Randy Weaver, whose son, wife, and a U.S. marshal were killed in a 1992 standoff with federal authorities at Ruby Ridge in northern Idaho, made him a hero to anti-government extremists on the far right, died on Wednesday. He was 74.
Sara Weaver, his daughter, reported his death on Facebook but did not clarify where he died or the cause of death.
Mr. Weaver was wanted by the government for attempting to sell two unlawful sawed-off shotguns to a criminal agent working for the Aryan Nations, a white supremacist group. Mr. Weaver and his family frequented the group’s compound, which was not far from Ruby Ridge, and they shared at least some of its members’ ideals, including white separatism and anti-government conspiracy theories. He also followed an apocalyptic Christian faith.
In late 1990, he was arrested and granted bail in early 1991. Federal marshals placed his cabin under observation when he failed to appear for a court hearing — he subsequently claimed he was given the wrong date — and plotted a peaceful approach to seize him.
Mr. Weaver was a former Green Beret who, according to neighbors, kept more than a dozen weaponry in his cabin, leading marshals to believe he would fight any arrest effort.
A crew of marshals entered the Weaver property on Aug. 21, 1992, to check on motion-activated cameras that had been installed around the cabin. Mr. Weaver took his 14-year-old son, Samuel, and a family friend, Kevin Harris, to inspect when the family dog discovered them and began to bark. One of the officers shot the dog as they approached. What happened next is unknown, but a firefight erupted, in which Samuel and a marshal, William Degan, were killed.
The marshals called in help from the FBI after Mr. Weaver and Mr. Harris returned to the cabin, and by the next day, scores of agents had surrounded the property, including snipers with orders to “neutralize” any adult males.
Mr. Weaver walked to a nearby barn where he and Mr. Harris had buried Samuel’s remains at one point. A sniper shot and wounded him as he returned. Mr. Harris stood at the cabin door, his wife Victoria behind him, clutching Elisheba, their 10-month-old daughter. Mr. Harris was targeted by the sniper, and a bullet passed through him and struck Mrs. Weaver in the head, instantly killing her.
Over the next ten days, there was a standoff. Hundreds of journalists and anti-government protesters poured on the region. Mr. Weaver became an immediate far-right star, and Ruby Ridge became a byword for government excess even before the siege ended.
Lt. Col. Bo Gritz, a former Green Beret and right-wing figure, was eventually brought in by federal authorities. Mr. Weaver was persuaded to let Mr. Harris leave the cabin and subsequently surrender.
Mr. Harris and Mr. Weaver were arrested on a variety of counts, including first-degree murder, but the government’s case collapsed during the trial. Mr. Harris was found not guilty, while Mr. Weaver was found guilty of breaking his initial release conditions.
He was punished with $10,000 and given an 18-month jail sentence.
The trial took place at the same time as another violent confrontation with Christian millennialists known as the Branch Davidians and federal agents, this time outside of Waco, Texas. A government siege of the sect’s facility and subsequent assault resulted in the deaths of four agents and 82 sect members.
Both Ruby Ridge and Waco became symbols of the current far-right militia movement, and Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols cited them as inspirations for the 1995 bombing of a federal courtroom in Oklahoma City.
Mr. Weaver and his daughters sued the federal government for wrongful death when he was released from jail. They won. Each of his daughters earned $1 million, while he received $100,000.
He later testified before a Senate committee investigating the incident, and while he maintained his belief that the government was mostly to blame, he also admitted that he was not blameless.
In 1995, he told Congress, “If I had it to do over again, knowing what I know today, I would make different decisions.” “For the court appearance, I’d come down from the mountain.”
Randall Claude Weaver was born in Villisca, Iowa, a small hamlet in the state’s southwest corner, on January 3, 1948. Clarence and Wilma (Truax) Weaver, Randy’s parents, were farmers, and he and his three siblings grew up helping them in the fields.
He went to Iowa Central Community College for 2 years after graduating from high school before joining the army. He joined the Green Berets and, despite his desire to serve in Vietnam, stayed in the United States as an instructor, principally at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.
He was honorably discharged in 1971, returned to Iowa, and married Victoria Jordison the following year. With a newborn child on the way, he briefly returned to college at the University of Northern Iowa.
He worked in production and trading for the next ten years, including for Amway. Simultaneously, he and his wife, both bred in strict religious homes, adopted a millennial brand of Christianity, which saw the world around them as fundamentally rotten and full of signals of the impending catastrophe.
In 1983, they sold their home and most of their belongings and relocated to Naples, Idaho, some 50 miles south of the Canadian border, with their three children. They purchased 20 acres of pine forest on nearby Ruby Ridge and constructed a two-story residence out of plywood and mill ends.
Even among the scattered neighbors around Naples, the Weavers remained to themselves. They grew their own food and hunted their own game. They observed severe rules based on their interpretations of the Bible, such as not eating pork and compelling Mrs. Weaver to stay in a shed during her period.
Mr. Weaver later claimed that they went to the Aryan Nations complex to make friends, but he also claimed that he believed in the need for racial separation and that the government was controlled by a “Zionist” conspiracy.
Mr. Weaver approached his popularity reluctantly, despite the subsequent events at the cabin making him a celebrity among militias, gun lovers, and various pockets of the far right. He wrote two books about Ruby Ridge, which were also sold at gun fairs, and he gave anti-government activists lectures on occasion.
Later in life, he lived in Kalispell, Montana, and Jefferson, Iowa, where he married Linda Gross in 1999.
His other two daughters, Rachel Weaver and Elisheba Weaver survive him, as do she and his daughter Sara. There was no instant availability of complete information about survivors.