking the lock of a suspect's home and illegally entering and searching his room. We watch the illegal phone tap being made or the cop, the hero, smashing a witness up against the wall and brutally pounding information out of the hapless creature, and we cheer him on.
At the same time, many years in the courtroom have taught me that most police officers cannot withstand a powerful, well-prepared cross-examination. Often they react. Often they display their anger, sometimes they reveal a dark underside, and then juries will reject their testimony. A good cross-examination can usually expose the holes in the investigation, their errors, perhaps even their wrongdoing. The police, as I have grown to know them in the hard, tough world of the courtroom, are far different from the Andy Sutkas of my childhood. The police have become fair game, and, indeed, they ought to be. Were it otherwise we would need no laws, no rules, no trials and no juries. the police, as in every police state, would simply level their charges and lead the defendant to his blindfolded stance before the firing squad. During Randy Weaver's trial, an agony for him that he endured for nearly three months, I found the minions of the law -- the special agents of the FBI -- to be men who proved themselves not only fully capable, but also utterly willing to manufacture evidence, to conceal crucial evidence and even to change the rules that governed life and death if, in the prosecution of the accused, it seemed expedient to do so. Even after all of these years it hurt me to see it. It still hurts me to say it.
As the case lumbered forward under the methodical, minutiae-driven strategy of Ronald Howen, and as our cross-examinations took their toll, it became clear that the FBI had no direct evidence that would tie Randy Weaver physically to the "Y", that now infamous fork in the faint trail through the trees where Ol' Yella (his real name was Striker), little Sam and Marshal Degan all lost their lives. The truth was virtually undeniable: Randy Weaver had not been at the "Y" at the time of the shooting. When Ol' Yella, barking, took off on the trail after something, Randy had not followed by boys who were hot after Ol' Yella. Instead, he had run in another direction to see if he could cut off the bear or deer everyone thought the dog was trailing. sometime later Randy heard the shots, and that's when he had called out to Sammy, "Sammy, come home." Kevin Harris told the same story. Randy had not been at the "Y." Later the kids told how their father had arrived home ahead of the others, and how Kevin Harris came plodding back to the house as the agonized bearer of the news that Sammy had been killed. Randy then broke into wild sobbing, rolled on the ground and beat the earth. Finally he grabbed his rifle and shot it into the air, emptied it and loaded again, time after time, and when he was exhausted it was Vicki, the source of the family's power, and the only person Randy would listen to, who was, at last, able to restrain him.
The marshals had been repeatedly admonished by Washington not to engage the Weavers, and at all costs, not to injure one of the Weaver children. But now they had killed this small boy, shot him in the back. What should they do? At the trial, they claimed they didn't know they had shot the boy, that he must have fallen out of their sight. Yet, as I argued at the trial, they could not have twice shot the child without first seeing him, and, considering his fatal wound through the back, he must have fallen where he was shot. And when later that same day Vicki, Randy and Kevin Harris plodded down to the "Y" to retrieve the body of little Sammy, the marshals, hidden in the trees where they had fired on the dog and the boy in the first place, must have heard their wailing;. had they looked where they shot, they must have seen this weeping mother and this broken father lift up their child, whose wounded arm was dangling by the hid like so much red jerky hung out to dry. And after that they must have seen these three struggle round the bend and disappear out of sight as they headed home bearing their dead.
Rather than go on down and confess to the world what had happened, the marshals stayed huddled in the woods until dark claming they were surrounded by these crazies, these Weavers. Then under cover of night, the marshals dispatched two of their six to their staging station below to report to the local sheriff that the marshals had been engaged in a horrendous firefight in which they had taken as many as a thousand rounds of fire from the Weavers. They said that Officer Degan had been murdered in the firefight, and that the Weavers were of the Aryan nations kind, that they were heavily armed, zealous and extremely dangerous and that they had vowed they would never been taken alive. They further added that the marshals were surrounded and required immediate reinforcements. A similar message was dispatched to the marshal's Washing headquarters and thereafter to the FBI. Almost immediately the FBI dispersed its Hostage Rescue Team to Ruby Ridge to save the embattled marshals and to put down these lunatic cultists who had them surrounded.