Eternal Vigilance (Part 2)
[Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a series of posts to keep the posts from getting too long. I am not going into too much detail for brevity.]
Ruby Ridge, Idaho, 1992
The FBI, ATF and US Marshals Service started investigating Randy Weaver, because of a dispute over a $3000 land deal between Weaver and a neighbor, which the neighbor lost. That neighbor, Terry Kinnison, then wrote letters to the FBI and Secret Service claiming Weaver wanted to kill the Pope, the President of the United States, and the Governor of Idaho. The ATF became aware of Weaver in 1986 when he was introduced to an ATF informant at a meeting of the Aryan Nations. I know that sets off a lot of red flags for a lot of people, but that was his first attendance to those meetings. By late 1989, he had had a falling out with both the Aryan Nations and Frank Kumnick, the man who had first invited weaver to the meetings and the original target of the ATF investigation.
At this time, the ATF claimed that Weaver had sold their informant a pair of sawed off shotguns that were shorter than the legal limit. A Federal Grand Jury indicted Weaver for possessing and manufacturing illegal weapons, but not for selling them. Weaver’s trial date was set, but through a series of mistakes and accidents, Weaver was either not informed of the trial date, or was given the wrong trial date. As a result, he failed to appear, and the judge issued a bench warrant for his arrest. The judge refused to rescind the warrant even when it was discovered that Weaver’s probation officer had given him the wrong date.
The Marshals went up to Weaver’s property and began a siege. Weaver refused to flee, but said any attempts to take him in would be resisted. Weaver had a strong distrust of the government. There was a period of time when Weaver negotiated with the Marshals through third parties, but ultimately, the Federal prosecutor ordered the Marshals to cease negotiations.
Ultimately, Weaver was arrested, but not after the Marshals had killed one dog (Striker), Weaver’s son, Samuel, and his wife, Vicki. Samuel was shot in the back while trying to retreat, and Vicki was unarmed. In fact, she was holding her youngest child when she was shot in the face. In the end, Weaver and his friend Kevin Harris were arrested. Harris had killed one of the Marshals.
Weaver and Harris were ultimately acquitted of all charges. Weaver maintained that the shotguns he had sold to the ATF informant were of legal length, and the the informant has shortened them.
All of this over a pair of sawed off shotguns. Even a US Senate subcommittee found the actions of the government agencies abhorrent and reprehensible, and their rules of engagement ridiculous (among their ROE were the orders to shoot any adult seen carrying a weapon).
Waco, Texas, 1993
There are people out there who are going to say that I am a David Koresh apologist. I’m not. The man was a scumbag, but the last I checked, being a scumbag wasn’t illegal, and until he was convicted of something, he still had rights.
For brevity, the following is from Wikipedia (I am aware that Wikipedia is not always the best place for info, but the information is sourced, although I have removed the footnotes).
According to the Affidavit presented by ATF investigator David Aguilera to U.S. Magistrate Dennis G. Green on February 25, 1993, the Branch Davidian gun business (the “Mag Bag”), had purchased many legal guns and gun parts from various legal vendors (such as 45 semi-automatic AR-15 lower receivers from Olympic Arms). Deliveries by UPS for the “Mag Bag” were accepted and paid for at Mount Carmel Center by Woodrow Kendrick, Paul Fatta, David Koresh or Steve Schneider. These purchases were traced by Aguilera through the normal channels used to track legal firearms purchases from legal vendors. None of the weapons and firearms were illegally obtained nor illegally owned by the “Mag Bag”; however, Aguilera affirmed to the judge that in his experience, in the past other purchasers of such legal gun parts had modified them to make illegal firearms. The search warrant was justified not on the basis there was proof that the Davidians had purchased anything illegal, but on the basis that they could be modifying legal arms to illegal arms, and that automatic weapon fire had been reported on the compound. When the reports of automatic fire were first received, Steve Schneider and David Koresh showed the County Sheriff’s Department a “Hellfire” device, a quick-firing trigger sold with an ATF letter certifying that the device was not a machinegun.
The affidavit of ATF investigator David Aguilera for the search warrant claimed that there were over 150 weapons and 8,100 rounds of ammunition in the compound. The paperwork on the AR-15 components cited in the affidavit showed they were in fact legal semi-automatics; however, Aguilera told the judge: “I know based on my training and experience that an AR-15 is a semi-automatic rifle practically identical to the M-16 rifle. […] I have been involved in many cases where defendants, following a relatively simple process, convert AR-15 semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic rifles of the nature of the M-16. […] Often times templates, milling machines, lathes and instruction guides are used by the converter.” Aguilera stated in the affidavit and later testified at trial that a neighbor had heard machine-gun fire. However Aguilera failed to tell the magistrate that the same neighbor had previously reported the noise to the local Waco sheriff, who investigated the neighbor’s complaint. Paul Fatta, who was also involved in the failed takeover of the group in 1987, told The New York Times that Koresh and he had visited the sheriff after the surveillance had been spotted and claimed that the sheriff’s office told them their guns were legal.
The Davidians partly supported themselves by trading at gun shows and took care always to have the relevant paperwork to ensure their transactions were legal.
They had paperwork, and the county sheriff said they were legal. There was no probable cause for the warrant, just the “experience” of an ATF investigator. Whenever they sold weapons at gun shows, they made sure all the paperwork was proper and the weapons legal.
The siege went on for 50 days, until it ended violently on April 19, 1993, resulting in 82 men, women and children being murdered by the government, 76 being caught in the fire and most of them being burned alive.
The final assault came as a result of the FBI fearing that there might be a mass suicide, ala Jonestown, although Koresh denied this repeatedly, and those who had escaped the compound said they had not seen any such preparations.
In the end, the compound caught fire. The government maintains that the Davidians started the fires, while those who did escape say the government started them, either accidentally or deliberately.
At least two .50 caliber weapons were recovered from the scene. No one is certain if the Davidians actually fired them during the battle, as it was never proven in the court trials of the survivors.
However, during another trial, the district court found that the Davidians shot first, and that they started the fires. It should be noted that in civil cases the rules of evidence and proof are much more relaxed than they are in criminal trials.