'Ruby Ridge' Explores the Haunting Origins of the Modern Militia Movement

Long before Cliven Bundy’s standoff with the federal government, there was Ruby Ridge, a deadly confrontation with white separatist Randy Weaver in Idaho in 1992.


"During that time, I learned a lot about Randy," says U.S. Marshall Dave Hunt in "Ruby Ridge, a new PBS documentary exploring the violent episode and the events that preceded it.

"I must have interviewed several dozen people, neighbors, friends and family and talk to him and tell him he's under arrest and everyone said, that would be the worst thing you could do," Hunt explained. 

At 45 years old, Randy Weaver faced up to 15 years in prison and $500,000 in fines after selling two illegal sawed-off shotguns to a government informant. But instead of appearing in court, Weaver retreated to his cabin on the outskirts of Naples, Idaho with his family and a stockpile of automatic weapons. 

"Those offenses made Mr. Weaver a fugitive and led to a shootout and a standoff on Aug. 21, 1992, on remote Ruby Ridge, about 40 miles south of the Canadian border. Deputy United States Marshal William Degan, 43, of Quincy, Mass., and Weaver's 14-year-old son, Samuel, were killed. Mr. Weaver's wife, Vicki, 42, was killed the next day by a government sniper as she stood in the cabin's doorway," the New York Times reported

More than two decades later, the events are still fresh in the mind of the Weavers' eldest daughter, who gives a first-person account in the film. 

"My parents decided they would just stay up on the mountain until the legal aspect got figured out, and so all through that summer and winter, we didn't go anywhere anymore," Sara Weaver explained. "We stayed up there and the winters could get long... Sometimes we'd read two books in a day. We would play card games and Monopoly and Yahtzee and Scrabble, you know, all of those sorts of things in the long evenings."

It took 18 months for the situation to come to a head. At the time, Sara Weaver was just 16 years old. 

Ruby Ridge airs February 14, 9pm on PBS.

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