Before Waco, There Was Ruby Ridge

'Waco' covers the FBI incident with the Branch Davidians, but one early scene delves into an event that came before it. What happened at Ruby Ridge?

Jacqueline Gualtieri - Author

Apr. 24 2020, Updated 7:22 p.m. ET

randy weaver
Source: getty

Randy Weaver shows model of his Ruby Ridge cabin during Senate hearings on the 1992 standoff

Although the miniseries Waco covers the events that occured in Waco, Texas in 1993, in which a 51-day siege by the FBI and AFT on religious group Branch Davidians resulted in the death of 76, there was an FBI incident that preceded the battle that tied into the miniseries quite well. Although it is barely referenced in Waco, the result of what happened at Ruby Ridge set the stage for Waco a year later. 

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The scene in which viewers can see Gary Noeser (Michael Shannon) negotiating a hostage situation at Ruby Ridge may have been fabricated, but the events at Ruby Ridge were all too real.

What happened at Ruby Ridge?

Gary Noeser wasn't the hostage negotiator at Ruby Ridge, but an event concerning the FBI did occur on the Idaho mountain top.

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kevin harris
Source: getty

Randy Weaver's friend, Kevin Harris, who was present at the standoff, points to Ruby Ridge model during Senate hearings

Randy Weaver was a former U.S. Army engineer who identified as a white separatist. In the 1980s, he began attending meetings of the Aryan Nations, a prominent white supremacist group, which is where he met a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) informant. Unluckily for Weaver, he wasn't aware of the man's informant status when he sold him two sawed-off shotguns in 1989.

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Although the ATF attempting to recruit Weaver as an informant himself, he refused, resulting in getting a weapons charge against him. His trial was set for Feb. 19, 1991, but it was moved to Feb. 20. Unfortunately, Weaver was incorrectly sent a letter saying it was moved to March 20. When Weaver failed to show up on Feb. 20 because he was given the wrong date, a warrant was issued for his arrest.

The U.S. Marshals believed that Weaver would likely become violent during an arrest so they began a surveillance mission around Weaver's cabin, which housed him, his wife, Vicki; his children; and his friend, Kevin Harris. On Aug. 21, 1992, the Weavers' dog discovered the hidden marshals and the dog was subsequently shot by them. What resulted was a shootout that caused the death of the Weavers' 14-year-old son, Sammy, and U.S. Marshal William Degan, who was shot by Harris.

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larry cooper
Source: getty

Larry T. Cooper during Senate hearings on the 1992 standoff

Although a deputy marshal by the name of Larry T. Cooper was accused of killing Sammy Weaver, Cooper and another deputy marshal would later attest that Weaver had killed his own son

The day following the shootout, the FBI were called in. Lon Horiuchi, an FBI sniper, opened fire when he believed Weaver and Harris were attempted to shoot an FBI helicopter. His shot hit Weaver but it did not prove fatal. A second shot hit Vicki Weaver, who was holding the couple's infant daughter. 

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She died quickly, as she had been shot in the face, but her body remained in the cabin for the length of the Weavers' standoff with the authorities: 11 days. 

When Weaver and Harris surrendered, they were charged with a list of crimes including murder, conspiracy, and assault but both were ultimately cleared, except for Weaver's charge of failing to appear in court, which he was convicted of. The marshal who killed Vicki Weaver had charges of involuntary manslaughter placed against him, but the state of Idaho eventually dropped them.

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